The best acting in the world can't make up for empty characters, but shout out to this whole cast for trying their damndest anyway.
- 💣Owen Teague and Odessa Young act their butts off this week.
- 💣We finally meet an intimidating version of Randall Flagg.
- 💣A good episode 6 chapters in can't save past narrative decisions that remove any emotional punch.
- 💣Why did we even write Judge Harris into this story?
- 💣Nick Andros deserved better.
Things are heating up in The Stand as we see ourselves inching closer to the finale. “The Vigil” focuses largely on the missing presence of Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg), but we also see some important developments in New Vegas by way of the Trashcan Man (Ezra Miller), and the very unfortunate end of a trigger-happy lackey that killed the wrong person. The series has been pretty rough so far, but we’re currently on a two-episode uptick on quality. It’s been a nice reprieve, but it also highlights there are just some things that are past saving at this point.
Mother Abagail’s departure is supposed to come with deep meaning. However, because The Stand paints her as the messiah her novel counterpart insisted against, it’s mostly just them being scared that they don’t have anyone with “all” the answers anymore. Still, she’s gone and the town is sad. The searches carry on as they’re meant to, and Harold (Owen Teague) and Nadine (Amber Heard) inch closer to completing their last task in Boulder: killing the council.
Meanwhile, in New Vegas, we finally meet the Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgärd) we’ve been waiting for. When Judge Harris (Gabrielle Rose) is unceremoniously murdered by one of Lloyd Henreid’s (Nat Wolff) watchmen, Flagg shows off the quiet terror that’s meant to be a key aspect of the character all along. There’s no shouting or loud theatrics, just a quietly furious Randall Flagg who has exactly one man to blame for his plan going sideways. The scene’s delicious. It’s palpable in the way that makes your stomach tighten as you wait for the boogie man to pounce. I don’t know where this Flagg has been, but if he leaves again it’ll be a damn shame.
Though he'll never know it, The Walkin' Dude's fury is unfounded. Judge Harris never knew about Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke) coming to town. It's currently unclear if he made it out of New Vegas with any information that may help the camp back home, but Moon Man makes it out of Dodge before Flagg and his cronies can find him. Poor dude had to bury himself in some corpses, but he got away from the mean lady who called him the "R" word, and that's what's important.
The introduction of Ezra Miller’s Trashcan Man was largely underwhelming, but we’ll see him come more into play in later episodes. What is interesting is the decision to have the brutal showdown between Judge Harris and the border lackeys take place off screen. Did we honestly gender bend this character just so we could rob her of her coolest moment? It’s gruesome, don’t get me wrong—more than one person loses a face—I just don’t understand why we’re shying away from the gore now. Especially in an episode that has less of it than its counterparts! Besides, Judge may die, but she gets to ruin her assailant’s days in the process! It’s a strange thing to remove given that we spent time on the lead-up to her departure and her time in the hotel as she bided her time.
So far, The Stand can be summed up with a very terse “choices were made.” While those choices have largely be the wrong ones, few arcs suffered more than that of Nick Androse (Henry Zaga). Nick is not only supposed to be one of the most important players in the story, he’s also supposed to be the non-believer when it comes to Mother Abagail and all of this God and the Devil nonsense. Yet, here we are with someone who’s hardly in the story and has somehow found himself as Mother Abagail’s devout servant (except for that whole spy thing). His death—which we see in “The Vigil”—is meant to be a jarring surprise. Instead, it finds itself in the same category as much of the rest of this miniseries: meaningless.
Frannie (Odessa Young) knowing about the bombs and pleading with Harold is a shift that, at the time of writing this review, I still haven’t decided if I like or not. A large part of me prefers the narrative where the town is caught by utter surprise, but I’d be remiss not to acknowledge how great the scene between Harold and Frannie is. She’s not meant to lie to him when she tells him she’s always cared. In the novel, her character very much does (despite frequent annoyance). None of that is shown in this story. Hell, it’s barely even mentioned, really. Sacrificing these characters’ backstories cannot be resolved by adding strong moments between actors later in the season. The performances can be exceptional and still mean nothing when those who haven’t read a 1100-page book have no context to how they feel because it was deemed unimportant during the adaptation process.
In the end, they do find Mother Abagail. What is meant to be the cause for the townspeople to get away from the house ends up being a throwaway moment at the end of the episode, but we’ll undoubtedly see the fallout from her excursion next week.
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