THE FINAL THIRD, BRACE YOURSELVES PEOPLE.
This is it. We’re getting into the final showdown of good vs. evil in the brave new post-apocalyptic world. I have to bring up one of my favorite bits from Good Omens, where Aziraphale talks about the nature of the apocalypse and revelation—basically, well, if this was all so cut-and-dried, why does there need to be a war of good vs. evil in the first place? There’s no guarantee that the good guys will win, right? This is Stephen King, after all. Sometimes, the bad guys do win. (Although he tends to keep that regulated to his shorter works, not the doorstoppers. But still.)
So, the epitaphs: King opens up Part 3 with slightly more obvious song quotations than the previous opener, notably the opening verses of both Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” The Guthrie one’s more interesting to me, because that song isn’t really about this utopian view of America where everyone’s welcome and free and happy. (The last verse talks about bank repossession and private property. WOO SOCIALISM.) But I like that it opens up this section, given one of the conversations in the first handful of chapters. And on the other end, we have “Stand By Me” (which very obviously has become associated with another one of King’s works), which I think works more thematically for all of the character development that we’ve gotten for the bulk of the book. I think that it says something about all of these characters, most of whom never knew each other existed and that they found one another. I like stories about characters who are lost and find a community in strange circumstances—this is one of the reasons why Lost is one of my favorite shows—and I think using the song “Stand By Me” really illustrates that sense.
(The third quote is one by Carley Yates that we’ve seen earlier in the book. “Hey, Trash, what did old lady Semple say when you torched her pension check?” ~FORESHADOWING~ )
In the last section of the book, we didn’t get much insight to the Las Vegas situation, aside from the chapter introducing Trash. Harold and Nadine notwithstanding, of course—we haven’t had a good look at Flagg’s entire operation at the heart of it all. So, I like that Part Three opens with Flagg’s sentries on the lookout for the Judge. First, it gives us a much better idea of how Flagg operates on his followers. Not like Lloyd or Trash where he does show some respect for them (although I would say that it’s not very much), but the vast majority of his followers who’ve come over for whatever reasons.
Our focus characters here are Bobby Terry and Dave Roberts, two guys just working for Flagg and bored out of their minds. And here’s something I really love—in the last section, I mentioned that there’s very little acknowledgement that there’s supernatural forces at work in this book, particularly within the Boulder community. With the Las Vegas folk, well…
Dave had pointed out that Flagg might be anywhere. He was a great traveler, and stories had already spring up about the way he could suddenly appear in a small, out-of-the-way burg where there were only a dozen people repairing power lines or collecting weapons from some army depot. He materialized, like a ghost. Only this was a grinning black ghost in dusty boots with rundown heels.
Both Dave and Bobby think that the stories told about Flagg are complete bullshit—that Flagg encourages them to increase fear. Although Bobby’s not quite too sure, but he’s ready to dismiss the stories as crap…just not deep down. (I could sit and here and talk about other historical dictators that have done the same thing, but let’s be honest—here’s the stick, the horse is kinda dead.)
As Flagg has predicted, the Judge comes by in his Jeep. NO JUDGE, TURN BACK! Lucky for him, Bobby Terry wasn’t paying attention, so the Judge is able to get ahead for the time being. When we last saw the Judge leaving Boulder back in Chapter 55 (wow, that feels like a long time ago), there was this underlying sense of excitement even though the Judge and the reader by extension knows that his adventure wasn’t going to end well. But damned if the Judge wasn’t going to make the most of it. (It’s kinda like the end of Return of the King where Bilbo says he’s going to go on one last journey to the Grey Havens.
GODDAMNIT KING, NOW YOU’VE GOTTEN ME DOING THE LOTR COMPARISONS.)
But the Judge does know that his journey to the West isn’t going to be as magical or breathtaking or even a tenth of his previous journey to Boulder. And I like that we see how hard it is for him, getting around the clogged roads and slowly making his way to Vegas.
And during one of the stops for the night, we get this fantastically creepy encounter with a crow,
Like the raven that had flown in to roost on the bust of Pallas. When will I find out the things they need to know, back in the Free Zone that seems so far away? Nevermore. Will I get any idea what chinks there might be in the dark man’s armor? Nevermore.
Will I get back safe?
(I would like to point out that corvids are awesome birds—seriously, go look up how smart crows and ravens are. And I get that they’re great for atmosphere and creepiness, but I do think the intelligence level is severely downplayed. Also, crows are responsible for my favorite lolcat gif ever. So there’s that.)
We catch back with Dave and Bobby, on their way to catch the Judge. Flagg has made it very clear that while the order is to kill the Judge, it’s to be gutshots only—no headkills. The body needs to be identifiable when they ship it back to Boulder. As I said before, JUDGE RUN FOR IT! GO BACK!
[The Judge] glanced up toward the passenger window of the Willys and saw Bobby Terry leaning out, holding .45 in both hands. Rain was dripping off the barrel. His face, dead pale, was still frozen in that maniacal funhouse grin.
This ends as well as you’d think it would. Bobby gets off a good shot to the Judge’s stomach, knocking him and probably killing him, although it’ll take awhile for him to bleed out. The Judge, bless him, goes for his gun and starts shooting back—he’s going to take the bastards down with him. And then Bobby gets off a lucky shot. Through the Judge’s eye.
Mm. You guys remember what happened in Chapter 48? The crucifixion scene? Yeah. That was bad enough.
A new sound in the rainy afternoon.
Bobby Terry’s head jerked up….
A strange clocking sound, like rundown bootheels hammering swiftly along the secondary road macadam.
And Bobby Terry finds out that those stories about Flagg weren’t exactly bullshit after all.
At the end of the last four chapters, I proclaimed that this section of the book is EVERYTHING IS DEATH (again) AND EVERYTHING STILL HURTS. The Judge? Dead. Dayna Jurgens? Ohgod.
Dayna at least made it to Vegas with little problems and has been sleeping with Lloyd. DAYNA ILU. Keep being awesome for however many pages you have left. She’s heard about what happened to the Judge, but is keeping quiet about her own involvement within Boulder. (Although considering her own opinion of what she actually thinks of Flagg, uh, Dayna, you may want to pay attention to the stories they tell about him.) And what she has been picking up about Vegas isn’t the best of news. Because not only are they getting jet programs up and running again, but they’re got Trash working on the weapons. And Trash is pretty much a kid in a candy store.
“He sniffs it out, sweetbuns. It isn’t really so strange. Most of western Nevada and eastern California was owned by the good old U.S.A. It’s where they tested their toys, all the way up to A-bombs. He’ll be dragging on those back someday.”
[Lloyd] laughed. Dayna felt cold, terribly cold.
When she’s not sleeping her way for information, Dayna’s made at least one friend over in Vegas, a girl named Jenny. I like that this at shows not everyone in Vegas are all horrible awful people who want to see die, just somebody who ended up there.
(YOU KNOW WHAT, ALTERNATE TIMELINE. Dayna stabs Lloyd in the gut and makes a run for it. She grabs Jenny and drags her to Boulder, somehow avoiding Flagg the entire time. I don’t know, we’ve already had one deus ex machina, maybe she’ll just slip his eye. And then Dayna and Jenny have a torrid love affair as they live out the rest of their lives in Boulder, or even a small house outside of it, in the countryside. I NEED THIS, BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT’S COMING.)
Dayna’s working on the streetlamps one day when she happens to glance down at some of the people milling about the street. And one of them just looks familiar…
That face, looking up at her.
That wide, smiling, wondering face.
Dear sweet Jesus in heaven, is that Tom Cullen?
I really don’t want to get to the next part. I really don’t. I men, there’s one bright spot, and I have to give the Free Zone Committee for at least sending the woman with titanium balls. But…alternate timeline? Please? THIS IS GOING TO BE NICK ANDROS ALL OVER AGAIN, I KNOW IT.
“Wake up! Wake up! Goddamnit, wake up you bitch!” …
Lloyd was there, looking down at her with cold anger. Whitney Horgan. Ken DeMott. Ace High. Jenny. Only Jenny’s open face was also blank and cold.
Jenny no please Dayna likes you come to Boulder they’ll have cookies.
“You in a little hot water, Lloyd? Sleeping with Mata Hari?” She grinned at him with tears of pain standing in her eyes.
Just stab them all, Dayna. You took out the band of rapists. You can do this, you’re awesome.
Well, she goes with them. And may I give Dayna Jurgens my highest of praise, because she calls every single member of the posse out for being weak little lapdogs to some guy with a God complex who wants to stir up shit. (Again, knowing that Dayna doesn’t know the full extent of what Flagg can do, I’m not holding it against her.) God, yes. She sees right through Flagg’s psychology. Bless you, Dayna. Bless.
‘My name is Dayna Roberta Jurgens, and I am afraid, but I have been afraid before. All he can take from me is what I would have to give up someday anyhow– my life. I will not let him break me down. I will not let him make me less than I am, if I can possibly help it. I want to die well…and I am going to have what I want.’
God, the whole scene between Flagg and Dayna is so well-done and tense. I love that Dayna reminds herself constantly who Flagg is and if she can, what she’s here to do. And Flagg still rattles her. Tries to make her comfortable. He’s friendly. If you’ve ever read The Dead Zone, I consider the villain of that book, Greg Stillson, to be one of the scariest in King’s works. Not because he has infinite cosmic powers (itty bitty living space), or that he’s openly psychotic (and he is), but because he’s friendly. Stillson knows how people expect him to act. That’s one of the things that really scares me about people in general—the ones who know exactly what they’re doing. (I’m reading Under the Dome right now, too, and I’m putting this up as a kind of contrast—Jim Rennie, the villain of that book, doesn’t really scare me as much because he’s a little too cartoonish. I know there’s more people like Rennie than there those like Stillson—thank God—but just the way Rennie’s portrayed is a little too “I get it, you don’t look ultra-conservatives.”
Point I’m making is that friendly charismatic villains > infinitely scarier than just power-hungry ones.)
Dayna figures him out. She knows that she’s going to die, but not before calling him out on being helpless and bullying a bunch of people into doing his dirty work. She knows exactly what Flagg wants. And even though he cheats her one potential moment of awesome by stabbing Flagg (blast the infinite cosmic powers!), Dayna goes out fighting.
(I’m just letting that picture speak entirely for itself. And it says “FUCK YEAH, DAYNA JURGENS.”)
“Take the whole thing out to the east of town and douse it in gasoline and burn it. Do you hear me? Burn it! You burn the fucking thing!”
Dayna Jurgens, we salute you.
Reasons why I do dread the end of this book: Dinny McCarthy. You know how Joe is the pet kid of Boulder, except he’s horribly broken? Okay, Dinny is the slightly more adjusted version of Joe in Vegas. And knowing what I know happens, oh god why. Why do you do this Stephen King. He’s six. Dinny’s not even one of those horrible kids who burn ants with a magnifying glass. Augh.
(Seriously, just the number of kids who die in this book, not even those from the plague, I just…I have a thing about kids dying horribly. Not even my kids if I had any, but…I tend to get into “Punch in the face mode” when I hear about kids getting senselessly killed.)
Dinny is comfortably passed around the women of Vegas, each of them being his ‘mom’ for the week. And as I said, he’s happy! He’s well-adjusted! He’s living with a woman named Angie for this week and playing and oh god I know what’s coming.
(New alternate timeline: Jenny wises up, grabs Angie and Dinny and the three of them hoof it to Boulder, where Jenny apologizes for what happened to Dayna. I NEED THIS CLOSURE.)
Angie said, “I think Dinny loves Lloyd Henreid and Tom Cullenmore than anyone else in town. Tom Cullen is simple, but—“ She looked at the girl and broke off. She was watching Tom, her eyes narrowed and thoughtful.
“Did he come in with another man?” she asked.
The copy I’m reading is 1439 pages. (Well, to be fair, I’ve been switching between my proper hardcover and the slightly-more manageable mass market paperback, because lugging around the former is a bitch.) 688 pages ago, we had the meeting of Tom Cullen and Nick Andros. And there was someone else, wasn’t there. It’s a long book. There’s a lot of characters to keep track of.
“Julie? Are you all right?”
Julie Lawry didn’t answer. She stared after Tom Cullen. In a little while, she began to smile.