And we’re back! Episode 2 of The Stand (2020) is titled “Pocket Savior”, named after Larry Underwood’s album that gave him a taste of celebrity in the pre-Captain Trips world. Larry is the focal point of this week’s episode, receiving the flash-forwards, backwards, and sideways treatment that I felt greatly hampered THE PREMIERE.
Larry here is played by Jovan Adepo, and is a race swap from the book. Of critiques I’ve seen of the show, I’m glad pop culture seems to be past handwringing over such changes, as the actor does a good job with one of King’s great characters. A plot point of the book was BookLarry sounding like an African American singer, so going all in is a sensible bit of representation.
One of the reasons I enjoy re-reading favorite books over the years is I’ll often change views on characters as I age and have more to reflect on. On first read, I must have been in 8th grade, so a sad sack addict redemption story didn’t really get my focus. On my most recent read-through though? Dude spoke to me. A guy filled with regret over his past choices always racked with doubt if they’re doing the right thing going forward? Makes a lot more sense as I roll into middle age.
So that said, after a less-than-stellar feel for Episode 1, I was looking forward to seeing what they did with Larry here. Much like another one of King’s classic characters, I realized right away hope is a dangerous thing. The show starts again with a real time look in at Larry arriving in Boulder, Colorado to meet Stu and the good side of the equation. Of course, we go almost immediately to a flashback set in the early days of Captain Trips and Larry getting ready to play for a crowd with random sneezes of doom foreshadowing what already happened.
The use of time jumps seems to be a consistent feature of the show. At this point, I have to think this is what we’ll get until we fully jump into the Boulder vs Las Vegas, Good vs Evil, Mother Abigail vs Flagg part of the story. While I guess it’s points for consistency, this also robs Larry of much of the growth you get to experience linearly in the book. BookLarry starts as a prick. A running line characters use on him and haunts him through the rest of his journey is “You ain’t no nice guy.” You do get a feel for this in the show – he robs a dying friend of their drug stash, leaves his mother to die of the superflu without much impact, and has a brief fling with cameoing Heather Graham’s Rita Blakemoor.
In the book, though, you see an evolution in the character, from detoxing junkie to one of the main heroes of the story. Here? You get a constant juxtaposition of Addict Larry and future Larry but none of the growth given in the book. Sure, it may get there in the remaining 7 episodes, but I keep wondering what a newcomer is making of this.
Larry is invited in by a debuting Nick Andros (another of the novel’s heavy hitter characters) to meet with a heard-but-not-seen Mother Abigail. We immediately go to Larry dreaming of both Randall Flagg, our Big Bad, and Mother Abigail. To a non-reader, there’s almost zero reason to trust Larry at this point, and the Flagg dream makes you wonder whose side he is on more than anything.
Maybe this would have been alleviated if Mother Abigail had a more pronounced role in the first two episodes. At this point, though, Whoopie Goldberg’s take on the book’s force of good has been relegated to very limited screen time. So when Stu Redman tells Larry that Mother Abigail personally vouched for Larry, I can’t help but wonder why a non-reader would care about that?
We also begin to flesh out the evil side of the equation here, as we meet Lloyd Henreid, a character that ultimately becomes Flagg’s number 2 in the Las Vegas side of the battle of good vs. evil. Lloyd’s not immune to flashbacks either, as we’re introduced to Lloyd in jail but near immediately flash back to the crime that got him arrested. Here we’re again victim to pacing and narrative choices. Lloyd is no hero by any means, yet in the novel, you can understand how he falls prey to Flagg’s manipulation and pity him near the end of the book when he has one final choice to stand by Flagg or break free. In episode 2, we’re bouncing back and forth from present to past to other characters so frequently, you don’t really begin to feel the insanity-inducing claustrophobic panic Lloyd feels, trapped in the prison after everyone has either died or left, because of the pacing.
Two episodes in now, I’m beginning to worry. I fear casting took precedence over story as they do have a who’s who grab bag of cameos. Heather Graham, gorgeous as always, plays the aforementioned Rita Blakemoor. Rita in the book is described as someone BARELY keeping it together, who if you look close enough, her looks are smoke and mirrors. Here, we’re clearly in Hollywood as Graham looks better at 50 than many half her age. Rita served as a stepping stone to Larry growing up in the book, giving him someone to care for and work through caring for someone. Her show end is the same as the book’s: dead. But here, Heather’s given nothing to work with; she’s not the neurotic mess the book character was written as, so when Rita chooses to kill herself at the end of the episode, it comes across slightly out of left field.
Amber Heard also appears as Nadine Cross, who serves as Randall Flagg’s love interest, Boulder sleeper agent, and ultimate temptress of Harold Lauder. She’s not given an incredible amount to do in episode one, but again the show skips much of the heavy lifting of the book and she seems pretty solidly Team Flagg here instead of conflicted on which side she should ultimately choose.
It does seem clear they’re locked in this flashback driven narrative. I’m not a fan, but I’ve yet to lose all hope. There’s still some heavy hitters to roll out, including one of my favorites: sociology professor Glen Bateman, who in the book delivers many a talk on what society COULD look like instead of what it is. While I’m not digging story presentation so far, I do enjoy the acting for Larry, Lloyd, and Stu.
And while hope is a dangerous thing, as Andy DuFresne said, hope is also a good thing and I do hope once all the characters are established, we can enter a more linear form of story and the characters can shine.
Still not digging the time jumps, but Lloyd and Larry are more hit than miss, so I’ll nudge up this week to 5/10.
Project Blue name drops through 2 weeks? 0!
One non-Stephen King easter egg I dug for this week? Closing credits used Brand New Key as the ending song. For the Heather Graham cameoed episode. Boogie Nights is 23 years old now. I’m old!