Welcome back to The Stand. It may be 2021, but the apocalypse is still on everyone’s mind. And yet it’s starting to feel like this CBS All Access adaptation of the Stephen King epic isn’t effectively tapping into that national anxiety. With four episodes in the books, the most memorable traits of The Stand are that it has somewhat controversially centered a dangerous incel type as arguably its main protagonist, and completely dismantled/reconstructed the narrative structure of its source. There are strong scenes here and there, but too few performances that register as above average overall. And this episode highlights more weaknesses than strengths, including spending way too much time with Harold and using the crosscutting chronology in a way that’s more frustrating than anything else.
Will Nadine kill the witch and the five puppets by pulling Harold’s trigger? That will have to wait a bit as everyone gets ready for something while Johnny Cash sings “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” Subtle. People are putting on suits and ties, looking worried in mirrors. It’s a town meeting to discuss the stranger with marks of the crucifixion who stumbled into Boulder last episode. As the meeting begins, the episode cuts back to planning the meeting. What’s to be gained by intercutting here other than a disorientation that isn’t really necessary? It felt like the first couple episodes played with King’s chronology to present a more complete picture of a character’s arc in a single episode. That made sense — focus on one or two characters instead of catching up with all of them every hour. But the timeline jumps in this episode feel showy instead of purposeful.
Anyway, the gang argues over what exactly to say to the townspeople who survived the plague. As Glen makes clear, sometimes the messenger is more important than what is coming out of his mouth, and Stu is a likable messenger. A lot of The Stand is about not just the messages that are received but how they’re delivered and by whom. As Stu struggles to communicate, Larry comes to the mic to win over the crowd, thanking the people who are working to get the power on, the body crew guys, and the teachers. The power will come back on. Everyone applauds, and then Stu avoids the concerns of danger by putting people in charge of mitigating it. There needs to be a patrol to keep Boulder safe. Harold puts forth a motion to make the five people on stage a permanent committee of leaders. Feels like that was a thing already, but thanks Harold.
The creepiest guy in Boulder gets a scare when he comes home to find Nadine on his porch. Turns out she’s going to take the instruction to “pull his trigger” as a double entendre, as she seduces the awkward Harold to her cause. She speaks of what they’ll be able to do together both physically and in Flagg’s operation. She will be the Queen and Harold will be the Prince, but they need to kill Mother Abagail and her five soldiers. After he orgasms in his pants, Nadine says, “Just figure out how you’re going to kill them” in a Hall of Fame bit of direct dialogue.
Flashback to a very different encounter in the life of Harold Lauder. He’s on the road with Frannie when he decides to tell her he loves her. It doesn’t go well. The next day, the pair are continuing on their journey, trailed by Stu and Glen, when they come upon what they think is a dead trucker blocking the road. The trucker, whose name is Garvey (Angus Sampson), is very much not dead, and he points a gun at Harold and Frannie, forcing her to put on handcuffs, and revealing that he has two other cuffed women in his trailer. One of them is Dayna Jurgens (Natalie Martinez), who will play a role later.
And here’s where the structure of this version of The Stand seems to be actively working against its success. What should be a tense scene has an entirely different energy because of what viewers know about where Harold will go in Boulder and what he will potentially become. Even Stu and Frannie growing close after the violent encounter doesn’t have the power it would have if this story had been told directly. When Frannie tells Stu about her pregnancy and her dreams, there’s no drama to it because of the present-day union the pair already has. Strong flashback structures can enhance what has already been revealed in the present-day timeline, but these feel like they’re pulling the narrative back from its urgency instead of deepening the characters.
Garvey pushes Harold into violence, and he does get one punch in before things get really ugly. Thankfully, Stu and Glen pull up to save the day. Garvey shoots at the car, distracting himself long enough for one of his victims to grab a pipe and go after him. She ends up dead, but the gun gets tossed away. As Garvey goes for it, Dayna gets the pipe and bashes Garvey’s head in. Harold does just about nothing but get brain matter on his face.
Back in Boulder, Teddy (Eion Bailey) wants a gun on his patrol route — a poignant request given his fate at the end of the episode. He’s chumming around with Harold, who is glowering at Stu when he feels a Boulder Ski Patrol brochure in his new jacket. It’s a sign! It turns out the mountains nearby have explosions to control avalanches. Harold seems like a guy who likes explosions. While Teddy wonders if The Rock is still alive while staring at a Blu-ray of Skyscraper, Harold hatches a horrible plan.
Back to the meeting before the town meeting in which Glen suggests a strategy to combat what’s coming from Vegas — send two to three spies to see what’s going on there. Stu wants to go but he’s too valuable. Glen notes that this is a violation of Mother Abagail’s orders, which seems like a bad idea, but they push through to selecting their spies: Dayna, Judge Farris (Gabrielle Rose), and Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke), Nick’s self-described “handi-capable” traveling companion. He would be the last person that Flagg would suspect would be a spy.
Flashback within a flashback to when Tom and Nick were on the road and encountered the deeply unstable Julie Lawry (Katherine McNamara). She’s aggressive sexually and violently, while also mocking Tom’s intellect and just being awful in every way. McNamara goes really broad with Julie, but it gives the episode some needed dangerous energy, and she should be interesting when the character returns, which fans of the book know she will. Nick and Tom flee her and stumble upon an ad for Hemingford Home, where they have to get Mother Abagail. They finally reach her and tell her that they’re taking her to Boulder.
After Tom is sent on his way to the City of Sin, the episode culminates in a nighttime mission for Nadine and Harold to get the explosives. While they’re doing that, the power is going back on down the hill in Boulder. The lights go on just as Harold and Nadine are unloading their explosives. As Larry plays “America the Beautiful” Hendrix style, Teddy rounds the corner and sees Nadine. He seems kind of cool about it, but Nadine shoots him anyway. He will never find out if The Rock survived Captain Trips. Poor guy.
• Good guest stars and introductions to major supporting characters this week. Sampson is menacing as Garvey, Martinez should make for a solid Dayna, and McNamara works as the unstable Julie. And Henke is deftly avoiding too much broad cliché in Tom.
• We all spotted Stephen King in the advertisement for Hemingford Home, right?
• Is “Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Wood to end the episode a reference to the ending when Teddy tells Harold to run? Take the sign that Nadine is unstable? Or just a reference to a show thick with signs and omens?
• Next week should get us to Vegas and some much-needed Randall Flagg screen time. The restructuring has centered Harold over the real major figures of this narrative over nearly the entire first half of the season. That needs to change starting now.