Last week’s episode of NOS4A2 ended with Wayne still trapped in the Wraith and Manx at the mercy of an angry Bing Partridge. This week, Manx fights to survive while taking a painful trip through some memories from his childhood.
Much like what we saw in Episode 2, “Cripple Creek” utilizes a series of flashbacks that run parallel to events taking place in the present. While this recap has been condensed into a more linear form, it’s well worth watching the episode to experience the narrative’s full effect.
Sympathy for the Devil
In a series of flashbacks to the late 1800’s, we see Charlie as a child teaching his friends a dance inside a bar. He’s pleased when his mother tells her “beautiful boy” how special he is, but his joy quickly evaporates when she takes a handful of bills from a nearby client and leads him upstairs for some professional fornicating.
Someone else who’s taken with Fannie Manx’s “beautiful boy” is Mr. Tim, the super creepy general store owner. He calls Charlie over, buys him a soda, and commends him on teaching all the other boys how to dance. He then asks Charlie if he’d be willing to help recruit the boys in town to do “odd jobs” for him. If so, he’d pay him enough over the next several weeks to buy the brand new sled he’s been eyeing at the store–maybe even before Christmas.
Charlie appears to realize that Mr. Tim’s “odd jobs” are likely to include some horrifically unsavory acts, but the draw of owning his dream sled is too much to resist. He also turns out to be a natural recruiter, even managing to convince a boy who knew of Mr. Tim’s skeevy reputation to work for him.
Fannie sees her son working and warns him never to go into Mr. Tim’s store without her (along with a heavy implication that she at least suspects what Mr. Tim is doing with the children her son recruits for him). Charlie tries to argue, but she’s interrupted by a new client and leaves.
Things then move forward a few weeks to Christmas Day. Charlie comes in from outside with his brand new sled to find the bar empty except for Mr. Tim, who asks his “beautiful boy” to make him a drink. He then comes around the counter behind Charlie and says he’d like to reward his hard work by playing the same game he plays with the boys he recruited.
Once the vile act is completed (off screen) Mr. Tim puts his clothes back on while informing Charlie that “the best sledding is the hill beyond the groove.” If that line sounds familiar, it’s because we heard it being said by a voice behind one of the locked doors in the house Millie found outside the gates of Christmasland.
A violated and shellshocked Charlie responds by picking up his own sled and slamming it down on Mr. Tim. The old pervert falls onto the floor as pieces of wood and metal shatter around him. Charlie then picks up one of the blades and gives Mr. Tim a well deserved helping of the Jason Todd treatment.
Afterwards, Fannie Manx comes downstairs, sees the carnage that took place, and immediately goes to to make sure her son is okay. When Charlie expresses fear over going to the police about killing a man, Fannie assures him that the sheriff will believe his story because “everyone knows” about Mr. Tim.
Charlie becomes oddly furious that his mother knew the man who attacked him had a history of molesting children. When she points out that he knew as well (and helped Mr. Tim procure his victims), Charlie accuses Fannie of “forcing” him to work for Mr. Tim via the shame and proximity to unsavory characters brought about by her work as a prostitute.
Fannie tries to defend herself, but Charlie only gets more angry, insulting her and demanding to know why she didn’t do more to protect him. His eyes go static as evil/angry looking snowmen form outside, watching through the window as Charlie butchers his mother.
Signs From Above and Below
Before all those gut churning flashbacks, the episode opens with the last time we saw Bing as he was being abandoned by Manx. Suffering from a bullet wound to his shoulder and a completely broken spirit, he hobbles away from the police through the woods behind Chris McQueens’ lake house.
He eventually finds a nearby cemetery and takes refuge on a statue of an angel. After looking up at it for a while, Bing asks why Manx would abandon him after all the good work he’s done “saving” children. He then asks God for a sign that Manx will return for him. God promptly responds by having a bird crap in his mouth.
As Bing coughs the avian excrement from his lungs, a young gravedigger approaches and asks if he needs help. Upon seeing the very obvious bullet wound, he turns to get his phone out of his truck and calls 911. Bing responds to this act of kindness by whacking the kid across the head with his gas canister and choking him to death. He then grabs his victim’s keys, dumps his body in a nearby grave, and thanks God before getting in the truck and driving off.
*Side Note: If you ever wanted a perfect example of Bing’s psychotic mental process, then here you go. The dude asked God for a sign and a bird dive bombed him right in mouth. Less than a minute later, he murders an innocent person trying to help him, steals their car, and considers THAT to be both his sign and a divine blessing.*
Later that night, we see Bing arrive at the junkyard from the last episode and gas Manx into unconsciousness.
When Manx awakens, he finds himself tied down and much older (on account the Wraith’s ignition coil being disconnected). He initially expresses relief and gratefulness that his servant is still alive, but even Bing isn’t stupid enough to fall for that.
He’s also all types of pissed off. After reminding his master that he knows all his hiding places (like this junkyard) and his weaknesses (via the Wraith), Bing demands they have an honest conversation before gassing him enough to lower his guard without putting him to sleep.
In his weakened/suggestive state, Manx groggily reveals that he killed all of his former assistants, including Peter Ives. He also finally admits that he was never going to take Bing to Christmasland. As you might imagine, this information does not sit well with Mr. Partridge.
Bing begins wailing on his former boss. In between punches, Manx tries to explain that the children and their mission to “save” them is much more important than his own selfish desires. He makes one final plea for them to work together and give Wayne the happiness they never had. Bing appears to momentarily consider this before unloading with another flurry of hits that knocks him out cold.
After coming to, Manx tries another tactic, this time explaining to Bing how his mother was a prostitute who didn’t pay him enough attention. He also tell him about a man (Mr. Tim) who filled his need for fatherly approval before using him for his own disgusting desires. Because of this, he and Bing (who also had a terrible home life) are special–unsaved children who were robbed of their innocence along with the chance to be happy. Their goal shouldn’t be to enjoy Christmasland for themselves, but to rescue and bring other children there.
Manx’s speech works this time, returning Bing to a state of gleeful subservience as he heads outside to repair the Wraith.
Care and Regret
Back inside the Wraith, Craig appears to Wayne and encourages him to fight the vehicle’s influence. He then asks the boy to tell him things he remembers about his mom. This leads to the two of them talking about Vic, prompting Wayne to ask how he knows her. Craig replies that she was his best friend, causing all of us to feel a tight pain form inside our chest.
Craig then asks about Lou. When Wayne tells him about the cool comic geek who’s also an amazing dad, Craig is clearly hurt/jealous, but also happy to know that such a good man has become his son’s father. *chest tightens further*
The pair continues to laugh and bond together. After a while, Wayne notices that a loose tooth he had is now firmly back in place. As the day wears on, however, his teeth start to come loose again while his face starts looking all types of veiny. Craig desperately tries to help Wayne fight his transformation, but he’s interrupted when Bing comes out to fix the Wraith.
The man sees how distraught the little boy is and assures him that he’ll be safe from Vic in Christmasland soon. Wayne reminds Bing that he and Manx were the ones who hurt him before pleading to see his mom. This affects Bing even more than Manx’s insincere speech, causing him to close the hood on the still inoperable Wraith and head back inside.
Over in Christmasland, Millie notices the lights flickering and heads toward the cabin in the woods. She once again encounters her undead mother, who leads her upstairs to the room with the fully decked out Christmas tree. On her way there, a hand reaches out from one of the (previously) locked doors and demands to be released while declaring “the best sledding is on the hill beyond the groove.”
After rescuing Millie from whatever awful creepiness tried to grab her, Cassie explains that the blinking lights are a result of Christmasland becoming unstable when Manx is dying. She also tells her that the house they’re in is where Manx buried all his darkest fears.
She then leads Millie into the Christmas Room and opens another door, revealing a human version of her daughter smiling back at her. After some initial awkwardness, the two Millies sit down under the tree and begin gleefully opening gifts together.
The weirdest playdate in history hits a slight bump when Human Millie freaks Vampire Millie out by saying how she can’t wait to grow up, fall in love, and have a family of her own. Her disgust quickly turns to curiosity when Human Millie also shares her plans to travel the world some day.
Vampire Millie heads upstairs and asks Cassie why her father would want to keep them trapped in Christmasland. Cassie explains that Manx never wanted his daughter to grow up and become a woman. When Millie recites her father’s line about women being selfish and dangerous, Cassie reveals that Manx always attempted to pin the blame for his many faults and shortcomings on the women in his life.
She then implores Millie to find a way out of Christmasland, warning her daughter that if Manx dies, she will be destroyed along with his imaginary prison. If Manx is able to return, however, then he can and should be able to prove he loves her by allowing her to leave.
Bing returns to the garage and angrily declares his epiphany/revelation that the Wraith is actually hurting Wayne (along with every other kid it’s ever ferried to Christmasland). He also finally understands that Manx uses the children to make him immortal while cursing them to be soulless creatures for eternity.
Manx tries to justify his actions, but Bing interrupts him with the stinging accusation of being a bad father. Things then take a truly horrific turn when he tells Manx how he’s going to sexually violate him like he did with Mike‘s father, Nathan Demeter.
*Side Note: I never thought I could feel truly sorry for the adult version of Manx or fear for his well-being, yet here we are.*
Just as he’s about to commit his vile act, Manx points out that Bing is just as much a monster as he is. He helped kidnap children in an effort to punch his own ticket to Christmasland–including Mike, who didn’t necessarily need to be saved. There was no indication that Nathan was a bad father, but that didn’t stop Bing from raping him and stealing his son. If Manx deserves death, than he deserves a fate that’s even worse.
Surprisingly, this speech works on Bing, as well…just not in the way Manx hoped.
No Good Deed
Bing gasses Manx to sleep and drags his bound/battered body outside to the Wraith, which is set up inside of a car crusher. He allows Wayne to exit the vehicle and throws his former master in, who wakes up just in time to realize what’s about to happen. Manx manically explains how his death will lead to the death of Millie and all the other children in Christmasland (which is actually the truth), but Bing brushes it off as more lies.
After closing the door and setting up the crusher, he tells Wayne to run down the road, find a policeman, and tell them he’s Vic McQueen’s son…and that Bing Partridge is very sorry. He then starts the crusher, tosses the rest of his gas into the Wraith’s backseat, and gets in himself, at peace with the fact that his final act in life will be the destruction of two monsters who will never be able to hurt another child.
Manx pleads with Wayne through the window for help, but is eventually overcome by the gas. As the crusher closes in on the Wraith’s hood, Bing takes off his mask and coerces his nearly unconscious former master to say he loves him, causing a huge smile to spread across his face.
Just when the crusher starts to push down on the hood, however, Wayne giddily stops it and helps Manx out of the car.
Moments later, Bing awakens to find Manx reinserting the Wraith’s engine coil. He (rightfully) panics and drags himself out of the back seat, desperate to escape the wrath of a newly revitalized and extremely pissed off Father Christmas.
Before pursing his revenge, Manx tells Wayne to get in the car. Craig appears and tries to dissuade him, but he gets in anyway. At the sound of the door locking, Wayne immediately realizes his mistake. Craig is crestfallen, but still manages to assure the boy that Vic will find him
Meanwhile, Manx stalks through the junkyard with a crowbar, his coat billowing behind him like a Yuletide angel of death. He easily catches up to Bing and skewers him, twisting the knife both literally and figuratively by explaining that he was nothing more to him than a useful, disposable idiot.
As Bing falls to the ground and begins to bleed out, Manx expresses his desire for the police to find him before he dies since “prions is a better place than hell” for the likes of him. He then smugly asks Bing to think of him at Christmastime before departing with Wayne in the Wraith.
While every episode of NOS4A2 this season has been great, “Cripple Creek” rivals “Bruce Wayne McQueen” for being the best thus far. Every aspect of its production was firing on all cylinders in a way you rarely get to see. I mean, seriously…how many shows looks this beautiful when over half the scenes are filmed in a junkyard?
There’s a ton to unpack about what makes this such a superb hour of television, so let’s break down some of the major components.
Screenwriters have to be extremely careful when introducing a sensitive plot element like what happened to Charlie Manx. You can’t ignore the lasting trauma endured by a victim of child sex abuse, but you also don’t want to present that trauma as the root cause for a character becoming irredeemably evil (like X-Files: I Want to Believe kind of did).
In this case, the abuse Charlie suffered at the hands of Mr. Tim serves as a vile catalyst for the narcissistic/vengeful streak already on display. He certainly didn’t deserve to be violated in such an awful manner–no child does for any reason, ever. But Charlie knowingly sacrificed other boys to suffer the same way he did, all so he could buy a sled and feel independent.
That complete lack of empathy is compounded by his violent refusal to accept the selfishness of his own actions. When Fannie tries to point out that Charlie knew what was happening to the boys, he responds by asking why she didn’t do more to protect him, which is a completely valid question. Then he declares that she made him do it, projecting and contorting his shame about her work as a prostitute into the sole reason for his actions.
Was Fannie a mother with significant deficiencies/flaws? Absolutely. Did she deserve to be beaten to death by her son with a metal bar? Probably not.
Did Mr. Tim deserve it, though? Absolutely.
In the present, Manx continues his M.O. of justifying any selfish behavior on his part as a necessary evil for his “noble” pursuits. It’s a near perfect example of narcissistic, sociopathic evil….except that you can’t help but feel scared for his well-being, especially when Bing threatens to rape him.
Yes, Manx is an evil man who steals children’s souls. But if someone has been sexually abused as a child, you cannot watch them relive that trauma as an adult and not feel any fear/sympathy for them. Add in the counterbalance with Bing’s epiphany/acceptance of his sins (along with his attempt to rectify them), and you’ve got a plot line that puts the audience through a severe emotional gauntlet.
Zachary Quinto and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson are brilliant as usual, but Aidan Brennan deserves a huge amount of credit for the way he plays a young Charlie Manx. Instead of transparent evil or innocence, Brennan portrays him with a nuance that allows the character to be maliciously selfish while also earning the audience’s concern.
If you wanted to make the case that Mattea Conforti is a future star, then this episode should be the closing argument.
Her portrayal of the human and vampire versions of Millie is so good that you forget you’re watching a split screen effect. What really stands out, however, is the change we observe in Vampire Millie as she wrestles with an existential crisis that’s quite literally staring her in the face.
Jason David’s role as Wayne required a similar Jekyll and Hyde component, which he absolutely nails, as well.
One production aspect I hope isn’t overlooked is how good Celeste Arias (Cassie) and Dalton Harrod (Craig) were despite their faces being covered in layers of gruesome prosthetics. Craig’s scenes in particular provided some badly needed moments of warmth and hope in an otherwise bleak (but still fantastic) episode.
As far as Cassie is concerned, she gets the unenviable job of “exposition ghost” and still manages to make us hang onto every word. Much of what she tells Millie could already be inferred, but she gives a shockingly powerful voice to the destruction wrought by her husband’s selfishness. Instead of eliciting a purely tragic response, we feel Cassie’s anger and her fear/protectiveness of Millie right along with her.
I know I lavish some substantially effusive praise on this series. But if you’re a regular reader of my articles (HI MOM!), then you also know I have no qualms about giving some justifiably harsh criticism for a show. Sometimes I’ll dislike a show so much that I give up on it entirely, even in the middle of the season.
So please believe me–or at least my sincerity–when I say that NOS4A2 is something truly special.
This episode in particular shows just how great the series can be. It forces you to put down your phone and reconcile how you feel about these characters, especially the ones who you know are evil. It’s challenging and even hard to watch at times, but ends up being one of the most engrossing hours of television you could ask for.
Oh, and in case you forgot, we still have fixing Triumph and a trip to Christmasland coming up.
Read our interview with ‘NOS4A2’ showrunner Jami O’Brien here.
Read our coverage of the SDCC 2020 ‘NOS4A2’ panel 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.