Some fancy-pants structuring notwithstanding, “The End” is a promising opening to CBS All Access’s adaptation of The Stand, though it’s hard to tell if right now is the absolute best or worst time for it.
This recap of The Stand episode 1, “The End”, contains spoilers.
It’s hard to say whether right now is the absolute best or the absolute worst time for another adaptation of Stephen King’s beloved novel The Stand. For those who see entertainment as a way to escape the terrors of the real world, it’ll probably be a tough sell. But the good news is that King’s demented imagination is a useful reminder of how much worse things could be, even in the cursed year of 2020. After all, Covid-19 at least doesn’t cause one of the enormous goiters that the infected all sport “The End”, which is, of course, really the beginning.
And it’s hard to accuse the CBS All Access original of bad taste since it went into production long before the pandemic started and is adapting material first published over four decades ago. The fact its plot is kick-started by a population-decimating pandemic is just a coincidence at this point, and there’s far more to the story beyond that. This assured premiere gives a sense of those wider ideas and a glimpse of some iconic characters but mostly concerns itself with two character-focused stories that, through flashbacks, perspective changes, and some lurching back and forth, establish a patchwork context for what’s to come.
I have no idea why director and co-writer Josh Boone, who will hopefully be able to create some distance between himself and The New Mutants with this, chose to do things quite this way. I’m also not sure it necessarily works, at least not all of the time. The point, more or less, is taking a basic story of a man named Campion fleeing a government facility, spreading the deadly disease all over the place, and then crashing into a gas station, and cutting it into segments that are interspersed with the stories of everyman Stu Redman (James Marsden), who is at the gas station during the crash, and Harold Lauder (Owen Teague), a conspiracy theorist stalker with eyes and perhaps other things for his former babysitter, Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young).
Playing with time and structure in this way isn’t always justified by the outcome, which is fine but not really any better for occurring out of sequence. This focus also resigns major figures like Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) and Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) to essentially cameos; there will be much more to come from them in future episodes, obviously, but it’s hard not think it might have been better to include more of them or none of them at all here. What works, though, is establishing early that Stu is immune to the plague, that he’s in a medical facility being examined by Dr. Ellis (an excellent and tragically underused Hamish Linklater), and that things are looking rather dire. Before long Dr. Ellis is infected and subsequently killed by the also infected and rather nasty Cobb (Daniel Sunjata), who is killed by Stu, and Stu realizes he has to escape with a little help from a four-star general, Starkey (J.K. Simmons), who is also infected but reads him evocative poetry by Yeats before he goes.
This is all great because it establishes the terror and scale of the pandemic, the government and military’s involvement but inability to contain or cope with it, and includes J.K. Simmons reading Yeats. It also works a nice contrast to Harold’s story, which is largely about an obviously toxic and potentially dangerous young man manipulating the object of his obsession into accompanying him by talking her down from suicide after the death of her father. If Stu is the quintessential example of good-guy heroic masculinity, Harold is its dark reflection. Of course, it’s the latter who is eventually tempted by visions of Randall Flagg to come out West, after vowing to kill the former and perhaps Frannie herself, who we eventually see all together as we loop back to the prologue, Stu and Frannie clearly romantically involved and Frannie even more clearly pregnant. Fans might not be entirely thrilled with how “The End” got to this point, but since they’re aware of how much more still has to happen, it’s easy to imagine they’ll be pretty excited by what this new adaptation suggests for the future.