In Queue Review – CBS All Access’ “The Stand” ep 4-6, or how Trashy got done dirty

“Hey Bobby Terry? You SCROOOOOOD IT UP!”

JFC this series is tanking. Hard. As a long time fan, I watch and look out for things I know are coming. I want to see what will be different, and what the showrunners will keep from the source material. That’s what pulls me in. Pity, as I can tell most of the performers are giving it their all, especially James Marsden, Amber Heard, and Alexander Skarsgård, who all seem to be trying to bring nuances to their thinly sketched characters and that cringy dialogue.

It doesn’t help that the writing on this show is absolutely horrible. By that I don’t mean the overall story; King is awesome and I love the way he blends a viral apocalypse with “the” end of days. I’m talking about how the plot progresses, how characters interact with each other, and the way characters are presented. Let me skip right to episode 6, “The Vigil”. This is the first time we meet fan favorite Trashcan Man, aka Donald Merwin Elbert. While King’s book and the 90s miniseries paints Elbert as a sympathetic character our heart breaks for, Ezra Miller’s Trashy is an insult to the name. I wouldn’t be surprised if mental health advocates decry this episode. In fact, I hope they do. It’s insulting to the disabled, and paints a horrible, disgusting picture of mental disorders. Everyone having any part in this caricature should be ashamed of themselves.

Miller hoots, drools, and pleasures himself while setting fires. They gibber, screech, and baby-talk as if they’re an evil Leeloo on crack. There’s no semblance of humanity, nothing beyond a set of tics and spasms. in the 90s, Matt Frewer brought life to the character by showing that the impulse to burn wasn’t under his control. He was a slave to it, and balanced the rush of fire with guilt and remorse. Here? Woohoo – let’s get nuts, literally y’all. Method folks need strong directors to make sure they don’t go off the rails. But director Chris Fisher isn’t that strong, and Miller goes absolutely apeshit. They only dial it down in two brief moments; on the elevator up to Flagg, they tell Lloyd “You’re gonna die. I’m sorry.” And during a conversation with Flagg, there’s a glimpse of so much more in that head with a simple “…burning. Always burning. And they don’t know it, but I know.” But it’s gone in a flash. Sigh.

Okay, back to my overall thoughts on the second third of this series. It’s a mess. There are too many directors – four in the fourth episode, the patchwork “The House of the Dead” – too many writers, and not enough solid vision. I can understand getting a slew of creators together for a far-reaching series like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, but with nine episodes? The feel of the story is constantly thrown off by confusing changes in tone, and characters never seem to settle in and let us get to know them. So with a weirdly disjointed story and no characters we have built empathy towards? The Stand is sound and light flashing at us, with only a vague hint of fun here and there.

Skarsgård should be absolutely blowing me away at this point. His Flagg starts to crumble as he realizes his powerful abilities aren’t as powerful as he imagines they are. His plans are falling apart, people are sneaking out of New Vegas, and all Skarsgård has to work with are a handful of boilerplate bad guy lines and facial expressions that try their best to convey what the script doesn’t. It burns me up, as I think he’d a great casting choice for Flagg; he did compelling evil so well in True Blood. But Mother Abigail doesn’t fare any better, so it’s not that the creators are rooting for any one side.

Mother Abigail is portrayed as an argumentative, shrewish prophet. An obvious change from the kind, caring woman in the books and earlier series. I get why she’s got so many followers; so many people needed a touchstone after the horror of Captain Trips. But why do they adore her once they’ve actually spoken to her, when she basically blows everyone off? It doesn’t help that Whoopi Goldberg is absolutely phoning it in, like she’d rather be anywhere but here. Nat Wolff’s Lloyd is the polar opposite, going straight to overkill. In the OG series, Lloyd is shown as being conflicted from the jump, and that conflict – along with Miguel Ferrer’s understated performance – builds a compelling character. Here, Lloyd is a Class A tacky douche, dumb as a stump and reveling in his power. Wolff digs into the ham and cheese with gusto, cranking this character up to ludicrous levels. It should be a fun watch, but this Lloyd is hollow, and that’s a waste. 

In fact, most of the characters are sketched out instead of fully drawn, probably due to all the time jumps earlier in the series. While those jumps seemed to have stopped by episode 5’s “Fear and Loathing in New Vegas”, there’s been no good long look at these characters, so they feel like wooden pieces on Harold’s chessboard. I don’t truly care about them. If I take away the love for these characters I’ve had for decades thanks to the book and earlier series? They’re empty vessels. Viewers coming into this tale knowing nothing are probably bored, waiting for something to happen. I wouldn’t blame them; these characters aren’t interesting enough to hold anyone’s interest.

I’ll keep watching, because I love this story and want to see where it goes. Like my love of A Christmas Carol, I’ll check out anything having to do with King’s story. But beyond production values and those handful of performers who are trying their best? This series isn’t living up to the story’s promise. Here’s hoping the final three eps – and King’s promised new ending – will dazzle me. Or at least not make me feel so damn disappointed.

Correction: A previous version of this post used he/him pronouns for Miller. The actor has said in interviews that they now prefer they/them. So I’ve corrected my error.

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
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