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'The Stand' Finale Review: The Circle Closes

The chore is over.

Odessa Young as Frannie Goldsmith in 'The Stand.'
(Image: © CBS All Access)

Our Verdict

While the penultimate episode gave us a glimmer of hope, "The Circle Closes" is a chore at best.

For

  • ♦️Kojak is a good boy.
  • ♦️We finally see a glimpse of Frannie's spark.
  • ♦️Strangely the best episode of Flagg yet.

Against

  • ♦️Holy yikes the ending with the Natives.
  • ♦️Are we just not... going to ask... where this random child came from?
  • ♦️You know what happens when you go off on your own when the world's ended? You die.
  • ♦️Like the series as a whole, the close to Tom Cullen's story is robbed of any meaning what-so-ever.

This post contains spoilers for The Stand.
Check out our last review here

The trouble with using a proverbial epilogue as the final episode of your series is that — even with a re-write — it’s still a proverbial epilogue. “The Circle Closes” marks the end of the series, but it comes after the only worthwhile episode in CBS All Access’ entry to the saga. Regrettably, I don’t mean “the only worthwhile” before the finale, but “the only worthwhile episode” period.

In defense of “The Circle Closes,” King’s novel ends not with a bang but with a whisper as well. It’s not that the overall goal is ostensibly different — Frannie (Odessa Young) decides she wants out of the Boulder Free Zone so they can return to Maine — it’s just that it was never a good ending to begin with. There’s a long conversation about colonies and the idiocy of putting “the lone wolf” trope up on a pedestal, both of which are huge reasons as to why the ending fails. But, to save you from a three-page diatribe let’s just leave it at this: it is a boring way to end a novel, and a terrible way to end a television series.

After all the pomp and circumstance of New Vegas, Stu Redman (James Marsden) returns to the Boulder Free Zone with the help of Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke). On that trip, Stu is supposed to nearly die and Tom gets to be the hero of the story. It forms an important bond between Stu and Tom, and gives us one last meeting with Nick Andros (Henry Zaga), but there’s none of that here. I’m not big on driving home differences between adaptations and their source material, but the big issue here has remained the cardinal sin of The Stand: this iteration is devoid of any kind of meaning. None of these characters are who they’re meant to be or are given the connections they’re meant to have outside of Owen Teague’s Harold Lauder.

Now, one of the big selling points of CBS All Access’ The Stand was that it would feature a new ending written by King himself. Throughout his illustrious career, Stephen King has been on the receiving end of plenty of commentary about his lackluster endings. Unfortunately, “The Circle Closes” only gives credence to idea.

The episode opens with Stu magically home with no issue before we catch up with Frannie’s baby (genderbent to become young Abigail rather than Peter). The infant’s struggle with Captain Trips is covered in a brief monologue and given no real impact, and then the family heads off to Maine. On their way, Frannie is met with one final temptation.

While Stu is collecting supplies ten-minutes from the home the family is squatting in for the evening, Frannie falls into a well. Why? Because that’s what happens when you venture off away from the pack and/or colony after the world has ended. You get a stupid injury and you die. The end. 

Ok, not really. Frannie does fall in a well, but it’s all a trick by Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) as one last temptation. He offers her a chance to save her life and ensure the longevity of her baby and her husband should she just give him one kiss. A little bit of the spark that we should have seen from her ages ago comes out, and she tells the proverbial devil that he can, for all intents and purposes, eat shit. After she flees, she finds herself on Mother Abigail’s (Whoopi Goldberg) porch. The old prophet tells her lovely things about the life that’s to come for her because she put evil behind her. After she does, Stu and Mother Abigail’s reincarnated soul pull Frannie out of the well so the aforementioned reincarnation can heal her of her wounds and send the family on their merry way.

I know what you’re thinking. “Reincarnation?! In my good Christian allegory?!” Yeah, I don’t know. Take it up with Stephen King.

And so, Frannie, Stu, baby Abigail, and their future three other children go on to live happy lives. Who knows what becomes of the Mother A’s reincarnation. There is literally no development with her what-so-ever. Stu doesn’t even ask why a random kid is holding his infant. She is there, then she is gone, and no one says a word about it. But that’s not quite the end of the story.

When Flagg was trying to tempt Frannie into presumably helping him to come back from whatever death looks like for The Walkin’ Dude, he tells her a story of the natives that colonizers murdered with smallpox blankets. One colony remained untouched by the white man, and was never put in danger by Captain Trips. The miniseries ends with Flagg shooting one of their defenders in the head and becoming there new god. And yes, I wish I was lying as much as you do.

"The Circle Closes" had the intent of giving Frannie her moment. It seems only fair, since The Stand robs the character of all spark and personality. But it's really just one last moment to showcase Flagg and Abigail before the two protagonists can live "happily ever after" in a dystopia that was never set up in the series to begin with. It's all just a chore. 

It is legitimately fascinating how bad this miniseries was. With the exception of “The Stand” it feels like every single decision is made in a way that intentionally robs the story of its impact. Nearly every episode of The Stand is utterly vapid. I wish “The Circle Closes” was any different. “The Stand” gave me some hope that perhaps the series would finish strong, but that simply wasn’t in the cards. My sincerest thoughts and prayers to those who decided to hold off to binge this in one fell swoop. You’re better off just watching the penultimate episode so long as you know the story.