NOS4A2 returned for its second season tonight on AMC. If you haven’t caught up on the first season yet, then it’s well worth your time to do so. Not only is it great television, but Season 2 jumps eight years in the future following Vic McQueen and Charlie Manx’s cataclysmic showdown.
Unlike our spoiler-free review of Season 2’s first five episodes (which we absolutely loved), we will be doing a full summary of every episode of NOS4A2 as it airs. This week, we check in with those who’ve been irrevocably changed since Manx was put into a coma eight years prior–including Manx’s family.
The episode opens in Christmasland, where Millie Manx leads the rest of the vampire children in a game of hunting the smallest among them. Before you feel too sorry for the kid, he’s all types of happy about this, going so far as to alert his pursuers to his position. Just as the game reaches its gruesome climax, the already dim lights of Christmasland begin to flicker and fade even more. Millie immediately becomes distressed, but her concern is interrupted by the sound of unfamiliar voices nearby.
Back in our reality, a group of kids explore the grounds of Sleigh House while regaling each other with the legend of Charlie Manx. They eventually come across a shimmering space of air with children’s voices emanating from it. On the other side, the space appears as a static square in the middle of Christmasland. Millie first tries to send her sword through the unexpected doorway, causing sparks to appear in the real world. Next, she forcefully sends her former quarry across, causing him to appear in front of the real-world children. The vampire smiles and gives chase, causing the human children to flee.
Back in Christmasland, Millie and the rest of her brood eagerly watch what they hope is the discovery of a way to enter our world. Their glee quickly changes to horror when the one they sent through fades and disappears into nothing. As the vampire children scream and scatter, the lights of Christmasland fade to complete dark, causing Millie to call out for her missing father.
Back in Gunbarrel, Colorado, Vic McQueen and Lou Carmody have set up lives for themselves along with Vic’s son, Bruce Wayne McQueen (the poor kid goes by Wayne for obvious reasons). Vic paints custom motorcycle helmets while Lou fixes bikes and helps her raise her son. Despite not being married to Vic (or being the child’s biological father), it’s clear that Lou has formed a very strong paternal bond with Wayne, who unequivocally considers him to be his dad. He’s also all types of crazy about Vic, who appears to (mostly) feel the same way about him.
During a moment of familial bliss, the good vibes are interrupted when Wayne notices a news report on television and asks who Charlie Manx is. Despite the report stating that Manx died in his hospital bed (which should be good news), the mention of his name rattles Vic enough that she heads out on her own for a bit.
Over in Haverhill, Massachusetts, things are going extremely well for Tabitha Hutter. In addition to becoming an FBI agent, she’s also in a loving relationship with Maggie Leigh. I certainly didn’t envision these two as a couple, but the pair seems genuinely happy together despite their opposite personality types.
They’re both surprised when Maggie receives a call from Vic, who doesn’t believe that Manx is dead. Vic insists that Maggie’s tiles said she would be the one to kill him, but Maggie disagrees, explaining that her tiles only said Vic would be the one to find Manx. When Vic asks Maggie to check her tiles again–and to help her find a new knife to create an inscape–Maggie says that she doesn’t use them anymore. She also tells Vic she needs to accept that their fight with Manx is over. It’s time for her to be happy, marry Lou, and get back on the social media grid so she and Tabitha can finally see pictures of Wayne.
Instead of taking Maggie’s advice, Vic downs a mini bottle of alcohol in one shot, starts up Lou’s truck, and begins driving towards what she hopes will be an inscape. The truck’s radio and lights begin to fritz as she angrily demands it to form the Shorter Way bridge for her.
Before she can crash the vehicle and kill herself, Vic receives a FaceTime call from Wayne. Realizing how reckless her actions were, Vic stops the truck and picks up. Wayne tells her that Sam (the man whose gas station served as the stage for her last battle with Manx) just called to say he found a motorcycle for Lou to fix.
Vic immediately heads over to the station to pick up the bike. When she arrives, Sam tells her that he was cleaning out his storage space and found it–he had no idea the vehicle was even there. The dark serendipity becomes even more clear when he tells her that Steve McQueen had a bike just like it. He even pulls out a part showing that it’s a Triumph model like the one the famous actor often used (which also serves as a nice easter egg for book fans).
Vic heads into the loading bay, where she finds the bike and feels an immediate connection with it. When she grabs the handlebars, the bay lights flicker, confirming that she has indeed found her new knife to cut a path through the Shorter Way.
Lost and Waiting to Be Found
Elsewhere, Bing Partridge (going by the name Ethan Anderson) finds the home of an artist who has repurposed the body of Manx’s Rolls-Royce Wraith as an art display. Much to Bing’s chagrin, the car’s engine has been removed and replaced with with a bouquet of flowers.
Despite the artists’ insistence that the vehicle/art piece won’t be available for sale until after a gallery showing next week, Bing continues to stand in his garage and ask questions about it. Their painfully awkward meeting is interrupted when the artist’s son runs in to ask if he can skip his step-brother’s sleepover birthday party. Bing injects himself into the situation, empathizing with the boy about how mean friends can be sometimes–especially when they are friends like one he used to have named Vic McQueen.
After another menacingly creepy request to take the artist’s Wraith, Bing finally departs.
Back in Gunbarrel, Vic excitedly tells Lou that the Triumph motorcycle is her new knife–and that she might have even conjured it somehow into existence. Lou shares her excitement, but becomes concerned when she talks about using the bike to find Charlie Manx. When he asks if she’s been drinking, Vic assures him that this isn’t “like Christmas” when she starts hearing the phone ring and nearly drinks herself to death.
Lou continues to express his concern, reminding Vic that Wayne needs her…and that he hopes they can become officially married at some point. Vic tells him that they will, making Lou so happy that his concerns about her obsession with finding Manx are temporarily assuaged. As he leaves to get to work, she goes back to fixing up her new knife/bike.
Later, Vic begins hearing static-filled Christmas music through her headphones. She takes them out only to hear the telephone ringing, which is also covered in ice.
Before she can pick up, Lou comes home asking why she didn’t pick Wayne up from school. When Vic tries to explain that she simply lost track of time, Wayne lays on the guilt by proclaiming that “all the other moms were there.” After he leaves to shoot hoops in the driveway, Lou says he doesn’t know what she’s hoping to use her new knife to find, but he’d hoped that him and Wayne would be enough.
Back in Haverhill, Maggie searches for information on Charlie Manx from the computer at her new library. She eventually decides to try her tiles again, but not before calling emergency services to preemptively alert them to the seizure she’s about to have.
After hanging up the phone, Maggie reaches into her bag and asks if the Wraith is dead. The tiles she pulls out spell “YES,” causing her to smile with relief before collapsing and convulsing on the floor.
After laying awake next to Lou for a while, Vic wakes him up with a bit of basic cable love making. As they lay in each others arms after, she apologizes, assuring him that he and Wayne truly are enough–and that she wants to be with him forever.
Following their tender moment together, Vic tells Lou that she can handle getting Wayne to school while he goes to work. After he leaves, she fixes up two bowls of ice cream for breakfast and tells their son that he gets to skip school that day.
While they’re shooting hoops together in the driveway, Wayne asks who Charlie Manx was. Vic finally decides to give a heavily-edited-yet-truthful explanation while also reminding him never to go anywhere with anyone unless they know the secret code: 1048 Fairbanks.
Wayne then asks if Charlie Manx was the one who killed his biological father, Craig. Just as Vic successfully manages to answer that question in the most delicate way possible, she hears the phone ring…and Wayne does not.
She goes inside the garage and cuts the phone line only to hear the ringing resume from inside her home. After cutting that phone line, her cell phone begins to ring while its screen is filled by static.
After throwing the house phone and her cell into the oven, Wayne’s cell phone begins to ring, as well. She takes it out of his pocket, sees the static screen, and throws it into the oven with the others. An understandably confused and distraught Wayne runs into his room and locks the door while Vic takes two mini bottles of liquor from under the sink and downs them consecutively. The alcohol appears to steady her until the she hears the phone ringing again, this time from inside Wayne’s room.
Vic throws herself against the door until she busts it down, charging angrily into her terrified son’s room. After looking around for a few seconds, she picks up a toy phone and demands that whoever is on the other end stop calling her home. Millie Manx responds by graphically threatening what her father will to do her once he returns.
Vic responds by telling Millie that she lit Manx on fire once before and will do it again–and will light her on fire too if she ever calls again. She then hangs up, throws the toy phone in the oven with the others, and rides away from the house on her bike, leaving Wayne all alone in the mother of all fire hazards.
After riding well into the night, Vic manages to conjure the Shorter Way bridge, which leads her into the morgue where Manx’s body is being stored. Thankfully, it’s late enough that no one’s around to see/hear a motorcycle crashing from a supernatural bridge into the hallway.
Vic opens Manx’s shelf only to find it empty. Upon entering the autopsy room, however, she finds his body on one of the examination tables with his chest still cut open.
The sight of her supernatural nemesis in such a vulnerable/mortal state is almost too much for Vic to comprehend. Taking a moment to compose herself, she bends down next to the corpse’s mouth to listen for any breath (which I’m man enough to admit made me close my eyes and squirm). After not feeling or hearing anything, she picks up a scalpel and thrusts it into Manx’s unbeating heart. When this fails to cause any sort of reaction, she retrieves her bike and heads back across the Shorter Way to Gunbarrel. Upon reaching the other side, Vic takes off her helmet and laughs, her own heart is ready to accept that Manx is truly dead.
Her joy is short lived after she returns to find her home in flames. Wayne and Lou are physically okay, but Lou appears to have finally reached his breaking point.
That night at a motel, he finally confronts Vic about everything–including the fact that she got drunk in front of their son and burned the house down. Vic replies by explaining her theory that using the Shorter Way so much as a teenager took her apart in ways she doesn’t understand and continues to suffer from.
When Vic expresses her belief that she may be irrevocably broken, Lou refuses to believe it, insisting that he’ll do whatever it takes to get her the help she needs–even if that means selling his entire motorcycle collection.
After waiting for Lou and Wayne to fall asleep, Vic stocks up on liquor mini bottles and prepares to abandon her family. Just as she’s about to depart, Wayne wakes up and asks why she’s leaving. Vic tells her son that he’s safer with Lou. When Wayne asks if she’s leaving because of Charlie Manx, she admits that its her own demons driving her to run away. She tells her son she loves him, sneaks out the door, and hits the road. After driving for a while, she manifests the Shorter Way to take her to a place called ‘The Lake.’
Meanwhile, Bing Partridge stakes out the artist’s home. After seeing him enter the garage where the wraith is stored, he dons his mask, gets out his supply of sevoflurane, and heads over to gas him. When the artist wakes up, Bing forces him to help put the engine back inside the Wraith. After a bit of maneuvering, it settles into place, causing the lights in Christmasland to come back on as Manx impaled heart begins to beat again.
Considering how impactful (and good) this episode of NOS4A2 is, it’s surprising that aside from his appearance as a corpse, Charlie Manx was nowhere to be found. His presence, on the other hand, was definitely felt.
Eight years after his defeat at the hands of Vic McQueen, Manx’s impact continues to be a central part of the lives of those he came into contact with. In Vic’s case, her mind and soul have been broken in such a way that any sense of happiness or contentment she experiences is inevitably destroyed. While some of that is obviously due to her chaotic childhood, Manx’s influence has exacerbated what would have already been some difficult trauma to work through into something even more tragic and demoralizing.
Ashleigh Cummings does a great job showing us Vic’s shattered mental state, but Jonathan Langdon’s portrayal of Lou Carmody is what really brings it home. Considering that he only appeared in one episode of NOS4A2‘s first season, it’s impressive how indispensable he (and his point of view) already feels. I was worried that his love for Vic would make him too much of a push over, but the episode’s final minutes proved he could draw a line in the sand–and that Vic is so broken that she’s willing to run across it in the opposite direction.
On the flip side of things, I wish we saw a bit more of how Vic’s behavior affected Wayne (Jason David). Kids at his age are pretty resilient, but he appears to be taking far too much of what’s happening around him in stride.
Also, as wonderfully creepy as Bing Partridge is, his behavior seems dangerously reckless for someone who’s managed to evade law enforcement for the last eight years.
Those minor quibbles aside, however, “Bad Mother” was an excellent way to kick off NOS4A2‘s second season. Despite lacking in direct conflict/action, the episode does a masterful job setting up where the main players from the first season are after leading up to Manx’s long awaited return. It even manages to deftly hint at Millie Manx’s role in the narrative, which becomes much more important as the season progresses.
And for those of you itching to see Charlie Manx wreak some supernatural havoc, fear not–your Christmasland wishes shall come true very soon.
If one episode a week of ‘NOS4A2’ isn’t enough, then hop over to the NOS4A2 Fans Facebook group for in depth discussion among one of the best communities in the otherwise hellish landscape of social media fandom. Hopefully the show continues to be good so my reviews don’t make things awkward.