The structure of “The House of the Dead” conspires to undermine it as the needless time-hopping continues to sap tension.
This recap of The Stand season 1, episode 4, “The House of the Dead”, contains spoilers.
I totally get why CBS All Access’s adaptation of The Stand has made the decision to make a dorky, creepy incel its central character – I just wish it hadn’t. All throughout these recaps I’ve lamented the changes that have been made to Stephen King’s storytelling structure, even if I could understand why it’d work as a way to introduce two characters at a time. But we’re not doing that in “The House of the Dead”, so it’s a bit weird to see something as simple as a town meeting cutting needlessly back and forth.
A lot of The Stand episode 4 is about communication. The people of Boulder see a leader in Stu, but it’s Larry who is able to really get through to them. Nadine uses sexual advances to sway Harold to the task Flagg has given her of killing Mother Abagail and her five soldiers, whom Harold himself had suggested form a permanent council. Nick is deaf and mute and communicates through gesture and written language, while his traveling companion Tom Cullen communicates mostly by repetition – he can’t decipher written language at all. In a flashback we see those two meet first the despicable Julie Lawry and then, thanks to an advert for Hemingford Home that Stephen King himself has a cameo in, Mother Abagail herself.
Julie will have a role to play later, as will Dayna Jurgens, whom we meet as a captive of psychotic trucker Garvey, who kidnaps Harold and Frannie until they’re eventually rescued by Stu and Glen. This is the kind of scene – same with Nick and Tom’s meeting with Julie – that would work a lot better if we didn’t already know these characters end up being okay. It’s a nice bit of urgency and danger that ends bloodily – Dayna smashes Garvey’s head in with a pipe – but without any real tension.
But it’s a step on Harold’s inevitable path to horrors. He’s there for the whole event and does little to intervene, seeing for himself how useless he is in direct confrontation. Later in “The House of the Dead”, we begin to see the seeds of an explosive solution being planted in his tiny sex-starved brain, and The Stand episode 4 ends with him and Nadine stealing the gear and killing Teddy. Since the timey-wimey structure hasn’t gotten too far ahead yet, this is the only real subplot that feels as if it’s genuinely moving in the right direction.
Well, you could make a case for one other. How The Stand season 1, episode 4 sets up the next episode is by Boulder’s town council directly disobeying Mother Abagail’s orders and sending three spies to Vegas, where Randall Flagg is holed up. Dayna is one of them. The other two are Judge Farris and Tom Cullen, in part because he’s the last person Flagg would suspect, but also because – this in a bit of a whisper – his loss wouldn’t really negatively impact the community too much. That, at least, should give us a pretty direct path to Flagg, and presumably more interesting storytelling. One can hope, anyway.