A horrifying pandemic has hit the world killing approximately 99% of the world’s population. Society no longer exists as we know it and those who are left find themselves slowly being drawn into two different camps, one in Boulder Colorado where they are called to by “Mother” Abagail Freemantle, and the remaining people to Las Vegas by a charismatic individual named Randall Flagg.
I remember watching The Stand miniseries from 1994 that starred Gary Sinise as Stu Redman and by the time I got to the end of that I felt betrayed and disappointed by a series that had some amazing speculative fiction concepts with Biblical overtones but had one of the cheesiest endings of any Stephen King story ever made. I have never read the original work (something which I feel I should do), but I do feel that this prior adaptation, regardless of how faithful or not it was to the source material, degraded into mere fantasy. Now we have this horror remake starring James Marsden as Stu Redman, Alexander Skarsgård as Flagg, and Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail. CBS All Access has now commissioned a 9 episode series that appears to deliver more background on some of our primary players and how they each arrived at their destinations. In doing this creators John Boone and Benjamin Cavell, along with writers Stephen King (according to IMDb he wrote all 9 episodes), Jill Killington, Owen King, and Knate Lee jump around in time and tell the background stories after they have been introduced to us in the so-called “present.” The result can be confusing if you’re not paying close enough attention, but on the positive side is we get a clearer understanding of who some of these people are and why they were called to whichever side they are on. Surprisingly, this has little negative impact on the forward movement of the plot for after the third episode we are already seeing the proverbial line being drawn in the ground between Mother Abagail and Flagg as we start moving towards the inevitable showdown between good and evil.
The casting has been very good in this series. I daresay I like it better than in the 1994 miniseries. James Marsden has always come across as a charismatic leader since we first saw him in 2000’s X-Men and he continues with that same sense of strength as Stu Redman. Marsden’s film experience also shows his strength in working with ensembles and that is demonstrated again here. He never overplays his part, but comes off as very generous in allowing other actors he shares scenes with to shine along with him.
We’ve not seen much of Goldberg as Mother Abagail, but in the few scenes where she does appear, she seems to channel the warm same spirit that Ruby Dee gave in 1994. Goldberg has also continually shown her own strength of presence throughout her career and she delivers it once again with a quiet demeanor that immediately commands respect.
The character of Harold Lauder was in 1994 a tricky one to play and as good as Corin Nemec is as an actor, his good looks made it difficult to accept him as the duplicitous Lauder. This time we have the equally good-looking Owen Teague, but with subtle makeup (mostly hair) and an almost sneering behavior he makes Harold Lauder a character not to be liked or trusted in the slightest bit. He’s so good at that I can’t help but wonder why other characters in the series can’t discern for themselves how untrustworthy he is.
Lastly, there is Skarsgård as Randall Flagg. Previously, he was played by Jamey Sheridan who gave him a southwestern swaggering goofiness. Unfortunately, when he was revealed in “all his glory” as to what he is it merely came off as almost clownish. Here, from the very first time we meet Flagg, we are immediately put on guard as to how menacing he is. Even when he is trying to charm people over to his side we also see what a dangerous threat he is to those he deems to be his enemies. Skarsgård is simply terrifying.
In a time where the world is trying to come out of its own pandemic, certain moments in the first three episodes hit just a bit too close to home, so perhaps there is something resonant to be experienced in watching this current version of The Stand. That’s not to say that we are standing on the precipice of complete and total social collapse and that we are on the brink of some Biblical Armageddon. But maybe we can come to a better sense of empathy and appreciation for the dark times this past year has been for many of us. In any event, despite the continual jumping around in time as the story has developed so far, there is something very interesting being told here. Having seen the 1994 version I had a reluctance to watch this remake, and yet now that I have I am fascinated to see not so much where this is going to go, but how it will get there.