The Stand S1E8: The Stand
I’ve been sitting in front of this blank document for at least twenty minutes, and I still don’t know what the hell to say. Let’s do this holistically, alright? Let’s riff, let’s roll, let’s just let the connections form and see what we come up with. First things first: I hate it.
Unsurprising, really, given that the majority of this episode takes place in New Vegas. Did you notice the vagina murals hanging from banners in the main thoroughfare? Did you lose it, too? I’ve ranted on the puritanism at the heart of New Vegas for so long already, but this just made me laugh. Josh Boone: just admit you hate clitoral orgasms and leave. We get it, you do not understand and potentially also fear vaginas; now, can you let the grown-ups talk? Sex is so comically evil in this universe that it’s left me, as a creator of smut myself, wondering just what this show would think of me. I’d be in New Vegas, that’s for sure. Being queer, hanging out with Fiona Dourif, painting big vagina murals on the wall. That’s pretty much my dream life, anyway.
In the great-performances-obscured-by-terrible-writing stakes this week, Alexander Skarsgard is the standout for me – he’s a tremendous actor, and he manages to actually create something real in Randy after he loses Nadine (who, as a punishment for wanting and having evil, evil, dirty, pleasurable sex, endures a violent mystical pregnancy and then throws herself out of a window to her death. Oh, the kicker? She goes into painful labour when she is shown her hideous reflection for the first time. Because not being hot is really what pushes us over the edge, right, ladies?) and begins to weaken his grip on the control over New Vegas. I truly think that Skarsgard has owned the shit out of this role and, when I eventually get handed the reins of a remake to this dreadful mess, I will certainly consider giving him a cameo to thank him for his effort. To be able to convey both immense power and the flaking of that power is a hard thing, but this man can do it, and that’s more than something.
But other than that, this climactic episode of The Stand, titled, obviously, The Stand, seems to miss so much of what this climax should look like. I was so confused by this ending that I actually cracked out my prized extended edition of the book – the very same one that I’ve had since I was fourteen, actually, and the same one that my partner also has but that neither of us were willing to turn over to a charity shop in our last move because we love it so much – to check that I hadn’t gone mad and just completely misremembered the ending. And no, I hadn’t. I hadn’t. But the show sure had.
Okay, so my interpretation of the ending is just that – mine. I understand that not everyone is going to read the text the same way and I am fine with that; I welcome that, actually. My read on the climax of the book – Trashcan Man turning up with the A-bomb, and an unrelated electrical ball made my Randy accidentally setting it off – indicates not the victory of good or bad, but the victory of chaos. The book also seems to have a much more sympathetic view of Trashcan Man, rendering him more led by the people around him than actively seeking out violence. His compulsion to create fire seems to represent, to me, the ultimate uncontrollable force, much like Trashcan Man himself. For all the control Randy has, and, indeed, for all the control that Mother Abigail had, too, the real power lies with the inexplicable and unpredictable – like Captain Tripps, and, now, in the accidental detonation of the A-bomb that destroys Vegas.
But the show takes a different route. A big, holy lightning storm begins out of nowhere over New Vegas and sets off the bomb after Trashcan Man accidentally brings it to the wrong place (and finally, here’s the spot for my Ezradiated Miller joke, which is very funny and which I will not be letting anyone forget anytime soon). In the lead-up, Larry, about to be drowned in front of the ground, begins to whip them up into a pseudo-religious frenzy by repeatedly declaring this vaguely liturgic-sounding damnation of evil. You know what he does in the book? He mocks the people trying to kill him. He laughs at them, teases them. He feels like a character, like Larry, to the end, not this grand conduit for Goodness that the show seems to want him to be.
I hate this as a climax. I hate it, because it casts the destruction of Vegas and Flagg’s defeat as the actions of some great good force in the world; a force which has been repeatedly implied to be a Christian God, given that Mother Abigail has been the conduit for this force on Earth and has repeatedly made reference to such a God. The show as a piece in general has felt distinctly puritanical, but this is a vital point missed for me. The book allows for questions over goodness, badness, evil and otherwise, as well as the choices we make and the space that chaos and unpredictability has in the way the world around us unfolds. This interpretation – and let’s be honest, it’s not so much an interpretation as it is just a blatant re-writing – removes that. It’s an act of God, and that’s the end of it. Good will win, as long as you say your prayers at night, kids.
And that’s just boring, childish stuff. It strips the complexity from this vital part of the story, and honestly, I don’t know what else I expected at this point. Josh Boone’s version of The Stand has been a consistent scraping of anything truly complex from this brilliant story, and I shouldn’t be an inch surprised that he’s managed to do it so completely right here at the end. There’s still one more episode to go – one which, according to all the reviews I’ve seen, is actually somehow pretty great – and I’m ready to put this awful version of The Stand behind me once and for all.
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 Playlist)