Please note that the review below includes mild spoilers for the second episode of The Stand.
As strange as it sounds, this second episode of The Stand covers more terrifying ground than the first. Though episode one covers the start of the super flu and downfall of man, it also covered more hopeful viewpoints. This episode covers the gray views. The ones that straddle the line in good versus evil or in life versus death itself. The paths we choose to survive an apocalypse.
When people watch apocalypse content, the discussion always turns to how they would handle themselves in that situation. Many swear they are fighters. Ready to take on the evil and set down their lives in the process. Others decide to take the quieter road out by their own hand. For some that is a desire to avoid suffering all together. For others, it is because they know that the odds are definitely not in their favor. The third option is just surviving. It isn’t necessarily fighting, but it definitely is not about their conscience either. The choice is just to survive an apocalypse by any means.
The second episode of The Stand deals with these survival choices. This episode focuses on Lloyd Henry, Larry Underwood, and Rita Blakemoor. Though the first episode’s choice to bounce around in time felt a bit disjointed, the device works more effectively here. Like in the first episode, we start in Boulder. More specifically, an arrival in Boulder. Larry Underwood turns up in Colorado with a little boy named Joe (Gordon Cormier), and former teacher, Nadine Cross (Amber Heard). Once again we learn someone’s allegiance to Flagg at the top of the show. We do not learn what happened to Nadine, we just know that when she arrives in Boulder, she already has one of Flagg’s stones around her neck. But the story of Joe and Nadine will have to wait…
Live to Fight Another Day: Larry Underwood
Avoidance and Denial
Before we can learn much about the new arrivals in Boulder, we rewind five months back to New York City at the start of the Captain Trips pandemic. Musician Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo) is scraping by on drugs and performing old hits. Caught in a spiral of shame, Larry runs from his mother, he runs from his former friend, and he runs from reality. While the world falls apart around Larry, he survives. Alone with no one to remind him of his mistakes, Larry can move into this desolate new world and decide who he wants to be now as he survives an apocalypse.
While Larry walks the season, he meets Rita Blakemoor. Socialite Rita is played by Heather Graham, and her face tells more of a story than her words. I think my favorite casting choice for this new adaptation is Graham as Rita. In a small role, Graham is so moving. Rita is a hard side of the story to tell, and Graham communicates Rita’s view of the world so beautifully.
Rita seems very matter of fact in her acceptance of her present circumstance, and she embraces Larry when she meets him, because it means she is not alone. But as we all know, having someone by your side does not mean you’re not alone. These are two people who hide their true emotions: Rita with a smile and Larry with denial.
Larry and Rita live in her apartment for a bit until the survivor in Larry urges him to move on. Rita does not want to leave her bubble, but she relents when Larry explains that millions of rotting bodies will make the city unlivable quite soon. Especially when plenty of rats were unaffected by the virus.
Outside, Larry and Rita have the misfortune to discover other survivors. These survivors revel in the desire to live it up while they can, no matter who it might hurt. As it is above, so it is below when Larry and Rita flee to the sewers and confront actual rats. Rita immediately knows just how much reality she can confront at this point, so she retreats back to the surface to take her chances with the rapists in pursuit of her. Larry fights the urge to follow her, knowing that choice could lead to his murder. NYC Larry is about survival in the apocalypse, so he presses on below.
After a harrowing journey through the sewer, Larry has his limit and heads to the surface. Rita is waiting there for him. With dangers past, Larry and Rita make their way to New Jersey. Safe but clearly at the start of a much longer journey, both Larry and Rita have to confront their futures. Larry decides to fight, but Rita knows she is at her limit.
“It’s like being the last people to leave a party,” Rita says. When Larry asks what she means, Rita adds, “It’s stupid. It’s not worth it.” Larry is still a selfish creature at the start of his journey, so he doesn’t really hear Rita tell him that she does not want to survive an apocalypse. Larry’s journey cross-country will change him, though we may never see that process in this new adaptation. The change in time format really hurts the story of a character like Larry Underwood, but there are enough moments in Boulder that we see he has been changed by his journey west. It is just a shame we do not get to see much of Larry’s transformation from survivor to fighter in this episode.
An Unfortunate Predicament: Lloyd Henry
More horrific, are the scenes in the prison. Lloyd Henry’s (Nat Wolff) story was always a hard one to imagine. Lloyd was a gray character, but he never had a chance because of his circumstances. Suspension of disbelief is a wonderful thing, but it is hard not to think about people in prisons right now, surrounded by the COVID virus. That isn’t something you can put out of your mind when watching this episode of The Stand.
Out West in Phoenix, Lloyd Henry casts his lot with an unpredictable partner. Tossed in prison at exactly the wrong moment, Lloyd struggles to survive the end of the world. Resented by the guard who sees Lloyd fail to succumb to Captain Trips like everyone else, Lloyd remains locked away with no chance to escape. In an impossible situation, Flagg comes to visit. Lloyd may not be all bad, but his choice to survive an apocalypse will always win out over his conscience in how he does so. Honestly, who among us could say that if placed in Lloyd’s situation that we would not be tempted by a man that offered us freedom behind the smile of Alexander Skarsgård?
In the book, Lloyd’s story was always one of the most upsetting. What do you do when your choices are so extreme? Do you give up? Or do you rationalize your way out of it? Infection rates in prisons and jails have been exceptionally high with COVID. With no way to isolate people effectively or to provide effective care, prisoners and staff alike were exposed to a highly contagious virus this year. COVID is no Captain Trips, but the outcome is no less terrifying. Desperation made Lloyd ally with Flagg. Lloyd is a survivor.
My biggest critique of this episode is that we see more of Flagg, but his creepiness is dialed a bit back. I do not find Skarsgård’s Flagg scary at all in this episode. Now, that might be intentional because we need Lloyd to see Flagg as a viable option. An option Lloyd can rationalize enough to swear allegiance to without question. However, as a viewer, I’m still mostly seeing a mild cult leader. Flagg is a cultish figure, but he is also a malevolent evil. Even in the moments of the adaptation so far, Flagg has peaked at mildly skin crawly. Still, baby steps are the way to lure people to the dark side after all, so I hope Skarsgård turns up the creep factor to 11 on his terror dial soon enough.
Bottom line, I found this episode far more engrossing than the first. The performances were more intriguing, the scares more intense, and the time hopping better handled. This is definitely an episode worth watching if you are unsure whether to continue after the first. Which story are you? How would you choose to survive an apocalypse?
Odds and Eggs
- This circus is in town: a nod to Pennywise in the sewers when a body floats on by
- Episode 2 ends with another fun song choice: “Brand New Key”
“Pocket Savior” streams on CBS All Access on December 24th. New episodes every Thursday.