The Stand S1E2: Pocket Savior
As soon as this latest episode, Pocket Savior, of The Stand ended, I sat back on my couch, nearly elbowed my cup of tea on to the floor, and nodded. Wow! I thought to myself. That was so much better than last week! And there’s no doubt that it is – but does that mean that it’s actually good?
We’re already off to a better start here than we were with The End (if you’ll excuse the pun), because, put simply, Pocket Savior centres characters who are just more interesting. I’ve been chomping at the bit to get a live-action Larry Underwood who did justice to the character for as long as I can remember, and Jovan Adepo, star of one of the best one-shot episodes of TV ever, has always felt like the right choice. Knowing that this was the Larry episode was all I needed to sell me on it – add to that an amazing actor (and Heather Graham in a pitch-perfect bit of casting as Rita Blakemoor to play off of him) and this is just, quite simply, hard to fuck up.
And I honestly don’t think that this version of The Stand fumbles Larry. He’s a character almost too easy to get wrong – not that I’m trying to say he’s not layered and interesting, but that much of his characterisation is very much external in a way that makes it easy to convey at this point in the story. His interactions with Rita, with his mother, with his ex-partner, with his big bag of drugs (me too, buddy) allow for him to develop on-screen in front of us in a way that lends itself to TV storytelling, and Jovan Adepo is bringing me the entire Larry fantasy that I’ve been waiting for this entire time – darkness, self-doubt, underpinned by that undeniable sense of right that even Larry himself seems resentful of. It’s good to have Larry here, honestly, even if I was waiting for the entire show’s run to hear some arrangement of Baby Can You Dig Your Man. Who’s going to bite the bullet and create a version for me to put on my running playlist? I’m waiting.
And on top of this, we’ve also got the introduction of Lloyd Henreid, as played by Nat Wolff; now, this has been far from a Nat Wolff stan blog over the years, and in fact, I was downright dissapointed when I found out that he had been cast in this most juicy of sub-villainous roles, but I am always willing to find myself surprised with the turn an actor can take – and, thank goodness, Wolff managed to give me the full 180 swivel.
Lloyd and his introduction this week is about one of the only times I’ve appreciated the show putting a new spin on something from the book – the first time that’s felt like an improvement, at least. Lloyd is inherently a character led by the strongest male figure around him – when his story starts, it’s with his partner-in-crime Poke, and, after he’s gone and Lloyd ends up in prison, it shifts to Randy Flagg.
The first major interaction we get with Flagg via one of our main cast comes as he introduces himself to Lloyd for the first time – Lloyd, after having spent weeks behind bars during the virus outbreak with no food or company, has gone a little crazy. Nat Wolff has that bug-eyed, shifty energy down pat; it might not be subtle, but it works for the character, which is pleasing enough in itself, but it’s his scene with Alexander Skarsgard that sells me on this. Lloyd looks at Flagg like he’s a saint, which, to Lloyd, right now, he is – not only a chance to free himself from his prison cell, but a chance to replace the dominating male presence in his life that he lost after Poke. Lloyd remarks on Flagg’s beauty, and he’s clinging to the waist of his denim jacket like he never wants to let go when he finally escapes – it’s downright close to a meet-cute. Whether or not these hints will go anywhere, I don’t know, but it’s certainly an interesting place for the show to go if they do, and it adds another layer to Lloyd’s character that feels both new and true to him, something that’s hard to pull off.
This episode succeeds in that it allows us some time with great characters, but, once again, falls apart with the way that they choose to tell their stories. Larry’s plot, especially, is hacked up into chunks that serve to overlap clumsily with some of Nadine’s arc, putting us somewhere in the middle of her storyline before we’ve even gotten to know her surname, while at the same time serving to jolt us artlessly between Larry’s past and present when a smooth ride would have made a lot more sense. I don’t understand why anyone thought this messy back-and-forth was an improvement on the linear plotting of the book, but here we are – and we’re stuck with some cringey-clunky expostionary dialogue to boot, especially in the first act of the episode as it info-dumps Larry’s backstory on us as quickly as possible.
Basically, Pocket Savior is rarely good because of it’s existence as a piece of television. What I really like about it are the characters from the novel; yes, I am impressed with the performances, too, but not because they add much in the way of newness or freshness. The only new thing the TV show really feels like it’s done here is chop up the plot into this messy shark-chum that feels more like an attempt to obscure the lack of improvement or expansion on the novel. We’re only two episodes in, so I have hope, and hell, if this is just an adaptation of some great characters, then I’ll probably still be happy with it. But I’m craving something that brings this version of The Stand to life in a new way – and so far, there hasn’t been quite enough of that for my liking. It’s better than last week – but I’m still waiting for this show to start feeling good.
If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out some of my other recapping projects as well – the Fifty Shades of Grey book series, Stephen King’s Carrie, the first Harry Potter book, Lost, Game of Thrones, The Mandalorian, and American Horror Story, to name a few – and support me on Patreon if you’d like to see more of my work!
(header image via Pissed Off Geek)