Stephen King could have given his novel many different titles. Some wonder why he didn’t call it The Virus or The Syndrome. A global pandemic is what he wanted his 1978 book to be about. One that takes away a large portion of human life. The Stand is what he wanted it called. In a place where there are no rules, he begins to think about what choices survivors would have to make. Do you go with selfishness, join the dark side or do you help others because that’s the right thing to do? “I wanted to write about bravery,” says King. “At some point, people have to make a stand.

The legendary plague novel was in production for an update when COVID-19 hit. A little foreshadowing there? In the new version set to star are Alexander Skarsgard, Whoopi Goldberg, James Marsden, and more.

By far the novel is one of King’s masterpieces.  After a remodel it is now headed to CBS ALL Access for a limited series later in the year. (The exact launch date is still to be determined.) All amongst a real-life global pandemic, leading producers Benjamin Cavell and Taylor Elmore from Justified (where they first worked together) quickly pointed out that King not only has terrifying themes but is layered in reassuring ones as well. “It’s about the fundamental questions of what society owes the individual and what we owe to each other,” says Cavel. “Over the last however-many years, we have sort of taken for granted the structure of democracy. Now, so much of that is being ripped down to the studs. It’s interesting to see a story about people who are rebuilding it from the ground up.”

With all this coronavirus crisis amongst us the interest in movies like Outbreak, Contagion has heated up. What the world will look and feel like when The Stand begins it’s run of nine episodes is still unknown. When the North American shut down began in March for the COVID-19, the show had only four more days of filming left. Evidently CBS ALL Access has enough to go ahead and proceed with the release. “It was very surreal, obviously, to start to realize that there was a creeping pandemic the way there was at the beginning of our show,” Cavell Say.

“I WANTED TO WRITE ABOUT BRAVERY. AT SOME POINT, PEOPLE DO HAVE TO MAKE A STAND.” -STEPHEN KING

Fans need to know The Stands virus is not one that leaps to humans from another species. “It’s a literally weaponized human-made device,” says Elmore, “This is an alternate version of how things could have gone wrong.” King’s Story is a facet of ways the human race can manipulate our own self-destruction.

On Twitter King has had to extinguish fear with fans, that in the book more than 99 percent of the population is kill. This is way worse than anything we are seeing in real life. Yes it is a little unnerving in the similarities with COVID-19. “When you hear reports that 100,00 or 240,000 people are going to die, you’ve gotta take notice, and it is going to be bad. It’s bad right now,” says King. Noting that The Stand will even have a new ending written for the final episode of the miniseries. “It’s brought the economy to a complete stop. In a lot of ways, I mean, you see the pictures of Times Square or London, and you say, “It really is like The Stand.”

“But the cars aren’t piled up, and nobody’s shooting each other yet,” he added. Soon after that interview, crowds started appearing with rifles at anti-quarantine rallies. A Family Dollar store security guard asked a customer to wear a mask and ended up shot in the head.

After the Pandemic

King’s book will not play out the same way as the earlier hit miniseries on ABC  in 1994 with Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Jamey Sheridan did. Instead they will scramble the chronology of the book. What we will see first is that plague has already battered the planet. Directed by Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) the first episode starts in a Colorado neighborhood, where survivors are cleaning up in full protective gear. Trying to restart society again are the last men and women of the human race. Luckily for them they are immune to the Captain Trip virus that has wiped out the planet. It’s not an easy job but a messy one removing endless bodies falling to pieces.

Leading producers didn’t think it was necessary to repeat Contagion because they loved it. “King does this great thing that we made the conscious decision not to do, which is to go to the 10,00-foot view of what’s going on,” Cavell said. “That’s not a luxury that our people have. What does the apocalypse look like from the ground where you can’t see what’s happening in other places, you can’t see what’s happening to other people, you can only see your subjective experience?”

When we do see the pandemic hit it will be through flashbacks as we meet the major characters living in damage world. Scoring his first hit single just as the plague hits is musician Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo, Watchmen).  Then we have Rita Blakemoor (Heather Graham) a New York socialite struggling to survive. Also, Nick Andros a deaf man,  played by Henry Zaga who is not often understood but understands human nature well.  Drawn toward dark and selfish impulses is Nadine Cross, (Amber Heard0) a woman who is very conflicted.

Greg Kinnear’s major character is Glen Bateman, a widowed sociology professor who was in bad shape before the plague came along. He was King’s vessel for thoughts on what could rise from the ruins. “He’s able to say these things that are part of my idea of the way that human nature works. First there’s chaos, and then there’s reintegration,” said King. “So it’s a question of, do things reintegrate in a way that’s good, or do they reintegrate in a way that’s Hitlerian and bad? It could go either way, so I wanted to write about that. I wanted to put those two forces in conflict.”

Amongst all these central characters in this wide variety of cast is one of the central figures Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young, A Million Little Pieces). Just before the pandemic takes place she learns she is pregnant. If she is immune to the virus, will her baby be too?  “We do focus very much on that story of Fran and the baby,” says Elmore. “What are a modern woman’s motivations in this position, a 20-year-old kid who is pregnant when the world ends? She’s a formidable force in this story.”

With her Frannie carries a literal answer to whether life will go on. “She’s at the crossroads between that responsibility, but then also [wondering], is it cruel to bring children into a failing world?” Young said. “Is it futile if there’s no hope for humanity? Even after the virus has run its course, is it an act of cruelty to continue humanity?”

Frannie isn’t alone though. Harold Lauder (Owen Teague, one of the bullies from the It remake), her weird neighbor, seems to also be immune. He has always made Frannie feel uncomfortable and she knows he always had a crush on her.  Does he want to protect her like he clams? Or is this his chance to control her?

When Harold learns he may not be the last man on earth his prospects fall. “Frannie’s very conflicted about the way she feels about Harold,” Elmore said. “Obviously, that’s a huge relationship in the book that is explored in a specific way, and we take tiny liberties with it that an actor like Odessa can use to really make that character feel modern and resonant.”
In comes Stu Red (played by James Marsden who will eventually become a safer companion for Frannie.) Red is a good old Texas boy who was there at the beginning of the outbreak. “When we find him, he’s in a locked room in which there are people interacting with him with these hazmat suits on, and they’re not telling him what’s going on,” Cavell says. In a series of flashes back we see him hanging out at the local gas station when suddenly an out-of-control car slams into the gas pumps. In the car is  Patient Zero, a worker from the American bioweapon lab who managed to get out just before the locked down. Also with him is the virus that would end the world as we know it.
Stu who witnesses the crash was the only one to live more than a few days. He also was a guinea pig for the government as they tried in vain to study and stop the outbreak. Frannie isn’t the only one immune, there are others out there good and bad. It will though a take a while before they all find each other.

Similar to our own world right now they will pull apart into two groups. They will see each other first with suspicion, then with contempt. The won’t see things the same way at all, also similar to what’s going on right now with COVID-19. (Mask – No mask)

In comes the supernatural. The prophecy of Armageddon. Groups will vie to fulfill that and heads will clash.

The Other World, the Good and the Bad

Nat Wolff (Paper Towns) who survives Captain Trips while behind bars for committing a murderous robbery is the opposite of Stu. Both watch the world fall apart from similar perspectives but for different reasons. “It’s like, what would happen if you had to witness the apocalypse from inside a locked room?” Cavell said. “At a certain point there’s a riot going on in the prison around him but he’s restricted, essentially, to the view that he has just out of his cell because that’s all you can see.”

Near the end, locked in his cell dying from starvation not the virus because he’s immune, Lloyd gets a visitor named Randall Flagg.  He holds not only the key to his cell but to a new lawless dominion he is setting up in Las Vegas. That seems about right doesn’t it? What better place to start?!

Something is different about Flagg (played by Alexander Skarsgård). In fact he is the only major character in The Stand who is not quite human. The character has had a demonic presence through King’s works. Here Skarsgård plays him as a larger than life demon.

Flaggs brings out the worst in his followers, that his real power. “He’s so charming and he’s so handsome and so powerful—I mean genuinely powerful, able to perform these sort of miracles where he could levitate himself and he has these actual powers,” Elmore said. “And yet he needs this adulation and this kind of worship from these people whom he’s summoned to him. He needs to have them make a show all the time of how grateful they are to him.”

“And there’s something fundamentally weak about that,” Cavell added. “Does it remind you of someone you know?”

“There are stark differences between Flagg and certain other people we could allude to,” Elmore says. For instance? “Flagg is so beautiful, he is absolutely a lion-like God figure. With perfect hair and…and also, there’s a softness to Alex’s performance that I think is fascinating. Alex just plays it where you feel not only sympathy for this character, but you hopefully understand why it’s so easy for people to gravitate toward him. He’s just magnetic, he’s just absolutely fascinating to watch. He’s galvanizing as a leader.”

Decent survivors are drawn to unite around Mother Abagail, played by Whoopi Goldberg. She has earned the brunt of the worst in the world and yet she has kept her strength and empathy unscathed for 108 years. “Well, that’s what she says,” said Goldberg. “She’s older, I think.”

“She is very, very righteous, and very good. But really flawed I feel,” said Goldberg, who had wanted to play the part 26 years ago when the first miniseries was produced. “I’ve been fighting with not making her the Magic Negro because she’s complicated.”

What is Mother Abagails main flaw? Doubt.  Something is trying to speak to her -through her and it is very powerful. Unknowning what it is the old woman resists it at first. “She doesn’t listen when God is talking to her. And she tends to go her own way because she’s been like this her whole life,” Goldberg said. “It takes her a little while to figure out that there’s something bigger than her.”

Eneba Many GEOs

Mother Abagail has qualities that make her a leader for those who are drawn to decency.  “We love old people. We just do,” said Goldberg. “On top of everything else, they have been, and seen, and have different ideas and are probably trying to lead us in a good way. And if you show up in somebody’s dreams generally they do pay attention.”

Right now we are seeing that in real life. Most likely compelled by stress, people are having similar dreams. In this story, to draw decent people to Boulder Mother Abagail uses those visions. There she lives in a dreary nursing home, 108 years old, and the most unlikely survivor.

She amplifies the humanity and power for those who’ve made it through the worst, and that’s what they need to keep going.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

No one really knows how this will play out. Months from now will we all have had enough or will be tire and not interested in watching the series.  King wonders too. “Whether or not anybody will want to watch it in the aftermath of coronavirus, I don’t know,” he said. “The book is selling—The Stand, the novel, is selling—so…” King is no stranger to the question: Why are people drawn to the things that scare them the most? But he doesn’t have an easy answer for it. “That’s a discussion for a whole college course,” he said.

For me The Stand is a story of hope. In the past few months we have witnessed loss and seen a lot of pain. At the same time we have seen bravery, kindness, and unselfishness. King type heroes not just the doctors and nurses but garbage collectors, delivery people, and just our own next-door neighbors. Maybe that’s why The Stand is such a beloved book. It’s a parallel to our world right here, right now. For me I hope Cavell and Taylor have done their job, so the heroes of his story will possess the same.

Source: Vanity Fair

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