Welcome to episode nine of The Stand – aka the finale, aka the new coda written by Stephen King. Frannie (Odessa Young) is the central focus, and we start with her in Boulder, her voiceover talking to her new baby about the future. She questions where they’re headed and if it’ll be any different than the world pre-Captain Trips, especially as she sees Norris (Nicholas Lea) handing out guns to the town watch folks.
Fran talks about the huge party everyone had when the baby was born – but then the baby came down with Captain Trips. Frannie says that she considered ending her life, knowing that everyone who ever contracted the virus died and that it was cruel to keep her alive and suffering. But then she says she couldn’t go through with it – and amazingly enough, the baby recovered. And she mentions the other babies that came after – babies that weren’t sick, being children of immune parents. Then she talks about how long she’s going to wait before accepting the idea that Stu (James Marsden), Larry (Jovan Adepo), Glen (Greg Kinnear) and Ray (Irene Bedard) are all dead. She says everyone keeps telling her to send more people west to find out what happened to them and to Randall Flagg (Alexander Skårsgard), but she refuses to risk any more lives.
Heading out for a walk with the baby, Frannie runs into Norris, who asks her to make an appearance at the memorial that night. Fran says she’s not up for being around people – but Norris says she’s the only connection left to Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) and that it’s important that people see her and the baby. When she gets there that night, Frannie adds the photo she took of the Furious Four to all the other photos on the memorial. Then suddenly and rather conveniently, who should come walking up but Stu, Kojak and Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke). Of course, Frannie’s surprised and overjoyed and Stu just says that Tom saved his life. Then Frannie introduces him to the baby, appropriately named Abagail. Then there’s a cool-looking, long tracking shot through the nuked rubble of New Vegas. It finally comes to rest on Randall Flagg’s smiley-face pin, which goes from X’s over the eyes back to an evil smile.
Then it’s the 4th of July, and the Free Zoners are all out partying at a huge barbecue and dance. Frannie’s a little out of sorts, though, and she and Stu agree that while Boulder is a wonderful place, sooner or later, it will go back to just being a regular city, especially with the hundreds of new arrivals. Sooner or later, there will be crime – stealing, murder. Frannie tells Stu that she wants to go back to Maine.
Soon after, Stu and Fran pack up a bunch of maps and baby Abagail, say sad goodbyes to everyone and head out. There’s a nice montage of them driving along the back roads and camping out. They arrive in Nebraska (where Mother Abagail is supposed to be from) and decide to spend the night at an abandoned house bordering a cornfield. Kojak pulls a doll out of the field – a doll that, if you remember from the beginning, Frannie saw in her first dream of Mother Abagail. A girl’s hand reaches in and snatches it – and later that night, in the same clearing in the field from the dreams, a young girl (Kendall Joy Hall) holds the doll and sings.
The next day, Stu heads out on a supply run. Frannie stays behind with the baby and decides to see if the water pump works. Stu busts a flat tire on the way back and can’t raise Frannie on the radio. While messing with the water pump, Frannie hears Flagg whisper in her ear and a rat suddenly latches onto her hand. Trying to shake it off, she falls through the well cover and down to the bottom.
While unconscious, she dreams of running into Flagg somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. He shows her a tribe undiscovered by modern men, people who weren’t touched by Captain Trips. Then Flagg shows Fran how severely injured she is – a broken leg, a concussion, busted ribs and a punctured lung. Then he shows her Stu changing the tire – the jack looks like it’s going to give way and he’ll be crushed under the truck. Flagg offers to fix everything for them both – all he wants from Fran is a kiss and to be able to “see through her eyes from time to time.” Frannie pretends to agree but ends up biting him and running off.
She ends up falling out of the rainforest and into the cornfield. She finds Mother Abagail sitting on the porch of a house (aka the real Hemingford Home). Abagail tells her that Flagg just showed her what would frighten her most – and that God will bless her for resisting the temptation. She tells Fran, “The wheel keeps turning. The struggle continues, but the command is always the same. Be true. Stand.” Then she tells Fran she’s going to have 5 kids, and those kids will have 20, and those kids will have 70 – and that she will live long enough to see some of those 70 born.
Stu gets back to the house and Kojak leads him to the well. But the young girl is also sitting there on the steps, feeding the baby. The girl helps Stu by running the winch while he goes down to Fran and brings her up. Then the girl runs her hands over Frannie and heals her injuries. She tells Frannie to stand – and when she does, the girl disappears. They go up to the porch where the baby is, and Stu finds the doll and realizes that the mysterious girl was a young Mother Abagail.
A week later, as they sit by the ocean in Maine, Stu asks Frannie what happened in Nebraska. Frannie says she saw both sides of the world – the light and the dark. She repeats Mother Abagail’s words and it’s happily ever after. And finally, Randall Flagg walks out of the Amazon river wearing nothing but his dusty boots into the village of that undiscovered tribe. One of them shoots at him with an arrow, but Flagg catches it and kills the guy with just a point of a finger. This scares the sh*t outta the locals and they all kneel before him. Flagg says, “My name is Russell Faraday…worship me!” And – cut. The end.
So that’s it. And I cannot believe it. Somehow I hoped against all hope that this last hour of the story would give us a fitting ending – or at least, something that felt satisfying. But as soon as it started and I realized that they were cutting out the entirety of Tom Cullen rescuing Stu, all that hope vanished. In the book (and the ’94 miniseries), Tom rescues Stu and takes shelter at the lodge for the winter. But Stu has the flu (the regular flu) and nearly dies. And we find out that Nick Andros comes back in Tom’s dreams. He’s the one who tells Tom where to find Stu, and he helps Tom take care of him. By the springtime, Stu’s healed up and they head back to Boulder. But none of that is shown here. Absolutely none. It’s just gone. I’m sorry, but that’s just unforgivable. It might have been worth losing if the stuff that replaced it was better – but it wasn’t.
I know those behind this series also wanted to get away from King’s tendency to fall back on the “magical Negro” character. (That term isn’t something I made up. There are quite a few articles out there about it.) And so, they did away with pretty much everything that made Mother Abagail such a wonderful character – like her entire backstory. So now Mother Abagail’s politically correct – great. But she’s also empty, flat and completely uninteresting. And then what did they end up doing? They resurrected her as a young girl and made her the magical Negro. So what was the point of all that again?
And while King wrote a decent character study of Frannie, ultimately, I don’t believe it was worth what they sacrificed to include it. They could very well have covered the same ideas in half the screen time and still showed us all that great material of Stu, Tom and Nick. And while the inclusion of Flagg’s reappearance in the Amazon was kind of cool, at the same time, it kind of begs the question of what the point of Captain Trips was at all, if everything was just going to start up all over again? I can buy that it’s demonstrating what Mother Abagail said about the wheel always turning and the continuing struggle – but somehow, it also feels like everything you just saw has been negated.
The overall verdict? As I sit here typing this, I just keep shaking my head. All of us who are fans of the story have been waiting 27 years for a screen version of the book that would take advantage of the huge improvements in visual effects, with enough of a budget to give the story its truly epic feel. And while we did get the improved VFX, unfortunately, we seem to have traded everything else just to get a decent version of New Vegas blowing up. This version of The Stand is just a nine-hour sequence of one missed opportunity after the other. And what are we left with at the end of it all? An ending that falls flat and feels totally unfulfilling.
So my advice to anyone whose first introduction to The Stand was this series – please, read the book, and watch the 1994 miniseries. Both are far, far superior to what this series gave us and in them, you will see the real story – the reasons why King’s novel has become one of the greatest examples of American storytelling. Because it makes you feel. Deeply. Something which, unfortunately, this series never accomplishes – and that’s just tragic.