Welcome to episode four of The Stand, titled “The House of the Dead” – though it may as well have been called “The House of the Info Dump.” You’ll see what I mean. So we start with Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young) writing a letter/keeping a journal that we assume she’s addressing to her unborn baby. As she talks about how they’re working to get the Boulder Free Zone back to some kind of normal, we cut back and forth among the five committee members: Stu Redman (James Marsden) and Frannie, Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo), Nick Andros (Henry Zaga) and Glen Bateman (Greg Kinnear). They’re all getting ready for a town hall meeting while Johnny Cash‘s “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” plays for some reason I’m not sure of. We also see Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) picking out his best suit for the meeting and powering up his Tom Cruise-inspired, fake-happy face.
The meeting gets underway, but Stu barely gets two words in when some dude named Impening (Bruce Blain) demands to know what the deal was with Crucified Guy and when/if electricity will be returned. The crowd supports him, getting all restless and grumbly. Frannie nudges Larry to jump in since he has experience dealing with crowds, being a rock star and all. So Larry takes over and basically shames Impening into sitting the hell down by saying he should take his obvious passion and put it to work volunteering. Ooh, score one, Larry.
Larry then diverts the crowd’s attention by recognizing everyone’s hard work – the power station crew, the body crews and the teachers – including an uncomfortable Nadine Cross (Amber Heard). Cut to sometime before the meeting when the Five were figuring out what they were going to say, who would speak and if they all really believed that Crucified Guy was possessed. They decide it’s best to say as little as possible concerning Crucified Guy – to be truthful, but not to say more than they actually know.
Cut back to the meeting – Larry hands the mic back over to Stu, who tells the crowd that their best guess is that Crucified Guy ran into some bad people on his way there. He leaves it at that and changes the subject, saying that even though Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) chose them to run the Free Zone, everyone should vote on who they think should be in charge. Harold stands up then and says that he thinks the committee should stay as is, “since they’re doing such a good job.” The crowd applauds in enthusiastic agreement – but it’s clear from Harold’s expression that he has an ulterior motive.
When Harold arrives home, he’s shocked and a little scared to find Nadine waiting for him. He invites her in, and she shows him her Flagg trademark – the black-and-red stone pendant. She says the man who gave it to her told her to find him. Harold tries to pretend that he doesn’t know who she’s talking about, but Nadine doesn’t buy it. Harold asks what she wants, and she says, “to make your dreams come true.”
As she moves in to seduce him, she says that she knows they’re both virgins – and that she needs to save herself for Flagg. But between now and when they leave Boulder, Harold can do whatever else he wants with her. Harold’s surprised at all of this, especially when Nadine tells him what Flagg wants them to do – to kill Mother Abagail and the Five. It shocks, terrifies and excites Harold since it falls right in line with what he wants most – to kill Stu.
Cut to two months earlier, when Harold was on the road with Frannie. He watches her sleep and then jolt awake from an undoubtedly Flagg-filled nightmare (that we don’t get to see). Harold goes for it and puts the moves on her, saying how much he loves her and how everything that’s happened shows that they’re meant to be together. Frannie recoils from him and blurts out that she doesn’t feel the same way – and never will. His heart fully and completely broken, Harold retreats to his side of the campfire and turns his back to her.
Cut to Stu and Glen on the road, following Harold’s signs and trying to catch up with them. Glen remarks how Frannie made an impression on him – and Stu’s sudden bashfulness confirms it. The next day, Harold and Frannie run into a semi and some cars blocking the road. As Harold gets his spray paint ready to put another sign on the trailer, the driver, a fine, upstanding citizen named Garvey (Angus Sampson of Insidious fame) – pretending to be dead – suddenly jumps out of the cab and pulls a gun on them. Garvey tosses them two pairs of handcuffs and then opens the trailer to reveal two other women he’s been holding hostage.
Garvey starts beating up on Harold and skeezing up to Frannie. He tells Harold that if a little “snowflake” like him can beat him in a fight, then Harold can “take over the pride.” But Harold, of course, just doesn’t have it in him to be the big hero. He tries throwing a punch, but Garvey’s just too big and too mean to be threatened. While he’s busy grandstanding, one of the two women, Dayna Jurgens (Natalie Martinez), gestures to her companion, Susan (Lisa Chandler), to go for a lead pipe that’s just out of reach.
Garvey punches Harold in the gut and sends him down. Then Garvey makes a beeline for Frannie, but Stu and Glen drive up before things get really ugly. Garvey starts shooting and while Susan goes for the pipe, Dayna goes right for Garvey. Garvey shoots Susan dead in the ensuing tussle – but Dayna gets a hold of the pipe. And before Stu and Glen can even enter the fray, Dayna’s bashed Garvey’s head into a bloody pulp. Then she stomps on him for good measure and well-deserved payback.
That night, Stu and Glen ask the others if they want to go with them to Boulder – to find Mother Abagail and see if what they’ve all been dreaming about is really true. Harold does his best to cover the fact that he’s not having the same dreams but protests against going. Glen steps in then, going full-hippie professor with his vaping pen. He says he understands why Harold is so resistant, being a fellow “man of science” who demands proof of fantastic ideas like God and Mother Abagail. So why not go with them and see just “how deep the rabbit hole goes?”
Later, Frannie wakes up from another nightmare and goes out and hangs with Stu by the campfire. They both admit that they’re also dreaming about Flagg, and Frannie confides that she’s pregnant. Stu says he already knows because of the painting Glen did of her. Frannie breaks down then, saying how scared she is. Stu hugs her and comforts her – all to the mortification of poor Harold, who’s listening in with toilet paper shoved up his nose.
Cut back to Boulder, where Stu and Larry meet with the new town watch crew. They hand out coats that belonged to the Ski Patrol, and Harold’s buddy Teddy Weizak (Eion Bailey) asks why they aren’t using police uniforms. “We’re not cops,” Stu replies, saying that there are no laws to enforce – they’re just trying to maintain public safety. Teddy then asks if they’re getting guns, but Stu says if they want to carry, that’s their choice – and their problem if they end up getting shot. Harold watches Stu the whole time with a churning mix of anger, hatred and phony cheerfulness. Then he finds a Ski Patrol brochure in his coat pocket, which mentions that they sometimes purposefully cause avalanches with explosives. And we see the big, terrible idea forming in Harold’s head.
Cut back to the Five amid yet another discussion – this time, it’s Glen suggesting that they send people out to Vegas to find out what’s going on and whether or not Flagg actually exists. Nick says three people should go, but it can’t be any of them. Glen also says that the idea of sending spies goes against Mother Abagail’s instructions. So whom should they send? Frannie suggests Dayna because of her obvious toughness – and if it wasn’t already obvious enough, they cut to a shot of her welding something to hammer it home. Cut to the Five interviewing her, where she details just how dangerous and unpleasant the whole idea is before agreeing to it.
Larry suggests Judge Harris (Gabrielle Rose), saying that Flagg wouldn’t be suspicious of someone older. The Judge is understandably nervous but says it’s an honor to be chosen. Then for the last spy, Glen suggests Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke). And though it certainly isn’t the politically correct thing to do, everyone agrees that Tom would be the last person Flagg would expect or suspect.
We cut to three months earlier, to Nick and Tom on the road. They’re resting up in a furniture warehouse when they’re surprised by another survivor – a shotgun-toting, punky prom queen-wannabe named Julie Lawry (Katherine McNamara). She wastes no time in putting the moves on Nick, but before they can get too into it, they’re interrupted by Tom. Nick gets Julie to tell Tom his name, but she’s lasered on Nick and tries to split them up. Nick gets angry when she calls Tom a “tard,” and he walks off. Julie gets pissed and Tom pushes Nick out of the way just in time as she starts unloading the shotgun on them. They book it and hide in a nearby bus shelter, which happens to have a poster for a senior living facility called – you probably guessed it by now – Hemingford Home.
Cut to said home, where Mother Abagail sits among her fellow residents – all of them dead. She talks to them anyway, saying how she’ll be joining them soon. But then suddenly, Nick and Tom bust in and it’s a sweet scene as they’re all relieved to finally meet each other. “M-O-O-N, that spells Mother Abagail,” Tom says. Then we cut back to Boulder, where the Five are grilling Tom about the instructions they’ve given him. “Go and watch, come back and tell,” he repeats. They ask him when he’s supposed to come back, and Tom says when the moon is full. He’ll sleep during the day and walk back at night.
Then we cut to all the Free Zone hippies camping out in front of Mother Abagail’s house. Ray Brentner (Irene Bedard) shoos them all away and tells them to come back in the morning. Then she goes inside, where Mother Abagail’s talking to Nick. She tells him she understands how frustrating it is to have to wait for God’s will to reveal itself but that she doesn’t want the Five taking any action against Flagg yet.
As Fran continues to write to her baby, we see Judge Harris and then Tom leaving on their westward trek. There’s a sweet goodbye between Tom and Nick before Tom happily rides away on his bicycle. And that night, while the whole Free Zone is busy at a gathering, waiting for the power to come back on, Harold and Nadine snoop around the Ski Patrol’s headquarters. Harold tells Nadine that he went to the library and read up on explosives in avalanches. Nadine says they should keep quiet, but Harold says there’s nothing to worry about. “The watch is bullsh*t because Stu Redman is bullsh*t,” he says.
The lights come back on and the cheering crowd gets treated to a rooftop concert by Larry, who plays a rockin’ electric guitar version of “America the Beautiful.” But while the celebration goes on, a patrolling Teddy walks up on Nadine and Harold. He tries to be nice but can clearly see that they’re stealing explosives. And before Harold can do anything, Nadine shoots Teddy. Then she and Harold exchange looks – realizing that if they weren’t committed before, they definitely are now.
In the beginning, I said that this episode should’ve been called “The House of the Info Dump,” and I meant it. The chunk of valuable screen time those expository, philosophical discussions among the Five take up could have been used better. And here again, is where the series’ all-over-the-place structure does more harm than good to the story. If we’d slowed the frantic pace down a bit and spent more time learning about these characters in a more linear fashion (aka something we could more easily keep up with), we’d probably care more about their opinions on politics and espionage. As it is, the dialogue just kind of drones on and then, whap! It’s back to flashing forward and back, back and forward and needing some Dramamine.
Speaking of espionage, it’s only episode four and the committee’s already sending the spies west and Harold and Nadine are already busy with their upcoming terrorist activities. That all feels like it’s happening too soon. I mean, we haven’t even seen anything of Flagg in Vegas yet. In fact, we’ve barely seen Flagg at all.
The same goes with Mother Abagail. And here’s where one of the biggest mistakes has been made in this adaptation – changing Mother Abagail’s childhood home into a nursing home. That makes me want to give this whole thing the finger. I mean, why? Why would changing that ever be necessary? All I can think is that the creatives involved here decided that showing an old black woman living in a Depression-era farmhouse in the cornfields of Nebraska would be too much for the current woke culture to handle. God forbid we should delve into some of America’s less-than-stellar history by telling you any of Abagail’s backstory. Better to eliminate it altogether and substitute something generic, something – inoffensive. Right? Wrong. That whole cancel-culture explanation is bullsh*t, period, and does nothing but take away a large part of the rich, deep character work that Stephen King did in the novel.
The same goes with Nick and Tom Cullen – while Tom’s leaving Boulder was a sad scene, it didn’t feel sad enough. Besides the one quick flashback to crazy Julie Lawry, we don’t get to see any of their journey – so we don’t get that genuine feel of closeness between them that’s so essential to the story.
So was there anything to like in this episode? Yes, actually – Owen Teague. Once again, he gets the MVP award for his incredible performance. The whole sequence with Garvey at the roadblock wouldn’t have been nearly as scary if Harold wasn’t so terrified and weak. And his interaction with Nadine was a terrific cat-and-mouse game. Even though Nadine gets to exert control over the situation, thanks to Teague’s performance, you don’t get the feeling that Harold’s a complete doormat, either. And it’s Harold’s seething, homicidal hatred of Stu (and people in general) pushing against a delicately maintained good-guy surface that provides any real sense of peril at all. Not the Dark Man beyond the mountains. So we can only hope that when we finally do see Flagg in action, he’s half as scary as Harold.