As we limp to the finish line in the self-titled eighth of nine episodes, let’s recap! We now have the remaining players in place with most of this episode taking place in Randall Flagg’s Las Vegas. Larry, Glen, and Ray are on trial for being spies. Stu is debating suicide in the ditch where he broke his leg, with Glen’s dog Kojak by his side. Little is seen of Boulder until the very end.
I won’t necessarily bury the lede here, I think this episode stank, but it did start off fun. The trial with Larry, Glen, and Ray is equal parts show creation and loyal to the book. There’s some fun back and forth between Greg Kinnear’s Glen and Nat Wolff’s Lloyd. Lloyd gets to be a little less of a caricature and when given screen time, actually develops the presence I thought he’d show based on earlier episodes. Glen hams it up a bit, when they start to refer to Flagg’s titles, “oh yes, mother of dragons, queen of the andals.”
There’s some dark humor they haven’t really had a chance to explore in prior episodes, and if there’s ever a third take on The Stand on film, I think that could really be an angle to play. Again, with Glen and Lloyd in court, Glen challenges the court on what they’re so afraid of, why they remain beholden to The Dark Man. Lloyd’s “he can fly and last week ate a dude!’ made me laugh and was a rare bright spot in the show.
Glen inherits a bit of Dayna’s insight into Vegas while talking to Ray and Larry “they’re just scared people looking for someone to believe in.” While it works for Dayna in the books, it doesn’t really track in this show, Flagg’s Vegas was so short changed for time, the writers had to shoe horn too much evil and cliche into what we did see to the point where you wonder if Glen’s joking. Maybe it’s the moment in time too when I reflect on the types of things scared people are currently believing in and the repercussions we face because of it in the real world but this part of the show has consistently fallen flat for me. I can’t say Flagg’s Vegas in the book was filled with admirable people but they weren’t the lame evil caricatures the show’s given us time and time again.
As the trial progresses, Glen realizes it’s purely for show so he decides to gamble and lead Lloyd on to either denounce Flagg or kill him. They’re full on aping Star Wars here, and after a Game of Thrones quote earlier, I’m half surprised Glenn didn’t drop a “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” on Lloyd here. Lloyd, whose loyalty to Flagg’s been wavering, panics in the court setting with the eyes of the audience (and Flagg) on him and shoots Glen dead.
While the setting is a little different here, court instead of jail cell, the main plot points are book centric. Glen talks his way into getting shot to death by Lloyd. Already mentioning an affinity to the Glen character, it’s no surprise I thought the episode went down hill in a hurry from here. Part of this is they never really built Larry up to be the guy to lead the side of good, part of it is inherent to this mess of a show. What really irked me is this begins to sew doubt into the Vegas populace and we see Flagg fall from his levitation to the ground. This might just be my reading of the character but I never took him as being some kind of karmic vampire feeding on the adulation of his people in the book and I think it’s cheesy here. In the book, it always came off more about his overall focus and anger levels and if you could get under his skin, he couldn’t channel the supernatural aspects of his powers.
Lloyd is disgusted with his being goaded into shooting Glen and storms off after sentencing Larry and Ray to death. Soon after, a very pregnant and very rough looking Nadine wants time alone with Larry so has Ray taken away.
Larry tries to get through to Nadine, showing her a reflection and for the first time she sees she’s a mess and begins to doubt Flagg. Nadine, partly because of the shock of her own reflection, goes into labor and is rushed upstairs. This is again off book and I don’t really know the need to have her pregnancy so far along here as it wasn’t a super big plot point in the books and nothing comes of it here other than some Alien-esque belly movements. That’s because, while in labor, Nadine realizes fully Larry was right, she’ll die in birth and Flagg used her. In a last bit of redemption, she throws herself out a window to her death.
In another underplayed reading of the character, Flagg momentarily screams but then deadpans “Lloyd, cancel the nursery.”
The episode further goes off the rails with Larry being delivered Nadine’s head on a platter, complete with smooshed likeness of Amber Heard.
The episode continues to devolve with Larry and Ray’s public execution. Lloyd, again showing conflicted emotions, tells Larry “I always liked your music” while chaining Larry and Ray to the bottom of an empty pool. Flagg appears on the scene and gives a speech that would fit on several news stations saying the battle of good vs evil has always raged and now the predators must hunt the prey.
In a bit of fourth wall breaking here, I swear you can see Alexander Skarsgård’s soul leave his body as he questions every decision he’s ever made doing a Flagg “happy dance” as Lloyd flips on the water to the pool and the countdown to Larry and Ray’s drowning begins.
Trashcan Man rejoins the scene with the nuclear warhead he acquired at the top of last week’s episode. In another head scratcher, Trashy comes in begging for forgiveness. In the novel, Trash had gone rogue by this point in the book, striking out at many of Flagg’s inner circle. The warhead was an act of atonement. In this version, the warhead was Trashy’s mission so he’d have no reason to beg forgiveness. There’s been quite a few of these glitches in the show and makes me wonder if they had too many cooks in the kitchen and with all the credited writers and producers, you ended up with different ideas of what the vision of the show should be.
By all accounts, the book ending was always the roughest part of the novel. King himself mentioned he nearly tabled the book originally because he couldn’t wrap his head around a satisfying way to end such a huge undertaking. The show goes firmly on book here when a literal Hand of God descends onto the hotel with cloudy tendril fingers. This cloud then proceeds to laser lightning dozens of people, including Kat McNamara’s Julie. Lloyd dodges a flying piece of scenery only to get his head smashed in on the back swing.
Ray and Larry, water quickly rising, become resigned to their fate. The lightning turns its attention to Flagg, who after taking multiple direct blasts, blips out of the scene. Having no one left to shoot, the Hand of God decides to shoot a nuclear warhead. Gotta shoot something, right?
So after lightning picks off people in the hotel one by one, the warhead takes out the rest of Vegas. The enormous blast is seen by Stu, Kojak and a suddenly back on the scene Tom Cullen. M-O-O-N that spells convenient!
The episode ends with Frannie and Joe back in Boulder. Joe proves himself uselessly creepy by saying “The Dark Man’s gone” then nothing else while Fran begs for details on Stu’s fate, before going into labor herself as the episode draws to a close.
One episode to go. We’re mostly done with book material here; Tom and Stu’s journey back to Boulder I really enjoyed in the book but that will most likely get trimmed down next week. Fran, and really the town, wonder if babies born would be immune to Captain Trips but that hasn’t been given time to breathe in this version either. What’s left is a rumored Frannie centric new edition written by Stephen King himself. On the plus side, my expectations are pretty low so he’ll have a hell of a time limboing under that bar next week.
One thing I always wondered about the ending: if God was really watching all the events in the world of The Stand, and willing to tip the scales back to the side of good by igniting the warhead, couldn’t They have stepped in a little sooner, you know, like before the biological agent rant wild and killed 90% of that world?
Anyhow: stats: I’ll be generous and say 5/10, really dug the courtroom banter.
Project Blue mentions through 8 episodes? 0!