This review contains spoilers for the episode and the series.
This new adaptation was meant to be a fresh start for The Stand. A fresh perspective. In some moments, it managed to explore new grounds. The time hopping for instance, was a device meant to speed up the opening act of journeys out west. Whether it was effective or not, is up for debate. The fact that the device was abandoned after the first few episodes, meant that it was only used to skip over the journeys out west. However, the time hopping appeared to be the way this adaptation set itself apart from the last. Why employ it at all if you are going to toss it aside so early in the run?
Apparently, the answer is because showrunner Ben Cavell was not interested in that part of the book. In practice, all the device accomplished was to cut out meaty character development. Effectively, this adaptation was just about the struggle between good and evil. Since Cavell had commented about not wanting to cover the pandemic portion of the story, mission accomplished I guess. If Cavell does not see that the start of the story is about more than a virus, this does not seem to really be a true adaptation at all. The Stand is not just about a fight between good and evil. It is about the internal struggle as well. That seems to get lost in this adaptation.
Stephen King wrote this new coda to the story. According to Cavell, King wrote this story to give Frannie (Odessa Young) her moment to take a stand. I like the idea of it more than the execution. Maybe if the previous episodes had been paced like this one, it would not feel so disconnected from the series.
The episode starts with Frannie narrating about the birth of her daughter and baby Abagail’s struggle with Captain Trips. Stu’s (James Marsden) journey home with Tom has been completely excised from this adaptation. Instead we wait for news about Stu with Frannie, and we celebrate Stu’s triumphant return just as Frannie thinks he is lost. The story then hops forward in time to when Frannie confesses to Stu that she is homesick, and she wants to move back to Maine for a fresh start.
Though Frannie and Stu moved back to Maine in the book, the book did not detail that trip beyond the stop at Mother Abagail’s (Whoopi Goldberg) homestead. What King does here is place Stu and Frannie at a house reminiscent of Mother Abagail’s home in the book. It isn’t a ramshackle small place, but it is at the edge of a cornfield in Nebraska. Instead of Mother Abagail’s home, we get a substitute for the woman herself. The story replaces a magical Black woman with a magical Black girl. Strange choice considering previous criticism of the character.
The idea of Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) scrabbling for power by tempting Frannie is an interesting one. Foolish of course. It seems out of character for Flagg to believe that it was possible to tempt Frannie, but it may be that he only wanted to exploit Frannie’s isolation. A little fear snack for his journey on to meet up with freshly chosen victims. Babysteps when you are regaining your evil powers I suppose.
Mother Abagail reminds Frannie, “Be true. Stand.” Because of Frannie’s faith in herself, magic restores her. Until now, only Flagg has been able to use magic, but not here. Is this the work of God? Of Mother Abagail? Of Penn and Teller? We can assume it is the first, but it may as well be the latter because that choice would be as out of place as the magic healing that goes on in that yard. This adaptation spent so much time cutting out character development in favor of plot, and then dedicated a whole episode to a character study.
The last scene of both the book and this adaptation is the next chapter for the Dark Man. In search of healing, the Dark Man is reborn as Russell Faraday on an island with a lost tribe. Unlike the book, Flagg seems to know who he is immediately after resurrection. In fact, when Flagg appears in Nebraska to tempt Frannie in her hour of need, he shows her a vision of this tribe. Flagg explains that society has not touched the tribe. It certainly seems that Flagg knows who he is in Nebraska even though he answers to Faraday on the island.
That small change aside, the visual cue of Flagg’s recovery is kind of neat. When Flagg bobbed around like a balloon, drunk on the fear of his followers in Vegas, it was a little silly, but in this instance, a nice choice. When Flagg scares the tribe, he starts to float. It is a visual representation of Flagg’s recovery as Faraday, and an interesting way to show that Evil is eternal.
Final Thoughts on the Adaptation
Overall, I am not a fan of this adaptation. It had interesting moments and some excellent casting, but it never fully came together. The episodes were disjointed from week to week. The breakneck speed was necessary for the limited number of episodes, but the frenetic pacing did not work. The adaptation should have been twice as long and dug into the character development more. That said, under the direction of Cavell, I do not think a longer adaptation would necessarily have been an improvement.
This was a missed opportunity for a fresh new vision too. As goofy as the previous adaptation could be at times, it was a lot more watchable as a whole. I understand Cavell’s desire to skip the virus, but there was definitely a way to do that without abandoning the journeys of the characters all together. In this version, there is only time to focus on a select few people. It largely misses out on the internal struggles, which are the main draw of the story for me.
Things I Liked
- My favorite thing about this version is Owen Teague as Harold Lauder. I think Teague nailed the very specific kind of person that Stephen King painted in the book. Harold was a creature to pity and fear from moment to moment, and Teague managed to communicate those nuances incredibly well.
- “Pocket Savior” was the most interesting episode of the series. This was a good example of how the show could focus on a character’s journey in an expedited fashion, and still manage to show character development. Unfortunately, no other episode was as interesting as Larry’s (Jovan Adepo) story. Bonus points for Heather Graham, who gave the best performance of the series for me here as Rita Blakemoor.
- The look of this version. The production design, the costumes, and the cinematography were gorgeous. The look of New Vegas in particular popped beautifully. Other than the celebrated opening musical sequence of the last adaptation, the look of that version was very flat. It was very plain. This adaptation had a more theatrical flair, and I truly appreciated that. While there was a lot to dislike about this adaptation, the look of it was definitely not one of those things.
Things I Didn’t Like
- Cavell doesn’t seem to like journeys. Travels west. Travels home from New Vegas. Character work seemed to be largely abandoned in this adaptation. Although we went in depth on Larry, Nadine, Frannie, Harold, and to some extent, Stu, everyone other character in this version seemed to only be touched on lightly. Tom and Nick were blips in the story despite being pivotal.
- Time hopping. Why even have it? Just to cut out parts you think are boring? The time hopping worked in episode 2, but the handful of other episodes it was in were more of a hindrance. It confused long time fans and it eliminated character work.
- Bad takes on old characters. Trashcan Man was an annoying amalgam of squeaks, shrieks, and tighty whitey briefs. Ezra Miller not only did not add anything interesting to the role, but they made me long to rewatch Matt Frewer in the original. The other change I disliked was Lloyd Henreid. In the book Lloyd was largely colder and meaner, but his struggle to do the right thing was far more interesting. Nat Wolff’s softer version of Lloyd Henreid may seem more likely to want redemption, but it also made him far less likely to have survived more than two days as Flagg’s right hand man.
- The Dark Man. I understand why they case Alexander Skarsgård, but he failed to make Flagg scary. At his worst, Flagg felt like the head of a sex cult. Flagg does horrible things, but at no point during the run of the series did I feel my blood run cold. I felt like Skarsgård was at best the embodiment of someone on their second glass of wine rather than the embodiment of evil. A bit too chill and come hither.
- Too short – we spent very little time getting to know characters and therefore unable to care for most of them. More episodes could have given us more of a connection to the people in the fight. Almost none of the people in Flagg’s camp had shades of grey. Most of them were straight up baddies with no indication that they had struggled to pick a side.
Maybe. If you love the story and want to see a different take, it may be worth it. There is enough to enjoy if you keep expectations low. Episode 2, “Pocket Savior” is definitely worth a watch even if you go no further in the series. However, if you want an accurate adaptation, give it a pass. Too much is left out for it to be truly satisfying. Plus, the evil never really feels any more terrifying than actual Las Vegas.
Odds and Eggs
- Frannie has a daughter named Abagail like the previous mini-series instead of a boy like in the book.
- The new coda gives us the first glimpse of a solid future for Frannie and Stu.
- There is an actual child of the corn in this episode.
- Why does a magical little girl need to live in a tent? Does God not provide a stipend for travel?
Miss previous episode reviews? You can find them here.
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