Welcome to episode three of The Stand, which begins sometime in the mid-’90s – we can tell from hearing Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” on a lady’s Walkman as she pulls hall duty at some orphanage or state home. In one of the rooms, a group of girls starts messing around with a Ouija-like game called “Planchette.” The ringleader, who’s the expert on the game, calls on a shy “new girl” to join them. She says that the more people who play, the more energy they’ll put out to the spirit world. Little do they know that the new girl is none other than a young Nadine Cross (Isla Crerar).
The girls put their hands on the planchette that’s attached to a pencil. Ringleader girl calls out to any spirits who might be in the room. Nothing happens at first, but then the planchette suddenly moves and writes Nadine’s name. The girls are about to pound Nadine, thinking she’s moving the planchette herself when the thing really starts to move. They find themselves stuck to it as it scrapes up the floor before flying into the wall. The girls run screaming out of the room, leaving Young Nadine with the scrawled message on the floor: “Nadine Will Be My Queen.”
Cut to Boulder, where grown-up Nadine wakes from her memory/nightmare, scared and out of breath. She hears gunshots coming from the woods outside her window and then we cut to Stu Redman (James Marsden) and Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo) walking down one of the local roads, both with rifles on their backs. Apparently, Stu’s been teaching Larry how to hunt deer, but he still needs some experience shooting, with Stu telling him he’s “jerking the trigger.”
Just then, a car – and not just any car, but a bright yellow Ferrari – drives past them and rolls to a stop. The bloodstained door opens and a guy falls out (TJ Kayama). While Stu tends to the guy, Larry grabs the keys – attached to a souvenir “Welcome to Las Vegas” keychain. Stu examines the ugly wounds on the guy’s arms and somehow manages to guess that he’s been crucified. Because, of course, that’s the first thing anybody would think. Then the guy wakes up and tells Stu that he was sent to deliver a message – “He’s coming.”
Then it’s back to Nadine, as she gets herself dressed and psyches herself up to face the shiny, happy Boulder Free Zone with a smile. She goes to get Joe (Gordon Comier), who’s hiding under his bed with Larry’s guitar. Then we start cutting back and forth from there, back to when Nadine and Joe met Larry on the road. Joe comes running at Larry with a knife, and Larry puts the kid down and steps on his hand until he drops the knife.
Cut back to Boulder as Nadine brings Joe to check out the school. Teddy (Eion Bailey) goes way overboard in the friendly department as he shows her around and tells her that he and Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) have been cleaning the place up for her. But of course, Joe manages to find the one spot in the room with a big bloodstain. Then cut back to Nadine with Larry, telling him that she wants to go with him. Larry says the last woman who traveled with him killed herself, so maybe he’s meant to be alone. But then he shows Nadine the spray-painted sign on the road – another one of Harold’s – and Larry tells her he’s going “wherever Harold leads him.” Nadine says she wants to go, too – she and Joe both need his help.
Cut back to the school, where Nadine makes a polite-but-hasty exit from the room and Teddy’s way-too-friendly vibes. As soon as she leaves, Teddy says she’s gotta be the hottest chick in the world and that he’s “a lot closer to being the last man on Earth” than he ever thought. Harold says Teddy’s still got no shot with her.
Then we go to the clinic, where Frannie Goldsmith’s (Odessa Young) getting an ultrasound done. Dr. Wen (Olivia Cheng) puts the scanner on her belly and finds the baby looking perfectly fine. Frannie digs a photo out of her pocket and holds it up to the monitor – a picture of her with some guy – and she says, “Jess, meet our kid.” Now, only those who’ve read the book know who Jess is, but basically, he was Frannie’s boyfriend who knocked her up pre-Captain Trips. We never get to meet him in the book, and I doubt we will here either.
We cut to four months earlier, when Frannie and Harold were on the road in Pennsylvania. When they stop somewhere to siphon gas and take a pee break, Frannie sneaks some prenatal vitamins when Harold’s not looking. Stu walks up on Harold and introduces himself, revealing that he’s been following them for a while. Harold and Frannie are both wary of him, but Stu keeps trying to convince them he’s friendly. Fran introduces them, which Harold gets mad at, but Frannie says if they didn’t want people to know who they were, why are they spray painting it everywhere? Good point, but it’s clear that Harold doesn’t want anyone intruding.
Harold tries to get Fran to leave, but she says the whole point is for them to find other survivors. Harold says she can either stay with him, the guy who’s kept her alive – or pick Stu and his “dimples,” even though he might be Jeffrey Dahmer. He storms off, leaving Fran and Stu to talk. She apologizes for Harold and says they’re heading to the CDC in Atlanta. Stu says he’s headed west, maybe to L.A. They wish each other luck and part ways – but the look on Stu’s face shows clear disappointment and definite loneliness. Aww.
Cut back to Boulder, where Frannie’s asking the Doc if she thinks her immunity will pass to the baby – when Stu and Larry bring in Crucified Guy. Nick Andros (Henry Zaga) appears then and asks Stu via his notepad if the guy came from Vegas. Stu asks if Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) knew he was coming and who would’ve done that to him.
Then we cut to Nick’s intro, as he wanders into a bar in Arkansas. He accidentally bumps into a fine, upstanding citizen named Booth (Myles McCarthy), making him spill his beer. Booth stumbles after Nick, yelling at him, but of course, Nick can’t hear him. Booth starts beating him up, and when Nick desperately signs that he can’t hear or talk, Booth punches him right in the eye with a heavy-ringed finger.
Cut to Nick dreaming of being in the desert and meeting Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård). Flagg tosses him some cards and tells Nick he’s been dealt “a real sh*t hand.” He talks about Nick’s mother entering the US illegally to give her son a better life. But instead, he just ended up deaf, mute and broke. Flagg offers to make Nick his “right-hand man” – I’m guessing this is before he offered the same job to Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff). Flagg offers to make it so Nick can hear and talk and can have anything he wants – as long as he worships the ground Flagg walks on. But Nick just flips him off.
Nick wakes up in an abandoned hospital with a bandaged eye. Everyone’s dead around him except for Booth, who’s sick but still hanging on, handcuffed to a bed. He gets Nick’s attention by throwing stuff at him, and when he realizes who Nick is, he assumes Nick’s going to kill him. But Nick surprises him by showing pity and tending to him instead.
Then it’s back to Stu on the road all by his lonesome when a dog comes running up to him. The dog’s owner, Glen Bateman (Greg Kinnear), appears and Stu’s wary at first – but all Glen has on him is an easel and a canvas. Bateman introduces himself and the dog, Kojak. Then he invites Stu over to his place for some caviar, and while they hang out eating caviar and potato chips and listening to Steely Dan, they talk about whether it’s really the end of the world. And when Stu asks former sociology professor Bateman if he feels any obligation to get things back up and running, Bateman says: “Up and running got us here. I think it’s high time we tried down and standing still.” Interesting point.
But then it’s back to Nick, having the cornfield dream this time, where he meets Mother Abagail. He starts singing, but she says he can talk. She asks him how he’s doing with the Dark Man, and we can finally hear Nick’s voice saying, “He scares me.” Mother Abagail says he should be scared and tells him she’s an older woman the Lord’s chosen to talk to. Nick says he doesn’t believe in God, and Mother Abagail gives him the overused reply that God believes in him. In fact, God has a job for him – to be Mother Abagail’s voice. Nick says the world has never been interested in what he has to offer. But Mother Abagail says the world’s a blank page now and they all need to work together to rewrite it. She tells him to come to find her at Hemingford Home – “spelled M-O-O-N.”
Nick wakes up back in the hospital to find a huge guy with a Dolly Parton T-shirt staring at him. He introduces himself as Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke) and gives a long, well-rehearsed speech about his developmental disabilities – but of course, Nick can’t hear any of it. It takes him a while, but Tom finally figures out that Nick can’t hear or talk – but when he mentions Mother Abagail, Nick’s able to read his lips.
Then we cut to a baseball field somewhere, where Larry, Nadine and Joe take a break. Joe takes an interest as Larry finally sings a teeny bit of “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man” and plays his guitar. Larry offers the guitar to Joe, and amazingly, the kid plays back almost exactly what Larry played. But when Larry tries to take the guitar back, Joe won’t let it go. Larry backs off and he and Nadine exchange surprised looks.
Then it’s back to Glen Bateman’s house, as Stu checks out Bateman’s paintings. He sees one of Mother Abagail and wakes Glen up to ask him about it. They realize they’re both having the dreams and then Stu finds another painting of a pregnant Frannie, someone else he dreamed about – and Stu says he just met her the day before.
Cut back to the clinic in Boulder, where the committee – Stu, Fran, Glen, Nick and Larry – try to figure out what to do about Crucified Guy. Glen says they should tell everyone about it before rumors get started. Nick says that will cause a panic, but Bateman disagrees. Then he spouts off about how they haven’t actually been chosen by the people of the Boulder Free Zone to represent them – except by Mother Abagail, and then it’s, do we really believe in the whole God’s will-thing?
Mother Abagail shows up just then accompanied by her bodyguard, Ray Brentner (Irene Bedard). Mother Abagail tells Bateman that if he has anything to say to her, say it to Nick. And Nick speaks for her – even though she doesn’t seem to have a problem speaking for herself, but OK, whatever. Then they all go in to see Crucified Guy, and Mother Abagail sits beside him and holds his hand. Crucified Guy wakes up and says he dreamed about her. He tells her about Vegas and Flagg – how he helped everyone first, but everything turned bad. He was caught trying to leave the state and crucified. Then Flagg came to him and said he was sending him to Boulder with a message.
Mother Abagail asks what the message is and then Crucified Guy suddenly gets possessed, his eyes turning black as Flagg’s voice threatens: “I have your blood in my fists, Old Mother. Pray your God takes you before you hear my boots on your steps. I’m gonna blow your house down!” Then poor Crucified Guy dies.
Cut to Nadine setting up the Planchette game (and cutting back to her as a girl, where one of Flagg’s black-and-red stones magically appeared around her neck). Once she puts her fingers on the planchette, she’s transported to the desert dream. She talks to Flagg in a trance-like state, telling him she doesn’t like being in Boulder. “I can’t feel you there,” she says. Flagg says it’s because of Mother Abagail, and he needs her there to be his eyes. She says she’s lonely and wants to come to where he is. Flagg holds her close and tells her she must do something first – kill Mother Abagail and the committee. She asks how, and he says he’s chosen the weapon – she just needs to “pull his trigger.”
Nadine snaps out of her trance to find Joe staring at her. She tells him she was just playing a game and takes him up to bed. We see “Harold Lauder” written on the paper by the planchette. Cut to Harold and Teddy taking Crucified Guy’s body to the dump. Teddy says how weird it is that it’s the first body they’ve taken “that hadn’t already been dead for weeks” and how different it feels. And Harold just says he’s “the first of many” – strangely like he doesn’t even know why he said it.
Well, I would say that we’ve finally gotten a proper introduction to Mother Abagail, but it really doesn’t feel that way. It feels more like she just shows up, and she is who she is already, and that’s that. We get no indication of who she really is – or was before it all started. And Nick’s extremely abbreviated intro feels – well, exactly that. Everything in this version of The Stand is extremely abbreviated and not to the story’s benefit. So while we have some terrific performers playing these potentially terrific characters, the whole structure of this series cuts out proper character development – to the point that it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for anybody. And that’s not a good thing.
All that said, there were some bright spots. James Marsden’s reactions to Harold and Frannie and their rejection of him were heartbreaking. And Greg Kinnear does a great job playing Bateman as the supersmart, hippie college professor. He got to recite that great passage from the book about society’s creation, and he did it perfectly. The possession scene was actually pretty creepy, and the addition of some extra back story for Nadine as a kid was a nice touch. I just wish all this felt more like the epic that it’s supposed to be.