The following contains spoilers through Episode 3 of The Stand on CBS All Access, and for the entirety of the original Stephen King novel The Stand.
Welcome, constant reader, as we continue to review the CBS All Access miniseries The Stand with Episode 3, “Blank Pages.” The title comes from Mother Abagail’s discussion with Nick, telling him that the world is now a blank page that they need to work together to rewrite. I think there’s a bit of a metaphor for the entire series there.
Episode 3 is my favorite so far, and yet it probably has the most instances of diverging from the novel. For me though, I’ve finally hit the point where I’ve stopped being concerned about them. We already know that this is not a direct adaptation of the novel, and as I’ve said previously, series like Mr. Mercedes and The Outsider showed us that’s not necessary.
I think a lot of Stephen King fans are still holding onto the idea that this series is trying to tell the entirety of The Stand. It’s not. They started in the middle, and the focus is on telling the second half of the story. The flashbacks dip into the first half of the novel, but not with the intent to drag in the entire thing. These eight episodes aren’t supposed to be evenly divided with four hours of present day and four hours of flashbacks interwoven.
Also, these flashbacks are not, as I originally interpreted, Lost-style flashbacks. In Lost, we would get an entire episode dedicated to a single character, flipping back and forth between their past and present, spending nearly as much time in the one as the other. Here, we “deep dive” on two characters per episode—usually more like two-plus. Beyond that, these flashbacks are more like highlights, condensed and distilled, giving us just the absolute minimum we need.
The script for this series should be viewed as a book of blank pages. As viewers, we have to work together with the creators to rewrite this story. Similar to the society they are rebuilding in Boulder, there are going to be some familiar elements. As the saying goes, history may not repeat itself, but it certainly has moments where it rhymes.
I’m still going to compare the series to the novel. That can’t be helped. But now I’m looking at it more like that’s how it unfolded back then, and this is how it’s unfolding now. As I heard one brilliant constant reader put it, these are just different levels of the Tower, stories riding different Beams toward the same destination.
So in this version, Randall Flagg first offers Nick the position of being his “right-hand man.” The position he offered to Lloyd in the last episode. I love this addition. It really feels right. Flagg is gathering to him the downtrodden, the outcasts of the old society. As Ferrari guy puts it, Flagg promises them a chance to be on top for once.
This is what motivates Harold. He won’t let go of the old grudges, hurts, and unpaid debts. Lloyd was left to die, like garbage. Nadine was an orphan, a ward of the state in a facility that might be an orphanage, but looks barely one step up from a jail or mental asylum.
Flagg tries this same inroad with Nick, and Nick gives him the finger. Nick even admits to Mother Abagail that he feels the world has never been interested in anything he has to offer. But Nick doesn’t hold onto old grudges. His character is distilled down to the one moment where he returns with a wet rag to mop his attacker’s forehead. In this moment, we understand that Nick is a fundamentally good person, despite the “real sh*t hand” life has dealt him.
Nick could have just walked away. Should have walked away, many of us would say. However, he stayed, and this allowed Mother Abagail to guide Tom Cullen to him.
My laws, my laws. It’s Tom Cullen. Dropped on his head when he was two years old, from the sound of it. Poor guy. His memorized introduction is as practiced as Nick’s “no speak, no hear” hand signals, but pbbbbt…it’s a lot to remember.
I love this interpretation already. This Tom is not an overgrown child. He’s an adult who is a hard worker and is always looking for employment opportunities. Not unlike Nick himself, a drifter who survives on a series of day work jobs.
Because I do love what I’m seeing, I wish we had more. The revised and abbreviated past does take a little punch out of the dark humor of the man who can only communicate through the written word being saddled with a sidekick who cannot read. Maybe we’ll get more of their Abbott and Costello routine in future episodes.
The defining moment for Nadine in this episode would probably be when she’s getting dressed to tour the (mostly) cleaned up school. She’s looking in the mirror, getting her hair prepared, putting on makeup. Then she gives the mirror a little practice smile. She doesn’t keep a pin up of Tom Cruise on her mirror or anything, but it’s no different than Harold. Maybe a little less manic, but only a little less so.
In the flashback to her first experience with the Planchette, all of the other girls flee in terror from the room. Nadine stays put though, reading over the message and mouthing the important part, “Nadine…queen” When we return to this moment at the end of the episode, we see the smallest hint of a smile creep I’m at the corners of her mouth. She likes the sound of that.
People are choosing sides. Ferrari guy was apparently present in Las Vegas when Flagg showed up, but he was still having dreams of both. He picked wrong and tried to change sides too late. Nadine’s choice was made when she was a little girl. She is all in, barely able to contain her ecstasy at being so close to being with her King at long last.
She’s been so on edge because in Boulder she can’t feel Flagg’s presence, possibly for the first time in her life. He needs a conduit to get in through the old witch’s “black magic” (there’s irony for ya). He has sent her there to be his “eye” (only one, singular eye—is this some sort of weird Nick Andros reference?). He is about to connect her to his other willing agent, Harold, to “pull his trigger.”
Greg Kinnear is killing it. That’s all for this section.
OK, just kidding. I mean, yes, he is killing it, but let’s talk at least a little bit about his character. Even though Nick is an admitted atheist, Glen is the true skeptic on the Boulder Committee. Part of that skepticism is directed towards restarting society in the first place. Not unlike Flagg, he sees the outcasts, prejudice and competition that society enables, and would have just as soon lived without it. Now that he’s in Boulder though, part of the five selected by the “magic lady” to be the governing Committee, he’s calling for elections to receive the “explicit consent” of the people.
He’s also skeptical of the magic side of all of this. How can they be sure they are enacting God’s will, when it’s passed down to the oldest known living person on Earth, and then through the conduit of her deaf mute spokesman? Weirdly, Glen is the only one we know of who is not only having the dreams, but also having visions of the other members of the Committee. His painting of Fran is another level of magic entirely. Maybe Fran was also in a commercial selling detergent.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- Now I see. They’ve actually moved Hemingford Home not just into Colorado, but near Boulder. So maybe Mother Abagail is just living in the same home she has always lived in?
- A little bit of an Easter egg, the carpet in the Las Vegas hotel (from Ferrari guy’s flashback) is the same carpet from The Shining.
- Ferrari guy’s name is Heck Drogan. In the novel, he was crucified by Flagg for using drugs in Las Vegas.
- Sorry, but Whoopi Goldberg does not look even remotely close to 108 years old. Does not look like it, sound like it, or act like it. She’s only 65 in real life.
- Shoyo Sheriff John Baker does make an appearance. He’s dead in a chair in Ray Booth’s hospital room, along with one of his other prisoners handcuffed to a bed.
- It’s beyond convenient that Harold spray painted one of his messages right in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere, for Larry to point out to Nadine.
- Perhaps by nicknaming Stu as “East Texas,” Glenn will eventually draw a Texas accent out of James Marsden. We can hope.
- They teased us once again, this time just playing the last stanza of “Baby Can You Dig Your Man?” I dunno, a little bluesy for a commercial jingle.
Best lines of the episode:
- “You know, you sound like some kind of cowboy fortune cookie, right?”
- “All they’ve seen, it’s a miracle they remember how to breathe in and out.”
- “She may be the hottest woman on Earth. I mean, left.”
- “Bet he’s assisted more births than I have.” “Not human births.” “Mammalian.”
- “Seems to me you got dealt a real sh*t hand, my friend.”
- “Please don’t shoot him with your gun. Or-or me, either, while we’re on the subject.”
- “What sort of horsesh*t Judgment Day spares the rats?”
- “’Up and running’ is what got us here. I think it’s high time we tried down and standing still.”
- “He’s scary as pee.”
- “I’ve already found the weapon. I just need you to pull his trigger.”
- “I’m gonna blow your house down!”
- “Always thought church was fairy tales for adults. But us ending up in Colorado after the apocalypse, land of a million weed dispensaries. Maybe there is a higher power.”
- “First of many.”
In The News
Here I try to point you to a few of the more interesting and informative news items over the last week related to The Stand:
- Comic Book Resources has a great interview with Brad William about his process developing the character and voice of Tom Cullen. He also explains the Dolly Parton t-shirt.
- In an interview with Decider, Amber Heard reveals that she had been talking to showrunner Josh Boone about playing the role of Nadine Cross specifically for 8-10 years before it finally came into being.
That’s all for this week. Please let me know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episode, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below.
All images courtesy of CBS All Access