The Stand picks up the pace significantly in a crucial episode directed with flair and dread by Vincenzo Natali (Splice, Cube). There are still some odd changes to the source material in this hour, but it has more tension and momentum than the worst parts of the series’ midseason sag. It sets up a core concept of the endgame of this story, which is about challenging evil instead of hiding until it destroys you, and it presents the brutal fates of two key characters. Four surviving members of the blast in Boulder head to Vegas to get this standoff over, losing one along the way, while Nadine Cross makes the same journey, ditching the doomed Harold Lauder after he’s fully served his purpose to the Dark Man. But he’s not done yet with Nadine.
“The Walk” opens with (mercifully) the only scene for Ezra Miller as the Trashcan Man this week, getting the “fire” that Flagg asked for from the Nevada desert. (Note that this happens late in the book, indicating how much they’re hurtling toward this story’s end.) Sounding distinctly like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings on a sugar high, Trashcan Man has been reduced to a cartoon in this version of this story, hurt by how much of the character development from the source didn’t make it to the miniseries.
Cut to the bombing in Boulder, and the moments after Harold and Nadine pushed the button together, thinking they killed not only the Committee of Mother Abagail but many other innocent people as well. He tells Nadine that he “got Flagg what he wanted,” and then insults Nadine, telling her that “he’s gonna give me a woman that makes you look like a potato sack.” Actually, that’s not going to happen Harold. Anyway, he wants to be 100 miles away by sun-up.
In the aftermath of the carnage, makeshift hospitals have sprung up and Mother A appears near death. She calls the remaining Committee members in for a meeting, telling them that she has sinned. She forgot she was not the potter but the clay. She presumed Nick was the one to lead them, but now believes it will be Stu. Before she dies, Mother Abagail sends Stu, Larry, Glen, and Ray to Vegas to confront the Dark Man directly. There will be better days ahead, but there will also be death and terror, betrayal and tears. Frannie will have to stay in Boulder, and she makes Stu promise that he will return to help raise their child. (Note: It’s interesting that Frannie is injured in the blast in the book but not here. The entire bombing seems to be sped through pretty quickly in this version.)
Nadine and Harold are on an empty road when she speeds ahead. A corner comes up, and she screeches to a halt, but Harold can’t brake in time and goes flying off the edge, plummeting onto a tree, which impales him. Nadine tells him how Flagg would have never let him live — he was always a tool for the Devil, not an accomplice. If he has any strength left, he’ll kill himself. And that’s what Harold does after writing a final document in his journal. He puts a gun in his mouth and lets the vultures feast on his flesh.
Not much later, the gang of four finds Harold’s body, and Larry goes down to cover it up, treating him with more dignity than Harold ever would in reverse. He finds the journal, reading the key line for this character: “I let myself be misled.” The Devil is real, but it takes bad people to go along with what he asks of them. Harold was bullied and mistreated, but his final move is to own his responsibility for his actions. Evil exists, but it needs weak men like Harold to do its bidding.
How is Nadine not in Vegas yet? Wasn’t she going 120 mph? Anyway, she finds a red carpet in the desert, and she’s suddenly in Flagg’s penthouse. She made it. She’s finally with her King. They kiss, and she tells him about Harold. Now she can be his wife, and the two have passionate sex that gets more and more intense. She starts to sense something isn’t right and realizes she’s still in the desert just as she suddenly sees a demon form of Flagg. It’s an odd, vague cut to commercial in that shocking moment that somewhat lessens one of the darkest scenes in Stephen King history. In the book, this is a brutal, violent rape scene (“He battered into her, invader, destroyer, and the cold blood gushed down her thighs”) that traumatizes Nadine and leaves her catatonic. It may have been too dark for CBS All Access, but the way it’s framed here feels like it mutes how much Flagg abuses even his “Queen.”
Back to the quartet of heroes, who have come to a destroyed part of the road. They climb down into a valley. Climbing back up will be much harder. Stu is the last one to make it up the other side, and he slips just after saying “Nothing to it,” breaking his leg on the way down. They get the bone back in place and put a splint on it, but they can’t carry Stu to Vegas. He reminds them that Mother Abagail said that one of them would fall. (However, she also said Stu would lead them, didn’t she? Maybe forcing them to go on without him is a form of leadership?) Anyway, Stu is staying in the valley, and Glen says good-bye to his new BFF.
Nadine’s hair has turned white from her assault by the demon Flagg, and “I Put a Spell on You” plays on the soundtrack as she joins Flagg’s side — again, this feels like a much softer version of Nadine’s fate from the novel. After the assault in the book, King writes, “If she was also catatonic, what did that matter? She was the perfect incubator. She would breed his son, near him, and then she could die with her purpose served. After all, it was what she was there for.” Time will tell if the producers have altered Nadine’s arc for a reason other than just fearing how brutally dark it is in the source. Most important, she grabs her stomach! She’s having a demon baby! WandaVision isn’t the only show this month with a speed pregnancy!
The faithful dog Kojak won’t leave Stu in the valley, and so Glen is calling his name when a limo pulls up. It’s the annoying Lloyd, come to escort the travelers. They drive through the night, leaving Kojak behind, and come to an empty Vegas Strip (a tragically familiar sight in 2020). Julius Caesar is being replaced in front of his Palace by a statue of Randall Flagg, as random acts of violence continue outside the casinos. They arrive at the Inferno, where Flagg hovers above his penthouse window, telling his Queen Nadine to go greet their guests. As she prowls through the lobby and reaches Glen, Larry, and Ray, the camera spins to reveal she’s very pregnant. And it’s moving.
• The needle drops at the end of the episode continue to straddle that line between ridiculous and clever. Case in point: “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” by Bing Crosby, after the Nadine Cross pregnancy revelation. You decide.
• A better one comes earlier in the episode when they use the beautiful “I Promise,” by Radiohead, as the gang crosses Utah.
• Stu quotes Psalm 23 when he’s telling Larry to leave him. He quotes the part about him being in a literal valley — “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” — but there’s another part that may provide comfort for Stu now that he’s alone: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
• Owen King got the solo writing credit here! If you’re wondering, yes, he’s Stephen’s son, and he also got co-writing credit on episode two and the book Sleeping Beauties (with his dad), which is being made into a TV movie. He’s also a producer on the show. Kings, keeping it in the family.