The Stand took some flack after its first episode for the way the show arguably reduces its female characters, which could be a criticism of the source as well, but it doesn’t help that the CBS All Access version centered the dudes for the first hour. The bad news is that it turns out it did it for the second hour, too.
The structure here is clear after two episodes, in that each chapter will focus on revealing backstories for a pair of major characters, typically starting just before Captain Trips destroyed the world. This week, Josh Boone & Co. turned to Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo) and Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff), two men who will end up on different sides of the war for the future of humanity and two men running from dark pasts. It’s an episode that struggles a bit more than the premiere in the pacing department — there’s no reason for it to be over an hour — but it’s interesting to see how Boone is taking this epic experience and reshaping it for modern viewers. And there are some solid performances throughout. Let’s just hope the momentum builds a bit more in subsequent chapters.
“Pocket Savior” presents a plague as a fresh start, a way to reinvent a criminal and an addict. The latter is Larry Underwood, introduced on his way to Boulder and aligned with a mute boy named Joe (Gordon Cormier) and the mysterious Nadine Cross (Amber Heard). After the brief intro, Larry, Joe, and Nadine arrive in Boulder, greeted by Stu Redman, the leader of the Colorado gang. He tells Larry that he’s one of the chosen ones who will lead these people under the guidance of Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg).
Jump back Lost style to how Larry Underwood got here. Five months ago, he was a musician getting drunk and high before performances, getting berated by his disapproving mother, and getting threatened by a former collaborator. It doesn’t seem like a pleasant life. Lloyd Henreid had even more problems in the before times. He’s introduced getting thrown into a jail cell, the narrative then flashing back even further to reveal that he was a party to an armed robbery that led to multiple murders. When the memory of this carnage erupts in gunfire, Boone and director Tucker Gates make such an odd music choice, layering in Weezer’s “Islands in the Sun,” that it almost feels like a reference to the crazy decision to feature “Angel in the Morning” in It: Chapter 2, although that could be a stretch.
As the world started to collapse, Larry had a dream about Randall Flagg and the sound of scurrying rats, which would be prophetic given the sewer path he’s later forced to take out of New York City. He wakes up with someone he barely knows who just happens to be covered in snot. Before he knows it, he’s watching his dying mother in a crowded hospital hallway. The Stand does really capture the immediacy of a plague that kills 99 percent of the population. There’s not so much slow buildup as an instant vision of Hell. Larry takes his mom home to die while his former colleague succumbs to the disease in the rain, taking his rage with him. Larry gets to leave with his cocaine.
Back in Boulder, Larry meets Ray Brentner (Irene Bedard), an important ally who tells the musician that he’s one of the essential ones for Mother Abagail. Larry seems uncertain of his own importance. He also gets to meet a one-eyed Nick Andros (Henry Zaga), the deaf character memorably played by Rob Lowe in the original miniseries, but Nick’s story will have to wait for a future episode.
Flash back again to shortly after the world dissolved to find Larry in Central Park, chatting it up with a guy who’s going to head to Yankee Stadium and jerk off on home plate. (Clearly, immunity plays no favorites in this world.) Larry moves on from this potential buddy comedy and finds Rita Blakemoor (Heather Graham) sitting on a bench. Finally, he has a reasonable companion, someone to leave New York City with and start afresh. They go back to his apartment and have a normal night — eating, drinking, and having sex. And then they remember that death leads to rats and they’re going to have to leave the city.
As they’re trying to do so, someone offers to “buy” some time with Rita for a million in cash, leading to a brief chase. Rita and Larry descend into the sewers, and while there’s no Pennywise sighting, a red balloon might have alleviated the boredom of a sequence that goes on way too long. It drags here, trying to wring tension from Rita’s discomfort but lacking in real stakes. And then it turns trippy with Larry having a vision of his dead mother floating by, a rat coming out of her still-talking mouth. They make it to the bridge and seem to be ready to flee the Big Apple. Rita won’t make it far. She kills herself, leaving Lloyd alone again. Graham was fine in this episode but lacked the manic energy needed for Rita, another female character who feels underwritten in this version of The Stand.
Meanwhile, Lloyd is stuck behind bars during a pandemic. Not only does his cellmate die, but he’s basically left behind with no food and no resources. After Lloyd eats a rat and part of his roomie, Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard) comes to the new convict and offers him freedom. After teasing him with his own hunger, he tells him that Lloyd will be his right-hand man. He will be St. Peter at the pearly gate (one presumes that puts Flagg on the throne of God). Lloyd can get even with the people who left him there. And then the episode ends with a pretty familiar closing line: “I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
• “Space Song,” by Beach House, is a good fit for a wide shot of the end of New York City, and I dug the use of “Demon Host,” by Timber Timbre, earlier in the episode, too. Some of the music choices here are very smart, some are a little on the nose.
• In the latter department, ending the hour with “Brand New Key,” by Melanie, feels a bit too clever for its own good. Of course, the key could be a reference to Flagg getting Lloyd out from behind bars, but it can’t be coincidental that Heather Graham helped make the song famous again by dancing to it in Boogie Nights.
• Who’s still missing? We don’t get much of Nadine Cross or Nick Andros in this episode, so expect them to lead the next one. And no sign yet of Glen Bateman, who will be played by Greg Kinnear.
• Speaking of casting, some trivia: Whoopi Goldberg was supposed to play Mother Abagail in the 1994 version but had to pass to film Sister Act 2. She probably never thought she’d get the chance again a quarter-century later.