There is a ridiculous amount of ground to cover character-wise in adapting Stephen King’s The Stand, and while the new CBS All Access miniseries took a strange route with the material by making the narrative non-linear, it’s first five episodes did a solid job introducing all of the main players. Breaking up the key arcs into different chapters, the show has week-by-week dedicated time to the key protagonists (including Stu, Fran, Larry, Nick, Tom, and Mother Abigail) and key antagonists (such as Harold, Nadine, Lloyd, and Randall Flagg). Of course, there’s been one major presence missing: Donald Merwin Elbert a.k.a. The Trashcan Man.
In Stephen King’s novel, Trashy is as significant as any of the other characters mentioned, with multiple chapters dedicated to his journey through the post-apocalypse, but Ezra Miller’s portrayal of the character has been withheld from the Stand audience for weeks. That finally changed this week, as audiences were introduced to the pyromaniac/psychotic in “The Vigil” – but truth be told it was pretty underwhelming, and the simple reason is quantity. All told, Trashcan Man’s sequences equal a grand total of about six-and-a-half minutes, when in reality his is a story that should have gotten its very own dedicated episode in the limited nine-episode run.
As I detailed in the latest edition of my weekly book-to-show comparison, The Stand doesn’t precisely alter a ton of The Trashcan Man’s arc, but it does compress the hell out of it. What amounts to more than 60 pages in Stephen King’s epic is reduced to three independent scenes: Trashy blowing up oil tanks; Trashy having a vision of Randall Flagg; and Trashy meeting Flagg in person before being sent away to accomplish a mission. And while he’s not exactly singular in having some key scenes trimmed from his narrative (as that’s something that has happened to just about every main character in the series thus far), it’s certainly the most egregious case, and the most unfortunate.
It goes without saying that The Trashcan Man is vastly different than any other character in The Stand, and it’s disappointing that the specialness of his journey isn’t being recognized. Like with Lloyd and Julie, for example, he sees the post-Captain Trips world as an opportunity to explore the deepest depths of his id – but what sets him apart is his inability to function on emotionally logical and interpersonal levels due to his severe psychosis. His whole world is mechanics and fire, and his solo journey to Vegas in the book is made fascinating by his unique perspective.
Beyond the philosophy and specialness of the storytelling, Trashcan Man’s original journey also happens to be arguably the most horrifying in Stephen King’s whole book – which is saying a lot when considering some of the gruesome scenes he puts together. For starters there is the sheer destruction of his body that comes with crossing the country on foot (not to mention the injuries he sustains from his various planted explosives), but more significantly there is the time that he spends with the Coors-swilling psychopathic rapist known only as The Kid. Executive Producer Josh Boone has addressed the adaptation not featuring the latter, saying that it was cut out as a result of budget restrictions, but after seeing Trashy’s introduction one can’t help but wish that some of the project’s funds were allocated differently.
Additionally strengthening my argument here is that Ezra Miller is doing some wild stuff with the material in The Stand, and it’s a shame that there isn’t more. As I previously reported, the actor basically went full method in his portrayal of the fire-loving schizophrenic, and the result on screen is the exact right level of disturbing. He is filled to the brim with nothing but pyromania and devotion to Randall Flagg, and it makes for a fascinating performance that I would have loved to see explored alone in an uninterrupted hour-long episode. Instead, fans simply waited five weeks for his arrival only to get what feels like a glorified cameo – which just isn’t right when weighed against the significance of the character in the book.
When it was first announced that The Stand would play out as nine hour-long episodes, I very much thought that ideas like having an episode focused solely on The Trashcan Man would be on the table. After all, the miniseries adaptation made in 1994 is two-thirds the size, and actor Matt Frewer has a solid and very memorable presence as Trashy. Instead, Ezra Miller’s overall role in the show appears to actually be smaller, and that’s a rude awakening. It is possible that he will have a much more significant role to play in the next two chapters of the CBS All Access adaptation (with the finale being the coda that primarily centers on Fran), and fans of the book know that he has a massive role to play in the story’s big climax, but from a larger perspective it feels like the show has missed an amazing opportunity to do justice to one of Stephen King’s most fascinating characters.