I won’t bury the lead here: these nine episodes disappointed me with a squandered attempt at adapting one of my favorite Stephen King books. Every time Executive Producer Josh Boone’s work felt like it was taking a step forward, it flashed back at least 2 steps. Boone skipped many of the most compelling parts of the book and focused on parts King himself described having difficulty writing. If CBS put some of the resources into this adaptation that they did carpet bombing the Super Bowl with Paramount + ads, maybe we’d have something fun to talk about.
This in itself isn’t necessarily a recipe for disaster. There could have been a compelling show purely with the stand between Boulder and Las Vegas. Instead, Boone decided to jump back and forth through time, only giving small glimpses at the disastrous falling apart of civilization that made the early part of the book so compelling. To be fair, a show focused heavily on a disease ravaging the land and civilization falling apart because of sycophant leaders maybe doesn’t play in 2021, as a disease ravages our land and society is falling apart because of sycophant leaders.
“The Circle Closes” begins with a flash-forward. Frannie, going into labor at the end of LAST WEEK’s episode, is now narrating letters written to her daughter, Abigail, named in honor of Mother Abigail. Having downplayed book fears until this point, we now see the worry over whether babies born in a Captain Trips world are immune. Fran is the first to give birth in Boulder and things look good at first. Baby Abigail quickly develops symptoms of Captain Trips, and they add in a really weird off-book narration by Frannie, talking about how she debated killing the baby instead of seeing it suffer.
After deciding that killing her baby isn’t something she would like to do, Baby Abigail ends up fighting off Captain Trips, the implication being Baby Abigail had some of Frannie’s immunity and some of Jesse, the baby’s dead father’s, susceptibility and needed time to fight it off. The next baby born in Boulder it is mentioned was from two immune parents and was perfectly healthy. Small book vs adaptation wonder here: I would love to know the percentage of show readers that realize Stu is not the baby’s father. Ultimately it’s not a huge plot point, but speaks to the hastily thrown together narrative that I don’t think would be entirely clear unless you read the book as well.
Healthy baby and all, Fran begins to mourn Stu, not exactly giving up hope but not expecting a happy ending, only to have an immediate happy ending as Stu limps back into town, having been saved by Tom with an off-screen adventure to return to Boulder. I’ve always enjoyed the Stu and Tom part of the book, as it gives Stu some added depth while also giving Tom something meaty to do. It also explores the mystical side of the story as in the book, this is where Nick returns in ghost form and is able to guide Tom on how to save Stu’s life. Even something like Stu giving Tom a Merry Christmas was a nice happy moment in a book ending with few of them. All skipped here.
Back in town, Stu begins to realize the same old problems will happen again. People don’t hate anything more than they hate other people. Stu wasn’t looking forward to being a lawman in that regard. Frannie, too, began to get an itch to move on so she proposes they travel back east to her home of Ogunquit. Stu says it’s worth a try and we get a tearful goodbye with Tom acting as if we all saw the book material play out of their adventure together and how much he’ll miss them.
While going west, Frannie and Stu land at a house in Nebraska. Here we get some wonky seams on book vs adaptation. As we meet a character that is a young Mother Abigail reincarnated and the house is meant to represent BookAbigail’s Hemingford Home. Yet Hemingford Home is already established as a nursing home here when we meet ShowMotherAbigail. At this point we’re off book for a spell, Young Abigail (different than Baby Abigail, different from the incoming GhostOldAbigail…) is a show creation for reasons of which I’m not entirely sure.
This section of the show was the one heavily promoted by King and company as a way to give meaning to Frannie’s character. Ironic, as Odessa Young’s Frannie was robbed in story and performance in the other 8 episodes. Frannie falls down a well, having been spooked by a reanimated Randall Flagg, and Lassie…I mean Glen Bateman’s dog Kojak goes to get help.
While badly injured in the well, Frannie has a vision of Flagg. The Walkin’ Dude himself has an offer for the badly-injured Fran. All for the price of a kiss and a timeshare in Frannie’s body, Flagg guarantees her, Stu’s, and Baby Abigail’s health. Frannie realizes the folly of a devil’s bargain and leaves Flagg behind only to encounter GhostOldAbigail, at yet another version of Book Hemingford Home but not Show Hemingford home. These are probably petty nitpicks for show-only watchers, but it does irk me as a book and adaptation fan.
GhostOldAbigail tells Fran the battle of good and evil never ends and you can only win by making a stand. I’m sure here strict time constraints of a 9 hour prestige show meant cutting both characters breaking the fourth wall and staring into the camera for a beat.
Frannie wakes up, in pain, but resolved to believe in…standing?!? Stu, having his own adventure in changing tires, returns to the house and is led to the well by Lassie, I mean Kojak.
YoungMotherAbigail tells Stu to stop messing around and get his woman out of the well. A broken Frannie is healed by YoungMotherAbigail’s magic and is told to stand. I think they were paid by the stand this episode.
We end with the book ending King added to the uncut version; Randall Flagg, now going by Russell Faraday, finds an undocumented tribe, untouched by Captain Trips, and asserts his power over them. This counters the thread the rest of the show was trying for with Flagg being some sort of psychic vampire needing to feed off his followers’ belief in him. Flagg, fresh off defeat, has powers of flight and can finger bang (phrasing?) a tribesman to death.
As the credits roll, REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” kicks in and we are at the end of The Stand.
I feel like I spent ~10,000 words (Head Geek’s Note: including this installment, it’s about 12,300! Yes, I counted!) harping on one of my favorite King stories and that bums me out. Before I get back to that though, let’s look at some good parts:
Several of the casting I felt fit great; while they were ultimately let down by story, the cast did a fine job with what they were given. Greg Kinnear’s Glen Bateman added some spark to a fun book character. He deserved more to do. Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood had some moments to shine, although his overall characterization was uneven and undeveloped. They did not skimp on the cameos. JK Simmons, Heather Graham, and Ezra Miller were three of the big bit players in The Stand’s post-apocalyptic world. And while I kinda hated most of Owen Teague’s Harold Lauder, I thought his final monologue brought back the flawed tragedy of BookHarold and was sad we didn’t get to see more of that in any of the earlier episodes that strangely decided to heavily feature Harold.
Most of my complaints are old hat by now, so I’ll save a rehash and end with a slight variation. During the show’s development and early this season, the casting of Henry Zaga as Nick Andros was debated. Nick in the story can’t hear or speak. In a world where casting representation is a big issue facing Hollywood, many thought this would have been an opportunity to feature a deaf actor in the role. Book readers thought at the time the debate was silly as in the story, after Nick’s death in EPISODE SIX, Nick’s ghost plays a part mentoring Tom Cullen; in Tom’s dreams, Nick can speak. Problem? Now that the show is done, they skipped that part entirely. Ghost Nick never showed up, Tom remained barely a blip on the radar of the show, to the point where you just wonder why they didn’t bother skipping both characters altogether if the writers struggled that much with how to present them.
In a book of this length, cuts surely need to be made, but better adaptations can trim and combine while keeping character beats and emotional journeys. The failure of this show is to get it down to 9 episodes, there was seemingly little thought put into what gets cut or how best to present what you decide to feature. A laughably cartoon evil Las Vegas robbed the show of the book’s exploration on how even when we have differences, there’s more we share in common than we may think. The haphazard flashbacks early on robbed many impact moments. Why would I care if Larry is in peril in a flashback when they’ve already shown him in Boulder in the future? And most of all, the show focused on the parts of the book King admitted having the most trouble with, the ultimate clash between good and evil, Boulder and Las Vegas, while giving short change to the parts of the book that captured the imagination of many readers, the breakdown of society and the survivors banding together.
The episode trades heavily on a Dark Tower theme of circles and how things can repeat themselves. Hopefully the next time we repeat The Stand, they get it right.
Score for The Circle Closes: 2/10
Final score for the series: 3/10 the sum is worse than the parts.
Project Blue mentions through 9 episodes: 0!