Last week’s episode of The Stand concluded with Randall Flagg giving Nadine her mission to kill Abagail Freemantle and her people while sending the community an ominous threat of his own. This week, things begin to take shape in the Boulder Free Zone, including a plan regarding what to do about Flagg. We also take a look at how a few more of our main characters got to where they are right now.
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 Frannie writing a letter to her unborn son about how the people of Boulder are trying to restart society.
From there, we see her and the other Council of Five members (Stu, Nick, Larry, and Glen) preparing for a meeting with the entire community. Larry examines a bottle of pills, but ultimately decides to flush them down the drain rather than fall back on old bad habits. We also see Harold putting on a nice suit along with a smug/menacing grin.
The meeting gets off to a rough start when Stu quickly reveals himself to be uncomfortable speaking in public. The situation gets even worse when one of the townspeople stands up and demands the Council tell them about the person who was found and brought into the infirmary (Heck Drogan). He immediately follows that up by complaining that no one has told them when the power is going to finally come back on.
We then flash back (sigh) to the Council of Five discussing what they should tell the community and who should speak at the meeting. Stu nominates Glen since he’s the smartest, but the rest of them agree that Stu would make for a much better messenger.
They also debate if telling the community about Heck and what happened to him should even be an option. When Frannie and Glen point out that they don’t really know if Heck’s warning about Flagg was true, Larry responds by pointing out that they all saw the man’s eyes turn completely black while he spoke before dying right in front of them.
Stu thinks they should be completely transparent about the incident, but Nick counters that his personal sense of decency might also cause a legitimate panic. Glen suggests they compromise by having Stu only tell the people what he knows without any speculation…and maybe leaving out a bit of the truth, as well.
Back in the present, Frannie urges Larry to use his experience working crowds at concerts to help get things back on track. He steps up to the microphone and does a masterful job diverting the discussion from everyone’s fears/complaints to recognizing all the hard work the various units have been doing to make the Boulder Free Zone livable.
After announcing that power will be turned on by Friday, Larry turns over the warmed up and much more agreeable crowd back to Stu, who frames Heck’s murder as an example of someone who simply ran into “the wrong people”. He also uses the incident to suggest starting watch crews to help patrol Boulder and keep it safe from anyone who would do them harm.
This leads to the final issue that the Council of Five has been debating: whether or not they should remain in charge of the community. Stu recognizes that they were all chosen by Mother Abagail to help establish the Boulder Free Zone, but believes that the thriving and ever improving town is proof that the people deserve to vote on who their leaders are.
Before any debate on the matter can be started, Harold unexpectedly stands up and declares that the Council of Five should be permanently recognized as the community’s leadership by a vote of acclimation. His words are met by a smattering of agreements that quickly crescendo into thunderous applause.
The entire sequence of events cause Frannie to look at Harold with a mix of confusion and fear.
After the meeting, Harold arrives home to find Nadine standing on his front porch. After inviting herself in, she explains that Flagg told her specifically to seek him so that he could assist her with killing Stu, Mother Abagail, and the rest of the Council. Once this task is complete, they would depart for Flagg’s kingdom in Las Vegas, where she would become Flagg’s queen and Harold would be granted more power than he could ever dream of.
Nadine also reveals that despite pledging to keep herself a virgin for Flagg, she would be willing to partake in other sexual acts with Harold (who is also a virgin) until they leave. She then straddles him and begins kissing his neck, causing him to prematurely ejaculate.
*Side Note: Oof.
Harold attempts to apologize, but Nadine says he has nothing to be sorry for as long as he helps her figure out a way to kill Mother Abagail and the Council of Five. Harold is clearly shaken by the encounter, but also wickedly intrigued with her proposition–especially the part about murdering Stu.
Conflict and Confessions
We then flash back to two months prior when Frannie and Harold were still on the road together. After watching Frannie awaken from a nightmare, Harold attempts to comfort her before declaring his undying love and attempting to kiss her. Frannie turns him down, explaining that despite their situation, she can’t make herself feel the same way he feels about her.
Harold immediately assumes her rejection is because of Stu, who they briefly met a couple months ago. She assures him it’s not, but Harold is unconvinced. He also clearly believes that Frannie “owes” him her heart, which causes his silent rage at her rejection to nearly boil over.
Meanwhile, Stu and Glen are spurred on by Glen’s paintings to follow Harold and Frannie’s signs along the highway.
The next day, Harold and Frannie find their path blocked by a jackknifed semi-trailer truck. After the pair dismount their bikes to figure out how to get around it, they’re surprised to find the truck’s driver (Garvey) pointing a gun at them. He then throws both of them a set of handcuffs before opening his trailer and revealing two women (Dayna Jurgens and Susan Stern) imprisoned inside it.
Things get even worse when Garvey has all three of the women get down on their knees, uncuffs Harold, and demands that he fight him for control of his harem. Despite wanting to save Frannie, Harold is hopelessly outmatched and proceeds to get his ass kicked, leaving him paralyzed with pain/fear as he lies in the middle of the road. Garvey then decides to make him watch as he rapes Frannie.
Just as he’s about to unzip his pants, however, Stu and Glen show up. The distraction of their arrival provides Dayna and Susan the chance to get up and attack Garvey. After he shoots at the oncoming car, Dayna grabs his arms while Susan goes for a nearby crowbar, which results in her getting shot in the head. Dayna still manages to knock Garvey’s gun free, which Frannie kicks over to Harold. Instead of picking it up, though, he continues to cower in fear on the ground.
Meanwhile, Stu gets out of the car and shoots a round from his shotgun at Garvey, who goes to retrieve his own gun to return fire. Before he can do so, Dayna picks up the crowbar and viciously/awesomely bashes his head in.
That night, as the group recovers from their horrific ordeal, Stu tells Frannie and Harold (along with Dayna) about the dreams/paintings and asks if they would like to accompany him and Glen to Boulder. Harold is predictably skeptical and cagey, especially when Frannie asks why they never realized they were having similar dreams.
*Side Note: In case it isn’t obvious, Harold wasn’t having any dreams about Mother Abagail.
Glen appeals to Harold as a fellow man of science, explaining that just because something seems impossible or supernatural doesn’t necessarily make it untrue–it just might mean that they haven’t discovered a way to understand it yet.
Later, while the rest of the group is sleeping, Frannie asks Stu if he’s also having the same dreams she is about the Dark Man (i.e. Randall Flagg), which he is. She then tells him that she’s pregnant, which Stu admits he knew due to Glen’s painting. After they both share a moment of bemusement at how strange all of this is, Frannie admits that she’s terrified, both about the future and having a baby. Stu comforts her while Harold jealously glares nearby.
Back in the present, Stu and Larry hand out equipment and ski patrol jackets they found to everyone who volunteered to be part of the newly formed watch crew, including Harold and his best friend Teddy. When Teddy asks why they didn’t look for something more imposing to wear (like cop uniforms), Stu reminds him there technically aren’t any laws to enforce right now. Their job at this point is to make sure the town is safe from any outside threats who may try to infiltrate the the community.
After Teddy departs to talk with a fellow team member about some Blu-Rays they found, Harold glares at Stu, conflicted between his hatred and nervousness over his pledge to murder him. He then hears a crow calling overhead, which influences him to check one of his jacket’s pockets and pull out an old ski patrol brochure. After looking at it for a moment, he notices a section detailing the explosives that were used for avalanche control…and that are still easily accessible.
Elsewhere, the Council of Five discuss a potential plan to send spies into Randall Flagg’s Las Vegas kingdom to see if he truly is a threat. Stu attempts to volunteer, but Glen counters that any of them disappearing would be noticed by the entire community, which in turn could get back to Vegas if they already have spies inside Boulder.
Glen also points out that sending spies to Vegas is a direct violation of Mother Abagail’s order for them to avoid directly confronting Flagg and his forces. If one of them goes, she’ll know as well. Surprisingly, Nick agrees that they should still do it, arguing that their position as leaders in the community requires doing what’s needed to ensure everyone’s safety.
From there, the group decides on who the three best candidates would be to infiltrate Flagg’s kingdom.
The first is Dayna, who bluntly spells out just how dangerous and difficult the mission will be before telling the group that she’s in.
Next is Judge Ferris, who is significantly older than Dayna and less likely to be connected to her if Flagg and his people suspect that there are spies in their midst. Ferris accepts the mission, declaring that it would be cowardly to do otherwise.
The group’s final candidate is Tom Cullen, who’s mental state would make him someone Flagg would be least likely to suspect. It also makes them feel awful for considering him, but Stu points out that Tom managed to survive on his own just fine before he arrived in Boulder. Nick then adds that there’s a lot more to Tom than they realize.
From there, we flash back to three months ago when Nick and Tom were still traveling together to Hemingford Home. After stopping for a rest inside a furniture store, Tom wanders around while Nick has a snack and decides to rest for a bit. He’s only able to relax on one of the couches for a few seconds when a beautiful woman (Julie Lawry) wearing a puffy princess/prom dress approaches him and sticks a shotgun in his face.
Julie quickly realizes that Nick isn’t a threat and is unable to hear her. She also finds Nick incredibly attractive and begins stroking his face. Despite her oddly quick/aggressive introduction, Nick is overtaken by the the feel of an intimate touch in a world where he thought such a thing might never happen again.
The two are just beginning to make out when Tom appears and interrupts them to to present a toy he found. Julie picks up her weapon and aims it at Tom, but Nick diffuses the situation. Unfortunately, Julie’s hostility continues in the form of mocking remarks about Tom’s mental disabilities. She then tries to resume things with Nick, but he finds himself completely disgusted with her and signals to Tom for them to leave.
Julie is initially enraged that Nick would pick a “retard” over her, but as the pair walk away, she quickly changes her tune and begs them not to leave her alone again. Despite how awful she was to him, Tom turns around and appears to consider bringing her, but Nick indicates that they should continue on their way.
Julie responds to this rejection by picking up her shotgun and firing it at Nick. Tom pushes his friend out of the way just in time and leads them both outside as Julie pursues and shoots at them. They eventually find a bus stop shelter and wait for her to give up and go back into the store. After she does, Nick looks up and notices that the booth has an ad for Hemingford Home, meaning that he and Tom are closer to their destination than they realized.
Upon their arrival at the nursing facility, they find Mother Abagail is the only one left alive. She also knows exactly who they are and why they came.
Back in the present, the Council of Five goes over the plan with Tom, making sure to explain it in concrete steps he can easily follow. Despite the complexity of the mission, Tom is able to remember and recite everything he needs to do. The Council still feels uneasy/guilty about sending him on such a dangerous task, but agree that he offers them one of their best chances at discovering what Flagg is up to in Vegas without compromising the Boulder Free Zone.
The spies are sent off to Vegas and told to stagger their entrances into Flagg’s kingdom so they aren’t linked together. Tom expresses his desire that Nick could travel with him, but understands why that wouldn’t be possible.
Later, Mother Abagail (who has no idea what her handpicked leaders are up to) reiterates her decree that they take no action against Flagg for the time being. Nick pretends to accept her words while hiding the guilt and fear he feels about defying her.
Sin in the Light
That night, Frannie writes another letter to her son about the difficult choices that are sometimes required of them as they attempt to restart the world.
Afterward, the town holds a celebration for the power finally being turned back on. While Larry performs a raucous electric guitar version of ‘America the Beautiful’, Harold and Nadine head to the ski lodge where the explosives are stored. Just as Nadine is starting to load them into Harold’s truck, Teddy (who is on his patrol duty for the watch) finds them. He’s happy to see Nadine, but still confused and slightly suspicious of what she’s doing. He becomes even more perplexed when Harold appears besides her.
Before his friend can even attempt to form an excuse for what they’re doing, Nadine pulls out a gun and shoots Teddy in the chest. After Harold catches him in his arms, he uses his final breath to warn the man who once saved his life to run.
Now we’re cooking with gas.
Yes, the constant flashbacks are still irksome. Heck, we even got a couple flashbacks that took place during the present timeline! At this point, however, we’ve established enough of the story and characters that the parallels between the past and present narratives have a much greater impact.
Also, the sequences that took place before the Boulder Free Zone was established are so, so good. Although we don’t get to see them for very long, Garvey and Julie are absolutely terrifying. In the moments before Stu and Glen arrived, I found myself completely forgetting that I knew Harold and Frannie were going to make it thanks to Garvey’s monstrously insidious presence.
I also love that Tom is being portrayed as someone with agency and heroism instead of a simple man child or savant plot device. His journey with Nick (and the moments that led up to their embrace before he departed for Las Vegas) are a perfect example of how some of these flashbacks can actually work to The Stand‘s advantage.
Same with Harold, who’s unrequited obsession with Frannie and fragile mental state makes his seduction by Nadine much more believable and chilling.
There were a few character beats I really wish we got to see more of, especially the bonds Stu shares with Frannie and Larry. While we have a very well established feel for Stu’s friendship with Glen, there’s still a lot of ground to cover with how he became so close with the other two.
Also, Stu and Larry’s interactions are always funny and deserve more screen time.
Speaking of Larry, we just need to see more of him in general. In addition to his transformation from a selfish addict to an altruistic leader, we’re still missing a lot of information/context about how his relationship with Nadine developed and concluded prior to arriving in Boulder. That’s likely to play a much bigger part in the story and will be hard to shoehorn in with flashbacks as the current narrative progresses.
Also, Mother Abagail’s presence feels criminally weak thus far. While Flagg’s brief appearances easily establish who and what he is, her time on screen is disjointed and confusing. We know she’s a force for good, but we don’t feel that anywhere near to the same degree as Flagg’s evil. Even without him appearing in this episode at all, he still had a greater impact than her.
That being said, this was the first episode of The Stand where I truly felt myself swept up in the the story. This was largely due to incredible individual performances (as has been the case since the first episode), but the characters were benefitted and enhanced by the narrative instead of being hampered by it (mostly). If the series can continue doing this, then it’s still got a chance to meet our collectively high expectations.
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