Last week’s episode of The Stand concluded with Mother Abagail being found right before Harold and Nadine detonated a bomb at the vigil being held for her. Frannie arrived just in time to warn everyone before the IED went off, but the blast still managed to take out a number of townspeople, including Nick.
This week, we explore the aftermath of the attack along with Mother Abagail’s return and the looming battle between her people and Randall Flagg.
As always, this recap includes spoilers and will streamline some of the non-linear portions of the narrative for clarity.
The episode opens with Trashcan Man finding and securing the nuclear warhead Flagg requested, all while making the same gleeful noises I do after discovering an unopened bag of M&Ms in the pantry. I really can’t do justice to how ridiculous this scene was, especially after Brian Tallerico at Vulture perfectly described it as “Gollum from Lord of the Rings on a sugar high.” We also see a geiger counter indicating that poor Trashy is being exposed to a generous helping of radiation.
Thankfully, things quickly move away from that setting and back to Boulder, where we once again see Harold and Nadine set off the IED at Mother Abagail’s home. Harold takes in the results of their plan with an unsettling mix of glee, malice, and regret. When Nadine tries to share in the victory with him, he coldly shrugs her off and proclaims that they’re no longer to touch or even speak to each other. Now that they’ve done Flagg’s bidding, the Dark Man will reward him with a woman who makes Nadine “look like a potato sack.” She may get to finally have Flagg, but there’s a decent chance that her “prize” will turn out to be something she should have feared, instead.
Harold concludes his diatribe by telling Nadine he wants to be at least 100 miles away from Boulder by the time the sun comes up.
Back in town, Larry and Glen take a seat in the infirmary to await word on Mother Abagail. While they were lucky to make it out of the explosion unscathed (along with Frannie, Stu, and Ray), Nick and many other townspeople died–and even more were seriously injured. After expressing his anger/betrayal that Harold and Nadine would do something like this, Larry states that it might be better if Mother Abagail never woke up so she wouldn’t have to learn about Nick and the pain Harold/Nadine caused to so many of her people.
Mother Abagail puts a giant jinx on that thought by suddenly awakening and commanding Ray (who was keeping watch in her room) to gather the remaining council in her room.
Once everyone’s there, Mother A tells them that she has sinned against God by forgetting she was “not the potter, but the clay.” It’s also been made painfully clear that her belief that Nick would be the one to lead them was not the Lord’s will. Now it’s up to Stu to lead a group west to New Vegas, where they will represent God in a final stand against the Dark Man and his forces.
She then instructs Stu, Larry, Glen, and Ray to leave that day on foot with nothing but the clothes on their back–no food or water, either. She also reveals that one of them will not see the end of journey, although God did not tell her who specifically would fall. Frannie, on the other hand, is ordered not to accompany the group.
Before breathing her last breath, Mother Abagail warns them that the days ahead will be difficult. Flagg grows stronger every day and they must stand against him before it’s too late.
How they are supposed to do that–or what the outcome will be–is not revealed, but the group all decides right there to faithfully carry out God’s instructions to them through His expired vessel.
By the next morning, Nadine and Harold have put some considerable distance between themselves and Boulder via their motorcycles. While traveling down one particularly twisty stretch of highway, Nadine decides she’s had enough of Harold and speeds ahead of him. After he races to catch up near a hairpin turn, she slams on her breaks. Harold blows by her, slams into a guard wall, and flies through the air before impaling himself on tree and breaking his leg.
When Harold begs Nadine for help, she tells him that he’s served his purpose and Flagg would never have let him live. She then apologizes (with a surprising amount of sincerity), suggests he use the gun he’s carrying to end his suffering, and leaves. Harold screams and shoots at her, but only succeeds in hitting the guard wall and coughing up more blood.
He manages stays alive into the night, but barely. As the sun begins to rise and vultures gather, he writes his final words in a notebook before putting the gun into his mouth and pulling the trigger.
Back in Boulder, Frannie expresses her extremely justified misgivings about Stu walking to Vegas. In addition to it basically being a suicide mission, he won’t be there when her baby is born. She also expresses her anger at the fact that God and Flagg are basically treating them like chess pieces in their war against each other.
Stu then brings up Harold, which makes him feel intensely remorseful for not listening to her. If he had, Nick and many others might still be alive. When the couple both agree that Harold is likely headed to Vegas, Stu admits that he wants justice for what happened despite it not being part of their mission.
Frannie tells him that all she wants is for him to return home safely so they can raise her baby together.
*Side note: I swear if anything bad happens to the dog…
With a tearful Frannie waving goodbye, the group sets off toward Vegas, stopping in abandoned towns along the way to stock up on food, water, and supplies and making camp at night. After many days and miles (all under the watchful eye of a crow), they eventually enter Flagg’s territory and cross the same path where Harold met his demise.
Larry immediately recognizes Harold’s bike before looking down and discovering his corpse being feasted upon by vultures. When he climbs over the guard wall to cover the body, Ray chastises him for paying respect to the man who caused their people so much suffering. Larry counters by pointing out that Harold was the person who led him to Boulder. Nothing that he did or (was influenced by the Dark Man to do) changes that.
After shooing the vultures away, Larry finds a journal detailing Harold’s apology and taking full ownership of his abhorrent actions. He also signs it with the name given to him by his friend Teddy: Hawk.
Nadine (who is making absolutely terrible time) sees what appears to be a mirage of Flagg in the desert and stops to investigate. This leads her to a trail of white rose petals, which somehow teleports her (sort of) into Flagg’s penthouse.
She enters the room and finds the Dark Man waiting for her. While he assures Nadine of her place at his side, she notices that the floor beneath her feet has turned into the sand found in Flagg’s dreamscape. He notices her confusions and encourages Nadine to focus on him instead, assuring her that she’ll be rewarded for keeping herself “pure” by becoming his wife.
The pair then proceed to engage in some steamy subscription cable sex. At first, Nadine is thrilled to finally consummate her long awaited relationship. As things get more intense, however, she desperately tries to tell Flagg that something is “not right.” This turns out to be a colossal understatement when he morphs into his true form (which looks like a zombie version of Mr. Clean) while still thrusting and writhing on top of her.
Later, Flagg drives to Nadine’s location in the real word to find her wearing a white dress that matches the new color of her hair.
*Side Note: In the novel, Nadine’s hair went from black to white. Going from blonde to white(ish) make it look more like a bad dye job.
As the couple drives off, Nadine at first seems happy despite the weird awfulness that occurred in Flagg’s dreamscape. Her contented joy is quickly shattered when something inside her begins to kick and growl.
Elsewhere, Stu & Co. find their path obstructed by a destroyed road/bridge over a small valley. Nearly everyone climbs down and back up to the other side with relative ease. Unfortunately, the ground beneath Stu’s hand breaks just as as he’s about to pull himself up, causing the group’s leader to fall and break his leg.
Despite being the one who’s in severe pain, he still manages to calmly guide the group in setting his leg and putting it in a makeshift splint. He then tells Larry that he has to lead the rest to New Vegas and leave him behind. Larry initially refuses, but Stu insists that he trust Mother Abagail’s plan and carry on without him.
Before they depart, Ray gives Stu her bracelet and Glen gives him a bag of pain killers. He also tells him how much he’d need to take if remaining alive proves to be too much. Later, Kojak abandons the others and comes back to watch over Stu despite his commands to leave.
Side Note: D’awwwww.
Coming to Term
Glen is understandably distraught over his dog running off. While Larry and Ray are trying to assure him that Kojak is fine, Lloyd shows up in a limo and informs the group that Flagg is expecting them. Whether it’s because they’re tired of walking or the armed muscle Lloyd has with him, the trio accept what turns out to be the most awkward limo ride in history since my 1998 senior prom (long story, don’t ask).
Upon entering New Vegas that evening, the group is shocked to see people crucified on power poles while slaves are forced to clean and maintain statues restructured in Flagg’s likeness. His face and voice are also everywhere, extolling the greatness of his society over all others.
When the group arrives at the hotel (which just happens to be playing Larry’s hit single “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?”), Flagg sends his new bride down to greet them. As if seeing their traitorous former friend wasn’t bad enough, Nadine is also horrifically emaciated and visibly pregnant with something that’s definitely not human.
This very solid episode is bookended by potentially the best and worst that can come from changes to The Stand‘s source material.
What’s happening with Nadine right now (and the part she looks to play in Flagg’s endgame) is very different than how things play out in the novel. It’s also incredibly interesting. While her literary counterpart may have made a better conduit to show us how truly evil Flagg is, this version helps reinforce that while also creating a completely new and terrifying wrinkle in the narrative.
On the flip side of that, Trashcan Man has been reduced to a cartoonish plot device dressed like a Master Blaster cosplay gone horribly wrong. I don’t blame Ezra Miller, who’s doing everything they can with a character who’s entire backstory (including how he got his name) has been omitted. This isn’t a book purity complaint, though. A backstory completely different from the one in Stephen King’s novel would still be a monumental improvement. As it stands now, however, there’s no rhyme or reason to Trashcan Man’s behavior/abilities or Flagg’s trust in him to complete such an important task.
Thankfully, this episode of The Stand once again gets a fantastic slate of performances from its cast, particularly Owen Teague as Harold. There’s honestly a part of me that’s worried about the series continuing to be enjoyable without him.
Thankfully, the group heading to New Vegas had much better chemistry than I was expecting (and a dog, which is always a plus). Larry (Jevon Adepo) deftly toes the line between expressinghis (and the audience’s) skepticism without being too cynical.
I knew it would be fun seeing Stu, Larry, and Glen interact, but was surprised how much I liked Ray (Irene Bedard). Maybe it was simply a matter of giving her more screen time or getting her away from Mother Abagail’s house, but my previous ambivalence about her character has morphed into complete investment.
There were also a couple moments that almost took me out of the story.
I appreciate what they were trying to show with Flagg revealing his true form, it was more bizarre than horrifying. Skarsgård has done more than enough to show us how monstrous the Dark Man is without a questionable makeup/costuming decision.
It’s also worth nothing that despite the new ending King has written, it still doesn’t feel right having Frannie on the sidelines at this point in the narrative.
All that being said, this episode was a significant improvement over last week’s. Let’s hope that momentum continues without tripping over Trashcan Man’s oversized boots.
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