Happy New Year everyone! We can only hope 2021 puts out the dumpster fire that was 2020 – but before we all watch the ball drop, let’s recap the second episode of The Stand. We begin with the introduction of singer Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo), who’s walking through a big-box hardware store carrying a propane tank. He hooks it up to a grill and starts frying up what looks like Spam. The smoke carries through the small tent city that survivors have set up in the store.
A woman in one of the tents, named Nadine Cross (Amber Heard), watches over a sleeping kid who’s clearly not hers – a little boy known only as Joe (Gordon Comier). Nadine runs her fingers over a stone pendant around her neck – the same black-and-red stone we saw in the first episode being offered to Harold Lauder. She quickly hides it when Larry enters, calling them to breakfast – so they’re apparently traveling together.
The next scene is sometime later, as Larry drives Nadine and Joe (and for those who’ve read the book, Judge “Harris” (Gabrielle Rose) instead of “Farris”). Larry’s driving the lead vehicle in a convoy of cars headed for Boulder, Colorado. They’re met at the outskirts by a roadblock/welcoming committee headed up by Stu Redman (James Marsden). Stu already knows who they are and asks for Larry by name.
Cut to 5 months earlier, where we see Larry in the dressing room of some club, drinking and snorting coke while he yells at his manager (Luvia Petersen), who’s banging down the door. Larry’s supposed to be on stage singing his new hit song, “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man,” but his band is a no-show because they’re all sick with Captain Trips. He eventually comes out of the dressing room, guitar in hand, to find his manager and his mother (Lisa Renee Pitts) patiently waiting. His mom looks at him with disapproving, knowing eyes as he walks past her and onto the empty stage.
Just before he can start the song, though, a man in the sparse audience named Wayne Stuckey (Darren Dolynski) starts heckling him about how much money Larry’s making off the song. The guy’s drunk and sick with Captain Trips but manages to relate how Larry used to be his college roomie and friend until Larry stole the song from him. He jumps on the stage and starts an embarrassing brawl.
Meanwhile, at a county lockup in Phoenix, Arizona, two guards walk a fine, upstanding citizen named Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff) to his cell. Lloyd’s all swagger and attitude as he meets his new roomie, Trask (Danny Wattley) – who tells him he’s made the paper. Lloyd’s all proud of his big accomplishment even though he says he was framed. Then we cut to the scene of the crime – a C-store Lloyd and his buddy, “Poke” Freeman (Jeremy Jones), bust in to rob. Poke brags to the terrified cashier that they have law enforcement in three states after them. But Poke’s sick with Captain Trips – and when he sneezes, he accidentally shoots the poor woman he grabbed as a hostage.
Lloyd’s outlaw bravado suddenly disappears as he realizes the deep sh*t they’re in now. They’ve murdered someone. But Poke isn’t fazed at all and tells Lloyd he needs to “Pokerize” the poor cashier guy – or Poke’s gonna Pokerize them both. But before he can, a cop hiding in the back manages to shoot Poke (right in the face – eww). Poke manages to get a shot off and the cop goes down, just before the whole place erupts in gunfire from all the cops outside.
Cut back to Boulder, where Larry’s riding in Stu’s truck. They have a big info-dump conversation, revealing that Larry’s had the dreams of “Mother” Abagail Freemantle (Whoopi Goldberg). Stu fills Larry in on the whole Boulder Free Zone thing and tells him that Mother Abagail made a list of the folks she wanted running it. Stu’s one – and so is Larry, which Larry has a hard time believing, since all he says he’s good at is “f**king things up.” Larry also says he was more concerned with following the signs that Harold (Owen Teague) left for people to find. He’s glad to find out that both Harold and Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young) have made it to Boulder.
Cut to Frannie, who’s showing Nadine and Joe some of the available houses. Frannie asks Nadine if she’s having the dreams – Nadine says yes, but it’s pretty clear she’s lying. Fran tries to talk to a mute Joe, but he won’t respond. She asks Nadine where she found him, and she says sitting on the side of a road in Pennsylvania. Fran then asks Nadine if she’ll be his guardian, and she of course agrees since they’ve already been through a lot together.
Cut to Larry having a dream (similar to Harold’s) of being in the desert – a marquis with his name on it sits half-buried in the sand, outside a city we can now see is Las Vegas, Nevada. Larry smiles at seeing his name in lights and hearing applause – but then the applause turns to the sound of squeaking rats. Larry wakes up in bed with some random chick who’s sick with Captain Trips. Larry makes a quick exit and gets a call from a hospital where his mother’s been taken. When he gets there, he has to wade through the sea of the sick and the dead, until he finds his mom on a gurney in the hallway. She’s pretty far gone, but Larry says he’ll take her home.
But before Larry can even get his mom up the stairs, Wayne Stuckey pulls up. He’s pretty far gone with the virus but still has his angry focus on Larry, pointing a gun at him and accusing him of stealing his song. But Larry knows he’s too sick to do anything, so he ignores him and takes his mom inside, putting her to bed. He holds her hand and apologizes for being “such a f**kup.” And a few seconds later, she takes her last breath. Larry leaves her to go back outside and ask a dying Wayne where his stash of drugs is. Larry opens the trunk of Wayne’s car and finds a duffle bag full of all kinds of goodies. He takes it and leaves a dying Wayne slumped next to his car.
Cut back to Boulder, as Stu brings Larry to the house Mother Abagail’s staying in. The whole street outside the house is packed with people waiting to hear her speak – which Stu says she does for 2 hours every day when she greets new arrivals. They’ve met on the porch by Ray Brentner (a male character in the book, but played here by Irene Bedard), who’s packing and is apparently on Mother Abagail’s security detail. Stu leaves Larry with her, needing to tend to the many jobs he has as part of the “committee.” Ray takes Larry inside, where he meets Nick Andros (Henry Zaga), who signs his greeting to Larry since he’s deaf and mute. Then we hear Mother Abagail’s voice telling Larry to “come in here and sing me a song.”
But just as Larry goes through the door, the room changes into a desert dream. He’s running away from something and trips and falls. He looks back to see quick flashes of Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) and then a shadowy Mother Abagail before waking up on a bench in the middle of a deserted Central Park. As Larry starts his morning with some pills from the goodie bag, an old guy in a hospital gown strolls upon him, munching on chips. He’s all kinds of happy as he tells Larry he’s going to fulfill a lifelong dream: to run around Yankee Stadium naked and then jerk off all over home plate. How nice. Larry sarcastically tells him to have fun with that as he walks off – but the old guy tells him they’re all free now – free to do whatever they want, “free of society’s constraints.”
As Larry walks through the park, he comes across a pretty blonde dressed all in white, holding a white umbrella. She introduces herself as Rita Blakemoor (Heather Graham), and they have a surprisingly normal, small-talky conversation. Then Rita shows off the gun she’s carrying in her purse, which she says was her husband’s. Then she does some target practice on a birdhouse across the pond. She asks Larry what he used to do before, and he offers to show her.
Back in Phoenix, the guards load sick and dead inmates onto gurneys. Lloyd tries talking to one of them, asking if he can be moved somewhere else since he’s not sick. The guard tells him there’s nowhere to move him to. Lloyd then begs for food and water – but all the guard says is he’s got water and gestures to the toilet. He then hucks a handful of the dead inmate’s ropey snot at Lloyd, calling him a “cop killer” as he walks off. Lloyd freaks and runs to the toilet to wash his face. Eww. Then we cut to some time later, as Lloyd wastes away in his cell, as what’s left of the other inmates toss out a storm of flaming toilet paper (I wouldn’t think they’d want to waste the toilet paper, but whatever).
Back in NYC, Larry shows Rita a billboard promoting his album, “Pocket Savior.” She marvels at it and says his mom must be proud. Larry says his mom isn’t impressed by very much – but Rita says she is. After all, with things the way they are, that billboard might stay up there forever. He’s famous. Larry says he never thought of that and the two of them have a little snog. Rita asks him if he’s hungry as he watches a crow pluck the eyeball out of a dead horse. Yum.
Then they head off to her apartment, where they have a perfect date – Rita makes him a delicious steak dinner and they make love afterward. Cut to later on – Larry tells Rita they can’t stay in the city. The stench of 8 million dead people and disease-spreading rats are only going to get worse. Rita says she’s scared, and Larry admits that he is, too. Cut to the next day (I’m assuming), as they make their way through the deserted streets, passing by cars full of dead people.
Then they’re approached by a smartly dressed dude (Camden Filtness), who offers Larry the million dollars he’s dragging around in his rolling bag – if Larry will let him have Rita for 15 minutes. Larry pulls out Rita’s gun and tells him to get lost – but Sharp-Dressed Man has two lackeys with him, and both of them have guns. Larry takes a potshot at them and he and Rita run, taking cover behind a car. They’re not sure what to do until they spot a utility truck and an open manhole.
Larry and Rita reluctantly make their way through the reeking sewer tunnels, using Larry’s cell phone’s GPS to try and find their way to the George Washington Bridge. But when Rita gets attacked by rats, she freaks and heads for the nearest ladder. Larry says he won’t go back up top, but Rita says she won’t go any farther in the tunnel. Larry hands her the gun and Rita tells him to “have fun drowning in sh*t” as she climbs back up topside.
Back in Phoenix, a starving Lloyd tries to lure in a rat which he tries to bash over the head with a rolled-up magazine – but the rat won’t get close enough. Desperate, Lloyd turns to look at his dead roomie’s leg – which suddenly looks pretty appetizing. And meanwhile, back in Boulder, Larry, Nadine and Joe check out their “new” home. She asks Larry what Mother Abagail said to him, but he tells her he’s not supposed to talk about it. He then says he’s going to head out and find Harold. Nadine wants to stay put, but she asks him to take Joe with him.
Cut back to the sewer, where Larry finds himself wading through chest-high wastewater. Even with his phone’s light, the tunnel’s dark and full of strange, scary noises. He then sees – or thinks he sees – his mother floating by him. She calls out to him, but then rats come up out of her throat. Eww. Larry freaks as he heads for the closest ladder – and all of a sudden, a crow comes out of nowhere and attacks him as he tries to get the manhole cover open. Rita just happens to be right there to save the day, though, and she helps Larry out of the hole. And guess where they are – at the GW Bridge, rather conveniently – but there is a really nice, wide shot of the devastated city.
Larry and Rita camp out under the bridge, and Rita says it’s “stupid” that they’re alive when everyone else is dead. To continue living isn’t worth it, she says. But Larry somehow doesn’t get the hint and decides to head back into the tent to go to sleep, leaving her alone. Then we cut back to Boulder, as Larry knocks on a surprised Harold’s door. Larry introduces himself and Joe and tells Harold that it was his signs that helped them get there. He gives Harold a gift of some liquor (I’m assuming) and thanks him. He then asks to meet Frannie, but Harold tells him she doesn’t live there. Larry says he was traveling with someone too, and that it “didn’t work out.” Then we cut back to the scene under the bridge as Rita takes a bunch of pills and downs them with alcohol. And that’s the last we see of Rita.
Cut back to Boulder, where Nadine’s out on the back porch, staring out at the woods. She hears noises and comes back inside, following them to a shelf full of games. She jumps when one of the boxes moves – then she takes it off the shelf, a game called “Planchette.” Guess they couldn’t get the rights to just use an Ouija game.
And finally, back in Phoenix, a weak and delirious Lloyd meets Randall Flagg, the Walkin’ Dude. The hard case. The Dark Man with the dusty boots, scorpion belt buckle and a smiley face pin on his denim jacket. Lloyd freaks when the pin winks at him. Flagg asks Lloyd why he isn’t dead, and Lloyd shows him the gutted rat. But Flagg sees Trask’s mutilated leg and correctly guesses that Lloyd’s been eating him, too – which Lloyd eventually tearfully admits.
Lloyd says he doesn’t think Flagg is real – and if he is, he must be the devil. Flagg sits down beside the cell and toys with him some more, showing off one of the black-and-red stones, which he then magically turns into a key. Then he tortures Lloyd with a description of a roast beef sandwich and fries before offering to let him out. Flagg says he’ll make Lloyd his right-hand man, “St. Peter at the pearly gates.” Lloyd will have the chance to get back at everyone who ever told him he was “garbage.” All Lloyd has to do is promise that he’ll be loyal, that he won’t question orders – and that he won’t “fall asleep on guard duty.” A desperately, tearfully happy Lloyd gives his word and Flagg lets him out of the cell. He gives Lloyd the key, which then turns back into the black-and-red stone once it’s in Lloyd’s hand. Then the two of them walk off to get some dinner, and Flagg tells Lloyd he’s glad to have found him.
This episode covered two of my favorite scenes from the book (and the 90’s miniseries): Larry and Rita’s escape from New York via the Lincoln Tunnel and Lloyd meeting Randall Flagg. And while I thought the latter was done well, the sequence of Larry and Rita’s trip was a real letdown. And I mean a major letdown. I really don’t get why it was done this way, except that it just keeps with this version’s apparent rule of doing the opposite of epic. And I don’t accept budgetary constraints or logistics as an excuse. In this day and age, with CGI as good and common as it is now, there’s no reason in the world why they couldn’t have done it. And they gave us a teeny taste of what was possible with that grand, wide shot of the GW Bridge and the city. So they could have done it and they should have done it the way it was in the book – they just didn’t want to do it, plain and simple, and that kinda p*sses me off, to be honest. And don’t even get me started on the fact that we never even get to hear “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man.” I mean, WTF, guys?
And on top of that, we still haven’t gotten to properly meet Mother Abagail, which is just bizarre to me. And on top of all that, this episode’s even worse than the premiere for the whiplash-inducing zigzags back and forth in time. If I didn’t already know who all those characters were, I would’ve been completely confused. Example: if you just happened to be blinking during Nadine’s first scene, you’d totally miss the black-and-red stone that’s a Randall Flagg thing, and the only indication of her character’s motivation. So basically, if you don’t already know what Nadine’s deal is, she just comes off as this secretive, spaced-out weirdo. That’s a pretty lame introduction to a character who’s incredibly important.
Personally, I would’ve already written this whole thing off as not worth the subscription fee to CBS All Access. But there are some bright spots – Jovan Adepo is terrific as Larry, even if he didn’t sing the d*mned song. His performance really makes you want to see what he’ll be like later in the series when it comes down to facing down Flagg. And Lloyd Henreid also had a strong intro thanks to Nat Wolff’s performance. The scene where Lloyd meets Flagg is one of the best ever written in any story, and he and Skarsgård did an awesome job of playing it out. And even though Owen Teague’s Harold only showed up in one scene, he totally stole it.
So, overall? I dunno. The positives aren’t quite canceling out the mounting negatives. There are only 7 more episodes to the whole story, so I think at this point it’s safe to say their way of doing things is set in stone. So if you’re gonna stick with it, get ready for more whiplash and general confusion.