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The Stand Episode 1 The End

The Stand Episode 1 The End Review, Recap, And Everything Important To Note

The battle for humanity has begun as CBS All Access’s The Stand Episode 1 opens in a flurry of death, hope, snot, and devilish smirks.

For fans of the beloved Stephen King novel The Stand, today is the best day ever. Finally, an expanded, cable-friendly adaptation of the story is here. The 1994 miniseries was largely good, but CBS All Access’s version could be great. They have the benefit of an amazing cast of well-knowns and genre sweethearts, along with a few lesser-known actors who will be stars. This adaptation of The Stand is not hampered by the restrictions of standard television, nor seemingly the budget constraints. Seriously the costuming, set design, and special effects are unreal. Additionally, the lauded man himself wrote the final episode; a never before read coda to complete the story once and for all. With all that in mind, The Stand Episode 1 The End was just that, the beginning of the end. Here is everything of importance you need to remember about today’s episode.

The episode cold opens literally with freezing water to the face. The world after Captain Trips wiped out most of humanity is a messy place. The dead lay scattered, decomposing everywhere. It is up to clean up crews to find and dispose of these bodies. In a grimy first scene that speaks volumes to just how good(read disgusting) the special effects will be we get our first look at tube neck. It is exactly what we imagined.

Between the bloated bodies, flies, and bodily fluids(there are buckets, and buckets of mucus), there is an odd sense of camaraderie and compassion among the people left to care for the dead. This duality between the ugliness of death and the potential goodness of life mirrors the fight to come. Stu, Harold, and Frannie are the first three introduced into the fight. In a well-choreographed mix of flashbacks and current timeline scenes, we see the first of the core three and how they came to be where they are now. Unfortunately by the end of the episode only one character makes a great deal of sense, and he’s a burgeoning psychopath. It’s a minor complaint but with so many characters and circumstances that need to be set up quickly, this form of disjointed exposition is necessary even if it is jarring.

The Stand Episode 1
Courtesy of CBS-featured James Marsden as Stu Redman

Stu Redman

Just as in the original miniseries and the novel Stu(James Mardsen) is at a gas station when an infected soldier arrives at a Texas gas station. He is the only survivor of the encounter and is whisked away to a research facility. Early on he agrees to testing but becomes more reluctant as time progresses. His innate need to do the right thing becomes apparent right away. He chooses to help despite the risk and discomfort to himself. Stu Redman is a rigidly moral person, and CBS’s commitment to a stalwart Stu is evident. He is the rock and the moral code that most everyone in Boulder will eventually adopt.

When he is moved to a second more secure site after an outbreak he is even more scared but steadfastly committed to helping humanity. When the entire facility is infected, Dr. Ellis(Hamish Linklater) and General Starkey(J.K. Simmons) release him from the sealed building. Shortly before his release he has a vision of a cornfield with a crying baby and a red-eyed wolf. Mother Abagail is calling him, and he senses the danger Randall Flagg represents. How he makes it to Boulder and meets Frannie aren’t shown. Ignoring what we know of the novel for a moment, the miniseries needs to explain how the much older man and a pregnant college student made their way to each other, fell in love, and moved in within five short months.

Frannie

Frannie(Odessa Young) is caring for her elderly father and going to college. Before Captain Trips, her life is not shown, but we know she is pregnant, scared, and reluctant to rely on Harold. She has to bury her father by herself in the backyard marking a strong call to duty and an ability to do what needs to be done. Her ordeal of having to bury him by herself is less impactful than it should have been. Either Frannie is a much less emotional version of the novel, or her story ark was jettisoned somewhat to make room for Harold’s magnetism. She has a vision of Mother Abagail in a cornfield telling her to come to Boulder.

Years ago, she had a shared moment with Harold that she barely remembers. It left a mark on him, though. The event meant little to her. He was her friend’s weird little brother, nothing more. Frannie knows Harold probably has a crush on him, but out of a need to connect with someone, she lays her head on Harold’s shoulder and decides to leave town with him, initially headed to Atlanta. We next see her in Boulder with Harold and sharing a home with Stu Redman. There is a crucial scene between Harold, Stu, and Frannie in front of a coffee truck midway through The Stand Episode 1. Frannie continues to be oblivious to Harold’s obsession. Society’s need for normalcy comes through. Humans like consistency, and even in a burnt-out world, coffee trucks persist. Starbucks should be thrilled.

Harold Lauder

Owen Teague(Harold) is easily the standout of The Stand Episode 1. He is electric on-screen. His wounded monster speaks of abuse, mania, and a perverse tender heart that has been broken by time and circumstance and is now encouraged to thrive in its twisted new form. His character development got the best treatment in an often rushed, overstuffed first episode. That is no slight on the series. There are so many characters and storylines that have to be developed early; the first episodes will have to be uncomfortably full. Think of them like Thanksgiving Dinner. Yes, you overindulged and feel a little sick, but you loved every bite. Teague sizzles and chews screen like no other. Even Alexander Skarsgård’s Randall Flagg struggles by comparison, and in his brief moments, he is magnetic.

In part, that is because the monsters we understand are scarier than those we don’t know. Harold’s demise started years ago; the Apocolypse just gave him the push he needed to devolve. His narrative thoughts are the best part of the episode. This man/child is obsessed with the woman who so impacted his young life and a life he believes he is owed. Before he descends into the version of himself we see in Boulder, he is just a bullied boy with a crush and a dream. He doesn’t want the world to go back to “normal”. He instead uses his years of mistreatment to mold him into a snarling, ferocious liar to hides his true feelings behind a pleasant facade, letting them out in a torrent of violent clacks on a typewriter.

This new reality could have been a reset button for him. A chance to find his place in a world that seems to appreciate and care about him. Instead, his resentments run too deep, and it will be an excuse to belabor old slights. The sweet moment as Frannie rested her head on Harold in the first act, gave way to a tour de force performance that spoke of pent up frustrations and unleashed demons carefully hid behind too bright smiles and practiced conversation. This will not be a tender reenactment of The Office where Harold bides his time until Pam leaves Roy. Harold, Stu, and Frannie are in a warped love triangle where only one member knows what’s going on.

The Stand Episode 1

Teague perfectly captures the complexity of such a sympathetic and horrifying character.

He furiously types his thoughts each night. Harold says hate and pride should never be released. To do so would destroy who he is. The ghosts of all the humiliations he endured make him who he is now. He has found a community and people who like and respect him, but he can’t forget or forgive those that wronged him even though they no longer exist. Harold is a ticking time bomb, and Teague perfectly captures the complexity of such a sympathetic and horrifying character. It’s not enough to make Harold a terrible person. We need to see how it happened and even sympathize. Teague manages to make Harold both monstrous and relatable. He isn’t a superficial fanboy, but a complex person defined by his past.

The Stand Episode 1 ends with a flashback to how the outbreak started. Campion ran from the research facility when the virus contaminated the inner chamber. If he had stood his post, the virus might have been contained. The doors should have sealed. Randall Flagg’s hipster booted, rolled jeans prevented that from happening. Flagg preys on our fears, our insecurities, and our basest instincts. Campion wanted to go to his family and try to keep them safe. It is a selfish but understandable need. Flagg was simply there to exploit it.

That is all Flagg needed to end the world. As the dark Magic Man rode alongside Campion in the backseat of the car, caressing his baby’s face, it is clear. This stranger is no friend to humanity. Skarsgård’s Flagg will be a swaggering, grinning fiend who is as much impish as he is hellish. The Devil’s greatest weapon is appearing to be just like us. His final Cheshire Cat smile as Billy Joel’s The Stranger plays is pure genius.

Notables:

  • James Marsden got to share screentime with some of the best actors. Hamish Linklater, who just killed in Hulu’s Monsterland Episode 3 New Orleans, Louisiana, and Legion was Stu’s doctor, and JK Simmons(Oz) was one of the last military men left on the planet. You know a series is going to be great when tiny bit parts attract this level of talent.
  • Frannie and Stu are the first to be called to Mother Abagail in Boulder. Harold is the first survivor to be called by Randall Flagg in New Vegas.
  • There are plenty of small moments like a nurse sneezing and Stu’s look of fear that hit way too close for home right now. If not for Marsden’s inherent niceness, the scene would have read more mean-spirited and less like gallows humor.
  • The President’s news conferences ring way too true. How anyone could have foreseen the events of the last several months with a President tweeting from his hospital bed, taking publicity car rides, and delivering messages of COVID bravado staggers me. Filming wrapped last March, well before the pandemic locked everything down.
  • According to folklore, seeing a wolf with red eyes in a dream refers to your personality’s emotional side. Seeing a one with yellow eyes symbolizes your passions, while a blue-eyed wolf stands for purity and self-respect. Knowing what we know about Stu and Randall Flagg, Stu is definitely accessing his fear.
  • Billy Joel’s The Stranger is a perfect choice to end The Stand Episode 1. If you are curious about the all too fitting lyrics, here they are:

Well we all have a face that we hide away forever And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone Some are satin, some are steel. Some are silk and some are leather They’re the faces of the stranger, but we love to try them on Well we all fall in love but we disregard the danger Though we share so many secrets, there are some we never tell Why were you so surprised that you never saw the stranger? Did you ever let your lover see the stranger in yourself?

Don’t be afraid to try again, everyone goes south Every now and then, ooh You’ve done it, why can’t someone else? You should know by now you’ve been there yourself Once I used to believe I was such a great romance Then I came home to a woman, that I could not recognize When I pressed her for a reason, she refused to even answer It was then I felt the stranger kick me right between the eyes

Billy Joel-The Stranger

1 comment

  1. Great write-up! One typo: “Frannie knows Harold probably has a crush on him”…(her). NICE WORK thank you

    Reply

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