Welcome to episode seven of The Stand, where we’re at the beginning of the end. We start at some unspecified military installation somewhere out in the desert, where a giddy, screechy Trashcan Man (Ezra Miller) carries out his assignment from Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård). Somehow just by using his own scrawny body weight, a rope and a pulley, Trash manages to haul up two tons’ worth of nuclear warheads from one of the abandoned missile silos. Then, with the Geiger counter pegging, he puts it on his ATV trailer and drives away.
Meanwhile, back in Boulder, Harold (Owen Teague) and Nadine (Amber Heard) watch their handiwork as the bomb goes off. Nadine tries to touch Harold, but he rebuffs her. He tells her that now that they’ve carried out their orders, they’re done. He expects Flagg to reward him with a woman who’ll make Nadine “look like a potato sack.” Then he walks off, saying they need to leave.
Larry (Jovan Adepo) arrives at the hospital, wading through the crowd of Free Zoners holding a candlelight vigil for the dead – and for Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg). Larry finds Glen (Greg Kinnear) and asks if Frannie (Odessa Young) and her baby are okay. Glen says everything seems fine and then Larry marvels at the fact that Harold – and especially Nadine – are behind such an evil deed. He then talks about Nick (Henry Zaga) and that maybe Mother Abagail won’t have to find out about his death if she never wakes up.
Then we cut to Mother Abagail suddenly waking up. She tells Ray Brentner (Irene Bedard) to bring everybody in. Stu (James Marsden) wakes up Frannie and they all gather around. Mother Abagail tells them how she’s sinned and that she already knows Nick’s dead. She says that Stu has to take over as team captain of the new Furious Five. And she tells them that all but Frannie must leave on foot that very day and head west to confront Flagg. She says one of them won’t make it all the way there, but she doesn’t know who. And in Vegas, they will make their stand. She says it’s what God wants from them, repeating the dialogue we heard at the very beginning of the series. Then she dies.
Meanwhile, Harold and Nadine ride motorcycles west through snowy mountain passes. Suddenly, Nadine decides to floor it, and Harold tries to catch up. Nadine leads him right into a hairpin turn and slams on her brakes. Harold crashes into the barrier and goes flying, landing on a mess of dead trees, ending up impaled with a broken leg. He screams for Nadine to help, but she coldly says that this is the way it has to be. And that he can end things quickly if he’s brave. A desperate Harold takes a few shots at her with his gun, but it’s no use. He hears her bike taking off and he screams to the heavens that aren’t listening.
Back in Boulder, Stu and Frannie say their goodbyes in a strangely stoic conversation. She asks how long it’ll take to get to Vegas. Stu says February, right before the baby’s due. She asks if he thinks Mother Abagail really did speak for God. He’s like, I dunno, but we dreamed of her and she was real. Fran asks if they’re all just pieces to be played. Stu’s like, beats me. She asks if he thinks Harold went west. Stu’s like, well, yeah. Fran says it’s not part of his mission to get revenge, but he’s gonna do it anyway, right? Stu’s like, you don’t want me to? Fran’s like, I just want you to come back. She wants him to promise he will, and she does say that great line from the book that “God can’t run all of it.” All Stu can do is promise to try. And she hands him his coat. Yep. That’s it.
Anyway, we cut to the city border (right in front of the “Welcome to Boulder” sign, just in case you forgot where they are), where Larry’s handing his beloved guitar over to Joe (Gordon Comier) for safekeeping. Joe doesn’t say anything, of course, but he does hug Larry. Glen arrives with his dog Kojak and hands Frannie a Polaroid camera, telling her to take their photo. She does and everyone looks inappropriately happy. Then Frannie and Joe watch them leave, Frannie doing her best to hold back tears.
As they get out of the city and into the wild, Larry starts asking how they’re gonna get water. Stu says they’ll find a store in the next town and grab enough stuff to get them to the next town. Larry says that’s all fine, but what about those long stretches of nothing they’ll have to go through – like Utah? Glen says they can get water from rivers and streams, but Larry says they won’t be able to tell if the water’s safe to drink. So then they all look at Ray, and she gets annoyed, saying they’re automatically assuming that the “Injun girl” knows? And the guys are like, well…yeah. And then she’s like, well…you’re right.
Cut to nighttime, where Harold’s trying to eat his last meal – a PayDay bar. But knowing that he doesn’t have any time or options left, he takes out his notebook and starts writing. Cut back to the Furious Four, leaving a small town with supplies in backpacks. They do a walk-and-talk about whether or not God exists, and Larry says Flagg’s probably just going to kill them all. Ray says Mother Abagail wouldn’t just send them off to die. Glen just says no matter what, they’re all on the train now to the end of the line.
Harold finishes his writing as vultures perch above him, just biding their time. Harold then puts his gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. Then it’s back to the Furious Four and a lengthy but welcome montage of their journey, where we finally get to see some beautiful, wide vistas of open country. And all the while, vultures circle above them and Flagg’s crows watch their every move. As they get closer to Flagg-land, they pass a billboard which says, “The Lamb’s Reward Is the Laughter of His Children” – but “Laughter’s” been changed to “Slaughter.” Nice touch.
So the Furious Four just happen to take the same route that Harold and Nadine took, and they find Harold’s crashed bike. They see vultures eating Harold’s corpse and Larry decides to go down to him to cover him up. The others aren’t nearly as concerned, but Larry says if it weren’t for Harold, he never would’ve gotten to Boulder. No matter what he did – or what Flagg made him do.
Larry finds Harold’s notebook and then there’s a really cool montage of Harold reading his letter over shots of all the rooms he occupied in his life, all empty. Harold talks about a game he used to watch the other kids play, jumping into a sandpit – something which he could never get up the nerve to do. He says he wonders if he ever had the courage to do it, perhaps he wouldn’t have ended up where he did. He apologizes for everything, saying he let himself be misled by the Dark Man – but that he did everything of his own free will. And he signs the letter “Hawk,” the nickname Teddy Weizak (Eion Bailey) called him.
Meanwhile, Nadine’s riding west through Nevada’s telltale red rock. She sees a flash of light off to one side and stops. She looks again and sees a figure in the distance. She leaves her bike and walks toward it. The figure disappears, but then a trail of white rose petals leads her to a red carpet, which transports her to Flagg’s penthouse in Vegas. Then they do this weird thing where the scene takes place in Vegas and the desert at the same time. Why? I guess so that Nadine thinks she’s in Vegas but is actually still in the desert? I dunno.
Anyway, Nadine tells Flagg they did what he asked, but Harold didn’t make it. Flagg says Harold was loyal, but he was never meant to “live among the gods,” like she was. Then they have sex and it’s everything Nadine ever dreamed about – until it isn’t. As Flagg gets rougher with her, he turns into his true self, a hideous demonic creature. But for Nadine, it’s too late.
Meanwhile, the Furious Four’s long walk gets a monkey wrench thrown into it when they find the road’s collapsed ahead. There’s a huge crevasse and somehow, they have to get across it. They all manage to make it down into the gorge – but when they climb up the other side, Stu falls back down and breaks a leg. Glen, Ray, Larry and Kojak all come back down to help, going through the customary “Let’s watch the guy push a broken bone back in” gross-out scene.
Then Larry says they’ll go for supplies and camp there, but Stu says no. They have to keep going without him – he’s the one Mother Abagail said wouldn’t make it. Larry’s like, no way. Stu’s like yeah, way, but Larry’s like, No. Way. So Stu starts reciting the famous psalm about the “valley of the shadow of death.” Well, let’s see. Valley? Check. Shadow? Check. Death? Quite possibly. Stu makes Larry repeat the “I will fear no evil” part until it seems like he actually means it. Stu says that Larry’s in charge now and everyone says these oddly unemotional goodbyes. Glen leaves Stu a bottle of pain meds, telling him that if he takes three or four at once, that should do the trick.
Meanwhile, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell on You” plays as Nadine emerges from her desert honeymoon looking – well, different. She’s in a blissful trance, wearing a white gown, white shades, white hair and bright red lips that make her look like an old Hollywood movie queen. While Flagg drives them back to Vegas in a gorgeous classic car, Nadine feels a sudden stab of pain in her abdomen. But Flagg just soothes her by saying they’re almost home and she falls back into that sleepy bliss.
Back in the Shadowy Valley, Stu’s surprised when Kojak comes back. He tries to shoo the dog away, telling him to go back to Glen, but Kojak just does what all good dogs do and stays with the injured. Some miles away, Glen’s going a little nutty, calling for his beloved Kojak, who isn’t coming back. But just then, a limousine pulls up – and out come a couple of enforcers and the Fabulous Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff) in all his foppy glory. As they drive the Furious Three the rest of the way to Vegas, Lloyd says that Flagg told him exactly when they’d be coming out of the canyon, right down to the minute.
Night’s fallen by the time they arrive. As they drive down the empty Strip, we finally get to see the crucified lining the way. And Flagg’s face is on every casino jumbotron, droning on about how “we tried it their way and it didn’t work,” Glen, Ray and Larry see people being beaten, wolves hovering nearby and a statue of Flagg replacing Caesar at Caesar’s Palace.
And in the penthouse, Nadine watches her new hubby do his mid-air hovering thing in his very Hugh Hefner-ish smoking jacket and slippers. He tells Nadine to head down and “greet our guests.” Nadine sashays her way down the hall, accompanied by Rat Woman (Fiona Dourif) and some other guard who ride down in the elevator with her. She checks her reflection in the glass and looks like that perfect movie queen. But when Glen, Ray – and especially Larry – see Nadine, they’re shocked at her frighteningly ghoulish appearance – like a zombie, with a very pregnant belly. And then we finally, finally get to hear “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man” as she welcomes them to New Vegas.
So we’re coming down to the end of it. Maybe not quick enough considering the slog this series has turned into, but we’re getting there. So, good news or bad news first? Guess I’ll start with the bad and get it out of the way. This episode continues the trend of underwhelming and frustrating me with its handling of – well, lots of things. Mother Abagail for one – her sudden reappearance, then bam, she’s giving the go-west speech, and then bam, she’s dead. I cannot believe how minor her character became in this series, but she’s not the only one. Trashcan Man’s also turned into a blip who shows up for a minute and then he’s gone again.
But this episode’s major flaw is how incredibly lacking it is in emotion, in an episode where it really should have been at its peak. I won’t get into a play-by-play comparison with the ’94 series – but in this aspect, the old one did it so much better. One could even say it was overly dramatic, but the events in this part of the story calls for that kind of feeling – deep, deep sorrow, fear – and love. And I wasn’t getting any of that from anybody. Mother Abagail recites her lines like a shopping list and then croaks with very little grieving on anybody’s part. Frannie and Stu’s goodbye was alarmingly cold, as were the goodbyes when Glen, Larry and Ray have to leave Stu behind. Just – nothing. It really boggles my mind.
But then again, there is some good news – what they did right, they did so very right. They finally opened up the scope and gave us those beautiful shots of the journey west. And they gave Harold a proper, fitting ending – and actually did it one better with that montage, instead of leaving his death as the pretty abrupt end as it is in the book. And Owen Teague kept up his superior performance all the way to the end and beyond. Even though Harold did terrible things, and had real, terrible darkness within him – we still mourn his death because of the misunderstood, sh*t-on good guy that also lived in him.
And I have to say; I also liked what they did with Nadine. Her transformation in the book – if I remember correctly – is a lot sadder. Having sex with Flagg is so traumatizing for her that it turns her hair white and she just becomes this catatonic vessel for Flagg’s child. But I liked the old-Hollywood-rockabilly-zombie queen they turned her into instead, one who’s more accepting – and even happy – to be the queen of the evil kingdom. I am interested to see if/how this different take changes Nadine’s ultimate ending, which I won’t spoil here for those who haven’t read the book.
So we can see that the creatives behind this series have it in them to do things right. But for some unfathomable reason, they just – don’t. And honestly, I’m really growing tired of the whole thing. It just doesn’t live up to what it should be. Not even close. And I know that Stephen King wrote some new material for the ending – but I just can’t get that excited about it because it can’t possibly fix everything this series has botched so badly.