Last week’s premiere episode of The Stand concluded with Harold vowing to kill Stu (and possibly Frannie along with her unborn child) despite gaining newfound respect and purpose in Boulder, Colorado. We also got our first glimpses of Abagail Freemantle and Randall Flagg.
As always, this recap/review will contain spoilers. I’ll also be streamlining the time jumps for the sake of clarity.
The episode opens with Larry making breakfast on a grill in an “abandoned” big box store. While the commercial warehouse might not have customers and employees anymore, it does have a group of people living in tents within its aisles.
Larry brings the food back to Nadine, who hurries to hide a black stone with a red hued indentation she was examining on her necklace (that looks almost exactly like the stone Randall Flagg gave to Harold in a dream). We also learn that the pair are traveling with a little boy who refuses to speak who they call Joe.
Side Note: That’s not his actual name, but it’s what we’ll call him for now.
After finishing breakfast, the trio heads out in a car caravan toward Boulder. When they arrive, Stu is there with a group of people to welcome them to the Boulder Free Zone. To Larry’s surprise, Stu already knows who he is thanks to the shared dreams Mother Abagail appeared to them in. She also gave Stu a list of five people she wanted to run the Boulder Free Zone that included both of them.
Larry is doubtful that someone would want him to be in charge of anything due to his reckless/selfish past. Stu explains that when he asked Mother Abagail about his own name being on list, she responded that God only showed her the “who.” It was up to them to figure out “the how.” Larry then admits that in addition to Mother Abagail’s dreams, it was Harold’s directions/notes he’d been spray painting all over the country that led him to Boulder.
Once the pair arrives at Mother Abagail’s, Stu leaves Larry with Rey Brentner, who acts as her guard. She takes him inside the home, where he’s greeted by Nick Andros, a deaf and mute man who is also missing an eye. Nick motions for Larry to enter Mother Abagail’s room as she calls out to him, telling the musician that he better come in and and sing her a song.
Meanwhile, Frannie takes Nadine and Joe on a tour of the area. When Frannie asks her if she’s been having dreams from Mother Abigail, Nadine hesitantly affirms that she has.
Side Note: She totally hasn’t.
Nadine also reveals that she and Larry found the little boy on the side of the road somewhere in Pennsylvania. She calls him Joe since that was the name she used as a teacher whenever she blanked on a kid’s name.
Frannie excitedly responds that the Boulder Free Zone will need teachers soon. She also asks Nadine if she’s willing to care for Joe. Nadine once again gives a hesitant affirmation, but this time it’s much more convincing.
Home Sweet Home
Later, Larry accompanies Nadine and Joe to check out the new house they’ve been placed in (whatever song or interaction Larry had with Mother Abigail occurred off screen). It’s unclear why Larry won’t be staying in the same place as them, but Joe is definitely warming up to him along with the guitar Larry lets him hold and travel with.
After Nadine shakes off the sound of crows calling inside her head, she asks Larry what Abagail said to him. After he explains that he’s not allowed to say, Nadine asks if he wouldn’t mind taking Joe on his trip to visit Harold while she gets the house set up.
When Larry and Joe arrive at Harold’s address, the former outcast appears genuinely touched to learn that the the signs he spray painted around the country helped someone find the will to keep going. His demeanor sours a bit, however, when Larry asks if he could meet Frannie, as well. After Harold explains that she doesn’t live with him, Larry responds that he was also on the road with someone who things didn’t work out with.
During the pair’s friendly interaction, Joe gazes up at Harold with a terrified stare. When Larry tries to introduce him, the boy turns away, secretly worrying Harold that someone is able to see through his mask of congeniality. He quickly recovers, though, warmly accepting Larry’s explanation that Joe has been through a lot. He also accept’s Larry’s gift (which we don’t see) and an offer to have a drink with him sometime.
That night, Nadine hears strange noises inside her new home. She checks the living room and finds the box for a planchette stacked among the other board games that is somehow shaking on its own. Instead of getting the hell out of there like most of us would, she walks toward the box and pulls it off the shelf–all while indistinct whispers and a crow’s call sound inside her head.
Side Note: In the novel, Nadine had a major incident with a planchette/ouija board when she was younger, so (assuming the series explores that) this incident isn’t as tropey as it appears.
New York City, five months earlier.
Larry, who’s a semi-famous musician, is drinking and doing drugs in a green room before a performance. Turns out his entire band came down with Captain Trips, leaving him to play the upcoming gig alone.
He initially refuses to go on, but changes his mind when his mother shows up backstage. He’s just about to kick things off with his hit single (“Baby Can You Dig Your Man”) when Larry’s former roommate (Wayne Stuckey) crashes the show and accuses him of stealing the song. Despite being obviously weakened by Captain Trips, Wayne still has enough energy to rush the stage and attack him.
Later that night, Larry has a dream that takes place in the same setting where Randall Flagg appeared to Harold–this time with his name on a marquee before something bad and unseen charges toward him. He wakes up the next morning in bed with one of the bartenders from the night before, who’s definitely sick with Captain Trips. After seeing that his mom has called him multiple times, he leaves without asking for the bartender’s number, which causes him to have to dodge a few objects before making it out the door.
Once Larry escapes to the hallway, the next call he gets is from the hospital where his mother has been admitted to for Captain Trips. He arrives to find the facility overrun with infected patients and dead bodies. He eventually finds his mom, who’s already progressed to the final stages of the infection. He takes her out of the hospital and to his apartment, where Wayne arrives with a gun threatening to kill him. Larry tells his friend to wait while he gets his mother upstairs. Once that’s done, he’ll come back down and they can deal with whatever scores still need to be settled.
Unfortunately, Larry’s mother dies soon after he gets her upstairs and into bed. After saying a tearful goodbye, he heads back downstairs to find that Wayne is about to die, as well. Larry uses the opportunity to take the large stash of drugs he knows his former roommate has in his trunk and leaves.
That night, Larry has another dream, this time with Randall Flagg making a menacing appearance. He awakens on a park bench to the sound of a man screaming angrily in the distance, his voice unobstructed by the usual buzz of cars, planes, or other signs of urban life.
As if that weren’t weird enough, another man in a hospital gown approaches him while munching on a bag of chips. After proudly lifting up his gown to reveal where he just had a stint put in, Larry suggests that his new acquaintance find some clothes to put on. The man responds that he doesn’t have to follow society’s rules now that the world’s gone to hell. Instead, he plans to fulfill his lifelong dream of running naked around the bases at Yankee stadium before jerking off on home plate. Larry wisely decides to bid the man farewell and leaves.
After wandering around for a bit, he eventually finds a beautiful and well dressed woman sitting on a park bench (Rita Blakemoor). Despite her seeming a tad loopy, the two immediately develop great chemistry with each other. That night, they head back to Rita’s apartment and enjoy an evening of drugs and passionate love making. Afterward, the two stare out at the city, which will soon become uninhabitable due to the millions of dead bodies everywhere. They both decide to head out in the morning and see where the road takes them.
The next day, Larry and Rita are making their way through the abandoned city when a man with a suitcase full of money approaches them. He offers all of it for 15 minutes alone with Rita, who is too stunned/disgusted to respond. Larry, on the other hand, firmly tells the dude to get lost. Unfortunately, their refusal of his indecent proposal brings two more armed thugs who begin chasing them through the streets.
Larry and Rita are eventually able to evade their pursuers by climbing down into the sewers. Rita is understandably freaked out at the prospect of crawling through human excrement, but her resolve completely fails after being swarmed by a herd of rats. She begs Larry to go back up to the streets with her, but he refuses, explaining that he didn’t survive this long just to be killed.
Rita snaps at him for abandoning her and climbs back up, prompting Larry to mutter to himself that they should have taken the money.
Side Note: In the novel, Rita’s main character flaw is that she’s very emotional and high maintenance. If that’s what they’re going for here, though, then I hardly think its fair to base that trait off her reaction to everything that’s just happened to her and Larry.
After walking underground for a while, Larry ends up almost fully submerged in sewer water and loses his phone (which he was using for both light and navigation). He also hallucinates the bloated corpse of his mother crying out to him as rats crawl out from her mouth. As if that weren’t awful enough, a not-so-random crow flies down and begins flapping around his head.
Side Note: Any time you see a crow in this series, assume that it’s appearance has something to do with Randall Flagg.
Larry quickly reaches his breaking point and climbs back up to the street, where he finds Rita waiting for him. After thrashing about in his terrified state, she calms him down by pointing out that despite losing his phone, he still has drugs. More importantly, they also both managed to make it to their first destination: The George Washington Bridge leading out of New York.
That night, Rita’s cheery/optimistic demeanor does a complete 180. As the pair take shelter from the rain under the bridge, she declares that being alive when everyone else is dead is “stupid” and “not worth it.” After Larry goes to sleep, she steps out into the rain with a bottle of whiskey and swallows a large dose of their pill stash.
Over in Phoenix, Arizona, Lloyd Henreid walks to his prison cell and basks in the adulation and cheers from the surrounding inmates. When his new cellmate (George Trask) asks what he did, Lloyd wryly claims that he was framed.
This leads to another flashback (ugh) of Lloyd and Andrew “Poke” Freeman robbing a gas station. While holding a customer at gunpoint, Poke sneezes and blows her head off. Lloyd is mortified, but Poke appears chillingly amused by what’s transpired. He also insists that the store clerk needs to be shot so there aren’t any witnesses. Lloyd initially refuses, but his deranged partner turns one of his guns on him and threatens to shoot if he doesn’t comply.
Just as Lloyd is about to shoot and kill someone for the first time, a police officer hiding in the back (and who really should have come out sooner) fires a bullet through Poke’s cheek. Poke returns fire, hitting the officer in the neck before falling to the floor. Seconds later, gun shots explode into the store from all directions. The police swarm inside and arrest Lloyd for attempted robbery and a double murder.
Back in the present past (UGH), the jail begins to descend into chaos as Captain Trips runs rampant through both the inmate population and security guards. Lloyd is eventually left alone and starving in his jail cell. When his repeated attempts to catch a rat for food are unsuccessful, he’s forced to begin carving chunks of flesh off his dead cellmate’s leg to survive.
Later, Lloyd is visited by Randall Flagg, who initially taunts him about eating Trask’s leg. When Lloyd suggests that Flagg might be the devil, he responds by admonishing him that his observation wasn’t a very nice thing to say (but not denying it, either).
Flagg then takes out one of his red-striped black stones and turns it into a key that can open Lloyd’s cell. He offers to let him out (and get him some proper food), but only if Lloyd agrees to become his right hand man and pledges his undying loyalty to him. Lloyd happily agrees, but not just because of his desperate hunger. He’s also enchanted by Flagg’s intoxicating presence and offer of power.
After walking out of his cell, Flagg gives Lloyd the key, which turns back into a red-striped black stone. The red stripe glows bright in Lloyd’s hand as he marvels at his new master’s power. With his loyalty obtained and secured, he walks side-by-side with Flagg out of the prison and into a dangerous new life.
This final scene is a perfect microcosm of how good this version of the The Stand can be when it’s firing on all cylinders.
The performances from Alexander Skarsgård and Nat Wolff are phenomenal, but we already expected that. What really works here is how the series distilled the most important parts of Lloyd’s character to bring us to this moment.
If you’ve read the novel, then you know there’s a lot of backstory being left out or altered–which is both expected and totally fine. By the time the episode ends, we know exactly how Lloyd got to this point and why he was so willing to follow Flagg.
Now let’s contrast that to poor Rita Blakemoor. In both the novel (and presumably this series), her suicide is an important turning point for Larry Underwood. In this version of the story, however, she goes from a bright and optimistic source of hope to killing herself in an alarmingly short period of time.
While I’m aware that this kind of psychological shift is completely possible (especially in such a traumatic situation), the episode handles it very poorly. That’s through no fault of Heather Graham, by the way, who played the role as convincingly as you could hope for.
In fact, it’s all the individual performances that are currently keeping The Stand afloat. This time the standout performer was was Jovan Adepo, who did a fantastic job carrying the episode and made Larry much more likable than I anticipated.
Unfortunately, he and the rest of the cast are saddled with a narrative that’s severely hampered by its non-linear structure. Yes, it’s still easy to keep up with, but the story doesn’t flow well–especially when we end up doing flashbacks within flashbacks like we saw during Lloyd’s introduction.
Meanwhile, we’re left with major plot gaps (Stu and Frannie meeting/falling in love, Stu being put in charge of the Boulder Free Zone, how Larry met Nadine and Joe, etc.) that continue to widen and draw attention away from the threads that should be commanding our attention
Some sprawling epics can work being told in a non-linear fashion. There’s still hope that The Stand can pull it off, but I’m starting to lose faith.
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