‘The Stand’ Boss Says Even Randall Flagg Doesn’t Know Exactly Who He Is
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Episode 2 of The Stand, “Pocket Savior.”]
Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) finds his right-hand man in Episode 2 of the CBS All Access series based on Stephen King’s book but doesn’t quite succeed in securing another for his side.
Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff) is more than happy to become the Dark Man’s righthand man; Flagg does free him from prison, where his only source of food are rats and the leg of his dead cellmate. But musician Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo) ends up on the (good) side of Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg), with others like Stu Redman (James Marsden).
Here, showrunner Benjamin Cavell takes us inside Episode 2 of The Stand.
What does Flagg see in Lloyd that could be useful to him as his right-hand man? Someone who’s easily manipulated and will follow him?
Benjamin Cavell: I certainly think that’s part of it. It’s explicit in the books, too, but we really lean into the idea that Flagg prizes loyalty above virtually anything else, and adulation. We make a direct connection — it’s implied in the book — that the level of adulation he’s receiving from his followers seems to affect the level of powers he’s able to generate. As the cheering for him swells, we see him levitate higher. There’s a moment at which — it’s later on, and I won’t tell you exactly where — the crowd becomes uncertain about something and stops screaming for him in the way they’ve been and he finds himself sinking toward the floor and seems very alarmed by it.
When Flagg finds him, Lloyd’s approaching the edge of death and will promise anything to be set free. [Flagg] feels he’s found a guy who will be loyal to him until his dying moment. That’s the number one attribute he’s looking for in a righthand man, a guy who will worship him above all others.
Lloyd says he must be Devil, but Flagg says that’s not a nice thing to say. How would Flagg describe himself then?
One of the really interesting things about Flagg is I’m not sure he completely knows who or what he is. In the book, it’s very clear he does not have a great handle on where he comes from, how long he’s been here, all of these things. Taylor Elmore, my dear friend and colleague going back to Justified days who I brought in to help me shepherd this to production, and I had a lot of discussions about Flagg and Mother Abagail and about them essentially being in the same position vis-à-vis whatever entity is giving them instructions. That entity is giving them about the same level of information.
One of many differences between them is where Mother Abagail admits pretty freely, at least early on, that there are real limits to what she’s being told and she’s being given to understand certain things by an entity she perceives as God. That entity has not seen fit to tell her a bunch of other things. Whereas Flagg is at great pains to imply he really sees everything, he’s got a real handle on what it’s all for, but we feel he has the same gaps that she does. I actually have a theory — that you don’t need to buy into to enjoy the show — that the entities they are both in communication with are the same entity.
That’s what I think.
I love that. That just excites me as a storyteller. It was also very important to me and to us that you be able to, if you so choose and certainly this is the context in which most of the characters and Mother Abagail put it, to believe it’s God being in touch with her. But if you choose to believe it is something else that she is interpreting as God in the framework in which she grew up and believes, that’s fine, too.
What should fans be looking out for when the camera focuses on Flagg’s smiley pin?
Lots of things. The smiley pin in the book is in some ways a character unto itself, and we wanted to play with it and have it be an interesting and fun detail of the Flagg persona and to use it sometimes to comment on either how he was feeling or to play against it or to elucidate something going on in the scene. We never wanted it to become a Disney sidekick for him. We were very deliberate about how often we would use it. We wanted to use it enough to establish it and have it be part of the landscape but not so much it became something that would take you out of the larger story. Fans should certainly keep their eyes open for lots of things in the show and one of them is the pin because it’s fun.
Joe seems to sense things, like his wariness about Harold (Owen Teague). What can you say about that kid and the role he’ll play going forward?
I don’t want to say too much about that except the actor Gordon [Cormier] is lovely and gave a wonderful performance. As with so many elements of the show, we wanted that character to pay off in a satisfying way, and I hope you will find he does. But we, at the same time, didn’t want to get sidetracked into too much of his story because it felt off of the main narrative of the story we’re telling.
With Larry, there’s the pull of good versus evil, which we see with him pre-virus and also in that vision of Flagg where Abagail intervenes.
In some ways, Larry has the most interesting arc of anyone in the book. He really goes from being a pretty fundamentally selfish and self-absorbed person. He’s an artist and a musician and he cares about it and he’s wonderful at it, but we get the sense he’s really been pretty single-mindedly focused on that and hasn’t really concentrated too much on the ways in which he treats the people around him.
Larry is maybe the character, in some ways, most pulled in both directions. He certainly has a desire for not just fame but for appreciation of his talent, artistry, ability to connect with a crowd. When Flagg seems to be offering him an outlet for that, that is attractive to somebody like Larry. But he is also, at his core, a good-hearted, morally upright person and so he is able to, through great force of will, resist the overtures of the Dark Man.
The Stand, Thursdays, CBS All Access