"The Stand (2020)" Series Talkback (Spoilers)

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Stand "The End"

Oh, wow. My word.

Great episode title for a Pilot. Need to point that out first.

So, I have a love-hate relationship to the Stephen King novel The Stand. Many people believe it's his best book. And I think that is partly true. Up to a point. I cannot stand or take the first third of the book about the plague, and how humanity fails itself in the most basic tenets of common decency. After everyone is dead, the book turns into part religious allegory, and part political exploration, and it's outright amazing. But lord, I hate having to get through what we did to get there.

I can't say if this show is better than the book yet. It would be weird if it is when all is said and done. Bu I can say two positive things for it: The fact that the story is being told out of order makes the bad happenings easier to digest (and frankly I think the way the soldiers react to Stu in this episode shows there IS a nobility left in the dying parts of the human race that is absent from the book). The second main positive thing I can definitely say is that this is definitely better than the 90's miniseries written by King himself. In hindsight, that had a LOT of problems, mostly to do with the casting. Rob Lowe was great as Nick Andros, and Stephen King correctly noted that there would never exist a better person to play Stu Redmond than Gary Sinise. And that miniseries was basically Tom Faggerbake's star live-action turn as Tom Cullen, after being solely known for playing the big dope on Coach.

But it is hard to fathom how or why they thought to cast Jamey Sheridan as Randall Flagg. And I loved Shannon's Deal! But Flagg needs to be played by a really flashy guy. But I think the thing this show is making me REALLY regret about the miniseries casting was Corin Nemec as Harold Lauder. The kid here (whom I'm pretty sure was also Pennywise) is everything Harold should be. Frankly I think his portrayal in this episode is far better than the book. I think perhaps the book asked us to sympathize with Harold's creepy actions a bit and feel a little regretful at his turn to the dark side. While I definitely feel sympathy for him here, what I also feel is pure revulsion. He is an utter creep, and perhaps being called a potential school shooter by his peers is not something Stephen King would have been self-aware enough to raise himself (especially considering he wrote the awful novel Rage only a few years previously). Part of Harold's shtick in the book is that Frannie is being halfway unfair to a guy who is as least trying. Here, it's like oh, well, the Virginia Tech shooter is trying to be nice. But he's still the Virginia Tech shooter, and should be treated as such,. Nemec was such a miscast because the producers believed Harold's shtick is simply that he's annoying and antagonistic. Alexander Skarsgard plays Harold as horrible to be around as I think King probably should have gotten across better in the book and first miniseries. When Fran almost refuses to call out to affirm she's alive, I was like "I get it. This is the last person I'd want to become Eve with too."

I think King might be right that Sinise is the best casting for Stu Redmond period. But this version of Redmond strikes me as an entirely different sort of personality and James Marsden is right for that. This Stu Redmond doesn't fake cough at the doctor to mess with him when he's frustrated. He befriends him instead. They become in this together and are both against the evil "doctor" Cobb sent in to kill Stu. I think I actually LIKE this version of Stu more than the one from the book and the miniseries. There also is a nobility to General Starkey in the book, but I like that he was able to share that with Stu here. Frankly, I think Stu got off SO easy here compared to the nightmare of the CDC of the book. But I actually like the fact that Stu isn't just escaping the worst of humanity. He's witnessing the best trying to hold onto whatever continuity is left for whoever will still be standing after they are gone. That's great. I love that notion.

I adore the brilliant idea that Randall Flagg is the dude who let Campion escape the facility in the first place. King should have done (or at least implied) this himself. It's truly The Circle Opening if Flagg was there the entire time. I think whatever new ending the show is gonna give us for the final episode, I feel it will probably feel as full circle as King probably intended, but wasn't quite successful in getting across in the book.

Finally, the elephant in the room: Is airing this specific miniseries during the Covid pandemic in bad taste? Or is it hyper relevant to how badly our government botched and lied about the pandemic? It's both and neither. If the show hewed closer to the book it would be SUCH a biting allegory against the Trump Administration that it would stop being entertainment and turn into a soapbox reminding us of our horrible reality. I know Stephen King is a horror guy, but for the mnost part I read him for escapism. I think it's very interesting that even if the President is lying to people over the air about the severity of Captain Trips, everybody else is trying to do their jobs. In an era of cell phone footage, the level of cover-ups from the book is no longer plausible if you set the show in the modern era. I feel like the response and reactions to Captain Trips are different enough for me to enjoy the show rather than be bummed out by our current reality. This still feels fictional because it's different from reality.

I already really love this series. I think recent Stephen King TV shows have either sucked (Mr. Mercedes, The Mist, and The Outsider) or underwhelmed (Castle Rock). This is the only other recent one besides 11.22.63 that I really like. *****.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Stand "Pocket Savior"

I will give this a positive review. But unlike last week, it will not be a rave. There were some definite things wrong with it.

I'll talk about Randall Flagg last, because he's the best thing about the episode, and almost certainly the show.

Let's start with Larry. Making him a black man is an intriguing idea. I very much like it. Because now I don't actually hate his mother. She's only seen briefly here, but her casual racism in the book really turned me off her, and made me take every criticism she leveled at Larry with a dumptruck-sized block of salt. King wanted me to find her her insightful and unforgiving. But that was the stage of King's career where he didn't understand that he shouldn't be that free with the N word. I don't think a white writer should ever use it. But back in the 1970's and 1980's King had characters use that word who we were supposed to like. Instead they disgust me. Part of King wanted me to hate Larry's mother. But I hated her far more than he planned.

Nadine as a blonde does not work. The worst part is that they could have still hired Amber Heard with no problems and darkened her hair black with the iconic gray streak and nobody would have complained. And if Heard did, they could still have had her wear a freaking wig. I always found Nadine's premature gray unsettling and a good way to track her descent into madness. There is something lost in the character now.

I'll speak of an actual miscast, and I think I want to speak a little bit further about the actress too. Heather Graham is far too young and beautiful to play Rita Blakemoore. But for some reason, even if she weren't, I don't think she'd be all that much better. I have not seen Boogie Nights (her most praised role), but I have seen Graham in plenty of other stuff. And I'm not going to actually say she's a bad actress. But she has never been right for any role they cast her in that I have seen. I think if they created a character that suited her talents she could make it work. But as far as an actor goes, she has the complete inability to disappear into the role, and make me forget I'm watching Heather Graham, rather than the character she is playing. The vibe I get from Graham, the person, is warm and sunny, and aloof and distant at the same time. Needless to say there aren't a ton of fictional female characters that could be described that way, so Graham playing every single one as herself is a major problem. I think aloof and distant could describe parts of Rita Blakemoore. But Rita is definitely not warm and sunny, and Graham bringing that to her performance, as she does every performance, is not helping things.

Making Ralph Bretner into a female Ray Bretner is nothing I object to. Ralph was one of the least developed characters in the book, so I bid the producers to go with God in any changes they make there.

I am intrigued at the casting of Nick Andros. It is far too early to say whether he's good or not, but I love the fact that the first thing I saw of him scared me. That's an amazing reaction to have, because just based on his description and mannerisms in the book, more people SHOULD be initially scared of him, especially because of the eyepatch. But he looks like an outlaw, or a gang member. And that tickles me because in the book Nick is the most angelic character after Mother Abigail. He makes some mistakes (Julie Lawry springs immediately to mind) but he is the quintessential hero, and the "nice guy" Larry Underwood could never hope to be. He's smart and insightful, but I kind of also thought of his behavior as that of the total square. He is TOO good-intentioned at times. And if this is also true of the show's Nick, I love the show misrepresenting that about him off the bat. It reminds me of how confounding, confusing, and scary John Locke's two brief appearances in the Pilot of Lost were. Locke wound up with a lot of nuance. But the very first impressions of him I got (particularly with the orange in his mouth) were that of the creeper. Jin was also much different than we were led to believe in the Pilot and early episodes of Lost. I very much like the show misrepresenting Nick in that exact same way.

On a very real level Lloyd's "Pokerizing" scene here is far better and more mesmerizing than in the book. But I still wish they had done it the book's way. Because the absolutely funniest scene in the book was Lloyd with his lawyer who has to dumbshow exactly what Lloyd needs to say to get out of this, and Lloyd is just too dang stupid to get it. To be fair, much of Lloyd's stuff is abbreviated here, so they might not have gotten to it even if Lloyd had been a part of the killings, and not forced at gunpoint. But I deeply regret the only place I will ever be able to hear the line, "Mister, that's just how that s-word went DOWN!" is in the book. Even the otherwise faithful comic sanitized it. Bummer. I would have loved to have seen it on-screen. The first miniseries skipped the entire scene too.

One good thing about setting this in modern times is that you can explain that Joe is on the spectrum and that's good enough. Back in the 1970's and 1980's Joe's behavior was simply confusing.

I don't like Stu saying there were five names on the list Mother Abigail sent. That sounds a bit too much like Mother Abigail involving herself in politics, which is something she can't stand. There are also supposed to be seven members on the Free Zone Committee. The person in charge of putting people in the high-level positions they were in was and should always be Nick Andros. Having Mother Abigail do it herself doesn't feel right. Nick being able to do that is definitely one of his most impressive feats, and I don't like this show not giving it to him. He was also the one who unilaterally vetoed Harold Lauder being on the Committee. Flagg might have won the whole shebang if he didn't have the sense to do that. And he was the only person who did.

Larry stealing the song is an unnecessary change. It doesn't help anything, but to be fair, it doesn't actually hurt anything either.

I have two more major things to talk about. One of them is a major complaint. The other is a major compliment. I'll get to the complaint first. It is not insignificant.

I don't know how much influence King had on most of this show. He'll reportedly write the last episode as sort of an epilogue for both the series and the book. But if he had ANY say-so whatsoever, he needed to put his foot down over not changing Larry's scene in the dark in the tunnel.

You could argue his journey in the dark is scarier here than it was on the miniseries. But that's a failing of the miniseries, not a virtue of this show's. The truth is Larry wading through waste and rats in a sewer is lesser than him wandering through the Lincoln Tunnel filled with dead bodies without visibility. They had to actually put in a bogus vision of his mother here to make it scarier. But there was something iconic about Larry navigating in the dark in a tunnel filled with dead people, not all of them killed by Captain Trips. He thinks he hears something, but he isn't sure, and neither are we. Although we're led to believe later it was Rita. But going through a tunnel of corpses to get to freedom on the other side is better than hiding in the sewer to avoid this show's sanitized version of the Harem from the book. It's not just the most iconic scene from the book. But many people consider The Stand King's best book, so for many people, it's the most iconic thing Stephen King has ever written, period. If the miniseries had the budget to do it, this show definitely did. And as the sewer scene IS actually scary, it annoys me that they changed the actual selling point and tension of the scene entirely to do it.

Now I'm going to talk about Randall Flagg. 100% improvement from Jamey Sheridan. They even channel the miniseries a bit in his introduction by focusing on his boots as he walks and enters the prison. I don't love that he has short hair, but his haircut is not as iconic as Nadine's is, and it doesn't effect anything plotwise either (while Nadine's does). But what I absolutely love about him here is that he is not only charming, but there is a warmth, caring, and yes, GENTLENESS to him. When he says to Lloyd that it's not a nice thing to call somebody the Devil, the truth is the real-life Devil SHOULD be attractive and appealing. And Flagg being so soft-spoken and chill in his first full appearance was a great hook. I will obviously not agree with every change the show makes. But like the ideas with Harold's broken homelife and Stu's ordeal in the CDC, I think I'll actually dig this specific change in the long run.

But it's clear from this episode that this series is not going to be the perfect home run the Pilot hinted it could be. But it's not like it was bad at all. It still did a lot of stuff right. ***1/2.
 
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Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Stand "Blank Pages"

I have to say, I really wound up disliking Mother Abigail in the book, and it's very strange how much I like this show's version. Maybe it's because there isn't a Narrator voicing her judgmental thoughts to the viewer, but she seems much easier to take here and like less of a self-righteous prig.

They truncated Nick's story a great deal. I hope they don't do the same for the Trashcan Man.

I really dislike this version of Tom Cullen. Stephen King famously said there will never be a better Stu Redmond than Gary Sinise. Well, I personally think there will never be a better Tom Cullen than Bill Faggerbake. This Tom is too loud, in-your-face and obnoxious. There needs to be a gentleness and even beauty attached to Tom. This show is doing it wrong.

I like Glen Bateman however. I think he's a little younger than I pictured, but he's raising the right questions, even if they are slightly different ones than from the book.

A solid episode. But I think they made a huge mistake with Tom Cullen that could potentially ruin things down the line. We'll see. ***1/2.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Stand "The House Of The Dead"

Oh, man. Good and bad things. Good things were very good. Bad things were very bad.

I'm inclined to talk about the good first. I usually save it for last, but I think getting my thoughts down about it now will organize the rest of the review better.

Teddy Weizak's death is a million times better than in the book. I don't blame Stephen King for this exactly. He was a young writer, stuck for months on this huge thousand page book, and once he came up with the bomb he simply leveled things with as little nuance as possible. But Teddy's death never sat right with me. Because he was the guy who liked Harold, gave him the nickname Hawk, and Harold never even learned he was one of the people who died in the bomb he set. Having Nadine shoot him in front of Harold, and him saying "Run, Hawk," feels narratively and thematically satisfying in a way his death in the book was not. If you had given Stephen King 20 years experience before he took on that book, I am sure he would have been smart enough to do it this way himself. But that's why Stephen King's early career is such a mixed blessing. He came up with crazily iconic stuff no-one had ever done before, and that many people believe he's never topped. And yet it all feels completely unpolished, as iconic as it is. That's why I almost always prefer the books he's written in the last 20 years before his early career (or his unfortunate cocaine phase). Teddy's death in the book will bum me out even more seeing it handled better here.

For the record, I realize how inconsistent it is to have Nadine, who abhors killing in the book, be the one to murder Teddy. She believed there that with so few people left, that to purposefully take a life was an abomination, which is where her inner struggle was. But the thing is, the series itself never gave her that specific schtick, so in my mind it's all right.

I love that Teddy wishes the Rock were still alive. He's actually WISTFUL about it. It's possible, right? He's such a golden-hearted doof, which makes his death extra tragic and worse for Harold.

I also thought the scene where Glen relates to Harold as a scientist and entices him on the journey to find the truth was another great scene that might have been in the book if King had written it later in his career.

Also, this version of Tom Cullen is growing on me. I did nothing but complain about him last week, but despite being a different interpretation, I actually think he's a good one.

Like the Miniseries, Nick and Julie Lawry don't actually copulate. I think that was the biggest mistake of the entire book.

I like that after Harold throws himself as Frannie, she seems outright terrified of him. That's the correct reaction, and I'm miffed King himself didn't seem to see it that way.

I like and dislike Larry being given Stu's role as the face of the committee. I like it because it's what would have happened in the book if King were writing it in a rational manner. But King's heady themes boiled down to the idea that Stu was downhome and trustworthy, not charismatic. The fact that he sucks at politics is why the citizens of Boulder trusted him. I understand the logic of having Larry being smooth and saying all the right things. But that's the selling point for a leader in Las Vegas. Not Boulder. It works here, but I don't actually think it's an improvement from the book, and I wouldn't have changed it had I written the teleplay.

Now we're gonna get to some stuff I didn't like.

I feel like the narrative switching back and forth in time worked against this episode when Stu and Glen were searching for Harold and "the girl" in their truck. At first I thought they had meant Nadine, and that they skipped ahead of the bombing, but it made no sense why Glen and Stu were smiling then. I think the series needs to be a little more clear about that stuff as it is happening. A subtitle anytime there is a time jump is essential. If they aren't going to do the "Swoosh" noise Lost did, they owe us that.

To be blunt, the Committee scenes in the book, particularly reading the notes as transcribed by Fran, are my favorite parts of the entire 1000 page novel, and I would argue were the first great things King ever wrote. I'm not saying The Shining, Carrie, and 'Salem's Lot weren't great. But none of them had scenes with that kind of popping energy, and written as if King himself is having a blast. For the next 20 years, King would occasionally write scenes as dynamic as this, but usually involving action and tension. But the committee scenes were when King just went for broke with the dialogue and the ideas. I am not one of those Stephen King fans who believe The Stand is and remains his best book. But it's a significant high point in his career, and arguably his first career high. And that scene knocks my socks off. It is SO well-written.

The TV show does the recruitment of Tom Cullen as a spy all wrong. It annoys me so much because the book's idea was perfect, and there was no reason to change it. Even the miniseries was able to do it, so Nick's muteness is no real excuse. In the book, it's NICK, not Glen Bateman, who suggests Tom Cullen for the third spy. Which is followed by the single best sentence King had written up to that point: "Uproar from the committee." I feel like this series is not giving Nick his due. First by having Mother Abigail herself pick the committee (which was bad enough) but retconning his smartest chess move ever to Glen is terrible. And Fran thinks it's a good idea which robs the scene of urgency and stakes.

Nick being the one to offer Tom is on some level horrible because Tom loves Nick more than anyone else, and would do anything for him and Mother Abigail. The horrible, self-humiliating speeches in the book and miniseries Nick and Stu had him memorize via hypnosis to be "convincing" were similarly heartbreaking. And Fran puts her foot down there, which leads to a huge blow-up and argument and controversy. Which was fascinating to see every inch of that explored. And it's the right controversy, and it SHOULD have been explored. All of that is absent by making it Glen's "great idea" that everyone agrees with.

But the main reason I'm angry Nick isn't given this, is because sending Tom is one of the few unambiguous wins the Committee itself gets over Flagg. Out of Tom, Dayna Jurgens, and Judge Farris, Tom is the only one who isn't found out, and returns to Boulder alive (and saves Stu's life in the process). Nick sending Tom is brilliant because he was the only one who sent a spy so effective they fooled and survived Flagg. Why is this miniseries constantly taking away the great and important things Nick did on behalf of the good guys? Nick was actually my favorite character in the book, and that's what upsets me most.

The episode did some good and some bad. So it was kind of a mixed bag. ***.
 
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Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Stand "Fear And Loathing In New Vegas"

Some of that was good, but holy cow, do I have bones to pick. This episode is getting a negative grade for sure.

I'll start off with the three main things I liked. They may seem trivial to you, but they were not insignificant to me.

Thing the first: Natalie Martinez in sexy lingerie. Worth the price of admission. Again, that may be trivial to you, it wasn't to me.

Thing the second: Owen Teague's creepy smile at the end. Was that enhanced by CGI the way Dr. Phlox's smile was on Star Trek: Enterprise? Because it seemed subhuman.

Thing the third: "Don't Fear The Reaper" over the end credits. That was the most memorable song of the first miniseries, and the song I mostly closely associate with it.

Everything else sucked. I am struggling to see how things could have gone downhill so quickly.

Let's start off with the worst thing and explore other things from there: New Vegas. It is appalling. It is wrong. It is the antithesis of Las Vegas from the book. I imagine the producers might argue that in these polarized times, the nuance of the book might have confused the issue. I have two responses to that. First off, the nuance is supposed to be confusing. The comradery and sense of family in Vegas from the book is jarring and feels weird. It's supposed to. Tom Cullen is every bit as loved and accepted in Vegas as he was in Boulder. Seeing him bullied and nearly being made a slave here shows this TV show doesn't get it. Vegas is supposed to actually be attractive, rather than repellent.

The people in Vegas from the book didn't flock to Flagg because they wanted permission for sex, drugs, and violence. They flocked to Flagg for two main reasons: Flagg is the kind of leader who makes the trains run on time. In a world where electricity is scarce, Vegas attracting enough techies to have the entire city already be up and running is the actual draw. Secondly, I got the sense that a lot of people in Vegas from the book were simply cowards. They went to Flagg both because they feared him, and because they feared him SO much that they believed his side were going to be the only ones left alive after whatever Biblical War was coming. A lot of Vegas is simply there due to faulty survival instincts.

My second response to the idea that nuance in Vegas would have confused the issue, is that in the book, people aren't snorting coke, and drinking, and openly engaging in debauchery. In fact, using drugs is a capital offense Flagg will publicly crucify you for. The people of Vegas are not supposed to crave validation for their violence and evil. If that were the case, Flagg wouldn't have gotten as many people as he did. The novel's Vegas denizens do not crave chaos. It's the opposite: They crave order. Maybe the producers will say "Well, in the era of Donald Trump we had to Flanderize Flagg a bit to make him even worse." Here is an opinion. If Trump is worse than Flagg (and he's definitely worse than the Flagg from the book) that's actually a decent moral! If an audience member gets that on their own, that's just swell! That's not something that needs to be changed to make it "land" better. It landed fine in the miniseries.

I am also troubled and dismayed that Trashcan Man is so far entirely absent. Him not being shown at ALL in Las Vegas almost certainly means he's being skipped over. And that means that not only will we NOT get that screen adaptation of The Kid we always wanted, but the Hand Of God ending is gonna have to be severely changed and reworked. Ralph being demoted to Ray Bretner and not being given a spot on the committee was already an alteration too far for me.

I was very complimentary of the earlier episodes showing that Harold is actually scary and a troubled "red flag". I am THIS close to taking back that compliment. Because Harold is not stupid. He should not still be THIS much of a red flag at this stage of the game. In the book Harold does so much damage because he's hiding his anger. Stu still making excuses for Harold's obviously unhinged behavior doesn't make him seem fair. It makes him seem naive, and especially bad at his given job, which is something I don't get why the producers would want us to think about him.

Harold having a high-tech set-up is both cunning, and maybe a problem, (and lesser than) the book. It's cunning because while it was definitely out of the hands of a Harold from 1990, a modern day Harold would definitely have a Brady Hartsfeld set-up. But I think it gives Harold TOO much information about who is against him, and that could potentially be a mistake later on. Stuff like this is why I was a bit skeptical of setting this version in the modern day to begin with. We'll see how it plays out.

Dayna's death scene is inadequate. Why is it never mentioned that when Flagg thinks of the third spy's face, he only sees the Moon? That was one of the cleverest parts of the book, and there was no reason not to use it as an excuse for why Tom slid beneath the radar here too.

The last major bad thing is Larry's rejection of Nadine's advances. They should have introduced Lucy Swann, because she was a perfect reason for Larry to reject Nadine in the book and the miniseries. Him going to Nadine while he was with Lucy would be The Same Old Larry, and you feel his rejection there is righteous, even if you know and understand why Nadine needs this from him. Here, it's simply stupid. It makes no sense. And it's the worst kind of stupid: It's "TV Stupid", as in "Stupid for the sake of trying to explain inexplicable behavior." If you were single and unattached would YOU ever turn down Amber Heard because she said a curse word? The idea is ridiculous on its face.

One thing I'm ambivalent on: Mother Abigail's scene with Nadine: It doesn't actually help anything, and it's actually outside of the moral of the book, but I sort of like the fact that I like this version of Mother Abigail in a way I never did the one from the book or first miniseries. Her recognizing that little kids like to see the inner workings of pianos was a very nice (and true) touch. But unfortunately the moral was wasted on Nadine, and therefore, probably the good of the show. But I like Whoopi Goldberg's Abigail more than either the book's or Ruby Dee's.

Man, this show showed SO much promise in the first episode. But messing up the entire subtext of the people of Las Vegas is a deal-breaker. However the show ends, I doubt I will wind up a fan. As of now, I can safely say I'm not one. *1/2.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Stand "The Vigil"

Well... I have to admit I disapproved of a great deal of that. And yet the episode did two things King should have done in the book and would have done if he were a more experienced writer. I'm going to talk a little bit about some things that didn't work, and then go onto the things that only partly worked, and finally get to the good stuff. We're walking from sucky to good in this specific review.

I was worried we weren't going to get to Trashcan Man last week. After that? We would have been better off if we hadn't. Ezra Miller is a disaster. To be clear, Matt Frewer was also miscast in the first miniseries, but he got the major part of Trashy correct that this version completely misses the boat on. We didn't even get to see the Kid, so this version is especially useless to the narrative.

I think in the book, Trashcan Man and Larry Underwood are mirror versions of each other. Both are equally good and bad to start off with, and Larry makes good decisions while Trashy makes bad ones. This version is far too openly sinister and crazy. Trashman Man is the only real villain I found genuinely sympathetic in the book. I felt whatever sympathy both King and the other characters had for Harold Lauder was misplaced, but I kind of like and am half-rooting for Trashy, especially after his ordeal with the Kid. And the show botching New Vegas is one of the reasons we are stuck with a lousy Trashcan Man. Vegas is supposed to be the first place Donald Erwin Melbert feels accepted and respected. Lloyd actually LIKES him there, and the crew sort of consider him a mascot of sorts. Like the mistreatment of Tom Cullen, the show is making it seem like there are no good things about Las Vegas' community. It's not true. A lot of the denizens aren't even evil. They're weak. And nobody is weaker than Trashcan Man.

I think the show did a good thing in making Harold Lauder scarier than he is in the book. I do not think doing the same thing for Trashcan Man, only worse, is a good idea at all.

Let's get to Bobby Terry. I like the part with Flagg tries to make him apologize, but he's a shameless sociopath, and incapable of saying the words. And similarly, as terrifying as "You screwed it up, Bobby Terry!" is in the book, the line is somehow scarier here. And yet, I feel like Bobby Terry got away with far too much. He gives Flagg the finger which no character in Vegas should ever do. Everybody has had the dreams, and knows that Flagg is the closest thing to the Devil the Earth has ever known. Flagg letting him get as far as the elevator was not something the book Flagg would ever have done.

Another mixed bag: I much prefer the book's idea that Flagg didn't figure out Tom Cullen himself, and had to learn after the fact from Lloyd, which is Lloyd's first and biggest demonstration that Flagg isn't as all powerful as he claims he is. Flagg figuring out the M-O-O-N thing means he is, which is the wrong moral. However, I very much like Tom Cullen's method of escape. It's not better to me than the book, and I think it's a little too clever for this version of Tom Cullen, but it's suitably creepy and scary and has clear Holocaust parallels. So call that part a push.

The two things Stephen King should have done, and would have with a little more writing experience, is to first have an actual verbal confrontation between Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg. A scene where he attempts to tempt this world's version of Jesus on the cross. King wanted her disappearance in the book to be such a mystery that he missed out on pitting God vs the Devil. The best part is, it's probably just a vision and all in Mother Abigail's head, so it's something Flagg and her should be capable of conversing with on the Astral Plane.

For the record, when he says he goes by many names, the "Legion" moment is great, and reminds me of Andre Linoge from Storm Of The Century (I just reread that miniseries script a few days ago). But if the show were being properly nerdy, he would have claimed some of his aliases to be Richard Fannin, Raymond Fiegler, Martin Broadcloak, and Walter O'Dim. But maybe CBS doesn't have the rights to those characters. Although I don't see what harm saying the names would do.

The second great thing the show did that King should have done is to give a final confrontation between Frannie and Harold. It doesn't even change the subtext to the bombing much. But it's needed for closure between the two characters. Also, it's Frannie tempting him to do the right thing and him rejecting it. I found his last diary entry in the book about being "misled" entirely unsatisfactory. If they give him a similar moment on the show, I like that him locking Frannie in his basement means he can't credibly claim that to the audience at least. I think King had a bad tendency in his early career to make sociopaths like Harold, Jack Torrance from The Shining, and Charlie Decker from Rage on some level sympathetic, and in Charlie's disgusting case, an actual antihero. For a guy who made a career on demonstrating extreme examples of evil and violence, King was entirely too understanding about some of his earlier irredeemable characters. I will feel much better about whatever fate befalls Harold because it's entirely his choice and he made the wrong one. He was in no way misled. And that's a definite improvement over both the book and the first miniseries.

This episode did some great things but I am very unhappy about the situations with both Trashcan Man and Vegas. ***1/2.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Stand "The Walk"

For some reason Harold's final diary entry here seems more sincere than it did in the book. Which is weird. Because Harold is a far less worse character in the book. As he was screaming Nadine's name, Owen Teague was scaring the poop outta me.

I approve of the fact that Francine's petulant snit at Mother Abigail was omitted here. It was a great controversy to explore in the book, but it's not something you can show on-screen without utterly confusing the issue. The book lets us know every inch of what Frannie is feeling, and we sympathize with her. If they had done that on-screen here we might have hated her for it.

Nadine's hair being blond was one of the biggest mistakes the show ever made. Instead of her hair turning white registering as a sign of shock, trauma, weakness, and madness, she looks like a Hollywood starlet, at least until the last shot. I'm not saying Amber Heard was miscast. But they needed to give her a black wig with a white streak in it. It's almost criminal that they didn't.

I felt that week was solid, especially considering my mixed feelings over the past few weeks. ****.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Messages
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The Stand "The Stand"

I promise you this is going to be an interesting review.

This episode did a few notable things that I have complained about in the past. It changed a LOT of the subtext to a crucial part of the book. And I don't believe all those changes were for the better. In many ways the story was changed for the worse. And yet, I am still glad about the changes because they were interesting in their own right. I was pretty clear in my judgment over the past few weeks that this show will probably wind up far inferior to the book and first miniseries. And it will. But this episode told me that it has interesting things about it in its own right. Even if they aren't as effective, they held my attention.

The changed a heck of a lot from the actual Stand. Some of it was for the better, most of it was for the worse. But I liked seeing it put together.

This review is gonna long-ish and probably unwieldly. Let's go through the changes and make quick comments on them.

Nadine's end. Worse than the book. But I liked giving her a final scene between her and Larry to sort of turn her against Flagg. Unfortunately (and this is why it's worse) I like that in the book Nadine is pretty much silent and broken after Flagg's wedding night violation. And she finally comes to life to goad him to throw her off the roof during a low point for him and kill his own unborn child. It's much less interesting that she herself kills herself here, instead of goading Flagg to undo his master plan in a fit of rage. And because Flagg figured out Tom Cullen himself, she couldn't even throw that in his face if they HAD made him kill her.

But I very much like Flagg sending the head to Larry. Because he correctly interprets it as a weakness. Which is great.

Speaking of weakness, I don't know if King was aware of what Glenn says here about the actual subtext of the crucifixions. It works because it's true, but King never had Glenn or another character verbalize that, not even to themselves. But the crucifixions aren't actually a sign that Flagg is all powerful. They are a sign that he can't control his own people, and has to routinely punish them to no avail. Another sign of weakness.

The actual "Stand" as it were, was completely different, and worse and better at the same time. I don't think the Hand of God thing was explicit enough, but I sure enjoyed watching that amount of smiting happen (which was entirely absent in the book). You'd figure Mother Abigail's wrathful God would want the people in Vegas to suffer a LITTLE bit before the nuke goes off, Uncle Stevie.

I was disappointed the execution was being treated as a celebration, and the mock trial as a party. The mock trial set the tone unfortunately. But what I like about the execution that Stephen King went a different way with was Larry's last words. A denizen of Vegas also objected to Flagg's actions in the book, but not because they were evil, but because they were Unamerican. There was no celebration, and the fear was the thing that got the guy to speak up. But in the book Flagg quickly kills him and reasserts his dominance over the people. I like that Larry's last words being "I will fear no evil" begin to be shouted out by a few people in the crowd, and instead of Flagg taking care of it, he's clearly losing control instead. I like that even Lloyd has had enough, and Lloyd never got a lick of redemption in the book. I like that Lloyd cries over the fact that he killed Glen.

Speaking of which, I also really like that Flagg cries upon the death of his son. That is not something King ever would have done with that specific character, and that's why I liked the moment.

I don't approve of Larry and Ray being sentenced to drowning. While they weren't technically being crucified in the book (they were scheduled to be pulled apart limb from limb before the bomb went off) they were on posts raised in the air, making the Biblical allegory explicit. It is one of the least subtle things King has ever written. And I am aware that is a statement. The underwater scene gives them a beautiful moment of grace before the nuke explodes, but I don't think grace is what is called for in that situation.

Glenn being shot in front of everyone was also a change for the better. It made his death seem bigger and to have more resonance for that reason.

Everyone appears to know that Larry is a rock star. I like the book's take better that Larry completely hid that part of himself from his friends and the people in Vegas and nobody ever realized he used to be famous. Part of getting rid of the Old Larry, involved him refusing to indulge in his celebrity, which was ultimately the source of all of his problems. I miss nobody ever realizing Larry was famous even up to the point he died.

I like that Glenn theorized that all of the people in Vegas were just like the people in Boulder, except they followed the wrong person. I am with Ray in believing that just based upon what they tolerate and celebrate, that's not actually true, but that's a failing of the show. It was definitely true in the book.

Part of me is angry that the show basically took away a lot of the religious imagery and allegory for the final Stand. And they added some too. I can't outright say I hate the episode or believe it did things wrong. I prefer the book, but this was perfectly fine too. Which is not something I usually give a show or movie when they change major things from a book I liked. But that was valid. I liked it. ****.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
Joined
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Messages
30,192
Location
Framingham, MA
The Stand "The Circle Closes"

I am very glad Stephen King wrote this and fleshed out the Epilogue to the book.

I am grateful the Redmonds got the goodbye scene with Tom Cullen they never got in the book. The ordeal with the well in Nebraska, as well as the little girl with Mother Abigail's powers were also intriguing, and Russell Faraday's intro to the indigenous people was slightly more credible here because of its violence and magic. I like that King judges Stu and Frannie critically for not recognizing the dangers of taking physical risks with the well and the truck while they are on their own, and have a baby depending on them. In the book it's suggested Stu and Frannie's adaptation to living alone was a piece of cake. Here it's the struggle it should be for people entirely new to it.

The temptation scene with Fran and Flagg was great because the viewer is entirely unsure of its outcome. This is actually an entirely different plane of the King Multiverse and level of the Dark Tower. Stu and Frannie's happy ending is not definitely assured to the viewer, as they are watching the episode for the first time.

About time this franchise used the R.E.M song "It's The End Of The World As We Know It". Long overdue.

But I think the thing I liked best is that 30 additional years of writing experience have given King the skills to write a better "This is what it's all about" ending with Stu and Frannie other than, "Can people really change?" "I don't know.". King has said it was the best he could do at the time, and admits it's sort of unsatisfying. I liked giving him the chance to think about it more, and add things about the wheel turning and the struggle continuing. It's not a case of "I don't know," anymore. They do know. The answer is in Stu and Frannie's hands, always was, and they've chosen their side. I like that.

I don't like the series as much as the book or the first miniseries. And yet, I very much liked the extended Epilogue, and the things it explored. Frannie's story was a lot more interesting that Tom and Stu's trek back to Boulder in the book (although I miss Tom's vision of Nick). I'm glad King got the opportunity to tell it. ****1/2.
 
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