What do you mean, Randall Flagg’s plan isn’t going to work out?
The Walkin Dude was back in Vegas.
At least Lloyd has the smarts not to go straight to Flagg when he shows up; first, Lloyd’s too busy hunting down Tom Cullen, and secondly, well…after seeing what Nadine looks like, Lloyd knows a lot better than to intrude on Flagg. And anyway, even despite the fact that Flagg knows everything, Lloyd’s smart enough to get his ass covered first before talking to the big boss.
We’ve seen the ins-and-outs of Flagg’s operation, but the heart has always been Lloyd and a handful of others that he’s picked out. (Namely Whitney Hogan.) And now we’re seeing how deeply this runs with Paul Burlson, another higher-up in charge of the census list. And the “red-list.” Oh, Lloyd, you didn’t know about the red list? Because, y’know, you’re such good buddies with Flagg himself, you should have known about it.
And more bad news—Tom’s split. (Well, we knew that already, carry on.) Lloyd figures out that since Tom’s not quite right in the head, they ought to be able to catch up with him and string Tom up fairly quickly. And after that, everything should be fine, they get to blow up Boulder, and everyone in Vegas is happy under the watchful eye of Randall Flagg.
And prepare for war with Eurasia.
Somewhere inside [Lloyd] a door had opened, letting in a cool breeze of fear. Flagg had screwed up. And Flagg was capable of distrusting Lloyd Henreid. And that was baaad shit.
And then Flagg calls him up.
So, Nadine—gah. We’ve only heard about one other person who’s been made catatonic in the presence of Flagg, a lawyer named Strellerton who made the huge mistake of thinking that Flagg was going to put his tail between his legs and listen to some ‘big-shot’ about how to run things. Nadine just lurking in the background while Lloyd and Flagg are discussing Indian Springs is just so completely unsettling and the description of how she acts. It comes off at first as just a minor detail to further the unsettling aspect, but dear God it works.
Oh, and it doesn’t help that Flagg is pissed. I recently finished Under the Dome for the first time (1. For a thousand pager, it’s actually a nicely-paced read and really good; 2. omg can’t wait for the miniseries), and one of the few things that made the villain of that book terrifying was how quickly he was able to go from smiling politician to “I am going to fuck your shit up so hard.” At least Jim Rennie never had phenomenal cosmic powers. (Greg Stillson from The Dead Zone is another King villain like that; I’ve actually said that Stillson’s the most terrifying to me because he’s actually possible.) Flagg does have the phenomenal cosmic powers. And they have failed him. He knows there’s another spy out there, he doesn’t know how Boulder managed to keep it from him, but by God is he going to hunt down the guy and make an example out of him.
“The third spy—“
“No,” Flagg said with sudden decision. “No. You’re jumping at shadows, Lloyd.”
“If I’ve got it right, he’s a friend of a guy named Nick Andros.”
Lloyd? Dying in the prison would have been the best thing for you. I know it was torture, but compared to what’s going to happen, it’s the more preferable choice.
Flagg screamed: “And you sat there and talked about Indian Springs? I ought to throw you out that window!”
(Ah, to be fair, Flagg, you brought up Indian Springs first and Lloyd didn’t want to piss you off any further and I’m not helping here, am I?)
And you know how I said the fact that Flagg is able to change moods so quickly is some damn unsettling? He offers Lloyd a drink and tells him exactly what they’re going to do: get the helicopters. Find Cullen. And don’t worry about Trash—Flagg will take care of him when the time is right.
Lloyd got the call from Stan Bailey at Indian Springs fifteen minutes later…
At 6:12 p.m. both helicopters had blown up in the air…They found explosives taped to all five of the remaining choppers, and incendiary fuses rigged to simple kitchen times…
“It was the Trashcan Man,” Stan said. “He went hog-wild. Jesus Christ knows what else he’s wired up to explode out here.”
BACK AT THE MGM GRAND. Flagg’s been told of what’s happened at Indian Springs and is plotting to take care of all this other business once he kills Tom Cullen. (First, killing Trashcan. Second, killing Lloyd.) This is his world and no one is going to cross him.
(I will like to point out here that King does at least acknowledge the fact that, no, America is not the last bastion of humanity in the post-Captain Trips world, and yes, there could be other men like Flagg out there pulling the same shit. It’s obviously not really explored in detail here, but it’s something to muse over. Also, I kinda want to see how a global plague does affect other countries and how the survivors cope.)
“They’re coming…they’re coming and they’ll kill you like a chicken-stealing weasel.”
“They’re in Boulder,” he said, “hiding under their beds and mourning their dead n****r woman.”
“No,” [Nadine] said indifferently. “They’re almost in Utah now. They’ll be here soon. And they’ll stamp out like a disease.”
As I pointed out a few paragraphs above, God is Nadine unsettling. This is also adding to my theory that Nadine’s the deciding pawn in everything because she manages to break Flagg so hard by pointing out that hubris is, indeed, a bitch.
Then she was gone, plummeting straight down with her toes pointed toward the earth, her gown billowing up her neck and over her face in drifts. She didn’t scream.
MEANWHILE, OUTSIDE OF LAS VEGAS. Tom Cullen is on the move and now he knows that he’s going to have to keep moving and being more vigilant. Because Nick tells him in a dream of what’s going on. (Because even though the remaining pilots at Indian Springs have died, doesn’t mean that Flagg’s going to stop, now is he?) So Tom presses on, reaching God’s Finger and continuing his way home to his house and friends.
Oh, how history repeats itself! Trashcan Man was once again being broiled alive in the devil’s frying pan—but this time there was no hope of Cibola’s cooling fountains to sustain.
*places on the English major cap*
Redemption is a pretty big theme in Stephen King’s works—it does come up again and again in different forms. (Forgive me, I just reread like a dozen of his books in a row; just bear with me here.) And for obvious reasons, The Stand full of redemptive moments, especially in the last third here. We’ve already had Harold’s redemptive arc—as tragic as it is; Larry and Nadine are going to get theirs, but all of their redemptions are towards the good side.
Trashcan is the interesting example here because he wants his redemption, and we all know he’s seeking it in the wrong place. But after the events of Indian Springs, Trashcan knows he’s fucked up big time. Maybe he doesn’t understand just how badly he’s screwed (no really Trash if you died now, that’s a good thing), but he knows that he is not going to be delivered to whatever Promised Land Flagg has cropped up.
Could there be redemption for him? The dark man might know. Trashcan did not.
Again, here’s the thing that makes Trashcan so completely tragic: he’s so damaged to the point that not only is there no way anyone (or anything) is going to redeem Trash on an earthly level. You want to pity him and feel a lot of sympathy for Trash, but if he walked up to you, burn and radiation scars, let’s be honest, you wouldn’t want to be near the guy. And when he goes on about the fires, it’s all very uncomfortable for everyone involved.
(Also, take a shot because hey, overt Biblical symbolism of walking the desert is overt!)
Given that what we know what’s been going on back in Vegas and all of Flagg’s plans basically going pear-shaped, it is a little surprising that Flagg hasn’t just randomly shown up and given Trashcan a random heart attack or made him self-immolate or something else horrifying and yet strangely creative. But then, I also don’t think that Flagg really does care about Trash—he’s an end to some means, and fuck, if Trash wants to go around the desolated US blowing shit up, Flagg does not give a fuck about what Trash does. If he dies, he dies; if some other little community out in the wilderness gets it, eh, that’s one less thing Flagg has to worry about. And even though that incident at Indian Springs was essentially Trash’s big fuckup, it’s also pretty certain that Flagg thinks “Eh, we’ll just train more.” And Trash either doesn’t notice or he just wipes it from his mind until someone says something that triggers him. The journey through desert isn’t just Trash trying to find redemption; it’s him shitting himself because he’s just lost the only “friends” he’s ever had.
Below that was a yellow-and-black emblem that showed three triangles pointed downward.
The symbol for radiation.
Trashcan Man laughed like a child and clapped his hands in the stillness.
I stand completely by my affirmation that Trashcan is the most pitiable character in this entire book. The things that he’s done are horrifying, but when you know what his life’s been like and how lonely and tormented he’s been, you can’t help but feel sorry for him.
This is probably going to be a really problematic discussion, but it doesn’t hurt to talk about it (because YAY relevance): the people on the losing side who didn’t really know what they were getting into or there’s some sort of loyalty involved or just didn’t know. You see a lot more of this with World War 2 narratives, where there’s at least one Axis Power soldier who’s been pressed into service but he doesn’t really believe in the cause. (It’s actually a major character point in The Book Thief, to which the author has said that it’s kind of the point of that whole book.) Stateside, we have the romanticism of the Civil War and well, yes, slavery and the Confederacy were bad but the noble Southern gentlemen who fought that war didn’t believe in slavery! They did it because their families expected it of them! Because it’s their state and they will fight for it! And most of them deserted because they didn’t believe in fighting for a cause they disagreed with! Yeah, hi, my sister the Civil War nerd would like to have some words with you. (To this day, my sister has never seen Gone With the Wind because “I would be screaming at it the whole time.” )
I bring all of this up because of Lloyd and Whitney’s conversation. Whitney knows that what Flagg’s doing isn’t right, and he’s gotten in too deep and might as well cut and run while the big guy is distracted. It’s what a lot of people in Vegas have been doing. And if Flagg manages to succeed, well, maybe Whitney and his crew will be able to have a few months of somewhat peace before Flagg takes care of them. And Lloyd? He really doesn’t want to. Not that he’s just afraid of what Flagg could do to him, or that he owes Flagg anything, but because Flagg makes him feel power. And screw if Lloyd’s letting go of that. If Whitney Hogan and his friends want to cut and run so be it. Lloyd’s not going to feel sorry if and when Flagg finds them all hiding out in South America. Lloyd knows where his place is.
“You’re going to stick?”
“To the very end, Whitney. His or mine. I owe him that.”
…[Trashcan] was going to get that bomb up. Somehow he was going to get it up. Somehow he was going to get it back to Las Vegas. He had to make up for the terrible thing he had done at Indian Springs. If he had to die to atone, then he would die.
“My life for you,” he whispered in the darkness, and began to climb the stairs again.