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'The Stand' 1.01 Review: The End

The premiere of 'The Stand' is a curious episode of television. That's not entirely in its favor.

Frannie Goldsmith and Harold Lauder take a moment at the beginning of the apocalypse.
(Image: © CBS All Access)

Our Verdict

The premiere of 'The Stand' is a mixed bag, but it leaves you with hope that it will manage to nail what it's trying to do before it's all said and done.

For

  • ☠️Owen Teague's performance as Harold Lauder.
  • ☠️The effects of Captain Trips are presented in an appropriately gnarly fashion.

Against

  • ☠️The utilization of time hops may deter and confuse those new to the material.
  • ☠️By starting Frannie's story later than the novel, the series removes some independence key to her character that is not recouped in other ways.

There’s no arguing that The Stand is one of Stephen King’s masterpieces. Even with the story being too long and perhaps splitting off with one too many characters – especially if you read his most recent version – it’s clear now more than ever that at the root of the novel is a timeless tale not just of good vs. evil but of the United States’ pandemic response. But we’re not here to talk about the novel. We’re here to take a look at the first episode in the CBS All Access The Stand miniseries.

“The End” is a curious episode of television. Fans of the novel should be prepared for some key differences in characters they’ve grown to know over the years, while those who are coming into The Stand blind need to know that they’re going to be lost at first and that’s okay. 

There’s no easing into what’s going on with the pandemic the characters are facing. Instead, we learn of the Captain Trips virus right off the bat. There’s no wondering about what’s hit the world – it’s immediately confirmed that the virus has killed 99% of humanity. While this isn’t necessarily a story detriment, it does take a little bit away from the character perspective. Everyone we meet is going through what they know as a potentially extinction level event, and there’s no time in the series premiere to watch them reconcile with that in any meaningful way. There are character responses across the board, to be sure. But it’s all very much the episode telling us what the survivors are feeling rather than showing us in a way that will stick.

Part of that lack of response might be because of how the story is perceived by series creator, Benjamin Cavell. He mentioned that he’s never seen The Stand to be a story about a pandemic in a recent virtual panel discussion. While the bigger story conversation in The Stand is about a battle of good vs. evil when not babysat by laws and government, I feel like a lack of understanding of why the pandemic portion of the story is important might be what led to this minimized reaction to the end of the world. 

The lack of response might also be exacerbated by the fact that we kick right off into the pandemic. Perhaps it's difficult to feel what all of these characters have lost because we have no understanding of what that is. Readers of the book may remember, but it's not a series' job to cater to those who have read a thousand-plus page novel. We get a glimpse of Frannie's dad, and we know Harold's family sucked, but that's not enough to really drive home that the people who died are real people who mattered to our survivors.

What "The End" does appropriately illustrate is how badly you do not want this virus. The 99% of humanity that finds themselves susceptible can expect a whole host of nasty symptoms that primarily include runny nose, cough, fever, more phlegm than you've ever seen in your life, and swelling of the neck. And we're not just talking about some aggravated glands, here. Victims bullfrog it until they basically die in their own snot, cook themselves to death, or both. Sexy way to go, right?

Without any spoilers, it’s worth diving into those character changes so longtime fans can be ready for the shifts. Stu Redman (James Marsden) is much less of the good ol’ Texas boy you remember, but not in any kind of offensive way. We meet Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young) at a later part of her journey, which would be fine if it didn’t rob her of the independence that’s clearly set up for her at the very beginning of King’s story. Meanwhile, Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) is much farther along in his all-grins switch than you may expect. Of these three shifts, the only one that’s concerning is Frannie. With that in mind, there’s plenty of time for the series to illustrate her self-sufficience outside of her burying her parents, just as there’s plenty of time to show these characters reconciling with what they’re experiencing over time. 

What there isn’t time to fix is the damage that “The End” may cause to the interest from first-time viewers. As mentioned before, there’s a lot to get through in The Stand. To do so, there is already a lot of time hopping from character to character. The premiere also introduces time jumps into that. These jumps, while likely intended to differentiate the series’ overall narrative structure from King’s and to give the viewer more of an idea of what’s to come, do not benefit “The End” in any capacity. They’re jarring and hard to follow even if you know the source material, so I can see why some new to the story might lose interest quickly. For some easy context there, "The End" shows you moments that occur in chapter one, and then hops to something that won't happen until chapter fifty-two.

I say that in hopes that it will prepare you for it and perhaps pull out some of the sting rather than deter you from checking out The Stand. There’s a lot of potential here. Way more than we’ve come to expect from miniseries’ adapting King’s work in the past, at least.

The big stand-out of “The End” is Owen Teague’s performance as Harold Lauder. You might immediately learn of his plans for the future of the survivors, but you also feel for him in a way that you wouldn’t anticipate. Frannie’s story is sacrificed a little bit for that, which I don’t care for, but credit where credit’s due on the Harold saga. You want to protect him. You’re also immediately skeeved out by the persona he puts forward. That’s a tough balance to nail as an actor, and Teague seems to do so effortlessly.

Though it's a very mixed bag of an episode, and certainly an odd premiere, "The End" gives you enough hope that there's something to look forward to in the coming episode. It reveals a lot of its cards as a series right off the bat, but still doesn't even scratch the surface in some other respects. The Stand is a difficult source material to take on, but I'm intrigued enough to stick it out. 

The Stand will premiere on CBS All Access on Thursday, December 17th.