Each week Joe and Terry discuss the most recent episode of CBS All Access’s The Stand, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 4 “The House of the Dead”…
Hmmm, Terry. I’m of two minds about this week’s episode of The Stand. On some fronts we’re making progress, most significantly that we’re spending more time in the present in the Boulder Free Zone where agents for both sides are finally starting to make their respective moves. And yet the series is so damn reliant on its frustrating flashback structure that we’re now jumping back and forth in the present, as though watching the five Council members debate how best to tackle an unruly crowd is gripping drama (newsflash: it’s not).
Even if that’s a minor complaint, “The House of the Dead” introduces Katherine McNamara’s new character, Julie Lawry (whose name I only know because I looked it up) in an extended sequence solely so that the audience sees evidence of how Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke) saved Nick (Henry Zaga) from a crazy bitch in a prom dress.
It’s another iteration of the complaint we had last week, where we’re spending unnecessary time with characters in ways that don’t ultimately serve their character development or advance the plot. What new information did we learn from this sequence aside from how Tom finally learned Nick’s name?
I’m complaining about these moments specifically because a lot of the rest of the episode is doing decent work. “The House of the Dead” isn’t reinventing television or anything, but much like the baby steps that we saw last week, it feels like we’re finally starting to get somewhere.
In particular I liked that the Committee elected to organize their own offensive and send out three spies to infiltrate Flagg’s camp. Would I have liked a bit more time with Dayna (Natalie Martinez) and Judge Harris (Gabrielle Rose) so that we could care as much about their dangerous decision as Tom’s? Sure…but that would require The Stand to create some mystery as to who will and won’t die during the expedition. <sigh>
This is a troubling development not because its outcome seems fairly obvious, but because it’s encased in an episode that explicitly employs the virgin/whore dichotomy in antiquated fashion. Dayna is introduced as an imprisoned concubine of a deranged trucker who attacked Frannie (Odessa Young) and Harold (Owen Teague) on the Virginia highway two months earlier.
Yes, this scene performs much the same function as Tom’s salvation of Nick from Julie in that it encapsulates why Dayna is an ideal candidate to spy, but it also needlessly introduces an uncomfortable rape/revenge story line into The Stand where one wasn’t needed.
Couple this with Nadine (Amber Heard)’s seduction of Harold in the present as the pair begin their own clandestine project stealing the avalanche explosives and we’re entering some pretty trope-y territory for women on this series. Frannie is the chaste, immaculate pregnancy voice of reason, Dayna is the spurned fury and Nadine is the devil’s whore. Throw in wise elderly figures like Judge Harris and Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) and it’s a very shallow, very male conception of the types of roles and ambitions of women.
But maybe I’m just being prickly Terry. What were your thoughts on the episode and its depiction of women? Did you like the spy selection scenes? And after discussing Teddy (Eion Bailey) last week, were you surprised to see him killed off here?
My initial thoughts, Joe, was annoyance at the flashback in the middle of the town council. Yes, because it wastes valuable time for something that doesn’t serve character or plot but also because it stages Larry (Jovan Adepo) telling Stu (James Marsden) that he should give the speech. “You have the most charisma,” says the literal freaking rock star to the country boy.
Talk about unbelievable.
I’m also pretty sure that the City Council flashbacks used the LOST rumble sound as it flashbacked. We’ve talked about how Josh Boone’s one unique contribution to King’s story is to alternate between the plague past and the Boulder Free Zone present and how frustrating it is. I think the reason it has been a sticking point for us is that the plot feels so beholden to the source material; it feels almost cookie-cutter, as if Boone mapped out the major points that he felt he must hit. The problem is that with such a focus on the plot, we’re not getting any variance or additions to these characters…characters who were written in the 1970s.
So, yes. The women feel very reductive here…painfully so given the amount of complex, challenging and intriguing female characters we’ve been privy to with modern storytelling. That said, it’s not as if the male characters are given much leeway to act outside of a single character trait. Stu’s the golly gee everyman. Larry’s the recovering addict. Harold is the 70s version of an incel brought to the 21st century. What I was hoping this particular adaptation would do was spend more time on the characters, fleshing them out and updating them.
“The House of the Dead” is emblematic of all these flaws, unfortunately. And, also unfortunately, all of the intriguing forward motion is already etched in stone. As readers of the novel, we already know how the next episode is going to play out. Even if neither of us had read the source material, I’m not sure we’d be in a much better position because the narrative hasn’t given us intriguing characters to care about. Like you said, they’re all stock characters, given boring designators.
That said, as much as I’m in aggreance with you that adding a rape/revenge storyling is unnecessary and downright gross, I did like that it showed how cowardly Harold truly is. For all of his protestations of love towards Frannie, when he’s approached with any semblance of conflict, he crumbles. And it’s Dayna who saves the day. For a series lacking in a lot of stakes so far, her brief introduction says more about her character than the show seems willing to spend on anyone. It’s just gross and reductive that this is the way the narrative chooses to do that.
It’s mixed, for sure. Which sums up our feelings so far about the show as a whole. But it does explain very quickly that she’s a no-nonsense character so that when the talk of sending spies into Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård)’s territory comes up, she becomes an easy choice. While it’s pretty very familiar, I always like it when someone lays out the immense task at hand, discusses the tiny likelihood of success…and then agrees to do it anyway and Dayna does just that: “You want me to drive across the rockies. Talk my way through whatever trigger happy sadists and then slip back past the border guards, haul my ass through the desert and the mountains again and tell you what I saw? Alright. I’m in.” It’s a trope but one that works for me.
That said, I don’t really buy them sending Tom Cullen on this mission, prior flashback or not. But what about you, Joe? I didn’t talk about Teddy’s death but…let’s be honest, he’s barely been in the series. Sticking with the spy meeting, what did you think of their logic to…basically ignore their de facto leader to send “scouts” over to Flagg’s territory? And while she’s a terrible person, are you hopeful we’ll see more of the bonkers prom dress and shotgun-clad Julie Lawry in the coming episodes? And for a writer who’s typically portrayed religion as culty and Not Great…what are we to make of the very religious, zero-room-for-gray story?
There’s something to be said for King’s tendency to paint in broad strokes and how easily that plots onto a Biblical/religious story about good and bad, huh? That was one of my biggest take-aways when I read The Stand: how it’s telling this very large, humanity-encompassing story, but doing so using the most simplistically rendered characters and their accompanying tendencies. I’ll confess that it’s proving quite challenging on the series because every time we meet a new character – like Dayna or Julie here – we just wait to see how they react to a single encounter to determine which of the two camps they’ll fall into.
That lack of gray is frustrating, because it suggests that people are inherently good or bad, and as someone who has spent more than my fair share of spins around the sun on this planet, I can unequivocally tell you that the vast majority of people almost exclusively fall into that nebulous gray territory.
The Stand has suggested that everyone is being tested (it’s why we’ve seen both Nick and Larry tempted by Flagg) and I can’t help but feel that watching someone grapple with the desire for power, but recognize Flagg’s duplicity would make for a far more enthralling conflict than what we’re getting here. Perhaps if the series follows its three spies to New Vegas, we’ll get more of a taste of that.
Problematically, I think The Stand will hold off on that because to give more time to Falgg, his acolytes and the three Boulder spies would be to steal focus from Frannie, Stu, etc. You’re right that we can see the writing on the wall in most circumstances, up to and including that moment that poor, stupid DVD obsessed Teddy shines his light on Nadine.
Four episodes in and what I’d most like to see in an episode is something unexpected.
So sure…send Tom Cullen even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Give me an entire episode dedicated to Julie as she makes the trek across the badlands in that adorable dress and not-so-adorable shotgun.
Hell, give me an extended sequence where Mother Abagail flips out on Nick and the others for sending innocent people in against her wishes (but also: explain why she feels that way when she gave her blessing to Nick last episode and he agrees with the proposal here?)
I dunno, Terry: what could happen that would shake the cobwebs off of this series for you? Do you think we’ll stick around Boulder to watch those explosive fireworks, or will we actually follow Dayna, Judge Harris and Tom? And since the series is taking so many of its cues from LOST, who is most worthy of their own extended flashback or single episode deep dive?
Gosh, Joe…your questions make me realize that even though we’re at the midpoint of the series there’s still so much to cram in, plot-wise. I think next episode will continue Nadine and Harold’s plotting. I’d say maybe it’d end with a cliffhanger explosion episode but that might be relegated to episode six. Regardless it really bums me out that we’ve barely even gotten to know these characters and we’re already getting ready to send them to the final battle.
Unfortunately, at this point I don’t think there is a way of possibly shaking off the cobwebs. We’re too far through the story and I don’t think there’s a way to really course correct. It’s pretty depressing to me, if I’m being honest, because I came into The Stand incredibly excited and looking forward to seeing a modern take on the classic story and it’s missing that magic. It’s the same joy I would get out of following the instructions to make a gingerbread house. Everything fits just so, but it’s ultimately empty.
What I would love to see is an episode devoted to Julie. More than anything else, I want to know how she ended up in that hardware store, toting a fab dress and a shotgun. I want to see what draws her to Las Vegas.
I want an episode devoted completely to the colony that Flagg is developing as a counterpoint to the Boulder Free Zone.
I want an episode devoted to the Trashcan Man, a character we know is coming because he’s being played by Ezra Miller. And since the show has kicked The Kid to the curb, I want to know who Trashcan Man is traveling with. The fact he hasn’t shown up yet, coupled with his importance in the climax of the story, makes his character seem even more like a deus ex machina than in the novel.
I don’t know, Joe. I just wish this were a more intriguing adaptation. But maybe it can course correct in the final five episodes and we’ll leave the series happier than when we entered it.
Next week, it’s back at Gayly Dreadful for Episode 5, “Fear and Loathing in New Vegas.”