Please be advised that this review contains spoilers for the episode.

Randall Flagg makes his move this week for Team Evil.  With a new player, a new plan, and a new hot tip on the Boulder spies, everything seems to be coming up Flagg at the start.  But all is not as it seems as Lady Luck seems to be full on making out with the good guys.  Episode 6 of The Stand includes a lot of tense scenarios, but an underwhelming execution of them on the screen.

Tinker Tailor Explosive Spy

The episode opens with firebug, The Trashcan Man (Ezra Miller), setting bombs up all over a refinery and dressed in his best tighty-whities and his leatheriest of tool belts.  The closest description for it is “Steampunk Sex Hansel.”  Trashy loves fire.  I mean, REALLY loves fire.  In the midst of Trashy loving himself loving fire, Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) reaches out and promises him all the fire in the world.  Though Trashcan Man can barely speak much beyond squeals, he does find enough vocabulary in him to pledge himself to Flagg.  “My life for you!” Trashy repeats.  Flagg has promised Trashy a destiny of fire, and Trashy is all in.

Miller chews some scenery in the role.  If ever there was a character that called for it in The Stand, it is The Trashcan Man, but the performance did not quite work for me.  Miller’s walk through the casino in Vegas included some bizarre reactions to the world around him.  Barking like a seal is an odd choice for sure.  Still, this is the first we see of the character, and I am interested to see where Miller takes it from here.  With a new player on Team Evil, score one for them.

Last of the spies, Tom Cullen works as a janitor.
Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke) works as a janitor in New Vegas.
(Photo: Robert Falconer / CBS @2020 CBS Interactive, Inc.)

Spies Like Us

We quickly learn the fate of the poor Judge Harris from Boulder.  With two spies down and one to go, Flagg is anxious to locate the hidden third spy.  In the bowels of casino Inferno, 45 floors below a very unhappy Dark Man, Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke) continues his new janitorial career.  Tom is still unsure about the note that Dayna passed on to him before her death, but his fear is crystallized when he recognizes Julie Lawry (Katherine McNamara) across the room.  Still shaken by his violent last run in with her, Tom realizes it is time to return to Boulder.

Upstairs, a henchman misreads his situation and flips off Flagg.  As expected, Flagg literally beats the man to pieces.  In what should be a terrifying sequence, we instead get a dull but gory affair.  I have given some slack to Alexander Skarsgård on his performance as Flagg, but he finally fell out of favor with me here.  Skarsgård’s choice to bellow at the henchman I think was meant to be terrifying, but it had the opposite effect.  Some actors are scarier when they yell, but Skarsgård is far more intimidating when he glowers in silence.  If Flagg had quietly beat the man to death without a word, that would have been a much more effective scene.

It is only when Flagg hears Rat Woman (Fiona Dourif) mention a janitor that spells the word moon, that Flagg finally realizes that the third spy is close.  In the basement, Tom climbs into the pile of bodies he has loaded onto a truck for dumping.  When the workers drive the truck out to bury the contents, Tom’s escape is assured to at least the outskirts of town.  Team Good wins this round.

Mother Abagail looks for God but only finds Flagg.
Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) searches for God, but only finds Flagg.
(Photo: Robert Falconer / CBS @2020 CBS Interactive, Inc.)

Spies in Disguise

In Boulder, Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) is still missing, and the whole town is in search mode.  Harold (Owen Teague) takes the opportunity to sneak into Nadine’s (Amber Heard) home in the early morning hours for a chat.  Once Harold tells Nadine the news about Mother Abagail’s absence, he informs Nadine that a planned vigil is their chance to do Flagg’s bidding.  The most shocking part about this sequence is the absolute joy from Nadine.  Harold I understand because he has long forfeited his humanity, but I expected some reservation by Nadine to the idea of taking out everyone in town.  Amber Heard chooses to play this moment as if Harold has suggested a picnic on a cool spring day instead of a massacre.  Weird choice, but I suppose Nadine is all in at this point anyway.

Nadine suggests some modifications to the bomb, and then she takes the device over to Mother Abagail’s house to plant it herself.  On Nadine’s last visit to the Mother Abagail home, Mother A had made a note of the fact that she left the top of the piano open for the kids.  Mother Abagail’s advice about choice had almost swayed Nadine away from her intended Flagg, and Nadine’s anger clearly spurs her to plant the device in Mother Abagail’s piano.  It is no surprise that the closed lid on the piano is a warning sign to Nick (Henry Zaga), because no one is more in tune with Mother A than the man she has chosen as her voice. 

The Spy Who Loved Breaking and Entering

Frannie’s (Odessa Young) paranoia gets the best of her, and she uses a crowbar to break into Harold’s basement.  With a flick of the switch, the TV clicks on.  The TV with a view of her bedroom.  Horrified, Frannie backs away, and she continues her search.  Behind door number two is a quaint little bombmaker’s shed.  Frannie takes in the scene, but when Harold walks into the room, a round of WTF is definitely in order.  Frannie pleads with Harold to explain, and Harold monologues about how the world has treated him like he does not exist.

“I’m gonna fix this whole world, Fran.  One blast of violence.  One painted stroke of cruelty to set the world right.  So you’re gonna pay.  And I’m gonna kill every last one of Mother Abagail’s little fuck-wit disciples.  Except you,” Harold says.  Frannie appeals to Harold’s better nature, and she tells him that she knows this is not him.  Harold appears to soften, but he is unmoved.  Harold locks Frannie in the room, and he heads off to bomb the vigil as he sings a merry tune.

The Spy Who Loved Me

With Mother Abagail absent and a town gathering to mourn, Harold finally has a way to take out as many people as possible.  However, both Nadine and Harold have some lines they won’t cross.  Nadine protects the children in town, and Harold’s instinct is still to protect Frannie by locking her away.  When Nadine collects Joe (Gordon Cormier) from Larry’s (Jovan Adepo) house, Joe whispers his first spoken words to Larry.  

“Nadine and Mommy Nadine are two different people,” Joe says.  Larry reaches for his radio, and is surprised to learn that the batteries are missing.  When Larry attempts to start his bike and follow Nadine, he sees the bike has been sabotaged.  Across town, Frannie wriggles free out of the window of her basement prison.  The rest of the town streams to the vigil.

With the children stashed at the school in front of a TV, Nadine slips out to meet Harold and watch the fireworks from a safe distance.  Mother Abagail speaks to Joe in his mind, and he wanders out behind the school to find her hypothermic body.  The school radios in the news to the vigil, and the townsfolk start to leave the house.  Flagg had counted on Mother Abagail’s absence to deal a blow to the Boulder crew, but Mother Abagail’s last bit of strength has ripped victory from the jaws of defeat.

Worth Watching?

A lot of plot unspools in this episode.  There are a lot of big moments and big performances.  Unfortunately, the episode mostly falls flat.  The tension never fully reaches where it needs to be, which is an absolute shame.  A lot of this episode has edge of your seat storytelling to pull from, but it just never comes together.  Whether it is musical prompts or direction or editing, I’m not quite sure, but this ultimately felt like a non-final cut of the show.  The episode does have a lot of key moments though, so it is definitely worth watching.  However, this does not bode well for the execution of the final battle with Flagg.

Odds and Eggs

  • The Overlook Hotel’s carpet makes a cameo in the Inferno Casino
  • Much like Pennywise, Randall Flagg loves to float
  • The kids are watching Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits” on the TV

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