The Stand S1E5: Fear and Loathing in New Vegas
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I am going to scream.
Look, I’d heard bad things about the Las Vegas episodes, but I don’t think I was fully ready for the hilariously puritanical, objectively ridiculous nonsense.
It’s lucky, really, that next to nobody is actually watching this show anymore because it’s already gotten so downright terrible, because God, this episode – entitled Fear and Loathing in New Vegas, because the writers have the objective creativity of a small pile of pebbles – has so many awful messages to send, as we follow Dayna Jurgens (Natalie Martinez) after she infiltrates New Vegas and the land of Randy Flagg.
It picks up cheerfully on the thread of a couple of weeks ago, making sure to underline the fact that women enjoying their sexuality in an open and reciprocal manner inherently dooms them to a perma-residence in Big Evil Land. As a woman who dares to enjoy and even, gasp, pursue sex on occasion, The Stand wants me to understand that, for those reasons alone, I belong in mega-hell. Given that show has been almost entirely chaste with its women apart from Rita, who killed herself after twenty minutes of screentime, and Nadine, who is one of Flagg’s cohorts anyway, the fact that it spends so much of its time in New Vegas lingering in cringe-worthy fashion over lingerie-clad women enjoying sexual contact is hardly a surprise, but it’s not an improvement.
Not to mention the fact that, fuck, it’s not even sexy. I don’t know what kind of grasp the writers of The Stand have on what fun, wild, enjoyable sex looks like. If this is meant to be the most decadent, moral-compromising place on the planet, a place so inherently seductive and lusciously attractive that it’s possible to overlook all the darkness within it, I want more than Katherine McNamara straddling Nat Wolff while shouting the word “daddy” repeatedly. This is such a childish understanding of what good sex is, it’s almost parodic – the whole thing feels like a Hell House made by puritanical vicars trying to scare kids out of getting into under-the-shirt stuff before marriage. As somebody who writes boner fiction as a major part of my job, I just find it downright comical to see this – what’s meant to be the absolute pinnacle of decadence – as essentially a Monty Python sketch of sexuality.
Do I even bother talking about the LGBTQ representation here? I mean, I will, but let’s be honest, it would be putting more thought into it than the writers did. The first couples we see who are not straight are in New Vegas, and they’re almost entirely depicted as engaging in public sexual activity, often in fetish or bondage gear. Look, I’m a dirty little queer myself, and if you’re going to do homophobia, at least fucking update it to something beyond “dirty sex deviants doing GAY SEX for DISGUSTING fetish reasons”, please. Featuring LGBTQ people (including plenty of gender non-conforming people filling out the background of the episode, as opposed to the good ol’ Gender Conformity of Boulder) like this is such obvious garbage that I can’t believe the show included it by mistake. The Stand wants me to think something very specific about LGBTQ people, and it wants to make sure that I don’t forget it. And they better believe I won’t.
What else happens this week? Nadine and Harold’s plan inches forward by a few boring millimetres. Owen Teague is still giving this his all, and it’s a shame that Harold is trapped in such a dreadful adaptation because otherwise this would be downright perfect. Nat Wolff is infuriatingly annoying in this Lloyd performance, which is…good, I suppose? But also painfully irritating to watch. Alexander Skarsgard is trying his best, but the writing (including throwing in that Flagg has had male lovers in the past, because Cat forbid we miss a chance to connect homosexuality with evilness) is punching him right in the face at every turn. I think Whoopi Goldberg actually brings a lot to Mother Abigail, but, much like the book, she’s a means to an end instead of a character in her own right. I was very excited about Fiona Dourif (my Lord and Bae-viour from the much-better-than-this The Purge TV adaptation) turning up, but now she’s here, and I don’t care, because she’s lost in the mess of New Vegas.
Honestly, I know that this show is adapted from a book that was out in the seventies. And that a book from the seventies might not have the most modern politics compared to what we might expect from a mainstream show today. But The Stand’s TV adaptation was not obliged to hang on to all those rocky, ugly ideas from the book – hell, even inject some new homophobia just to make sure we got the point. They are making a specific point to not just include this misogynistic, puritanical, homophobic rhetoric, but to highlight it, make sure that we understand how central those conceits are to the show’s understanding of what good is and what evil is. It’s genuinely hateful stuff, and worse than that – it’s boring, too. If I hadn’t made it clear already, fuck this version of The Stand, and let’s just get through this in the snarkiest, most immature way possible. You along for the ride? Let’s trench down for some attritional warfare, and make it through the rest of this unscathed.
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 WhatToWatch)