Last week’s episode of The Stand concluded with the Council of Five going behind Mother Abagail‘s back and sending three spies (Dayna Jurgens, Judge Farris, and Tom Cullen) to infiltrate Randall Flagg‘s New Vegas kingdom. Unbeknownst to them, Nadine has recruited Harold to assist in Flagg’s plan to slaughter the Council of Five and Mother Abagail. Dude might be having second thoughts after he just watched her murder his best friend, though.
As always, this recap will include plenty of spoilers and streamline much of the non-linear narrative for the sake of clarity…although it was much easier this time thanks to the story remaining in the present.
The episode opens in New Vegas, where a very well dressed Julie Lawry (the mean/crazy woman from last week) is haggling with the person in charge of the water/power plant to give up one of his workers on the orders of “her man”, Lloyd Henreid (the guy Flagg rescued from the jail back in Episode 2).
Turns out that the person Lloyd wants is Dayna, who has successfully infiltrated Flagg’s kingdom. She’s also been asking about the Dark Man, which managed to draw his attention. Thankfully, Lloyd is drawn to Dayna’s natural beauty along with her admirable ability to fake being impressed by him. After explaining how important/great he is, Lloyd informs Dayna that Flagg has personally tasked him and Julie to take her into the heart of Vegas and show her a good time.
Meanwhile, Tom Cullen has just arrived and begun giving the New Vegas intake specialist his standard greeting/spiel. She tries to toss him off to the “slave pits”, but the men who found him at the roadblock refuse, reminding her of Flagg’s decree that anyone who comes to New Vegas voluntarily should be considered a citizen. After letting out an exasperated sigh, the intake specialist tells them to send Tom to the “gladiator’s hall”, instead.
That night, Lloyd and Julie take Dayna back to his swanky hotel room. Upon stepping out onto the balcony, she’s shocked to see so many people participating in levels of hedonism that would make Caligula blush. In addition to all the public sex and revelry, there’s also a fighting ring where the winner of a recent match is cutting up his defeated opponent with a chainsaw.
Later, Dayna changes into lingerie (while also hiding a pair a scissors nearby) and begins to partake in a threesome with Julie and Lloyd. Thankfully, things aren’t able to get very far before Julie repeatedly mentions Flagg’s name, which causes Lloyd to have performance anxiety and go limp. After a not-too-subtle hint to Dayna that this was her plan all along, she suggests that they go out for a night on the town while her man waits to get his mojo back.
The ladies change into evening wear while Lloyd dons what I am 95% sure is the suit Eddie Murphy wore for his 1983 Delirious stand up special. After taking in some of the fights (which are commentated by the Rat Woman), Julie looks down at the arena/fighting pit and sees a very familiar-looking large man on the clean up crew. She then turns to Dayna and tells her about meeting Nick and Tom before she came to Vegas–completely unaware that her new friend not only knows exactly who she’s talking about, but is working with him.
Julie’s malicious reminiscing is interrupted when the Rat Woman directs the crowd to pay homage to an extremely coked up Lloyd. She then directs everyone’s attention to a giant screen where Randall Flagg’s face appears. As he gives a speech to his people about embracing their love of violence, sex, and sin, Dayna receives a momentary vision of the Dark Man’s visage glaring directly at her.
After his speech is completed, Dayna asks her hosts when she’ll get to “the man upstairs,” eliciting a giggle and an eye roll from Julie.
Best Laid Plans
Back in Boulder, Harold listens to the radio in a state of shock (and a surprising amount of grief) as Stu and the rest of the watch search for Teddy. Nadine, on the other hand, is all business, instructing him to take off the clothes covered in his friend’s blood so they can dispose of the incriminating evidence. When Harold fearfully suggests that they leave right then for New Vegas, Nadine refuses, insisting that they must complete Flagg’s task first.
Later, Stu and Larry call Harold to the amphitheater, where they found Teddy’s body in a convincingly staged suicide scene. Despite being a complete sociopath, Harold doesn’t have to work very hard to portray an appropriate level of grief. Everyone buys it except for Larry, who’s also convinced that Teddy’s death is tied to the warning they got from Flagg back in Episode 3.
Meanwhile, Mother Abagail has learned about the Council of Five’s plan and is chewing Nick out like they’re on The View and he’s Meghan McCain. In addition to defying her orders (which come directly from God), he was supposed to be the one person she could trust to always speak for her.
That night, Nadine dreams of her time on the road with Larry and the passion they felt for each other that was nearly consummated. Her ethereal remembrance is interrupted by Flagg, who she chastises for “giving” her to Harold and not letting her be with him. Flagg counters that he gave her purpose–something he’s been doing for her since she was a little girl living in various orphanages and foster homes.
Despite her clear misgivings about Flagg and his faithfulness, Nadine reluctantly succumbs to her feelings for him.
The next morning, Harold meets Nadine at the school and expresses his anger that she killed Teddy instead of letting him try to reason with his friend. He reaches his breaking point and grabs her face, but she’s able to calm him with a hand job while reminding him how close they are to pulling off their plan.
As Harold is leaving the room where he and Nadine met, he bumps into Frannie, who expresses her sympathy for what happened to his friend while also inviting him over for dinner. After he accepts, she immediately goes to Larry and asks him to search Harold’s house while he’s eating with her and Stu. Larry is understandably skeptical of the plan (especially the part where she didn’t tell Stu anything about it), but he also shares Frannie’s suspicion that her old traveling companion is up to something nefarious and agrees to do it.
Meanwhile, Nadine heads home to give Joe lunch and discovers that he’s missing. After a quick/panicked search, she finds him playing the piano for Mother Abagail at her house. The room becomes predictably tense, but things diffuse substantially when Mother Abagail compliments her for how well she’s taken care of a boy who isn’t even related to her. When Nadine says she didn’t have any other choice but to do so, Mother Abagail pointedly counters that “we all have a choice…until we don’t.”
Dinner and a No
That night, Harold shows up at Frannie’s home for dinner. While he and Stu look for a corkscrew to open the wine he brought, she changes the channel on Stu’s radio to tell Larry that he’s clear to search Harold’s house. Just as he’s leaving his own home, however, Nadine shows up on the doorstep.
At first it appears she simply wants to confess her feelings for him along with the regret she carries over not becoming romantically involved with each other. She then gets unexpectedly physical with him before strongly requesting/demanding that they have sex. When Larry expresses surprise and pulls back, Nadine tries to explain that it’s the only way she can break Randall Flagg’s grip over her–all without naming the Dark Man or explaining what she means.
As you might imagine, Larry (who was already nervous about breaking into Harold’s house) is more than a little flustered. He’s also a very good and decent man who has developed a much greater sense of empathy since he left New York. After confessing that he’s still very attracted to her, he explains that it wouldn’t be right for them do things this way. It would also make him feel like he was taking advantage of her in a distressed state.
Realizing that his gentle-yet-firm rejection has no chance of becoming malleable, Nadine’s demeanor morphs from desperate to a mix of deflated and furious as she turns and leaves. Once she’s gone, Larry (who might be having the strangest night of his life despite being a musician before the pandemic) heads over to Harold’s house.
Speaking of Harold, dinner is going surprisingly well until he decides to bring up how Frannie never brought him along when she and his sister Amy used to hang out. Stu tries to divert the conversation, but only succeeds in getting Harold to go on a mini-rant about how everyone (including his parents) loved Amy so much more than him.
After a painfully awkward pause in the proceedings, Harold apologizes, explaining that the wine and Teddy’s death is getting to him. He then excuses himself to go to the bathroom, but instead heads upstairs to Frannie and Stu’s bedroom. His eyes linger on a stuffed bear sitting on the dresser before he heads back down and informs Frannie that he’s ready to head home.
Frannie insists that Harold stay, but he refuses, clearly excited about something he discovered upstairs and wanting more than anything to get back to his house.
Unbeknownst to him, Larry is still searching through it, although all he’s found thus far is some proof of Harold’s weirdness and a locked basement. Just as he’s discovering one of Nadine’s shirts in a dresser drawer, Frannie takes the walkie from a very confused Stu, changes to their prearranged channel, and warns him that he needs to leave before Harold returns.
Larry immediately puts Nadine’s shirt back and accidentally knocks over the pieces on a chessboard. As any reader/watcher of psychological thrillers can tell you, fictional psychopaths always notice when their things are even the slightest bit out of place. Larry must be aware of this, too, because he frantically tries to put the board back the way it was and barely makes it out of the house before Harold clomps upstairs…and totally notices that one of the knights was turned slightly the wrong way from how he left it.
While all this is going on, Mother Abagail prays for God to explain why the Council of Five betrayed her trust. She also asks Him to reveal whatever sin she committed that potentially caused Him to turn away from her.
When she lifts her head from her prayer, a snarling wolf appears and snaps its jaws toward her.
Back in New Vegas, Dayna bullies one of the security guys into letting her speak to Tom. She’s unable to outright warn him that he’s been recognized by Julie, but she does manage to hand him a note (that he’s completely unable to read with an urgent, one word message: RUN.
She’s then summoned by Lloyd and Julie, who giddily announce that Flagg wants to meet her.
Following a tense elevator ride up to the penthouse, Dayna is dropped off to visit the Dark Man’s living quarters alone. After walking into his room (with the pair of scissors from earlier hidden up her sleeve), Flagg reveals that he’s been watching her since the moment she left Boulder. She tries to play dumb, but quickly realizes that her adversary is far more powerful than she’d anticipated.
Flagg then tells Dayna that his kingdom is meant to protect the world from people like Garvey, the man who once kept her enslaved and who she killed the first chance she got. He also proclaims that Mother Abagail’s peaceful method of “restoring order” is destined to fail. Unswayed by his argument, Dayna asks what Flagg is going to do to her. Surprisingly, he plans to send her home…after she tells him who the other two spies are, of course. He already knows about Judge Ferris and even where she’s located just outside of town. But for some reason he can’t get into the mind of the other one (Tom).
Dayna responds by mocking Flagg over the fact that someone is able to elude his all seeing mind. She then takes out the scissors and stabs him in the neck.
Flagg staggers backwards and drops to the floor with blood pouring from his neck. After appearing to die in front of her, he gets back up and effortlessly pulls the scissors from his neck before demanding that Dayna reveal who the third spy is. When she holds firm and refuses to tell him, Flagg threatens to imprison and torture her for as long as it takes to get the information.
Rather than allow him to do that, Dayna breaks a glass bottle and shoves it through her own neck.
Back in Boulder, Frannie tells Stu what she learned from Larry. Unfortunately, the fact that Harold locks his basement door does little to convince him that he’s an actual threat. After discussing it for a bit, the couple decide to stop talking about their fears/anxieties and make love, instead.
Unbeknownst to them, Harold is watching their intimate moment from his basement via a camera he put in the eye of the stuffed bear on the dresser. Another monitor shows footage of Larry rummaging through the upper floors of his house. Harold reacts to the first video with predictable rage, but the second elicits little more than a malevolent grin.
His grin gets even wider when Fran and Stu are interrupted by a call from Rey informing them that Mother Abagail has gone missing.
First off, how great was Natalie Martinez as Dayna? Her deception toward Lloyd and Julie could have looked ridiculous, but she made it feel organic and balanced in a way that her self absorbed captors might actually believe.
Her best moment, however, was the standoff with Flagg. It’s no small task matching the intensity and screen presence of Alexander Skarsgård, especially when he’s portraying a supremely powerful force of evil. Martinez managed to pull it off with a couple of improvised melee weapons and a steely resolve. It was the first great “stand” we’ve seen between the forces of good and the evil threatening to devour this new world.
Owen Teague (Harold), Amber Heard (Nadine), and Jovan Adepo (Larry) also turned in outstanding performances.
With Larry, we got to see how far his soul has progressed since leaving New York, but without any schmaltz. He’s not looking to be the selfless/dependable hero who always puts others first, but he’s proven more than capable of fulfilling that role when it’s required of him (which it often is these days).
With Nadine, we got to see more the internal conflict that makes her villainous role exponentially more interesting. As far as Harold is concerned, he’s finally broken out of his trope mold from Episode 1 and morphed into a paradoxically tragic and terrifying figure. He sets off every self defense red flag imaginable, then elicits our sympathy before raising it over his head and smashing it repeatedly. Aside from the predictable “psychopath superpowers”, watching Harold’s transformation during his time in Boulder has been absolutely riveting.
On the negative side of things, I’m extremely disappointed in how they’re portraying Mother Abagail–and not through any fault of Whoopi Golberg. This episode was by far the most screen time we’ve gotten with her, but it still amounted to little more than a few nebulous cameos. Flagg, who’s supposed to be a directly opposing force to her, feels substantially more defined and integral to the story. Mother A just seems like a weird old lady who makes vague proclamations and doesn’t know or understand what’s happening most of the time.
Most folks (especially the book readers) know there’s much more to her than that, but it’s not currently being shown/portrayed at all in this series. Thankfully, we still have a few more episodes to rectify that part of the story–some grace The Stand‘s writers have definitely earned with the last two episodes.
You could chalk up the series’ drastic improvement to the lack of flashbacks this week, but Episode 4 still had a ton of them. What’s really gotten things moving in the right direction is the narrative that’s forming around some fantastic character-centered stories. The great war between Good and Evil is still on the horizon, but it’s being fomented by battles people are fighting with their souls.
Let’s just hope Mother Abagail can find her way back home before Big Bad Wolf comes calling and takes some souls of his own.
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