The Stand holds high esteem as one of the prolific author Stephen King’s best novels. It’s especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic since the story’s premise is based on a deadly pandemic that devastates the world’s population. The Stand episode 1, The End, starts off the series with a non-linear, at times confusing, yet fun, dark, and morbid show.
Over 99% of humanity dies of government-made militarized influenza virus in Stephen King’s dark fantasy. Yes, I’m branching out from sci-fi a little). Those left alive – who are immune – begin experiencing strange dreams, representing good and the other representing evil.
The good dreams stem from “Mother Abagail” Freemantle inviting survivors to her farm. The evil dreams come from Randall Flagg, a terrifying “dark man.” Survivors choose whether to seek out Mother Abagail or Randall Flagg, thus separating the good versus the evil.
The ‘good’ side settles in a community they call the “Boulder (CO) Free Zone” and the ‘evil’ side establishes a society in Las Vegas, NV. It’s important to note that Randall Flagg has supernatural powers, and Mother Abagail is essentially a prophet of God.
The Stand Episode 1 Recap (SPOILERS AHEAD!)
The Stand episode 1 is now available to watch on CBS All Access (soon to be renamed to Paramount +). For those viewers who haven’t read the book, the episode will likely confuse them a bit.
Whereas the book follows a linear plot, the first episode of the new series jumps back and forth between the present and the past. Many viewers find this method of storytelling confusing, which makes this episode exponentially more confusing for those viewers who don’t know the story.
This episode introduces viewers to Harold Lauder, Frannie Goldsmith, and Stu Redman (all primary characters). We also see Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg’s quick glimpses – the two supernatural characters of the story – representing good and evil.
The Stand is not really a book about a pandemic. I mean, of course it is, or part of it is or it has a pandemic in it. But really the pandemic is the mechanism by which the world gets emptied out so that our heroes can walk to Mordor to cross a kind of dead world.” -The Stand showrunner Ben Cavell
The episode begins in a devastated Boulder, Colorado, following the events set in movement by Captain Trips – the nickname for the fatal virus that wiped out 99.4% of the world’s population. A dead body ‘cleanup crew’ collects the corpses of those who perished during the initial onslaught of the pandemic.
As the cleanup crew transports the collected bodies to a mass burial site, Harold Lauder (played by Owen Teague) must run out of a home to vomit, sickened by the smell and sight of the decaying bodies inside the house.
We experience our first flashback of the episode, going five months back to Ogunquit, Maine. Harold, an odd young man, steps off of his bicycle to spy on Frannie Goldsmith (played by Odessa Young) through a small hole in a fence.
Fran’s father, who sits gardening outside, displays illness symptoms like coughing and fatigue. At this point in the episode, viewers get their first glimpse of the pandemic’s early days, when no one realized what was happening.
While peeping through the fence, two bullies attack Harold. As he flees his attackers, Harold crashes his bike and injures his face. He walks home along the boardwalk and notices everyone he passes appears sick (sneezing, coughing, etc.). It’s important to note that no one wears a mask, so it’s safe to assume the cause of the illness acts quickly.
When Harold gets home, he opens another rejection letter for a short story he submitted to a publisher. Harold walks to his bedroom while the rest of his family is sick in their beds.
Next, the story shifts away from Harold to Killeen, Texas, where Stu Redman (played by James Mardsen) appears held under tight security at a research facility. A pleasant doctor, Dr. Jim Ellis (played by Hamish Linklater), enters the room Stu is kept in and explains to Stu that he shows no flu symptoms.
In another flashback, we see the night Stu came in contact with PFC Charles ‘Charlie’ Campion (played by Curtiss Cook, Jr.). Campion, a soldier who was a member of the security detail for the facility that manufactured a militarized version of the influenza virus.
Campion escaped a lockdown and, unknowingly exposed to the virus, went home to get his wife Sally and their child. They took off driving from the base in California and eventually found their way into Boulder, CO. By then, his symptoms of the deadly flu were in full-effect.
Barely alive, Campion crashed his car into a gas station’s pumps. Stu Redman sat outside the gas station’s garage, playing cards with a few men when the accident occurred. Stu and the men rush to the car to help the passengers, thus exposing them to the virus.
We flash forward back into the facility where Stu is being held and learn that all of Stu’s friends are dead now. Dr. Ellis tells Stu that he’d like to draw blood from the man for possible antibodies. At first, Stu vehemently declines the request but soon realizes the only way he’ll get released from the facility is to comply with the request. Plus, it could save millions of lives.
The episode shifts back to Harold in Maine. Most of the town’s population is dead, with the two exceptions of Harold and Frannie. Harold visits Frannie, and we learn she was his sister’s friend and used to babysit him when they were younger. He, however, is madly in love with her.
Frannie refuses Harold’s offer to help her bury her father and forces Harold to leave.
Harold rides his bike into the devastated remnants of what used to be his home town. He takes a pistol from a dead police officer and finds a classic ribbon typewriter in a store window, which he takes.
Next, Fran experiences the first dream of the series, which often occurs throughout the initial part of the story. She’s walking in a cornfield in her dream, and Mother Abagail Freemantle (played by Whoopi Goldberg) instructs Fran to go to Colorado.
Meanwhile, Harold is busy typing on his newly acquired typewriter and begins formulating a plan.
Back in Texas, Stu and Dr. Ellis hurriedly relocate to a different CDC location in Vermont. A large soldier posing as a doctor named Cobb (played by Daniel Sunjata) assertively asks Stu to wear a black hooded mask during the drive to the secret Vermont facility. It’s obvious Cobb is Special Forces type of character, alluding to using force to make Stu put the mask on if he didn’t comply.
Now we head back to Maine, where Harold finishes his plan and prepares to convince Frannie to join him. He departs for her house, only to find her unconscious in her bathtub, having taken many prescription pills in an attempt to kill herself.
Fortunately, Harold saves her. Once she recovers enough, he tells her his plan, and she agrees to go along.
Back in Vermont, Stu experiences his first dream of being in a cornfield. Except in his dream, he’s approached by a wolf with red eyes – not Mother Abagail. When he wakes up, Dr. Ellis visits him in his new, more luxurious room. The doctor is ill, showing symptoms of the new flu virus. Ellis explains to Stu that most people on the base are now infected and motivates Stu to escape the facility.
Before Stu can escape, Cobb enters the room, clearly ill as well. He holds a pistol, obviously intending to kill Stu. Instead, Ellis approaches Cobb, and Cobb shoots Ellis. Stu uses the scalpel Ellis gave him only moments ago and slices Cobb’s swollen throat, killing the man.
Over the facility’s PA system, General William Starkey (played by J.K. Simmons) directs Stu to the general’s location in the facility. Once Stu makes it to the general’s location, Starkey fills Stu in on the reality of the situation throughout the world. After granting Stu his freedom, Starkey commits suicide since he’s sick with the flu and doesn’t want to suffer the horrible symptoms and death that awaits.
Stu escapes the facility and sets off on his journey.
We then go back to Maine, where Harold and Frannie begin their voyage to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, GA. As they depart, Harold spraypaints a message to anyone alive able to read it.
The episode treats fans to another flash-forward, back to the beginning of the episode, in Colorado with the cleanup crew. Now located at the mass burial site, all signs point towards Harold gradually becoming insane. Harold has his first dream, but instead of inside a cornfield, neon lights surround him, and a wolf appears. Next, The Dark Man appears wearing a jean jacket and a smiley face button pinned to the jacket chest.
When Harold wakes up the following day, he walks through the presumably Boulder, CO settlement. He sees Frannie and Stu, now obviously a couple, which Harold seems angry over. Harold wants to kill Stu and probably Frannie.
In one final flashback, viewers transport to patient zero – Campion. The soldier stands behind a desk, adjacent to a glass wall surrounding a research lab where a technician in a full HAZMAT suit works. Suddenly a siren alerts throughout the facility, notifying everyone of a major breach related to the virus. Campion reacts by initiating the lockdown procedure, but the door to the room he’s located doesn’t shut completely, apparently stuck on something.
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The soldier seizes this opportunity and escapes the facility, rushing to his wife and child. Campion didn’t notice the Dark Man stopping the door from shutting completely, setting the devastating pandemic’s events into motion.
Campion and his family make a hasty retreat from the region, unknowingly exposed to the virus himself. The soldier single-handedly spreads the virus on his escape across the country, culminating at the gas station where Stu Redman plays cards with his friends in Boulder, CO.
The episode ends as Campion and the family pass by a hitchhiker (played by Alexander Skarsgard), who somehow appears in the car’s back seat, despite the vehicle never stopping.
Every cast member performed their roles superbly, making each character believable. However, Owen Teague’s Harold stood out the most. The IT remake actor shines in his role, depicting Harold’s sociopathic tendencies. Harold’s final scene especially stood out, where he practiced mimicking Tom Cruise’s smile and gesture from an old magazine cover. This act clearly shows Harold understands his inability to seem normal to most people and fake it. I compare that to other fictional characters like Dexter Morgan from Showtime’s Dexter, another brilliant show.
Alexander Skarsgård’s portrayal of Randall Flagg, or The Dark Man, reminded me of his role as the pure-evil vampire Eric Northman in True Blood. His appearance in The Stand differs from what he looks like in most of his roles.
This time, he’s got a short beard and wears all denim, including a smiley face button on his jacket. The outfit has a well-worn grimy look, with a pair of black, worn workboots completing the ensemble. Skarsgård pulls off his character’s dark, creepy existence with ease, guaranteed to send chills throughout your body.
Differences Between the Book and Episode
Buy a copy of Stephen King’s The Stand on Amazon here!
As I mentioned previously, Stephen King’s novel The Stand takes place in a linear format, allowing the story and characters to develop sequentially. The series, however, takes an entirely different approach.
The Opening Scene
Fans that read The Stand expected the series to open with Charles Campion deserting his post at the California military base, which houses the deadly virus. Instead, viewers had to wait for the end of the first episode to watch that classic scene. The series chose to begin highlighting Harold Lauder’s first day on a cleanup crew, disposing of dead bodies, perhaps alluding to a significant focus on Harold throughout the series.
Fran Attempts Suicide
The series took Frannie’s character to a much darker place – an attempted suicide. Although this sequence doesn’t appear in the novel, it added a realistic representation of the human psyche in the face of death and despair.
Fran’s Deaf Brother and Secret Pregnancy
Speaking of Fran, when she’s introduced in the book, she informs her parents that she’s pregnant. She has a great relationship with her father and a relatively distant one with her mother. Fran’s mother doesn’t even make an appearance in the series, and ultimately she decides to postpone talking to her father about her pregnancy.
Fran also is shown to have a deceased younger brother who was deaf in the series, which differs from the novel. Her knowing sign language will prove beneficial once we’re introduced to the deaf-mute character of Nick Andros (played by Henry Zaga).
Instead of Dr. Denninger And “Dr.” Elder We Get Dr. Ellis And “Dr.” Cobb
The series remains somewhat faithful, depicting Stu Redman’s first exposure to Captain Trips, showcasing his “average joe” existence in a small town in Texas. Two significant changes from the novel include Dr. Ellis, the man in charge of monitoring and caring for Stu, and “Dr.” Cobb, the gruff man responsible for transporting Stu and Ellis to the CDC’s Vermont facility. In the book, Dr. Ellis’s name is Dr. Denninger, and “Dr.” Cobb is named “Dr.” Elder. I’m not sure why the showrunner decided to change their names since the changes are minor, considering they only appear briefly in this one episode.
Stu’s Escape from the Vermont Facility
One area the book nailed that the series missed out on was Stu’s escape from the Stovington, VT facility. In the book, this portion of the story was down-right creepy. Taking place primarily in complete darkness, Stu wanders, attempting to find a way out of the facility.
The series replaced the desperate and frightening scene with a less dramatic, at times, action-packed sequence of events that appears frail compared to that of the book.
Frannie’s and Harold’s Journey Leads to Atlanta, GA, Not Stovington, Vermont
Whereas the book combines Stu, Harold, and Frannie into an influential trio by having them meet up in Stovington, VT, the series takes the story differently. In the series, Fran and Harold head to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta. Thus, when the trio meets up with each other, it won’t be the same as in Stephen King’s novel.
Easter Eggs Aplenty
Keep an eye out for some fun easter eggs in this series. Here are a few that I discovered:
1. Stephen King’s IT reference
The antique store in which Harold grabs his typewriter is named “Derry and Sons”, a reference to Stephen King’s IT locale.
2. Stephen King’s The Shining reference
The typewriter Harold uses is the same one as Jack Nicholson used in another Stephen King novel-based movie, The Shining.
3. Sam Raimi’s Darkman reference
In one scene where the body cleanup crew walks through a house, Harold enters a bedroom with a poster for Sam Raimi’s 1990 classic movie Darkman, a subtle clue leading to the series antagonist, The Dark Man, appearing.
4. Rejection Letters Hung From a Nail on Harold’s Wall
Stephen King fans that read his memoir, On Writing, will recall the prolific author mentioned hanging a nail on his wall, which he hung all of the rejection letters he received when querying his work. It kept him motivated to persevere, exactly what Harold mentioned to Frannie later on in the episode.
5. David Lynch’s Eraserhead Reference
Harold has a poster of David Lynch’s movie Eraserhead hung up in his bedroom. What’s the tie in here? Well, Lynch’s film had a profound impact on Stanley Kubrick and The Shining.
Overall I loved this premiere episode. I look forward to watching the next. Although the series isn’t sticking 100% authentic to King’s novel, it still has the same dark yet fantastic vibe. “Captain Trips” shows us how the COVID-19 pandemic could have been much worse than it is, offering a rare silver-lining.
I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories, so don’t be surprised that I love The Stand if you hate it. If you enjoyed the book or other dystopian end-of-world books like Wool, The Road, etc., then you should enjoy The Stand on CBS All Access.