The New Miniseries of The Stand is Just OK

A few years ago, I decided to read Stephen King’s tome, The Stand, one of his most popular and highly regarded novels to date. You may remember I mentioned this novel in my post 3 Works of Horror to Freak You Out And Ruin Your Life During the Pandemic.

The Stand is a true epic novel that follows the rise of a fast-spreading, highly fatal respiratory virus that devastates the world’s population, the aftermath of the virus including the remaining populations’ efforts to rebuild, and an overarching theme of the fight of good versus evil. When I read this during the sunny summer of 2018, this was all speculative fiction. People were still shaking hands, taking flights across the world, and sauntering happily through life maskless. The coronavirus had yet to come to fruition. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

Fast-forward to now, it’s March 2021 and we are one year into a pandemic that has effectively halted the world we once knew. The rates of daily COVID-19 infections are bouncing between three and four thousand and my province of Ontario has just implemented its 500th stay-at-home order.

Bbc One Villanelle GIF by BBC - Find & Share on GIPHY

This new miniseries has been in the works for a while, long before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped people from drawing parallels between the story and our reality.

Luckily for us, the coronavirus has not been as devastating as Captain Trips – it’s deadly, but at least it isn’t 99%-of-the-population-dies deadly, decimating the world’s population in a matter of months by the flu-like pandemic.

Creepy Harold is a highlight in this miniseries

One definite standout in this adaptation is Owen Teague, who has actually been in a few Stephen King adaptations, playing bully Patrick Hockstetter in It and It Chapter Two, as well as Jordan in Cell. In The Stand, he plays the role of Harold Lauder, our post-apocalyptic teen incel. He manages to make Harold both wholly repugnant and at times sympathetic, leaning into Harold’s relatable desires for love and acceptance as well as his creepy obsession with Frannie, his former babysitter. We see Harold emulating a picture of Tom Cruise, smiling broadly and giving the finger guns to the mirror, attempting to produce the same wide, fake smile to convince both himself and everyone else that he’s cool and desirable. It’s simultaneously sad and unsettling.

When Harold and Frannie are the only two people left alive in their hometown, Harold sees this as a twist of fate – Frannie would never choose to be with him under normal circumstances, but given he’s seemingly the last man on earth, she doesn’t have many other options. Once they come across other survivors and it becomes clear that Frannie is interested in Stu, the story’s protagonist, Harold starts to spiral. We see the depths he’s willing to go to and the lies he’s willing to believe to get what he wants.

But our primary villain is… OK

Our main antagonist is Randall Flagg, a villain who crops up in various works of Stephen King’s, although sometimes under other pseudonyms. Randall Flagg is a representation of evil incarnate, and in many of Stephen King’s novels he is referred to as a demonic, a literal physical representation of hell. He first appeared in The Stand, but has been seen in the Dark Tower Series, The Eyes of the Dragon, and Hearts of Atlantis, among others.

In the TV and film adaptations I’ve seen, I’ve found that Randall Flagg never really gets an accurate, compelling portrayal or that the full impact of his role as an antagonist is never really felt. In the Dark Tower, we’re given a slightly more consistent picture of Randall Flagg’s powers, but personality-wise, it’s basically just Matthew McConaughey wearing all black.

But at least he looks chic!

In the 2020 miniseries, Randall Flagg’s power and influence feels inconsistent. At times, we see how powerful he is, like in this scene showing how he facilitated the spread of Captain Trips. But at other times, he feels more like a petulant child throwing tantrums when things don’t go his way, rather than a demonic entity threatening the existence of the Earth’s remaining survivors.

Brass tacks, you should watch The Stand

My thoughts overall on the new miniseries? It’s worth a watch, but the book is better. I haven’t seen the 1994 adaptation yet – but I’ll be checking it out to compare it to this new miniseries. Have you seen both? Tell me what you think in the comments!

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