The Stand (2020) Episode 3 Review

CBS All Access

I know these reviews may seem like a broken record at this point but it has to be said again: I really don’t like the direction the creators decided to go with for Stephen King’s The Stand (2020). Episode Three, titled “Blank Page”, continues the non-linear storytelling that was used in the previous two episodes. The first focus for this episode is the character of Nadine Cross, the erstwhile bride-to-be of Randall Flagg. We also get further flashbacks of the journeys for Harold Lauder and Fran Goldsmith, specifically the time period where they met Stu Redman. We’re also given our first dip into the backstory of Nick Andros, one of the key figures in the Boulder Free Zone.  

Let’s focus on Nadine Cross first. Nadine is portrayed by Amber Heard and this is another of the show’s casting decisions that doesn’t pay off. Heard is rather listless in the role. The character of Nadine from the book is an ultimately tortured soul who knows that she’s destined to be with an evil man but can’t bring herself to walk away from that destiny. It doesn’t help that this version of the story eliminates the character of Lucy Swann, the woman Larry Underwood meets after Nadine leaves him and who he ends up falling in love with and marrying. Instead of Lucy and Joe being the pivot point that allows Larry to come out of his narcissistic shell, we get Nadine and Joe. The problem here is that Nadine doesn’t show really any affection for Joe or Larry. There’s meant to be a titanic amount of sexual tension between Larry and Nadine but Heard just doesn’t provide that in her performance. Because of that, I had a great deal of difficulty buying that Nadine and Larry were ever close to being together.

The flashbacks involving Stu, Harold, and Fran are also not the best part of the episode. Their first encounter together is meant to show the initial attraction between Fran and Stu. Unfortunately, because we already have seen them together during the Boulder sequences, the scene doesn’t hold up well. It also relegates Fran to being a prize that Harold and Stu are competing over, which diminishes the already thread-bare character Odessa Young has had foisted upon her. Fran in the novel becomes sort of the team mom of the Boulder crew, helping to diffuse tension and provide a steady emotional core to the group. The Fran character of this limited series is just there and doesn’t really do much of anything.

The one saving grace of “Blank Page” is the arrival of Glen Bateman (portrayed by Greg Kinnear). Funny and cynical, this version of Glen Bateman was an immediate hit with me. Glen is the type of college professor that other professors hate and he doesn’t care. When not hitting a vape pen filled with THC, Glen and Stu bond over their shared losses. Both men lost their spouse before the pandemic and that wound is something they each carry just under the surface. The scenes between Stu and Glen are some of the best I’ve seen of James Marsden up to this point in the show. It’s also revealed that Glen has been painting portraits of people he’s seen in his dreams, including Frannie and Mother Abigail.

On the flipside, we have Nick Andros’ flashbacks. Andros is portrayed by Henry Zaga. There was quite a lot of flak before the series premiered that a hearing actor had been hired to play such a pivotal hearing-impaired character. While taking nothing away from Zaga and his performance, I agree that a deaf actor should have been hired to play the role, even for the scenes where Nick can hear and speak (which only occurs during his dreams with Mother Abigail). Nick’s introduction is him being assaulted by a group of redneck thugs and losing an eye in the process. When he wakes up in the hospital, Captain Trips is in full swing. He also finds his lead attacker is handcuffed to a hospital bed dying. While I can appreciate the nobility it takes to tend to the person who cost you your eye, I can’t say I would do the same in Nick’s place. Maybe that makes me a bad person but I’m sure there were plenty of people who watched that scene and agreed with me.

The best part of this flashback, though, is the introduction of Tom Cullen (portrayed by Brad William). Tom is one of my favorite characters from the novel, largely because he is the one truly innocent character in the entire book. Born with diminished mental faculties, Tom is a lovable giant of a man. The speech he repeats to Nick is so earnest and sincere that you can’t help but love the character from the moment he shows up. While there is difficulty with Nick and Tom understanding each other, it quickly becomes apparent that the two will be able to work with each other to survive.

In the current timeframe, though, we have the arrival of a deeply wounded man named Chen into the Boulder Free Zone. It’s quickly apparent to Stu and the others that this man was crucified but then set free by Randall Flagg. Flagg is able to channel his power through the wounded man, leaving a cryptic warning that he is coming for the residents of Mother Abigail’s group. It would have been a much more effective scene if this show was using a linear narrative structure.

Overall, this is slower paced episode from the first two. We’re given some more time with the characters but it doesn’t make up for the sloppy pacing and disjointed narrative. Non-linear storytelling can be an effective method when used correctly. Unfortunately, the creators of The Stand (2020) don’t make full use of this method to showcase a coherent story. The constant jumping back and forth kills the momentum they’re trying to create for the series. I wish I could say I have higher hopes for the remaining episodes but I can’t say that I do.

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