Some interesting changes to the source material will stand out for fans of Stephen King’s The Stand, now reaching its conclusion in the CBS All Access miniseries of the same name. An explosive penultimate episode features the death of several major characters, including the travelers from the Boulder Free Zone, Nadine Cross, Lloyd Henreid, and even the infamous Randall Flagg. In classic King fashion, he never really gave readers of the book or viewers of this series the classic good versus evil showdown promised by the setup, destroying his demonic villain and his followers with what’s literally described as the “Hand of God” in the source material. He killed the travelers from Boulder who made it there, too. It plays out a little differently here, as do the fates of Lloyd and Nadine, but many of the themes remain, including the overall stupidity of evil, a force that always underestimates the ability of man to do something unexpected. Ultimately, it’s a decent episode when compared to the entire run of the series, even if by now people have long ago made up their minds whether The Stand works or not. While some of the changes may feel drastic to King loyalists, none of them stand out as deal-breakers.
Most of “The Stand” (real original episode title there, guys) takes place in New Vegas, where Larry, Glen, and Ray were taken at the end of last week. They are found in orange jumpsuits in the basement of the Inferno, awaiting a twisted form of justice. Glen sets a theme in this scene, noting how he’s encouraged by the crucified dissenters dotting the Las Vegas strip. It’s a sign of the Dark Man’s flagging power. Only the weak have to publicly display those who defy them.
While Stu shivers by a small fire, a trial of sorts takes place in Vegas. Lloyd reads the charges, which are mostly about the trio being spies. It’s a true circus, complete with goofy outfits, a gong, and hollering crowds. The trio are ordered to renounce the witch and swear loyalty to the “one, true motherf**king king” if they want to be saved. Lloyd rambles and rambles, talking about Larry singing heavy metal with his slit throat, and finally Glen interrupts him. As Flagg watches from the penthouse, Glen gets under Lloyd’s skin, and the servant of the devil ends up shooting the poor traveler. Glen’s final words are “You don’t know any better,” just before Lloyd plugs him a few more times, to the shock of the crowd. The cheering masses have been confronted with cold murder. Maybe they picked the wrong side in this fight? The best touch here is Flagg descending from his hovering position above the Strip in a manner that seems a bit uncontrolled. His power is quite literally fading.
Ray now worries that they’re going to make a show of her death, too, and wonders why they bothered to come all this way. Nadine comes to chat with the two remaining prisoners and wants to speak to Larry alone. He tries to reason with his former traveling companion a bit. After all, she kept the kids and Larry himself from the bombing — there must be some good in her still. He forces Nadine to look at her gaunt, pale reflection and she has a moment just before going into demon baby labor.
Cut to the penthouse, where Nadine’s “child” looks like it’s coming out through her stomach Alien style. A pained Nadine stands, yelling at Flagg that Larry was right. She breaks the window and hurls herself to the empty pool below, killing herself and Flagg’s “prince.” In the book, she goads Flagg into killing her before the Boulder people even arrive, which casts a different tone — the devil killing his own bride and child — and this kind of feels like it lets the Dark Man off the hook a bit while also giving Nadine a little more agency over her own fate.
Lloyd looks shaken by Nadine’s suicide and his murder of Glen. He knows Flagg’s power is failing, but he goes along with the boss’s request to bring Nadine’s smashed head down to Larry. Like all of Flagg’s plans in this episode, it backfires. Larry knows that if Nadine is dead, if the Queen and Prince are gone, then the King is in serious trouble. The empire is collapsing around him.
Finally, Ray and Larry are shackled to the floor of the pool at the base of the casino, surrounded by Flagg’s followers, chanting “Make them pay!” Lloyd plays hype man to Flagg, introducing him for the public execution, and Skarsgård gets some good time to monologue. “Nature contains winners and losers, predators and prey. Only now we are the predators, and they are the prey!” The apocalypse only clarifies divisions, it doesn’t create them. Lloyd turns on the water in the pool, which fills as Flagg and his people dance to U96’s “Heaven.” Flagg tells his people how the Trashcan Man is bringing fire in the form of a warhead to a plane that Flagg will fly to Boulder, killing their enemies.
As the pool fills, Larry yells, “I will fear no evil.” He gets smacked with Lloyd’s rod, and then the crowd starts to sense Henreid’s emotional desperation. Someone else shouts, “I will fear no evil,” and everything gets a little Spartacus. There’s more yelling and dissent. Flagg orders Lloyd to shoot the people yelling but he refuses and walks away.
And then it all comes to a (war)head as Trashcan Man brings his treasure from the desert into the casino. Melting from the nuclear radiation he encountered on the journey, he can only say, “My life for you.” And then a storm brews over the Inferno, fog and smoke coming down through the glass ceiling that Nadine shattered. It sends bolts of lightning through the crowd, killing followers as the water rises. Lloyd’s head gets knocked off by a swinging part of the casino as Flagg’s people leave their leader alone, shivering in fear from the “Hand of God.” He is hit multiple times by bolts of electricity until he disappears. And then it hits the warhead, which explodes, sending a mushroom cloud over the Southwest.
Stu sees the light and feels the shockwave, but the shadow of Tom Cullen emerges from the smoke. Back in Boulder, Frannie and Joe can see the light too. Joe tells her that the Dark Man is now gone, but he won’t answer whether he can tell if Stu survived. And then Frannie goes into labor.
• U96? Is anyone else surprised by the Eurodance choice for the end of the world?
• It was nice to see Wolff given more to play here than Lloyd’s goofy behavior from previous chapters. He handled it well. And Heard gives a solid final performance too, even if I’m torn on the changes to this character overall. Finally, it was undeniably fun to see Skarsgård bite into some juicy evil monologues. One wishes he had been given a few more.
• Next week is the actual end, and maybe the most exciting episode of the season because it marks a new coda written by Stephen King himself. He’s already changed the ending of this book once with the expanded edition. How will he change it again?