Last week’s episode of The Stand concluded with Larry, Nadine, and “Joe” joining the Boulder Free Zone while Randall Flagg recruited Lloyd Henreid to be his right-hand man. This week, we kick things off with a look at why Nadine has one of Flagg’s stones and keeps throwing furtive glances at everyone.
As always, this recap includes plenty of spoilers and will streamline much of the non-linear narrative for the sake of clarity.
The episode opens with a flashback to Nadine’s childhood, which she spent in a group home. She and her three roommates decide to play with a planchette, which is basically like a ouija board except that it’s used on a blank piece of paper and equipped with a pencil to draw whatever the spirits (or that one jerk who likes to scare everybody) tell you.
As is always the case when children mess with this type of stuff in supernatural stories, things get weird. First the planchette spells out Nadine’s name, prompting her roommates to accuse her of trying to scare them. Things immediately escalate when the planchette begins drawing off the page and carving into the wood floor, all while refusing to allow any of the girls to let go of it.
After the planchette is done writing and Nadine’s roommates have fled screaming from the room, she looks down to see a message inscribed directly to her:
Nadine Will Be My Queen.
The young girl then notices a red and violet-striped black stone has appeared on a cord hanging from her neck. Instead of being completely freaked out, Nadine smiles holds the eldritch charm in her hands as it begins to glow.
Back in the present, Nadine awakens from the dream of her childhood and feels a strange presence outside her window.
Meanwhile, Stu and Larry (who’ve clearly become friends over the last few weeks) are on their way back from a hunting trip when a random muscle car drives by them and stops. This would be an odd situation even before the apocalypse, but things get significantly weirder when a man (Heck Drogan) falls from the vehicle’s driver side door. After checking to make sure he’s still alive, the pair realize that the man came all the way from Las Vegas (thanks to his keychain) and that he has wounds on his wrists from being crucified.
As if that weren’t terrifying enough, Heck tells them that he was being punished by someone who sent him with a message for the people of the Boulder Free Zone: He’s Coming.
After taking a moment to collect herself, Nadine gets up and gets ready to visit the school she’ll be teaching in. After going to get Joe, she finds him hiding under the bed and unwilling to come out.
This flashes her and the audience back (ugh) to when she first met Larry Underwood.
Things get off to a rocky start when Joe charges Larry with a knife and attempts to stab him. After Larry’s able to subdue the child, Nadine introduces herself and explains that she found Joe all alone outside Scranton, Pennsylvania. She then asks if they can join him wherever he’s going. Larry is initially reluctant to Nadine’s proposal, explaining that the last person he was with (Rita) killed herself, which in turn made him believe that maybe he was meant to be alone.
After some coaxing from Nadine, however, Larry eventually agrees to let her and Joe join him. He also explains that he’s been following Harold’s messages across the east coast to wherever they end up taking him
Later, the trio are resting in an empty baseball stadium when Joe becomes fascinated by Larry’s guitar playing. He invites the boy over to give it a try and is amazed to discover that Joe is natural. Things get a bit awkward again when Joe refuses to give the guitar back, but Larry allows him to hang onto it.
Back in the present, Nadine is finally able to coax Joe out from the under the bed. He accompanies her to the school (along with Larry’s guitar), where Teddy Weizak eagerly shows her the work he and his crew have done to get her classroom ready. Joe moves one of the boxes to reveal a large blood stain, which Teddy calls in Harold to help him clean up. Joe immediately becomes fearful at the sight of him and backs away.
After the boy and Nadine leave, Teddy tells Harold that he plans to pursue her since (in his mind) she’s likely the most beautiful woman left on earth. He never would have had a chance with her before the pandemic, but now his chances are exponentially better. Harold counters by saying he still doesn’t have a chance, which earns him a playful slap before the two get to work.
Painting the Future
Over in the infirmary, Frannie is having an ultrasound. After seeing her unborn baby on the screen for the first time, she holds up a picture of the baby’s father (who is definitely not Stu) and tells him to meet their kid.
From this moment, we flash back (UGH) to four months earlier when Frannie and Harold were on the road together. While making a stop to syphon gas and pee, Stu approaches the pair and asks to join them. Frannie is open to him joining them on their trip to Atlanta, but Harold is firmly against it, claiming that they can’t be 100% sure he isn’t dangerous (and clearly intimidated by another guy being around the girl he’s obsessed with). After Harold gives Frannie an ultimatum to continue with him or Stu and “his dimples,” she bids the the friendly stranger farewell and heads off.
Later, Stu is walking alone through the woods when an adorable golden retriever named Kojak runs up to greet him. The dog is soon followed by his owner, Glen Bateman. After a tense-yet-friendly introduction, Glen invites Stu back to his home, where the two share a delicious meal (and Stu discovers that he likes caviar).
As the night wears on, the pair bond over their shared experience of being widowers before Captain Trips. After discussing how strange it is that the plague spared deers and rats while killing many other types of mammals, Glen (a former sociology professor) explains his belief that the collapse of society also gives them a chance to reset and move away from the many ills that were created by it.
The next morning, Stu is admiring some of Glen’s paintings when he finds one of Mother Abagail. The pair determine that they’ve been having the same dream in which the woman tells them to find her at Hemingford Home in Colorado. Things get even weirder when Stu finds a 3-day old painting of Frannie (who Glen had never met) standing in a field and visibly pregnant.
Back in the present, Frannie’s beautiful moment seeing her baby for the first time is interrupted when Stu and Larry bring Heck into the infirmary. Nick Andros arrives soon after and tells Stu that Mother Abigail knew Heck was coming from Las Vegas.
This flashes us back (…) to 5 months earlier and Nick entering a bar in Shoyo, Arkansas. On his way to order a drink, he accidentally bumps into a man (Ray Booth) and causes him to spill his beer. Nick doesn’t hear the man’s furious demands to buy him a new one, which Ray interprets as him being a jerk rather than being deaf.
Nick frantically attempts to explain/plea with his hands that he can’t hear or speak, but Ray and his group of knuckle dragging friends still beat him to an unconscious pulp.
While he’s knocked out, Nick enters the same mountainous dreamscape we’ve seen others experience when Randall Flagg appears to them. Sure enough, Flagg shows up and begins taunting Nick about his life as a deaf and mute drifter before offering to restore his voice and hearing (along with the missing eye Nick wasn’t aware yet that he’d lost during the attack). All Flagg asks in return is that he become his righthand man and pledge his undying loyalty.
Nick responds by giving Flagg the finger, which instantly makes him one of my favorite characters.
Nick awakens to find himself in the hospital at the height of the Captain Trips pandemic (and that Flagg was correct about his right eye being gone). Nearly all of the hospital’s patients and staff are dead, but he does find one handcuffed to a bed and clinging to life: Ray Booth. Instead of taking retribution or abandoning him, however, Nick gets a washcloth and provides his attacker a small degree of comfort and relief in his finals hours.
Some time later, Nick has another dream, this time in a cornfield (i.e. Mother Abagail’s dreamscape). Upon finding her, she gives him a warm greeting before explaining that he’s able to talk when they meet in this setting. Nick uses his first words to admit that Flagg scares him, which Mother Abagail assures him is a very normal/valid feeling when it comes to “The Dark Man.”
When Nick asks who she is, Mother Abagail explains that she’s the person who God has chosen to speak to. She doesn’t understand why, but still accepts it. Nick tells her that he doesn’t believe in God, but Mother Abagail counters by saying that it doesn’t matter since God believes in him–and in this world that’s been reset to a blank page, God wants him to be her voice.
Nick is understandably skeptical, but still agrees to find and help her. Before disappearing back into the cornfield, Mother Abagail says he should look for her at “Hemingford Home, spelled M-O-O-N if anyone asks.”
Side Note: I promise that last part will make sense soon.
Nick awakens to find a very large man standing over him (Tom Cullen). Tom immediately begins reciting a memorized script about being a developmentally disabled 42-year old man who may seem odd, but simply struggles with social cues and is a very hard worker.
When Nick is unable to signal that he can’t hear him or speak, Tom responds by expressing his confusion over how quiet Nick is, spelling the word “quiet” (and every word he attempts to spell) “M-O-O-N.” Nick attempts to write Tom a note explaining that he’s deaf, but Tom is also unable to read.
After a few more attempts, Nick is finally able to communicate to his new acquaintance that he’s unable to hear or respond to him. Tom is frustrated that the “nice old black lady” inside his head named Mother Abagail didn’t warn him ahead of time of their communication barrier.
Nick reads Tom’s lips saying Mother Abagail’s name and realizes he’s found the person who’s supposed to accompany him on his journey.
Back in the present, the Boulder Free Zone Council of Five (Stu, Larry, Frannie, Nick, and Glen) debate what they should tell everyone about Heck and his message. Glen believes telling them the truth is better than allowing rumors to start and spread, but Nick (with Annie’s help translating) expresses his and Annie’s fear that it will cause people to panic.
Glen also expresses his reservations about how things are being decided. Despite the undeniably incredible things he’s seen, he’s still not sure that Mother Abagail’s decree that they serve as the unelected leaders of the Boulder Free Zone should be interpreted as “God’s will.”
Just as the political/religious debate is starting to escalate, Mother Abagail appears with Ray Brentner and shuts the discussion down, reminding them that anything they have to say to her should be told to Nick…and that Nick always speaks for her.
She then sits down next to Heck, who upon seeing Mother Abagail excitedly declares that he’d been dreaming of her. He also explains that he came from a horrible place run by a human personification of evil named Randall Flagg.
At first, Heck and the others were grateful for the relief and power he brought. Once the slaves started to be brought in, however, things quickly went downhill. Heck eventually tried to escape, but was captured by Flagg’s men and crucified on a poll in a such a way that he would suffer greatly without dying.
Side Note: This version of Heck Drogan differs greatly from his character in the novel, who was crucified for abusing drugs and publicly crucified until his death.
Flagg then told Heck he would be sent to Mother Abagail with a message. Before he can relay it himself, the wounds on his wrists start to bleed profusely while crows begin smashing themselves into a nearby window. Heck’s eyes turn completely black as his body is pulled upright. Flagg’s voice then speaks through him, declaring:
I have your blood in my fists, old mother.
Pray your god takes you before you hear my boots on your steps.
I’M GONNA BLOW YOUR HOUSE DOWN!
With Flagg’s final words still ringing throughout the infirmary, Heck thrashes and screams before dying in front of them.
That night, Nadine lights some candles and gets out the planchette she found in her home the night before. After rubbing the red and violet-striped stone on her necklace, she places her hands on the planchette and is transported to Flagg’s dreamscape.
Upon feeling his presence, Nadine complains about her inability to feel him in Boulder, which Flagg attributes to Mother Abagail’s influence. He also encourages her to remain there and continue being his spy despite her loneliness and desire to finally become his queen. He then gives Nadine one final task to complete before they can be together: Kill Mother Abagail and the Council of Five. When she asks how, Flagg declares that he’s already given her the weapon.
Nadine awakens to find Joe staring at her with a mix of fear and confusion. After playing off her strange behavior as a game, she looks down to see that the planchette guided her to write down the name of her king’s weapon: Harold Lauder.
Elsewhere, Harold and Teddy dispose of Heck’s body in a grave. When Teddy points out that it’s the first corpse they’ve dealt with that hadn’t been dead for a while, Harold ominously mutters that it will be the “first of many”.
Once again, The Stand delivers a plethora of incredible characters wading through a somewhat muddled storyline. If I’m being completely honest, though, the non-linear timeline in this episode didn’t bother me quite as much as my snarky commentary would indicate. “Blank Page” made it feel like we were finally getting some connective tissue between the past and present while also doing a (mostly) good job of setting the stage for what’s to come.
Let’s dive into the characters for a bit first, though.
Before this episode (and if you never read the book), characters like Nick Andros were relegated to being an oddity. We still don’t know about Nick’s adventures with Tom Cullen after this episode, but that’s totally fine. His place and importance to the story makes sense. Nick is also fleshed out in a way that makes him genuinely compelling and heroic rather than someone we should root for simply because he’s one of the good guys.
Same with Mother Abagail. We don’t know everything about her and her motivations, but we don’t need to. The information we got this week is more than enough to guide us (and the narrative) in way that makes sense while still leaving plenty of room for growth and intrigue.
I also love the way Amber Heard is portraying Nadine Cross. I’m well aware that Heard’s presence in this series causes mixed/complicated feelings in a lot of people (myself included), but when you separate her from her acting, it’s impossible not to recognize how good of a performance she’s giving.
One reason Stephen King’s works don’t always translate well to television or film is because those mediums can’t properly capture the internal/psychological aspects of his characters. No one was ever going to mirror Nadine Cross’ literary interpretation perfectly, but Heard it doing about as well as anyone could ask for.
The episode even managed to make Glen Bateman’s sudden appearance feel naturally integrated by the end–thanks in no small part to Greg Kinnear. There were also lots of smaller moments (like Stu and Larry joking with each other) that efficiently bridge some of the growth and time we’ve missed while still managing to feel natural/organic.
All that being said, this version of The Stand has brought me to the point where I often find myself wishing it would skip the first third of the story (which I was previously looking forward to the most) so we can have a cohesive narrative. A few flashbacks are fine, but I doubt the major battle the series is leading up to will have its desired impact if our journey continues with the past/present ratio we have now.
I’m almost to the point that I don’t even want to know things like how Stu and Frannie got together or how Tom Cullen and Nick Andros arrived in Boulder, although it’s all but certain we’ll be seeing those things along with plenty of other parts of the The Stand‘s disjointed opening act.
To be fair, a series that has to retain viewers from week to week might not have any choice but to tell its story this way. Over on the The Stand subreddit, user Shoblodon5 made an excellent point that an entire episode set only in Boulder could be all types of boring. A dense and exposition filled chapter in a novel is one thing. An episode with similar issues could be a very expensive mistake–especially in a prestige miniseries.
So whether the narrative begins to streamline or not, let’s hope the plan Flagg set into motion during the episode’s final moments also keeps the story moving right along with it.
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