Danny can’t wake up, Mrs. Torrance

In which I also return to the Overlook Hotel.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it as long as it keeps bothering me, but the hardest thing about no longer working at BuzzFeed News is that I can’t update my ranking of Stephen King adaptations. I spent a very long time working on it — or, more accurately, I spent every waking moment watching Stephen King movies during a very bleak month two years ago — and it turned out so well, damn it. I am really quite proud of it! And now that I’ve finally seen Doctor Sleep and I’m watching The Outsider, I’m frankly devastated that I can’t add to the ranking. But I do have a newsletter, so I can at least ramble a bit here.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about The Outsider once it’s over. I have an interesting relationship with that novel, because while I don’t think it’s one of Stephen King’s more memorable recent works, I read it with real attention to detail. I had been trying to nail down King for a profile for a year when I was told I could get an hour with him for a feature pegged to The Outsider’s release. So I know that book well, and it never really struck me as something crying out to be adapted. (As opposed to Doctor Sleep, which, more on that below.) And yet, so far, mostly by virtue of its casting, The Outsider is doing a good job of justifying its existence.

Strangely enough, my main issue with the series so far is the same issue I had with the novel — but for different reasons. While I was reading it, I felt like the pacing was off: I had the experience of always being several steps ahead of the characters, and I kept waiting for the plot to move forward so everyone could catch up. Now that I’m watching the show, I’m having the same sensation, but because at this point it’s following the plot of the book fairly closely, and I find myself waiting for the next thing to happen. From what I’ve read, the series will continue to diverge from the novel, so I’m excited to watch that happen. (Especially if it gets a new and improved ending, because woof.)

Speaking of endings, I am about to spoil the hell out of Doctor Sleep, the novel and the film adaptation, so go ahead and stop reading if you haven’t read/seen it. I actually love the ending of the book Doctor Sleep, which gave me real Carrie vibes (appropriate since it’s a sequel to another of King’s earliest novels), and it had a poignance that felt so well earned. The movie, on the other hand, goes full Kubrick’s The Shining fanfic, which is… a choice! But somehow it works, which is a testament to Mike Flanagan, who has quickly become my favorite adapter of King. It is completely batshit to have Rose the Hat taken down by, among others, the fucking twin girls in the halway. But the whole thing is such a love letter to King and to Kubrick, and it comes after two-plus hours of strong character-building and real pathos, that I just feel like, OK, go off, Mike Flanagan. Fanfic away.

If I have a gripe with anything about the changes made to the ending of Doctor Sleep, it’s in the killing of Dan Torrance, which is sort of a disservice to the character and his arc in the novel. Why set up Dan’s alcoholism and his heinous behavior if you’re not going to have the pay-off of him coming clean at the AA meeting? I mean, yes, his return to the Overlook does allow the film to delve into Dan’s fears that he will (quite literally) become his father, but the way it all plays out is actually a bit of a cop-out. He’s not really confronting anything — he’s just possessed by Jack’s spirit. In a way, it reminds me of an issue I’ve always had with the novel The Shining, less so with the film: that Jack’s violent, sadistic rampage ends up being attributed almost entirely to ghostly intervention and not his already toxic nature.

It’s funny, though. What works for me about Dan’s death in the Doctor Sleep movie is that it recalls the ending of the novel The Shining in a really satisfying way, with Dan sacrificing himself by letting the boiler explode and destroy the hotel, exactly what Jack does in King’s original Shining. Flanagan walks this very fine line between adapting a sequel to The Shining (book) and creating his own sequel to The Shining (movie), and I think he beautifully splits the difference by crafting an ending that only really works as a callback to the early King novel. What he loses in the emotional impact of Dan’s accounting of his sins, he gains in the satisfaction of giving King the ending to The Shining he always wanted — even while playing in Kubrick’s world. It’s a little messy, yes, but it’s also kind of brilliant.

Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures.