Last week’s episode of NOS4A2 ended with Bruce confessing to Lou that he’d revealed their location to Charlie Manx. Tonight, the Wraith makes its way to Chris McQueen’s lake house.
Before we dive in, I should note that this episode’s structure is a bit different than the ones preceding it. Instead of one linear story or flashing between the past and present, it centers around a chaotic few minutes as witnessed (primarily) from Vic and Wayne’s point of view.
Deadly Arrivals (Wayne)
The episode opens with a flashback to Wayne’s birth, which he almost doesn’t survive.
Vic cries out at the doctors, demanding to know what’s wrong as they frantically work to keep the newborn alive. After a heart wrenching sixty seconds, a small cry lets everyone know the baby pulled through. The doctors congratulate a relieved and euphoric Vic on the birth of her son.
We then return to the present–specifically Wayne’s point of view at the end of last week’s episode. After Lou hangs up with Vic, he assures his son that he and his mother aren’t mad at him. He also promises Wayne that they’ll do everything needed to make sure he’s safe.
Chris overhears them and decides to tell the FBI agents guarding the house that they’ve been compromised. While he’s loading his own weapon, Lou and Wayne try to explain that the threat they’re facing isn’t just one deranged man (Bing) coming to get them; it’s also the resurrected Charlie Manx, who they won’t be able to take down with gunfire. Chris refuses to believe them, instead vowing that he’ll take on as many people as he has to if it means protecting his grandson and avenging his daughter.
As the sun begins to rise over the lake, a white SUV is stopped by the two FBI agents. When they approach the vehicle, the driver rolls down the window and reveals himself to be the Hourglass Man. After feigning the need for directions, he asks for a moment of their time followed by an instruction to kill everyone inside the nearby lake house except Wayne.
The two agents draw their weapons and command him to exit the car with his hands in the air. Instead, he turns his own hourglass over, causing the agents go into a trance and accept the new instructions without question.
A few moments later, Chris walks outside to greet the arriving agents, who immediately begin shooting and hit him in the leg. Chris dives behind his truck and yells at Wayne through the house’s front window to take cover. He attempts to identify himself, but the agents ignore him and begin closing in on his position.
As Lou works to barricade the front door, Chris manages to get off a few shots and take down one of the agents. The other one comes around the side of the truck just as the Hourglass Man’s sand runs out, causing him to shoot himself in the head.
Before Lou and Wayne can attempt to process what the hell just happened outside, Wayne begins to smell cookie scented gas. Lou immediately realizes that Bing is pumping sevoflurane through the home’s vents and moves his barricade so they can escape.
The pair only manage to run a few feet outside before Bing gets the drop on them. After gassing Lou into unconsciousness, he takes off after Wayne. Despite suffering from a leg injury he sustained during Hutter’s recent beatdown, he still catches up to the boy and triumphantly hoists him in the air. Wayne bites Bing’s arm, prompting him to threaten the child with a severe beating. Before that awfulness is allowed to occur, Charlie Manx calls out from the Wraith, instructing his servant to bring the boy to him unharmed.
After putting Wayne inside the vehicle, Manx turns to see Vic, who demands that he let her son go.
Unbreakable Resolve (Vic)
Vic uses the Shorter Way to return to the lake and immediately senses that something’s wrong.
She approaches the house and finds Lou unconscious along with one of Bing’s sevoflurane units hooked up the the air conditioning unit. She wakes up Lou, who tells her that Bing took Wayne and gives her the detonator for the explosive they planted.
She runs by the dead FBI agents and finds Manx, who she commands to let her child go. He responds by giving a wicked smile before getting inside the Wraith and driving toward her. Unwilling to detonate the explosives with her son inside the car, Vic instead takes off toward the lake. The Wraith quickly catches up and knocks her into the air. She’s rendered unconscious, but awakened seconds later by the sound of Wayne calling for her and Manx kicking her in the side.
Manx draws a small hammer and begins taunting Vic while striking her repeatedly in the back. Unbeknownst to him, her motorcycle jacket is able to absorb enough of the impact to prevent serious injury–but not from feeling the immense pain from every blow.
Manx drops down to one knee and begins to gloat, proclaiming that Vic will never see her son again and demanding she thank him for providing Wayne with more happiness than she ever could. When he stands up to finish her off, Vic obliges his request for gratitude with a solid kick to the knee. The impact causes Manx to drop his weapon, which she picks up and uses to completely wail on his ass
After forcing him to the ground, she turns her attention to the Wraith, damaging both him and vehicle. Her righteous demolition is brought to a screeching halt, however, when she notices Bing with his gas mask on and Wayne passed out in the back seat.
Vic manages to wake her son up, but is unable to smash through the car’s back windows to get to him. Her efforts are further hampered when Bing emerges from the car and begins firing his pistol. He’s eventually forced to stop and reload, providing her with one last attempt get inside the Wraith. When its doors refuse to open, Vic promises Wayne she’ll find him no matter where Manx goes.
The trapped child tells his mother he loves her before giving a frantic warning that Bing is about to start shooting again. She takes off toward the lake and jumps in while bullets splash into the water around her.
Hope and Fear (Wayne)
A terrified Wayne watches in disbelief as his mother is run over by Wraith. As he cries out to her to wake up, Manx asks Bing to gas the boy so he doesn’t have to see what’s about to happen. He also promises his faithful and long-suffering servant that their upcoming trip Christmasland will finally see him through the gates.
Manx gets out and begins bludgeoning Vic. Back inside the car, Bing threatens to shoot Wayne and viciously taunts him before finally gassing the boy to sleep. He awakens a few minutes later to the sound of his mother pounding against the window with Manx’s hammer. After warning Vic that Bing has reloaded his weapon, she promises to find him before fleeing toward the lake with Bing in pursuit.
Now alone inside the Wraith, Wayne attempts to climb into the front seat, but is prevented from doing so by an invisible barrier. He begins to panic just as Lou shows up with a hatchet and starts hacking at the backseat windows. Just like Vic, he’s unable to break them. When he tries the driver’s side window, however, it begins to crack.
Just when it appears that Lou is about to break through, Manx appears from behind and begins slamming his head into the vehicle. After knocking Lou out, he informs Wayne that his father will be joining them on their journey to Christmasland.
Water War (Vic)
Vic struggles to hold her breath as bullets continue to zip through the water around her. She eventually finds a buoy and surfaces, but is forced to remain hidden behind while Bing continues to shoot aimlessly across the lake.
Manx limps up behind Bing’s position on the dock, screaming at Vic for having the audacity to fight back against him. As both men continue to hurl insults at her, Lou manages to get up and run unnoticed toward the Wraith.
Vic dives back under the water and swims toward the dock. She surfaces beneath it, remaining hidden while Bing continues to yell and aimlessly shoot in all directions. She hears a struggle in the distance and changes positions just in time to see Lou being beaten into submission.
Manx saunters back toward the dock and calls out to Vic, explaining that while Wayne’s biological father Craig may have burned with the Wraith years ago, Lou would be offered as a feast for his children…unless of course she’s willing to come out and fight for the man she loves along with her son. He also promises that after Wayne arrives in Christmasland, he will call and torment her just like Millie did.
Manx’s horrific taunts are nearly enough to make Vic scream and give away her position. Unfortunately, her muffled cry still draws Bing’s attention, who begins shooting below the dock. Just when it appears that he’s going to hit her, a shadow falls across the planks followed by a splatter of blood. Vic looks out across the lake to see her father, who managed to shoot Bing’s leg from a hiding place in the woods.
Chris then turns his attention to Manx, who is fleeing back to the Wraith. He hobbles away from the dock and fires at the vehicle as Bing gets up and limps after him. Both men are unable to catch up with Manx before he can start the car and begins to drive off. Chris futilely continues shooting at the vehicle while a stunned Bing escapes into the woods.
Vic pulls herself up from the dock and sprints toward the road, arriving just in time to see the Wraith driving away down the road with her son.
Wayne begs Manx to stop the Wraith. He refuses, instead telling the boy how Vic kept him from seeing his children for so long and how unfit she is to be his mother. Having struck a chord with the abandonment angle, Manx pushes his case even further, promising Wayne that he’ll have the happy home he’s always wanted once they arrive in Christmasland.
Meanwhile, Vic checks on Chris and Lou, who urge her to chase after Wayne. She takes Chris’ gun, hops on her bike, and rides like a bat out of hell down the road leading away from the lake house. She quickly catches up to the Wraith and begins shooting, but is unable to hit Manx or slow his progress.
After a few hair raising seconds of high speed cat-and-mouse maneuvers, Manx suddenly hits the breaks. Before Vic can stop as well, she’s hit by the Hourglass Man’s SUV, sending her into the air and her bike into a million pieces.
When Wayne asks if his mother his dead, Manx smugly assures the child that she won’t be able to hurt him anymore.
Vic later awakens in a hospital along with Lou and Chris. Her body is broken, but nowhere near as badly as her heart is. Linda runs in to comfort her daughter, who grabs hold of her and tearfully declares that her son is gone and never coming back.
When you read recaps like this, there are a lot of tiny moments that don’t make it to the page. While this episode had a plethora of incredible sequences, those moments are what helped push “Bruce Wayne McQueen” from an exceptional episode of NOS4A2 into a truly great hour of television.
Let’s start with the big stuff first, though.
Stories that show the same events from different points of view can be really hit or miss. In many cases, they end up feeling redundant and frustrating. “Bruce Wayne McQueen”, on the other hand, manages to give us two vastly different perspectives while also moving the narrative forward at a pace well beyond the elapsed time on screen.
Ashleigh Cummings (Vic) and Jason David (Wayne) are absolutely brilliant. Even though Cummings has been great for the entire run of the series, this was her best performance to date. Same with David, who has finally begun to put his stamp on Wayne’s character.
Even after a season and a half of murder and malice, both Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto) and Bing Partridge (Olafur Darri Olafsson) have never been more terrifying. Bing has always been creepy, but this is the first time he felt anywhere near as threatening as his master.
As far as Manx is concerned, the considerable physical violence he inflicts is still dwarfed by Quinto’s verbal barbs toward Wayne’s mother. In stand off situations, I normally hate when otherwise badass characters become emotional enough to give away their positions. In this case, though, Vic’s anguish is 100% believable.
I could go on and on about the breath-taking sequences in this one, especially Vic’s last ditch effort to save Wayne or the Hourglass Man taking control of the agents.
But let’s take a look at the aforementioned smaller moments that really helped take this episode to an even higher level:
- Even the best parents do things to manipulate children. In Lou’s (Jonathan Langdon’s) case, he does so by assuring Wayne they’ll be safe because of what a tough/strong kid he is. It’s a genuinely sweet moment between a father and his guilty/terrified son. At the end of the episode, however, Manx attempts to assuage the boy’s fears by reminding him that he was the one who shared the lake house’s location–which of course (by his logic) meant he wanted Manx to take him from his mother all along. Both men attempt to provide Wayne with fatherly reassurance, but only one does so with loving/selfless intent.
- During Vic and Wayne’s bouts of unconsciousness, both experience flashes of their lives before Manx returned. One particularly poignant one for Vic occurs while she’s underwater. A vision she’s having her giving Wayne a bath transitions to her point in the shower with a beer bottle on the soap dish. (Shower beers are normally a giant red flag that things in life aren’t going well).
- The was a jarring (but believable) dichotomy between Bing’s malicious euphoria at catching Wayne (i.e. his ticket to Christmasland) and the look of utter betrayal on his face at Manx takes off without him.
- The moment Vic grabbed onto Linda (Virginia Kull) and began to cry was hard enough to watch on its own. But when she called her ‘momma’ and began lamenting her own failure to keep her son safe…oof.
I guess if you want to nitpick something, you could say that it took Vic a little too long to get back from the House of Sleep to the lake house. Even taking that into account, however, this episode is all types of amazing. It hits you with punch after punch of visceral action and emotional weight and never lets up until its devastating conclusion.
“Bruce Wayne McQueen” isn’t just the best episode of NOS4A2 thus far–it might be the best episode of television you’ll watch all year.
Read our interview with ‘NOS4A2’ showrunner Jami O’Brien here.
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.