The past year has made hypochondriacs of us all — and CBS All Access’ adaptation of The Stand might have you reaching for the hand sanitizer more than usual.
The streaming service on Thursday dropped Episode 1 of its nine-part miniseries, based on Stephen King’s popular 1978 novel. (Subsequent episodes will roll out every Thursday.) The drama largely takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, following the survivors of a highly contagious and lethal strain of influenza, known as Captain Trips, that wiped out most humanity on the globe.
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But unlike King’s book, which unfolds in chronological order beginning with the Captain Trips pandemic, CBS All Access’ version jumps back and forth in time throughout the premiere, showing us both the pandemic at its peak and the resulting aftermath a few months later. Let’s recap who we meet in the show’s first installment:
HAROLD AND FRANNIE | We start in Boulder, Colorado, where many survivors of Captain Trips have congregated to form a new society; seven billion people have died in the last five months. Harold Lauder (Bloodline’s Owen Teague) is part of the body crew in Boulder, responsible for entering abandoned buildings and retrieving dead bodies, which are ultimately piled into endless shipping containers. It’s bleak work, and when Harold and a few others enter a church that’s full of rotting Captain Trips victims, he immediately runs outside and vomits (though he chooses to remain on the crew despite that).
The premiere then jumps back five months, when Harold was living in Ogunquit, Maine. He bikes past the home of his childhood babysitter, Frannie Goldsmith (High Life’s Odessa Young), on whom he spies through a hole in her fence; Frannie’s in the yard with her dad, who’s under the weather, and a bunch of Frannie’s friends are sick with the same thing. But then a couple of bullies catch Harold peeping, and they chase him until he takes a nasty tumble off his bike, promising to hurt him even worse if they ever catch him in Frannie’s neighborhood again. Notably, one of the bullies sneezes as he walks away.
In fact, Captain Trips seems to be spreading mighty fast through Ogunquit; as a disheveled Harold makes his way across the boardwalk, people are sneezing and coughing all over the place, and he returns home to find that his mother, father and sister are all ill, too, while Harold feels fine. (There’s also a news bulletin that the governor is considering a ban on all public gatherings, making The Stand the most relatable show of 2020.)
Just one week later, Harold bikes across that same boardwalk, and it’s completely empty. Nearly everyone else in Ogunquit has already died of Captain Trips — except for Frannie, who gets a visit from Harold as she’s digging a grave for her father in the yard. Despite his obvious infatuation and/or obsession with her, Harold isn’t all that sensitive to Frannie’s loss; he spouts off conspiracy theories that the government created this superflu, and when she asks him to leave, he coldly asserts that “no one’s coming” to help Frannie or properly dispose of her deceased dad.
That night, Frannie has an odd dream: She’s in a cornfield, and she keeps hearing the eerie laughter of a child running behind her. But in the middle of the field, she finds not a child, but a baby doll — and before she can touch it, she’s approached by a woman we’ll later come to know as Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg). “My name is Abagail Freemantle. You come see me at Hemingford Home, Colorado,” she tells Frannie. “Can you remember that for me?” And then, Frannie wakes up.
Meanwhile, Harold has kept himself busy: After swiping the gun of a deceased, virus-infected cop (and taking a typewriter from an abandoned store display), Harold comes up with a plan to get him and Frannie out of Ogunquit. He even practices it in the mirror beforehand — “Fran, I have a plan. F—k, that rhymes,” he groans — but when he pays a visit to Frannie’s house, she suspiciously doesn’t answer the door. Worried, Harold lets himself inside the house, where he finds Frannie in the bathtub, having swallowed quite a few pills. “I’m not gonna let you die, Frannie,” Harold says, then uses his fingers to get Frannie to regurgitate the pills and regain consciousness.
Later, Frannie solemnly tells Harold that she wishes he hadn’t revived her; she doesn’t want to be alive anymore, and the world is a disaster. But Harold insists he was just repaying a years-old favor; back when Frannie was his babysitter, Harold — an aspiring writer — got his first rejection letter from a publishing company, and Frannie had put a nail in his bedroom wall where he could mount the letter, urging him to never give up on his dreams. To this day, Harold still puts all of his rejections on that same nail, and Frannie’s words have stuck with him; now, he doesn’t want her to give up, and he reminds her that they are the future in the wake of this pandemic.
Harold suggests they journey to Atlanta, where the CDC is based, in the hopes of helping any scientists that are still alive to fight this virus. “That’s a really smart idea,” Frannie offers, putting her head on Harold’s shoulder — though the next morning, she doesn’t look too enthused to be starting their road trip down the coast. As Frannie looks on, Harold spray paints a message on the side of a building: “Gone to CDC in Atlanta, GA. Leaving Ogunquit Sept. 14. Harold Emery Lauder and Frances Goldsmith.”
“I didn’t know your middle name,” Harold shrugs to Frannie after writing the message (and the fact that she was standing right there, and he could have asked her middle name, probably tells us all we’ll need to know about Harold moving forward.) Frannie doesn’t respond to his comment, and the two strap on their motorcycle helmets and drive off.
STU REDMAN | Meanwhile, in Texas, we meet Stu Redman (played by Dead to Me’s James Marsden). While hanging out with some buddies at a local gas station in Arnette, Texas, Stu notices a car careening right toward the gas station — and when it crashes into some of the pumps, Stu and a friend help the driver, Charles Campion, get out of the vehicle. But the inside of the car appears to smell like literal death, and Charles looks awful: He’s sweating, coughing, and thick mucus is covering his nose and mouth. (Charles’ wife and young child, who were ill in the backseat, didn’t survive.)
“The clock was red,” a delirious Charles mumbles to Stu, adding that a red clock is “supposed to mean a lockdown.” But neither Stu nor his friends get any more details about what’s keeping Charles sick or what he’s talking about; three days later, Stu is holed up at a U.S Army research facility in Kileen, Texas… and it seems he’s the only one immune to this virus, while all of his other friends and their families are now dead of it.
Stu develops a rapport with Dr. Jim Ellis (Legion’s Hamish Linklater), who offers more information about the virus than he probably should. But he gets Stu to agree to participate in all kinds of lab tests, assuming Stu’s immunity can help others infected with the virus. “Do what you gotta do,” Stu tells Ellis — but that same night, a nurse’s child tests positive for Captain Trips, and Stu is whisked away in the wee hours to a CDC facility in Vermont instead. (He’s transported by a man calling himself Dr. Cobb, despite no evidence to suggest he’s an actual doctor — but more on him later.)
During his first night at the CDC facility — an absolute fortress of a building, overseen by an elusive four-star military man named Gen. Starkey — Stu has a strange dream akin to Frannie’s. He’s also in a cornfield, and when he reaches the center of it, he discovers a red-eyed wolf staring at him; Stu wakes up as the animal begins to growl at him.
Unfortunately, Stu’s next visitor is Ellis, who has very clearly come down with Captain Trips himself. “No,” Stu gasps, watching as a sweaty, watery-eyed Ellis coughs and coughs. As they commiserate over Ellis’ condition — Ellis was convinced he’d be the one to solve Captain Trips and create the world’s most important vaccine — a belligerent Dr. Cobb stumbles in, and he’s infected, too. Mucus streams out of his nose, and his neck is three times its normal size… but he fights through all of those late-stage symptoms to shoot Ellis as he approaches, killing him instantly. Then, he turns toward Stu, but Stu swiftly slits Cobb’s throat with the blade Ellis was going to use to end his own life. Cobb stumbles backward and falls to the ground, and he’s dead, too.
“Right this way, soldier,” Gen. Starkey suddenly says over the intercom, remotely opening the door to Stu’s room and inviting Stu up to his office. When Stu gets up there, he finds that Starkey (Counterpart’s J.K. Simmons) is watching dozens of security cameras, all of which show horrifying scenes of the pandemic — people dead in the street, bodies getting loaded into shipping containers, just endless awfulness. And Starkey has the virus, as well.
Instead of succumbing to the disease, Starkey opts to go out on his own terms by shooting himself in the chest. But before he does, he advises Stu on how to get out of the building, and he also reveals that he doesn’t know who Dr. Cobb was, or how he got involved with the operation; he wasn’t under Starkey’s orders, at least, and he’s not sure who Cobb’s supervisor was. But no matter: At this point, Starkey is content to read aloud a poem from a book his young (and now deceased) daughter got him as a gift.
“If anyone asks — if there’s anyone left to ask — tell them I stood my post ‘til the end,” Starkey requests, and Stu says he will. Then, after reading a particularly prescient poem, Starkey takes his own life, and Stu makes his escape from the building.
RANDALL FLAGG | At the end of the premiere, we return to post-apocalyptic Boulder, where Harold is the last to have an odd dream. He’s in a dark, foggy location, surrounded by rocks and, oddly, a couple of neon signs depicting silhouettes of exotic dancers. A wolf sits a few feet away, staring at Harold calmly. Then, a man approaches Harold, holding out a glowing stone in the palm of his hand. Harold looks intrigued by the offer, but before he (or we) can get a look at the man’s face, Harold wakes up.
The next morning, Harold heads to the center of town, where there’s a few big reveals: 1) Stu is also living in Boulder now, 2) he appears to be in a relationship with Frannie, and 3) Frannie is pregnant. Stu tells Harold how much he appreciates Harold’s work on the body crew, and Harold manages a fake-cheerful, “We’re all in this together!” before Stu and Frannie walk off. But his face falls as soon as they’re gone, and he returns home to tap out an angry passage on his typewriter: “My great pleasure this delightful post-apocalypse season would be to kill Mr. Stuart Dogc—k Redman,” it reads. “And just maybe, I’ll kill her, too.”
The final scene is a flashback to the origins of the pandemic, when Charles Campion — the man who crashed into that Arnette gas station — gets an urgent call from one of his supervisors at the California bioweapons facility where he works. “Sir, is this an exercise?” Charles asks his superior as all sorts of alarming messages appear on his computer screen… but when he looks up from the monitor, a colleague in a hazmat suit pounds on the glass of the pod he’s working in, and it’s immediately clear he’s got Captain Trips. As the colleague runs a snot-covered hand down the door, Campion slams the facility’s lockdown button, and the clock on the wall instantly turns red.
Campion then races home and gets his wife and child in the car, hoping to outrun the virus before they catch it. (Which, as we now know, is a lost cause.) As he’s driving on the highway, Campion spots a man hitchhiking on the side of the road — and though he doesn’t stop to pick the man up, the man appears in the car anyway: It’s Randall Flagg, aka the Man in Black (True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard), grinning at us in the rearview mirror from Campion’s backseat.
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