I remember watching the 90s TV mini-series version of The Stand back when it was new. I was probably in the middle of my Stephen King fandom, something that today has waned a bit though I will say that what little I have done to revisit his older work turned out pretty well for me. But back when I saw The Stand on TV for what amounted to an all-star cast for anything on television, I was largely impressed…though I think I skipped the first chapter for some reason. I even went on to read the (unabridged) novel…and man, was that a bit self-indulgent in places.
But then CBS (Paramount+ these days) opted to make a new, more adult version. Sure, putting it out during a real pandemic is probably about as bad as timing can get for something like this, but I figure it wouldn’t hurt to check out the new one, see how it holds up overall, and so forth. Besides, I am paying for Paramount+ for some reason. I might as well get something out of it.
At any rate, the structure for this particular episode is just a little odd. I would think the first episode would focus mostly on introducing all the characters, setting up the plot, and going from there. Instead, it opts to focus a little on the pre-pandemic life of wannabe author Harold Lauder that crosses over to the post-pandemic life, and then what happened to Stu Redman, locked up in a government lab where it was discovered he, and he alone of his small Texas community, is somehow immune to the mysterious Captain Tripps Superflu or whatever it’s called.
Except they don’t really tell us all that right away, and after Whoopi Goldberg’s Mother Abigail gives some narration over a cornfield, we then skip to Stu helping to dispose of bodies with…well, other people. Why? Where is he? Heck, the only reason I know it’s Stu is because of some memory of the original story and a little knowledge on casting. The episode doesn’t tell us who he is for quite some time. If anything, it’s not great for sharing names and identities right away.
Really, if I didn’t remember who was who, I wouldn’t know.
That said, this time around, knowing King’s fondness for writers-as-heroes, it really is something to note the writer in this story, Harold, is one of the first to fall for the Dark Man Randall Flagg’s offer. And while Harold is bullied by the standard borderline homicidal type of bully that populates Stephen King’s works, he still has a sort of incel attraction to his former babysitter (and the only other survivor in his town) Frannie Goldsmith.
Granted, Harold does rescue Frannie from a suicide attempt and come up with a plan for the two of them to go for help, but he was also spying on her before everyone died, so he wasn’t exactly being set up as some kind of saint so much as a peeping tom wannabe that managed to survive something with the girl of his dreams…and she isn’t all that interested in him.
As for Stu, well, he seems to exist only to show the CDC’s rather militaristic attempt on containment and then trying to understand why Stu was immune unlike…everyone else working there aside from J.K. Simmons’s suicidal general. Then we get some dream sequences where our heroes either meet Mother Abigail in a cornfield or maybe a wolf there that is apparently Flagg or Alexander Skarsgard as the man himself, though Flagg doesn’t say anything so much as give meaningful glances, including one that implies he’s partially responsible for the plague in the first place.
And…that’s it. It’s not a great introduction to the giant ensemble cast that is King’s story. It’s a decent intro for Harold, but not so much for Frannie or Stu, and it keeps Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg mostly there to look mysterious in cornfields or deserts.
Considering what King has to say about things behind the rows of cornfields, maybe our heroes should be a little more careful, though…