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The Stand showrunner on that coda and why the Stephen King adaptation is not 'about a pandemic'
It might feel just a little too perfect that the new adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand — a CBS All Access miniseries event from creators Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell — is arriving right now, in the midst of a pandemic that's altered life as we know it for months. King's massive novel is, of course, set off by the arrival of an incredibly deadly respiratory disease, a superflu dubbed "Captain Trips" by the American public, and that spreads rapidly throughout the country until all but a handful of survivors are dead in its wake. A huge chunk of King's 1,100-page epic is devoted to chronicling the spread of Captain Trips as the survivors watch helplessly, but if you tune in later this month to watch the new adaptation you might find that the actual pandemic part of the story is, if not curtailed, then at least more spread out.
Though it's still quite faithful to much of King's original narrative, this version of The Stand takes a decidedly nonlinear approach to documenting Captain Trips, with a particular emphasis on the good vs. evil story that unfolds in the wake of the pandemic, as two groups of survivors battle over the future of humanity. You'll still see the ravages of Captain Trips, but those ravages will be interspersed with the survivors attempting to get on with their lives, uniting under the prayerful gaze of Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg) in Boulder or the ominous stare of Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard) in Las Vegas. Given everything going on in the world right now, you might be tempted to assume that this structural decision was an intentional response because people rightfully might not want to watch TV about a pandemic right now. But, according to Cavell that is very much not the case. Speaking to SYFY WIRE at a virtual press event to promote the series, the showrunner explained that the structural storytelling decisions were all about cutting to the core of what The Stand is really about.
"For me, for us, The Stand really isn't a book about a pandemic, as strange as that sounds," he explains. "It's really about what comes after... this elemental struggle between good and evil or the forces of light and dark, since [fellow executive producer Taylor Elmore] and I don't love to say 'good and evil,' because it feels simple and boring. I mean, it's totally valid, and it certainly is there in the book, but it seems a little… I don't know. The non-linear thing was, in part, we didn't want to make people sit through three episodes of the world dying before we got to the meat of our story.
"And look, Taylor and I love Outbreak and Contagion and all that stuff, but we have seen that, you know? We just didn't feel like we needed to put people through episodes of that, in part because that's really not when our story gets going," Cavell continues. "Our story really, in some ways, begins once the world is emptied out and these two groups of survivors start to coalesce around these two figures of Flagg and Mother Abagail, and those two sides are going to come together in this climactic confrontation."
So, no, putting the pandemic in the background of the TV show rather than in the forefront wasn't a late-stage edit in response to the real-life pandemic. "It was very deliberate," Cavell says. "It feels like when people are in Colorado and settled in Boulder and starting to realize what they're up against, that is, for us, when the real story begins."
Though Cavell and his team are tinkering with the structure of The Stand to reveal the beginnings of the story to viewers in a new way, King himself is tinkering with its end. Since this incarnation of the epic story was announced, fans have been eagerly awaiting what's been billed as a new "coda" to the story, written by King himself after thinking back on what he might have missed in the story in the decades since The Stand was first published. While we won't discuss details of the ending here, fans of the book know that a major showdown — the "Stand" of the title — drives the story's final act forward, and though many of the key players in the novel are a part of it, not all of them make that particular journey. One key member of the ensemble in particular, expecting mother Fran "Frannie" Goldsmith, is left out of that particular element of the story. According to Cavell, King's plan was to give Fran a bit of a moment of her own near the end of the story.
"The coda, I'm excited for you to see it. I think it really adds to it," Cavell explains, careful not to give too much away. "But the thing that he was kicking himself about, and the question that this will answer, in his mind, is, 'Well, when does Frannie get her stand?' As we know, she is, what, eight months pregnant; when they leave on the stand, she can't go. But it was always, in King's mind, a deficit of the book that one of its main heroes doesn't kind of get to participate in its climax. So, without giving anything away about the coda, I will say that the thing that I think generated it or generated the need for it, at least in his mind, was that Frannie needed to have a stand of her own."
Fran Goldsmith's story is one of the most integral in The Stand's entire sprawling narrative, one that takes here the length of the United States as she fights to adjust to a new reality even beyond the one the pandemic created for her. That her journey has a new end at the close of this miniseries, one that helps underline her entire arc as one of King's most vital characters, is all the more reason to get excited about this miniseries.
The Stand premieres on Dec. 17 on CBS All Access.