A stronger episode than the last couple chapters, this week’s hour of The Stand felt more genuinely dangerous than this story has often allowed itself to be in its CBS All Access incarnation. Gone is the flashback structure that plagued the first four episodes, and this episode finally gives Alexander Skarsgård some space to feel honestly threatening and he eats it up. More confidently paced, written, and performed than the last few, “The Vigil” is an effective episode that sets up the final third of this nine-chapter story with tension and violence.
It also includes the craziest performance on the show, and just about any other show in a long time, from one Mr. Ezra Miller. Playing the legendary Trashcan Man, a pyromaniac also known as Donald Merwin Elbert, Miller really goes for it in a way that could be admirable if it wasn’t also insane. King’s version of the Trashcan Man is that of a mentally ill young man whose immunity to Captain Trips freed him to enact his darker, explosive visions, including blowing up a lot of Gary, Indiana. Miller leans into everything one could imagine about such a character, playing mental and physical deformities to the extreme, including a vocal choice that makes him sound like what would have resulted if Bobcat Goldthwait’s Police Academy character played Jim Carrey’s Fire Marshall Bill character from In Living Color. It’s a thing.
While Flagg is calling this dark creation of overacting to the City of Sin, the good folks of Boulder are looking for the missing Mother Abagail. The bad folks of Boulder are conspiring against them at the same time. One of them, Nadine, is sleeping when Harold creeps in to chat. He worries that he’s being kept out of Flagg’s demonic loop and wonders if there are other soldiers of the devil’s in Boulder too. And what don’t they know about Flagg in general? Most of all, he tells Nadine that he knows how to destroy the committee: blow up the vigil being held tonight for Mother Abagail’s safe return.
A great scene unfolds in Vegas for Skarsgård, who tasks his new toy the Trashcan Man to get him fire from a nearby facility. As bad as Miller is, the True Blood star finally gets some room to play with a speech about fire and how they need to ferret out the identity of the one Boulder spy he can’t identify. He gets an even better scene not long after between him and Whoopi Goldberg when he comes to Mother Abagail in the woods. They represent the ancient push and pull of good and evil, neither giving an inch.
And then Flagg’s true evil is shown in a scene with the great Clifton Collins Jr. as Bobby Terry, one of Lloyd’s enforcers who made a big mistake. Flagg made it clear that he needed the second spy, Judge Farris, to figure out the identity of the third and final one, but Terry shot the good judge on the edge of town. Collins has some honestly dangerous energy as opposed to whatever odd choices are being made by Wolff and Miller. He apologizes to Flagg but notes that it was self-defense. In the book, Terry’s demise is a little vaguer and arguably scarier (“There were worse things than crucifixion … there were TEETH …”) but it’s explicit in the show. After Terry flips off Flagg and tries to flee, the devil chases him down the hall. Thinking he’s safe in an elevator for a brief moment, the glass is then covered in poor Bobby’s blood as Flagg demolishes him with his bare hands, literally ripping his heart out. As he holds it in his hand, someone says something about the big “moon” guy who cleans up bodies and Flagg realizes he’s found the third spy. Uh oh, Tom, you should have run when you could.
While Harold is almost shooting Stu in the woods, Frannie breaks into the loner’s house, and does what Larry couldn’t do: gets into the basement. There she finds his lair, including a manifesto that opens with a quote by Sartre (“Hell is other people”), which is never a good sign. She finds pipe bombs, too. And suddenly Harold is behind her. He stops her from leaving and reveals the depth of his mental illness with lines like “Captain Trips was supposed to be MY adventure.” He blames Stu for being alone again, and claims he’s going to fix it all. “I’m gonna fix this whole world, Fran. One blast of violence. One pointed stroke of cruelty to set the world right.” As much as centering Harold has dragged down The Stand¸ this is an effectively written and performed scene, one that captures the selfish nature of the violent loner. Frannie almost talks him out of it but he flees, locking her in his evil lair.
Meanwhile, there’s another brief chance to stop the carnage between Larry and Nadine. Joe is going to be with the other kids, and safe during the vigil. He whispers something to Larry: “Nadine and Mommy Nadine are two different people.” Larry looks suspicious, probably because he saw that Mr. Hyde version of Nadine the night before when she threw herself at him. Joe tries to stop Nadine too, but he can’t. He’s with the other kids when he hears Mother Abagail’s voice. He goes to the woods and finds her, screaming to alert the grown-ups.
Nadine and Harold are set to watch the show from up the mountain as the vigil starts. People down below note that Frannie is missing when a signal comes in that Mother Abagail has been found, delaying people entering the home. Sadly, Nick is already inside, crying. As he’s about to leave, Harold’s voice comes over the radio, saying, “I do this of my own free will.” Nick hesitates, almost as if he knows something is wrong. Frannie comes hurtling into the road outside, warning them just as Nick opens the piano and sees the bomb. He looks up as it goes off. Fire and bodies fly as Stu and Frannie hit the ground. And everyone will have to wait until next week to assess the carnage.
• Fans of the book must have loved that the creators of the show kept one of Flagg’s most memorable lines: “HEY, BOBBY TERRY, YOU SCROOOOWED IT UP!” Skarsgård really nails it, too.
• Fans of the miniseries will also remember that the doomed Mr. Terry was played by none other than Sam Raimi, director of Spider-Man and Evil Dead 2. I miss Sam Raimi.
• Clifton Collins Jr.! He’s a great character actor who always brings something interesting, and while he’s really good here in his one scene, imagine if he got a meatier role? He would have made a better Lloyd Henry, for sure.
• Flagg tells Trashcan Man about something called “Tsar Bomba,” which is the largest nuclear bomb explosion in history. Believe it or not, declassified footage of it was recently released.
• Harold tells Nadine that the Chinese character for crisis includes the Chinese character for opportunity. He’s wrong, but he’s not alone in being wrong.
• The credit needle drops are getting a bit too blatant, right? “Don’t Fear the Reaper” last week was about the most egregious example, but Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” after the bombing? Nick probably doesn’t think so.