- Movie Rating -

‘The Stand’, Episode 1: ‘The End’

| December 19, 2020

To take the journey of Stephen King’s 1978 uber-tome “The Stand” you have to sort of live in it.  That’s not just because it is his longest book but because of the vast population of characters and plotlines that one has to traverse.  It is an investment; you spend a great deal of time with it.  It’s a little like streaming a series.  This is especially true if, like me, you entered the story with the longer 1990 revised cut that stretched on for 1152 pages.

Given that, it only makes sense that when it became a feature film, it had to go to episodic television.  For me, streaming is the perfect venue because there is time to weed through all of the ‘this and that’ plotlines and ‘Who’s Who’ cast of characters to flesh them out – I have argued that ABC’s 1994 miniseries needed to be a season-long and not pack it all in over four nights.  This story needs to percolate.

For me, “The Stand” is King’s most potent confection, and his trickiest narrative.  While the characters and the plotlines are extremely complex, the central story remains relatively simple: a government-made virus depopulates the world save for a handful of survivors who get involved in a biblical battle of good versus evil.  Of course, this could be a plot drummed up by any hack-strung wanna-be novelist but King has a talent for colorful, fleshed-out characters whose lives take side-roads away from the main story.  Again, he takes the time to let them percolate.

Which brings me to CBS All Access, and the new revision of King’s work, and it fits the medium just fine.  The story is here.  It is told in an interesting (but not perfect) way, and it shows signs of building slowly and letting all of the myriad pieces come together.

As with all of their series, CBS All Access is dropping one episode per week, and the first installment, titled “The End”, and it’s rather curious.  It’s good. . . however, while it has its virtues, it falters in a very specific way.  First, the good news: The pair that developed this new version, Josh Boone (director of The Fault in Our Stars) and Benjamin Cavell (a writer on Justified), have done a very good job rerouting the narrative so that it is much more functional for episodic television.  Whereas the book jumped around to various characters to introduce them as the virus took over, this version jumps back and forth, between the much-later corpse clean-up in Boulder and the earlier scenes dealing with several characters as the virus is starting. 

Surprisingly, the focus lands mainly on geeky Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) and his unhealthy obsession with Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young) whose father is succumbing to the virus.  This story was a fourth-priority minor subplot in the book that only really took on significance later but here it has been very nicely expanded.  Parallel to that is the story of our hunky hero Stu Redman (James Marsden) who wonders why all those around him (including his doctor) are drowning in their own mucus while he remains perfectly healthy.  That approach is a strange but reasonable reeling-in of the vast volley of characters into basically just three to get us started.  The actual opening of the book, with Army guard Charlie Campion disobeying orders to lock down the facility and thereby allowing the virus to escape, takes place in the middle of the episode as a flashback.  His death is actually seen earlier.

The structuring works well as a storytelling device, but I wish that the episode had expanded out a bit to show us the pandemic madness taking place as the virus spreads and civilization goes to pieces.  Much of the mass hysteria is left off-screen – we mostly just hear about it and that is a major stumbling block.  We need to see the population decreasing so that we can feel the emptiness of the world later.  That’s how things played out in the book.

That aside, credit must go to the performances which are not just a jumble of slightly-familiar actors.  They performances here are appropriate and well-rounded.  Owen Teague as Harold is especially good, a born loser whose obsession with Frannie reaches a peak when he realizes that he may get the chance to repopulate the world with her.  Odessa Young is especially good as a young woman watching the slow death of her father and then having to deal with her loss in the newly empty world.  James Marsden is alright as Stu – you can see the seeds of his character building for what comes later.

But the performance that I didn’t expect was J.K. Simmons.  Always a good actor, he’s especially good here even if he only has a solitary scene.  He plays the General in charge of the facility that released the super-flu, a man who knows that the world will soon be dead and he along with it.  He wears that mask of a man on his way to eternity, and it’s a good performance.

All-in-all I walked away from the first episode of The Stand feeling underwhelmed.  For everything that works, there is something that doesn’t and I can only hope that going forward, I will be more involved than I wasn’t here.  I trust the producer’s instincts.  I can only hope the journey is worth taking.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized