In an episode bearing the same name as the series itself, The Stand has finally reached its climax as the “Council of Boulder” faces off in a final stand (for lack of a better term) against the Dark Man himself, Randall Flagg.
In the 1994 miniseries, this particular moment was heavily criticized as being too campy, so this penultimate episode had a lot to prove and it was never going to be an easy task.
(Spoilers Ahead – You’ve Been Warned)
Exposing the Cracks
Following their arrival in New Vegas, Glen, Ray, and Larry are put on trial where they’re given the chance to renounce Mother Abigail and live. Glen uses the trial to make a bold statement in front of everyone that none of them actually love Flagg, rather they’re just afraid of them. His words resonate with some, even if they’re not willing to admit it.
His words seem to get under Lloyd’s skin, who acts rashly, shooting and killing Glen right then and there. And as everyone watches him die, what he said about fear starts to reveal everything wrong with New Vegas.
Even Nadine starts to have a change of heart, when she goes into early labor with Flagg’s baby, and something feels very wrong. She leaps to her death in a tragic finale to her character arc. She made her choices and was responsible for them, however, what’s sad is that she felt like she never really had a choice. And that she was always meant for it.
The Hand of God
After the trial, Glen’s murder, and Nadine’s suicide, Ray and Larry are sentenced to death by drowning in the large pool. In a rare move, Flagg himself addresses the crowd in what can only be described as uncomfortably bizarre.
Skarsgård did a decent job with the character in the quiet, subtle, creepy moments, but here he’s supposed to be the devil incarnate, leading his flock down a path of sin and evil, and he just comes off like a mouse trying to be a lion. It really doesn’t help that when the music plays, Flagg does this weird dance that just looks so unnatural, and almost becomes hilarious.
However, all this comes to an abrupt end when the sky opens up and a vicious lighting storm seems to target specific people, including Lloyd (who had just redeemed himself by trying to free Larry), Julie, the Rat Woman, and many others.
Adapting King’s “hand of God” concept from the novel isn’t easy to do on film, and doing so via a “natural disaster” like this is probably the best way to do it. Here, it almost feels like one of the plagues of Egypt. It all culminates together with the detonation of the nuclear warhead that the Trashcan Man brought in, and the ultimate destruction of New Vegas.
Out in the desert, Stu feels the shockwave from the blast as a cloud of dust rushes through the air. And our long lost spy Tom Cullen spots Kojak and follows him, hopefully to Stu. They even see the blast all the way in Boulder, just in time for Frannie to go into labor, and give us a cliffhanger for a final episode that will probably be more of an epilogue as this was the climax.
For everything that The Stand builds up between the plague, the society-building, and the conflict between good and evil, the ending can’t help but feel a little underwhelming. To be fair, it’s not entirely the adaptation’s fault, as it’s the source material that fails to deliver on a satisfying climax.
This massive conflict was built and built, but in the end, it’s just a few people walking to Vegas and getting killed. Sure, Glen’s words and Larry’s “I will fear no evil” inspire people to finally have a change of heart. But they all die in the nuclear explosion anyway, so what was the point of any of their redemption.
Had people like Lloyd been able to escape (along with Larry and Ray), it would have made the whole redemption arc all the more effective. And if everyone in New Vegas was going to die anyway from the nuclear blast, what was the point of Stu, Glen, Ray, and Larry even going?
As previously mentioned, it’s not this miniseries’ fault that the story is much better in the beginning than it is in the end. It is however this miniseries’ fault that it botched that first act, but it did the best it could with this kind of absurd ending, and made it as gritty and down to Earth as it possibly could have been.
The conflict is over, but this series will have one more chance to wrap everything up in a satisfying manner next week. Hopefully it gives audiences the emotional closure that it promised from the very start.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know in the comments!
The Stand is streaming exclusively on CBS All Access (soon to be Paramount+)