NOS4A2‘s second season premiere ended with Vic McQueen abandoning her family and Charlie Manx returning from the dead. This week, we take a deep dive into Manx’s past as he claws his way back to life in the present.
Before getting started, I’d like to mention that the episode jumps back and forth between both time periods quite a bit. I’ll be condensing/combining most of those sections for the sake of linear clarity, but it’s really worth watching “Bad Mother” from start to finish to get the full effect its many parallels.
The episode opens at Jefferson Memorial Hospital, were a skeevy security guard has agreed to photograph Charlie Manx’s body for a serial-killer obsessed nurse (who’s also skeevy) in exchange for drugs. Many miles away–and unbeknownst to them–Bing Partridge is in the process of putting the Wraith’s engine back inside the vehicle.
The guard walks down to the morgue, leans over Manx’s slab, and takes a selfie next to the dissected corpse. Immediately after snapping the photo, all the lights go out. This would have been my cue to run out of the room screaming, but the startled guard simply collects himself and ducks into a side office to text his photo to the nurse.
Meanwhile, Manx sits up and begins to lift himself off the table.
The nurse texts the guard back and asks him to get a shot of the serial killer’s hands, which she wants due to them being his “tools of the trade.” When the guard turns back around, however, the corpse is gone.
Once again, I would have considered this a perfectly acceptable reason to lose all bladder control and flee from the area. Unfortunately, our horny and drug-addicted guard decides to check things out. He’s rewarded for his efforts by getting beaten to death.
With that bit of nastiness out of the way, Manx snags a nearby postmortem stapler and begins the excruciating process of stapling his open chest cavity closed. It’s exactly as gross and hard to watch as it sounds.
At this point, the episode mercifully cuts away to a flashback of Charles Manx’s distant past. Although no exact year is given, it appears to be the late 1920’s or early 1930’s due to the way everyone’s dressed. Also, Manx and his wife Cassie have returned from a screening of the 1922 film Nosferatu, which was not released in the United States until 1929.
In case the title parallel managed to slip by you somehow, Cassie playfully kids her husband about how he has the ancient vampire’s soulful eyes. Charles responds by sticking a pair of toothpicks in his mouth to complete the look.
In addition to being decidedly human, this version of Manx appears much happier than any time we’ve ever seen him. The only hint of the monster within comes when their butler, Charter, refers to his wife as “Miss Cassie” before quickly correcting himself and addressing her as “Mrs. Manx.” That anger is only able to flash across his face for an instant before he and Cassie resume their gleeful flirting with each other.
We soon learn that Charter isn’t actually their butler, but is actually employed by Cassie’s wealthy father, Horace, who also owns the extravagant home they live in. The awkwardness gets ramped up another notch when it’s revealed that Charles used to be a driver for Cassie’s father before the two of them eloped.
That evening, as the couple prepares for bed, Cassie tells her husband that she’s pregnant. Charles is ecstatic, both at the prospect of becoming a father and that Horace will lend him the money to start a luxury chauffeur business now that they’ve provided him with a grandchild.
That same year, Cassie gives birth to Millicent (aka Millie) Manx on Christmas Day. Emboldened by the birth of his daughter and the holiday spirit, Charles works up the nerve to ask Horace about the loan.
Instead of a simple rejection, Cassie’s father goes full scorched earth, telling Charles that he’s a weak/worthless man and an insufferable son-in-law. When Charles tries to redirect things to the need to provide for his family, Horace assures him that it will be taken care of via Millie’s sizable inheritance…which will be set in a trust only she can access on her 18th birthday.
Upon leaving the room, Horace puts a foreshadowing cherry on top of his soul crushing sundae by turning to Charter and proclaiming “The man thinks he can live off me like a vampire.”
As you might imagine, this conversations sours the day’s festive mood a bit.
Rainy Day Worries & Gumdrop Dreams
A few years later, the Manxes are living on their own. Cassie’s father has passed away, their house is in desperate need of repair, and Charles is barely making enough money to scrape by.
Cassie assures her husband that she believes in him and his dream to run his own business, but delicately suggests that it might help if she found some steady work in the meantime. Charles interprets his wife’s concern as an extension of Horace’s disdain and lashes out, telling her that she can leave if she doesn’t feel he can provide for his family.
Just when their argument is about to boil over, Millie appears behind them and asks what’s wrong. Upon seeing her, Charles’ demeanor immediately shifts into that of a doting and loving father. After tucking his daughter back into bed and (totally throwing Cassie under the bus), the pair discuss their detailed and elaborate plan for a shared fictional place called Christmasland. Both of their imaginations run wild, with Millie gleefully pitching a new location for the theme park’s wooly mammoth enclosure.
December Not to Remember
At some point in the days after following their argument, Charles pulls up to the house in his infamous Rolls-Royce Wraith. At this point, however, the vehicle is intended to be the flagship for his fleet of luxury chauffeured vehicles…in Wyoming….in the 1930’s.
While Millie is all types of happy about the new car, Cassie is furious, proving once and for all that those Lexus commercials where spouses surprise each other with cars for Christmas are dangerously absurd.
Charles attempts to assuage his wife’s concerns by explaining that he got the car for the reduced price of $3,000 (in 1930’s money) due to the fact that someone died inside of it. When she demands to know where he got the money to afford such a purchase, he admits that the funds came from pawning her deceased mother’s jewelry.
Despite her extremely justified anger, Charles refuses to return the vehicle, causing Cassie to finally reach her breaking point. She points out that no one in the current Great Depression era can afford luxury chauffeurs. In fact, they can’t even afford groceries for clothes and basic medical services for their daughter. Since Charles refuses to provide Millie with a stable home environment, she is leaving to live with her sister–and taking their daughter with her.
Charles pleads for his wife to stay, insisting that the car was purchased so he could help his family. Cassie counters that he did this for himself and no one else–just like everything he’s ever done.
Road Trip Revival
As Cassie packs to leave, Millie complains that she doesn’t want to go to her aunt’s house. When Cassie tries to tell her daughter how much she’ll enjoy it there, she looks over at her father and declares that she’d rather go to Christmasland.
Upon hearing this, Charles unexpectedly expresses contrition for his actions. He even admits to putting his own ambitions above his family. As a final act of goodwill, he requests to drive his wife and daughter to their destination. Cassie is understandably hesitant, but agrees when a devastated Millie pleads with her to allow it.
After getting on the road, their drive goes from awkward to terrifying when Charles begins drinking, purposefully misses their turn, and accelerates the Wraith down an icy road. Cassie begs her husband to stop, insisting that he’s going to get them all killed.
“Finally something we agree on…” Manx replies over the Christmas music blaring through the speakers.
As the Wraith continues to gather speed, Manx berates his wife for attempting to leave him and take away his daughter, who has started to cough. After a few moments, his Millie sits back up and holds out her hand, proudly showing her mother the blood-soaked teeth she just lost. Cassie once again begs Charles to stop the car. Instead, Manx excitedly asks if they want to go to Christmasland.
Cassie attempts to comfort her happily giggling daughter, who’s face is now covered with blue and purple veins. When she turns to face her, Millie smiles and reveals two rows of razor sharp teeth. Before Cassie (or any of us) can process what’s happening, Millie lunges forward and begins devouring her mother alive. While his transformed little girl feasts in the back seat of the Wraith, Charles mashes down on the accelerator. His eyes–and the world around them–go white.
Later, Manx wakes up to find he and his daughter are still alive, albeit slightly transformed. He’s even more surprised when Millie gleefully points out the gloriously lighted theme park in front of them.
Ignited by immense rage and desperate grief, Manx’s vivid imagination had given birth to his inscape: Christmasland.
Back in the present, Manx dons the dead security guard’s clothing and finds a phone, which he uses to call Bing. The hapless familiar is overwhelmed with joy at his master’s return and extremely proud of himself for the part he played in it.
Unfortunately, Bing can’t get the Wraith to run. Manx instructs him to put a child in the car, which will start the vehicle and make it drive itself back to Sleigh House (yet another reason for me to distrust self-driving automobiles).
After hanging up, Manx staggers into the hospital’s garage and uses the security guard’s keys to find himself a temporary set of wheels. Another security guard follows the trail of blood to his coworker’s car, where he sees that it’s not him behind behind the wheel. Before he can do anything, Manx floors it in reverse before speeding away from the parking space. As the guard calls in the suspected car jacking, Manx does a u-turn and zooms back toward him. The guard fires at the windshield, but misses and gets knocked into the air as Manx burns rubber out of the garage.
Remember last episode when the artist (Nathan) was talking to his son (Michael) about going to to a birthday sleepover at his stepbrother’s house?
Well, the next day, Bing heads over there to pose as someone Nathan sent to pick Michael up. Once he arrives, however, the ruse is proved to be unnecessary thanks to a completely disinterested older stepsister. After being let inside the home, Bing is shocked to find Michael trapped inside a dog kennel with the word “GAY” written in marker across his forehead.
He finds Michael’s stepbrother, who is watching porn with a group of friends, and menacingly demands that they give him the key.
Back outside, Bing comforts Michael by empathizing with him (good) and offering to kill his stepbrother (GOOD LORD). Michael declines the offer, saying that he doesn’t want Bing to go to jail because he likes talking to him. Bing responds by telling Michael about Christmasland, a happy and magical place where no one ever gets bullied (unless they are the quarry in a game of Bite the Smallest, of course). When Bing asks if he’d like to go–and assures him that he will be going too–Michael enthusiastically agrees.
Rest Stop and Refresh
Manx pulls his stolen bullet-riddled vehicle into a rest area. As rough as the car looks, he is in much, much worse shape. His breath could be generously described as “labored” and blood from his DIY torso stapling has seeped through his clothes at an alarming rate. After taking a moment to gather what little strength he has left, Manx exits the car and drags himself to a nearby pay phone, ignoring a nearby woman who asks if he needs help. While she calls the police, he dials up Christmasland to speak with his daughter.
Manx tells Millie that he’s sorry for being gone so long–and that he doesn’t think he is going to be able to make it back home. Millie begs him to return, explaining that the lights in Christmasland have begun to go out and the park itself appears to be disappearing.
Upon hearing the fear and desperation in his daughter’s voice, Manx promises Millie that he will return home to her no matter what it takes.
Unfortunately, the first step in Manx renewed efforts to survive involve taping his torso back together in a rest area bathroom while a truck driver is taking a dump. After the the man flushes and exits the stall, Manx hides only to sneak up while he’s drying his hands and kills him. He then barricades the bathroom door, drags the trucker into the bathroom’s supply closet, and changes into the dead man’s clothes.
Around this same time, the police show up and demand that Manx let them into the bathroom. Instead, he does what any murderer and/or drunk college student would and hides in the last stall.
ALSO around this same time, Bing manages to get Michael comfortably seated inside the Wraith. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the vehicle starts up. Unbeknownst to the police, this causes Manx’s appearance to change from the “death warmed over twice” description they got from the woman in the parking lot. Upon forcing open the door and heading to Manx stall, they’re surprised to find a “sexy Zachary Quinto-looking guy” there, instead.
The officers continue their search for a profusely bleeding man who looks like the reanimated great grandfather of Sloth from The Goonies and let Manx go. Before locking up the trucker in the storage closet, Manx remembers to take his keys, providing him with a new set of wheels–sixteen wheels, in fact.
Despite his rejuvenated appearance, however, blood continues to bleed through his autopsy wounds.
Manx drives the big rig to the grounds Sleigh House. After staggering around a bit, he happens to find Wayne McQueen among the ornament-adorned trees. Not knowing who the man is, Wayne tells him that the “creepy” Christmas decor was set up by a child murderer named Charlie Manx. After telling the boy that he shouldn’t believe everything he hears, Manx steps closer and is able to sense that Wayne’s actual first name: Bruce.
Wayne angrily replies that no one calls him that, but Manx is transfixed by the boy’s presence, convinced that they share a deeper connection. His declaration that he saw him in a dream–and the blood soaking through his shirt–finally creeps Wayne out enough to beat a hasty retreat.
Later, Manx is laying alone in the ruins of Sleigh House when the Wraith pulls up. Bing hops out and drags his master inside the vehicle, which immediately begins to heal him even more. Before setting off for Christmasland, Manx turns around and asks the partially transformed Michael if he’s ready for the ride of his life.
As the Wraith approaches Christmasland, Bing excitedly discusses all the things he’ll do when they get there. Before they arrive, however, Manx stops the car and tells his familiar that he won’t be allowed in until he’s procured ten total children for him.
Bing predictably becomes upset, insisting that him saving Manx’s life should count for something (fair point). He also reminds Manx that he did everything he was supposed to in his master’s absence, including eight years of evading law enforcement and not killing/raping any moms.
Manx responds by gaslighting his familiar, asking if he ever had any doubts about his return. Bing admits that he did, but insists that deep down he always knew his master would return. Manx responds by explaining that doubt is a disease which must be fully expelled. He then sends Bing off into the woods to a destination, vaguely instructing him to follow the path until he finds a landmark that he’ll immediately recognize and wait to meet him there. Bing feels frustrated and betrayed, but ultimately agrees to do as he’s told.
Later, Manx pulls the Wraith into Christmasland, where he is met by an overjoyed Millie along with the other vampire children. Her happiness is cut short, however, when Manx begins to leave after tossing Michael’s father to feed the others. When Millie expresses her disappointment, he reminds her that there are many other children in the world who still need saving.
After departing Christmasland, Manx goes to meet Bing, who is now much more amicable to helping capture their next children. As the two discuss the importance of this particular one being “saved,” the camera pans down to reveal a grave reserved for the soul of Wayne McQueen.
There are a ton of things to like about this episode of NOS4A2, but the best part (at least in my opinion) was Manx’s call with Millie at the rest area. Despite having resigned himself to death, her desperate plea for help resolves him to do whatever it takes to save her.
Yes, you could argue that the thought of Christmasland (and his legacy) disappearing had something to do with it. Even if that were true, however, I don’t think he would have made the decision to press on unless Millie was the one who delivered the message.
This stands in stark contrast to Vic, who undoubtedly loves her son, but ultimately decided that she couldn’t be his mother anymore. Even if you try to sympathetically frame what she did as being in Wayne’s best interest, it rings hallow. At it’s core, her choice to abandon Wayne was a cowardly and selfish one.
None of that is to say that Manx is a better person/soul than Vic, of course. ‘Good Father’ does an excellent job reminding us that both the human and immortal versions of Charles are self-absorbed monsters. Even in his best moments, the love he shows Millie is built on a toxic foundation. He manipulated their family dynamic so that it was both of them against Cassie, the mom who cared more about boring things like groceries and a stable home environment than imaginary theme parks.
When Manx returns to Christmasland, Millie finally starts to realize what her mother experienced with him. Instead of staying with her after an eight year absence, he immediately leaves to begin chasing his new ambition: The capture of Wayne McQueen. Also like her mother, Millie accepts his emotional manipulation because she adores him…but she’s definitely been put on the path toward her own breaking point.
By the way, how awesome is Mattea Conforti in this episode? You don’t find many child actors with the range to play a horrifying/bloodthirsty monster who rips her mother’s face off only to elicit heartbreaking sympathy less than five minutes later. As I said in my first review, I wasn’t sure about the show’s focus on such a minor/one-dimensional character from the novel, but this episode sets Millie up to have one of NOS4A2‘s best storylines.
Continuing with the theme of unexpected sympathy, the show–and actor Olafur Darri Olafsson–also deserve a lot of credit for Bing’s portrayal. Despite multiple reminders of what a truly awful person he is, it’s hard not to feel a little bad after the way Manx treats him. Bing totally deserves every bad thing that ever happens to him (and then some), but Manx’s emotional manipulation is so cruel it almost doesn’t seem fair.
I could honestly fill a few thousand more words with how good the acting was in this movie, especially from Celeste Arias, who believably turned Cassie from a wholly devoted wife into a disillusioned mother trying and save her daughter from the father she idolizes. And all “smolder” joking aside, Zachery Quinto is brilliant. Even while covered in prosthetics, his portrayal of Manx never allows you to watch him complacently. Every word and movement is charged with malicious energy, but never goes overboard–even when he’s stapling himself back together.
Speaking of the stapling scene, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen something on basic cable that made me feel so squeamish.
The only thing I didn’t like from this episode was Manx happening to show up at Sleigh House while Wayne was there. The scene itself was both incredibly well acted and arguably necessary for the great ending we got. But in a show featuring supernatural doorways into other dimensions, Manx coincidentally crossing path’s with Vic’s son is the most unrealistic thing we’ve seen thus far.
Aside from that, though, “Good Father” is a superb hour of television. In addition to being a great spring board for the rest of NOS4A2‘s narrative/mythology, it establishes a dichotomy between the show’s main adversaries that is both haunting and brilliant.
Also, it helped prove the old adage that duct tape really can fix anything (at least temporarily).
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.