The CBS All Access version of Stephen King’s The Stand reaches the center of its nine-episode run with an episode that should have been a slam dunk but falls victim to the increasing problems of pacing and character that have afflicted this production like a bad case of Captain Trips. Let’s consider what “Fear and Loathing in New Vegas” should have been. It should have been a neon-soaked introduction to the true power of Randall Flagg, the Satan of this battle for the soul. It also should have been a chance to get to know Dayna Jurgens, charting her journey into Vegas and encounter the real dark side of humanity. Meanwhile, tension and suspicion should have grown in Boulder, paralleling the reveal of the true depth of their enemy in Vegas.
Although there is some excess revealed about the City of Sin, it’s not enough to make any CBS viewer blush. However, everything else in this episode feels very shallow. The show has lost its sense of urgency and danger partly because it was too stretched in the middle of its story. But there are other reasons. It’s frustrating and inconsistent to watch the performances, and it often feels like the director is holding them back. Although the character beats are simple and the pacing is dangerous, those who have read the source will know that there is still storytelling that can save the production. It may be time to give up on the hope that The Stand will elevate or enrich the material. It could only send people back to The Stand to find out what went wrong.
Dayna was sent by the Powers That Be to Boulder. She is trying to get into Flagg’s inner circle. This has led her into the web Julie Lawry, Lloyd Henery. Do you remember Lloyd? Remember Lloyd? Henery seems to be taking advantage of Vegas’s lack of rules. Nat Wolff, however, approaches the role like an idiot and does not imbue him with any malice. His take on Halloween is based more on Alfred Molina’s Boogie Nights costume than any other. Dayna should be worried about by Lawry and Henery, but instead, they seem silly rather than dangerous.
Another spy from Boulder, Tom Cullen, is in danger. He lives in a different part of Vegas. Tom is again in danger but he’s not seen much in this episode. He’s introduced trying to get a job, and later Dayna spotting him cleaning up the gladiator-like sports that entertain the masses. Dayna is aware that Tom is in trouble and gives him a note saying “Run”. She then draws Flagg to the penthouse in one of the final scenes. Flagg makes it clear that he understands why Dayna is there. One would assume that someone who can communicate telepathically could figure this out. He’s even found the second spy at the edge of town. He has not found Tom. Dayna attempts to kill him but a knife to the neck will not do any good to an ancient evil such as Flagg. Instead, she takes Tom’s identity and stabs them in her throat.
All of this is happening in Vegas, but the episode loses focus by focusing too much on Harold Lauder. Flagg is the true villain of the story, but the episode instead spends half its time with Harold Lauder. This character doesn’t have the same depth as the creators of the show think he has. It begins with Nadine and Harold finishing their last week’s job, which led to the death of poor Teddy. When the body of poor Teddy is discovered, Harold still has Teddy’s blood on him. Stu and Larry quickly ruled that he committed suicide. Frannie is the only person who seems to be suspicious about the town’s Arthur Fleck version. She asks Larry to investigate the situation in Casa Lauder, while she distracts him by having dinner and conversation.
In truth, Nadine’s story is more interesting because Amber Heard is doing more of her conflicted personality. Mother Abagail reminds Nadine of Joe’s protection from the USA to Boulder. This means that there are still some good qualities in Nadine. Does the woman who murdered Teddy regret working for Flagg? Larry, is that why she throws her weight at him? He hopes he can save him. He’s too focused on his spying mission and is skeptical about her behavior. He tells her she will be fine, but she wanders off almost catatonic. Did this be her last chance to save herself?
Harold, Stu, and Frannie have dinner together. They have a good time sharing their childhood memories, including Frannie’s exclusion of Harold. It becomes tense as Harold is a bit too weird and poorly written. He remembers Amy, his sister, as a perfect example of the overcooked nature of this character.
Mother Abagail prays for a silent God and attempts to find an answer. Harold, however, returns home almost catching Larry in breaking and entering. The slight adjustment of a Knight on a Chessboard suggests that he knew who was there. But the real revelation comes after Dayna’s passing. Harold had a camera attached to Frannie’s dresser so he could watch her flirt with Stu. He also has a video of Larry wandering through his house. It’s a great revelation, but what will Harold do? You need to call the police. The Stand is too often repeating what we know since episode one: Harold is a bad man.
The last scene, in which they find a note at Mother Abagail’s door, is far more alarming. If it is his will, I will return. Harold smiles as he realizes that his spiritual leader has passed away.