The Stand S1E4: House of the Dead
I just don’t understand how they managed to fuck it up this badly.
Here’s the thing: the story of The Stand is simple. Good people go to Boulder, bad people go to Vegas, some people dither between the two for a while before they make their minds up. Drama ensues. That’s not a dunk on the story – I love it – but the really hard part here, it seemed, would be turning this enormous cast of characters into actual, palpable people on screen in front of us.
I thought that the hard part would be casting this show. Getting right the entire cast of characters seemed a near-impossible task (even though I keep doing it), but this adaptation has shown, pretty unarguably, that it managed to pull that part off. When I look at Owen Teague as Harold, when I look at Henry Zaga as Nick, when I look at Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg, I see the characters that I adore on the page. Surely, with that right, it’s plain sailing from there, isn’t it?
But no. For reasons that are genuinely and truly totally beyond my understanding, this adaptation of The Stand has chosen to slice and dice the story beyond any semblance of recognition. All the pieces are, frustratingly, here (well, almost, but we’ll get to that), but the absoloute batshit fuckery of the timeline has rendered this story nearly unwatchable. They did the loud part quiet, and I just don’t know whose idea it was to cut it up in such an aggressively messy and downright patronizing fashion.
How is it patronizing, you may ask? Well, basically, every time the show gives us a payoff, it cuts back to the set-up just to make sure that we understand the connection between the two. Take the concurrent scenes between Harold and Nadine, and the flashback to Harold and Frannie on the road; one is built around Harold’s vulnerability in the face of women, and the other is an explanation as to why. These two scenes in the same show make sense together, but the fact that The Stand can’t even trust us to piece them together is just downright irritating. It can be so rewarding when a show sews the seeds of a plot and then lets it play out across a later plot without sitting there and underlining it for us, but The Stand won’t do that. It refuses.
One of the things that makes the book such an enduring read is the way it builds these stories. Gives us lead-in, lets us sit with it, and then pulls out some killer payoff down the line. But this version? It seems sure that it’s audience is too dim to collate those pieces on their own, and therefore, what we get is an endless stream of “This happens, so this happens. This happens, so this happens. This happens, so this happens-”
Anyway. House of the Dead is also an episode of Unfortunate Proportions for the female characters of The Stand. Nadine seduces Harold in a rote, boring sequence, which sort of works, given that Nadine is meant to be more into Flagg than Harold, but it’s unfortunately paralleled in a later scene where Nick is seduced by Julie (Katherine McNamara), who swiftly reveals herself to be a full-on asshole who hurls slurs at Tom and then tries to murder both Tom and Nick upon Nick’s rejection of her. So close together, it’s hard not to see these scenes as a sharp reminder that women who are sexually forward and expressive are not to be trusted.
And add to that a sequence where Frannie is threatened with sexual assault – entirely for the benefit of Harold’s character arc, because of course, of course it is, thanks for that, you dumb fucks – and there’s this strange contrast between “our “good” woman only has sexuality pushed upon her and is not seen to seek it herself” (as her relationship with Stu is generally depicted as pretty chaste) and “the bad women actively pursue sex and use it as a means of manipulation and deceit” that I find very uncomfortable. Sexual passivity, good, sexual activity, bad. Yes, I know that Stephen King’s early work have some problematic gender politics, I reviewed all of Carrie, but this adaptation was in no way obliged to keep that stuff.
Is there still good stuff here? Yeah, of course there is. I love Brad William Henke as Tom Cullen, and I think the relationship that the show has managed to carve out between him and Nick is genuinely heartfelt – Henry Zaga has elevated Nick, for me, from boring good guy into compelling hero, and that’s sure as hell something. But at this point, I don’t feel like giving the show much back-pats for those small aspects when the whole beast is so downright fucking awful. This is bad storytelling, it’s bad politics, it’s almost bad everything – and, with such great source material, it feels as though they’ve had to make a fucking effort to make it so.
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 Vulture)