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Without the context of Stephen King’s novel on which the limited series is based or even the previous 1994 miniseries, viewers of CBS All Access’ The Stand may find themselves as lost as the survivors of the Captain Trips pandemic.
In King’s The Stand, a deadly plague wipes out virtually all of humanity, save for a small few. Most of these folks find themselves drawn by dreams to one of two communities: a safe zone in Boulder, Colorado alongside a woman named Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg), or the post-apocalyptic remnants of Las Vegas alongside the charismatic monster Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard). The book chronicles the lives of the people working their way toward the two communities, before descending into a murky battle of good and evil between Abigail and Flagg’s flocks.
The book plays these events in chronological order; the new CBS All Access version very much does not.
In the opening episode alone, events takes place across various points in the book’s timeline, not only showing how strong and silent Stu Redman (James Marsden) survives his initial brush with Captain Trips in Texas, but also that he eventually becomes a very prominent leader within the Boulder community. The first episode also introduces viewers to the brutally bullied Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) in the earliest days of the apocalypse, before catapulting into the Boulder days, in which Harold nurses a murderous grudge against Stu. The format continues across ensuing episodes, with each installment zipping back and forth in time for multiple characters, leaving viewers as disoriented as the survivors themselves.
Is it an effective approach to retelling King’s epic, admittedly massive in scale and scope, if considerably more streamlined in its narrative? The answer will likely depend from viewer to viewer, and will doubtlessly factor in certain viewers’ familiarity with the source material. Regardless of the personal opinion, there’s no doubt that it’s a significant change from the source material — and what’s more, there’s this: the disjointed timeline is not only very much by design, it was one of the very first ideas brought to the table in this latest adaptation of The Stand.
“We made this decision to tell the story not in the linear way the book and the original miniseries was told, but to do this by going back and forth between timelines,” executive producer Benjamin Cavell tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That was done consciously in part because for us, as strange as it is to say at this moment, The Stand is not really a book about a pandemic. Of course there is a pandemic in it, but it really is Lord of the Rings in America. It’s this mental struggle between the forces of light and darkness for the soul of what’s left of humanity. Since that’s where fundamentally for us the story of where the novel lies, it felt like the honest place to begin.”
“In the course of adapting a 1200 page book, of course you’re going to make decisions about what to leave out and what to keep in,” he adds. “The thing I would say in a global way is all of those things were deliberate. Whatever is or isn’t in [the series] is in or is not intentionally and is thought through. That’s the thing I want everyone to know about this show: whatever you want to say about it, you can’t really say we haven’t thought it through. We’ve thought about every little piece of it and decided this is the story we want to tell.”
Whether the change works or not for longtime fans of The Stand and newcomers alike, the CBS All Access series remains the place where folks will find one very new and important piece of lore: an updated ending, written by none other than Stephen King himself. The ninth and final installment of the series is a coda from the original architect of The Stand, and one that viewers will need to watch if they want to complete the journey as King now envisions it.
“He had been planning this coda for 30 years, and the fact that he read the first couple of drafts of the first couple episodes of the show and said, ‘You guys clearly have a point of view and you know what story you’re telling; you guys can do right by this piece that I’ve wanted to add for the last three decades,'” says Cavell. “It felt like such a vote of confidence from Stephen King who was such an important figure for us and for everyone.”
As for what the coda specifically entails, Cavell’s lips are sealed, save for the central character it involves — and on that point, some spoilers are ahead for those who never read the book or watched the initial miniseries.
“A big part of the genesis of it came from King’s awareness that Frannie (Odessa young) doesn’t really get a stand in the books,” he says. “She’s eight months pregnant when [her allies] go on the stand, and she can’t go with them, but she’s also one of the main heroes of the novel, and the fact she doesn’t get her own stand in The Stand has always eaten at him. That, in the broadest possible strokes, is why the coda exists.”
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