Last week’s episode of NOS4A2 concluded with Manx murdering Chris McQueen and departing with a fully vampified Wayne to Christmasland.
This week, Vic follows Manx into his inscape in a last ditch effort to save her son.
One Small Step
The episode opens with Manx arriving in Christmasland with a very excited (and soulless) Wayne. He introduces him to the other severely creepy vampire children, all of whom are eager to include him in their sadistic games.
Before that can happen, however, Manx calls on Millie to give their new arrival the grand tour. After being told that his daughter isn’t there, the mildly shaken/annoyed Father Christmas says he will give Wayne the tour himself. Their first stop is the Christmasland Costume Carnival, where Wayne is FINALLY able to change out of that egg spacesuit pajama set into some sweet new astronaut gear, including a helmet.
In case you were fooled into watching this through the lens of being a sweet moment, Manx follows that up by presenting him with his first Christmas gift: A shiny new set of shears to stab people with while playing Scissors for the Drifter. He then has Wayne write his name in the official Christmasland Book. After a bit of encouragement/coercion, the boy signs his first name followed by the same new surname written by countless other children before him: Manx.
Back in the real world, Lou covers Chris McQueen’s body while Vic desperately tries and fails to get the Triumph restarted. Lou finishes with Chris and comes over to help, assuring her that he can fix the bike. Their son, on the other hand, might be too far gone to rescue.
Regardless of if Wayne still has a soul or not, Vic is determined to storm the gates of Christmasland and bring him back. She tells Lou he’s the best man she’s ever known and instructs him to stay so that Wayne has someone to come home to. After sharing a tearful kiss goodbye, she fires up the Triumph and heads down the road.
Before attempting to use the inscape soft spot Millie showed her, Vic stops to tell Maggie the plan. Maggie insists on joining her along with a bag full of explosives. When Vic informs her that bombs won’t work on the Wraith, Maggie counters that they can probably blow up Christmasland, instead. She demands to come along, reminding her fellow strong creative/best friend that she started hunting the Wraith long before Vic.
Having won the argument (and proven once again why she’s a badass), Maggie hops on the back of the Triumph and the pair cross through the soft spot into Manx’s inscape.
Manx finds Millie wandering by herself inside the park’s giant ice maze. When he questions his daughter about what’s wrong (and why she doesn’t appreciate everything he’s done for her) Millie nervously declares her newfound desire to leave Christmasland. She also admits to venturing outside the park gates and discovering a house, which in turn helped her remember what life was like before being confined to her father’s inscape. She even offers to take him there to see it for himself.
Back in Episode 3, I accused Manx of lying when he told his daughter that there wasn’t a house in the forest. Turns out I owe him an apology–he legitimately had no idea it existed. After following Millie to the house and walking inside, the dude is clearly shook. His mental state gets rattled further when he goes upstairs and hears Mr. Tim behind one of the doors, demanding to be let out while repeating what he said after violating him as a boy.
As if that weren’t enough to permanently scramble Manx’s eggnog, Millie directs him into Cassie’s room, which kicks off the most awkwardly terrifying reunion imaginable. Cassie starts off by declaring that Manx never really forgot about her, which would appear to be an ironclad argument considering the present circumstance. She then puts on a record and forcefully sweeps him up into a waltz, asking if he remembers the first time they danced together back when they were simply two mortals in love.
Manx eventually recoils and falls back before demanding that Millie come to him so they can leave. His daughter refuses, insisting that wherever they go, her mother come with them so they can be a family again. Cassie sadly reveals that she can never leave the house because of what Manx did to her (and because the house is part of his subconscious). She then excoriates her husband for his cowardly and selfish ways, reminding him that Christmasland is a place he created to escape the real world he couldn’t succeed in and the real family he couldn’t care for–a monument to his weakness and ego that will one day be reduced to static.
Despite being uncharacteristically chastened, Manx still attempts to fight back, reminding Cassie that he is immortal and that no one can enter Christmasland unless he allows it. His wife responds by revealing that Victoria McQueen can…and that she’s already here. As Manx grabs his daughter and retreats, Cassie implores her daughter to insist her father prove his love by taking her away from Christmasland before Vic is able to destroy it.
Before they exit the house, Millie reiterates her mother’s request, this time framing it as an opportunity for them to live as father and daughter in the real world. Manx’s only response is to insist they return to the park.
Creatures are Stirring
After taking a moment to observe the twisted Yuletide landscape before them, Maggie and Vic begin crossing Christmasland’s snow-covered grounds toward the park. Vic admits that she’s not sure they’ll be able to find Wayne among the countless children Manx has claimed over the years. She also admits her fear that Wayne may already be too far gone, which would be the worst of her many failures as a mother.
Maggie reminds Vic that she just tore a hole through the fabric between reality and thought to rescue her son. Whatever her shortcomings as a parent are, there’s definitely something to be said for that.
As the pair get closer to the park, they begin working out where Wayne might be based on what rides he enjoyed on a visit to Six Flags and his interest in outer space. They’re interrupted when a vampire child who’d been stalking them charges at them from the shadows. Maggie sticks out her hands and yells “RED LIGHT,” a tactic she also employed as a librarian to stop unruly kids. Thankfully, it appears to also work on vampire children…for now, at least.
Back in the decidedly less terrifying real world, Hutter joins Lou in keeping a lookout for Vic and Maggie’s return. The two commiserate over how hard it is to love the people they do–especially when they’re both hellbent on facing and taking down Charlie Manx. Hutter assures Lou that they’ll find a way to return from Christmasland with Wayne.
Side Note: If you’ve read the book, then you’re obviously aware how the relationship between these two in the television series is quite different. Seeing them together here felt like a nice easter egg at first, but ends up being a really fantastic scene. Despite not having any powers, they’re both extraordinary people whose hearts are also tied to recklessly brave (and self destructive) strong creatives. Hutter and Lou are two of the only people who can understand and empathize with what the other is going through.
Speaking of Christmasland, Vic and Maggie finally manage to reach the park without any more vampire stalkings. Vic sees a boy dressed in an astronaut costume and immediately identifies him as Wayne. She runs up and takes off his helmet, revealing it to be another space-obsessed vampire child who immediately draws attention to the grown up intruders.
The other children converge and surround Vic and Maggie like something out of a Kidz Bop version of The Purge. As if that weren’t horrifying enough, the pair also notice a plethora of human heads hanging in from the surrounding Christmas trees–including the head of Maggie’s adoptive father, Joe Bly.
Just as our heroes are about to be turned into Christmas dinner, Manx calls out to Vic, causing the other children to step back. Maggie uses the opportunity slide under a giant tree and begins planting explosives. Meanwhile, Vic steps forward to receive a warm welcome to Christmasland from Manx, who is accompanied by Millie and Wayne. She calls to her son, but he refuses to come to her, going so far as to deny his own name.
Manx gleefully taunts Vic, explaining how her son and all the other children in Christmasland are much happier here than in the real world. Vic replies by revealing that Millie isn’t happy living there anymore–and that she’s the one who told her how to sneak in. She then encourages the stunned girl to confess her feelings to her father and bring Wayne over so they can escape. Unfortunately, the previously fearless Vampire Princess is completely petrified.
Manx then decides to up the stakes by offering Wayne the chance to choose if he would rather stay in Christmasland or leave with his mom. With barely a moment’s hesitation, the boy enthusiastically chooses to stay.
Vic’s heart barely has time to break before Manx orders his children to charge.
She runs into the nearby Christmasland Costume Carnival and locks the door. The horde of children quickly break through, but not before Vic is able to plant an explosive and escape out the back entrance.
Meanwhile, Maggie is just finishing with an explosive at the Sleigh Ride rollercoaster when the Red Light vampire child from before sneaks up and steals her tiles. This time the little girl is unfazed by any forms of traffic-based discipline. Instead, she tosses the bag over to Mike, who tosses it back to her to over Maggie’s head. The girl then takes off toward the Ice Maze with Maggie–and a horde of vampire children–running behind her.
Vic is surrounded and being attacked/bitten by vampire children when one of Maggie’s bombs go off. The explosion distracts them enough to let her get free. It also knocks over a giant tree, which slows down the children and allows her to escape.
Back inside one of the nearby shops, the destruction causes Manx’s nose to bleed. He chastises Millie for allowing Vic into Christmasland, but also absolves her of any responsibility for her actions. Instead, he blames Vic and Cassie for poisoning his daughter’s mind against him.
Manx then instructs Millie to take her sword and bring him Vic’s head. She responds by reversing her previous request, imploring her father to stay with her in Christmasland. When he tries to explain why his work must continue, Millie finally realizes that he’ll always put his own ego and desires over her.
Her sadness is quickly replaced by defiance and determination to leave on her own. Manx tries to stop her, but Millie refuses. Instead, she tells him to kill Vic himself before angrily wishing him a Merry Christmas and departing from the park.
As if he wasn’t already pissed off and rattled enough, being betrayed by his daughter officially puts him over the edge. Manx picks up his trusty bone mallet and heads out to find Vic and exact some revenge. As soon as he steps outside, however, another one of the bombs go off, destroying the Christmasland Costume Carnival and causing him to cough up blood.
Ice in the Veins
Vic places another explosive beneath the Sleigh Ride rollercoaster while continuing to avoid detection by the vampire children. She gets some assistance when they stop to listen to a quartet of undead boys sing a weird version of ‘Frosty the Snowman.’
After the horde cheers for the performance and departs, Vic spots Wayne standing by himself and calls out to him. Instead of coming to her, the boy runs off and leads her toward the Ice Maze–the same place where Maggie is still trying to chase down the vampire girl who stole her tiles. She eventually corners her and snatches them back, but quickly finds herself trapped by another group. The children attack Maggie, with one of them managing to bite her in the shoulder before Vic shows up and and pulls her to safety. The pair duck behind a wall and wait for the children to pass, allowing them a moment to assess things.
Despite both women sporting some painful injuries, they still managed to set every bomb they had.
The pair then carefully makes their way back through the maze. They eventually cross paths with Wayne, who once again refuses to go with his mother and states his desire to stay in the place where it’s Christmas every day. Vic reminds her son that Christmas every day also means missing out on many of his favorite things, including summer and Fourth of July. The boy appears to consider this, but then counters with the fact that she tried to abandon him. Vic tearfully apologizes, assuring her son that she loves him and will always be there from now on.
Wayne allows Vic to bend down and hug him. The touching moment is shattered when he stabs his mother with the scissors Charlie gave him earlier. The boy cheers over his victory at Scissors for the Drifter and skips off, leaving Vic bleeding and heartbroken in the snow.
Maggie picks up her friend and helps her stumble toward the Ice Maze entrance/exit. Just as they’re about to leave, the opening turns into a wall. Manx appears behind them, revealing that he’s able to change the maze’s makeup due to it being inside his own inscape. He also points out the irony of Vic looking for an exit in the maze where she was searching for Wayne–the very same son whose life she tried to exit only weeks before.
He then hits Maggie in the stomach, causing her to double over and fall on the ground in front of him. Just as he’s about to finish her off, the bombs all start to explode, causing him to cry out and collapse. Manx writhes against the Ice Maze wall and rapidly ages, losing his focus and allowing the maze’s entrance to reappear.
Vic picks up the bone mallet and repeatedly whacks Manx in the head, stopping only when Maggie grabs her arm and points out that it won’t kill him. She also reminds her friend that they still need to find Wayne and escape.
Manx eventually recovers enough to get up and stumble through the burning ruins of Christmasland. He feebly attempts to ask the stampeding children if they’ve seen his daughter, but to no avail.
Unbeknownst to him, Millie has made her way to in the inscape soft spot. After one last look back at her father’s home, she steels herself and steps through it into the real world. Within seconds, her body begins to fade into static. Before she can fully disappear, Millie sees a cat ornament on a nearby tree like the pin her mother gave her. She rushes over and grabs it, allowing her to remain corporeal…and completely unsure of what to do next.
Back in Chistmasland, Vic finds Wayne lamenting the destruction of his new home. After ignoring her repeated attempts to gets his attention, she busts out the mom voice and says his full name, causing him to turn around. She marches forward, takes the scissors out of his hands, and scoops her son up into her arms.
Wayne struggles and fights back, threatening to hate Vic and never forgive her if she takes him away from Christmasland. When Vic replies that she doesn’t care, Wayne calls her a monster, prompting her to set the boy down and sternly remind him that she is his mother and he will listen to what she says–and what she’s saying right now is that they are leaving.
Right at that moment, the lights go out all around them. Wayne observes the sudden lack of sound and colors, looks back up at his mom, and finally accepts that his time in Christmasland is over.
There is a TON to unpack from this stellar episode, but let’s start with Christmasland itself.
After reading Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 novel and Wraith comic, it was impossible for me not to have a preconceived notion in my head of what Manx’s inscape should look like. To the production team’s credit, they did a fantastic job making a theme park that was somehow beautiful, festive, and creepy all at the same time.
Unfortunately, a couple of its primary aspects didn’t quite live up to what I was hoping for. I’m pretty sure I’ve got pines in my backyard that are bigger than the Great Tree. I also really wanted to see the petting zoo–or at least the wooly mammoth I’d affectionately dubbed Chekov after the creature was mentioned in back in Episode 2.
All that being said, the park boasted a number of wonderful/horrific highlights. The severed head ornaments and the Ice Maze were especially good. It’s also worth noting that the actual inhabitants of Christmasland were so terrifying that it more than made up for anything I felt was lacking in the physical structure surrounding them.
As far as the story itself is concerned, there was PLENTY to enjoy.
Vic’s showdown with Manx (and her attempted rescue of Wayne) was the episode’s rightful centerpiece, but Manx’s meeting with Cassie was perhaps my favorite moment. Celeste Arias does a fantastic job portraying one of the very few characters who can shake him to his absolute core. She also somehow walks the line between being sympathetic and terrifyingly aggressive without ever abandoning either aspect.
Mattea Conforti turned in by far her best of many excellent performances as Millie. She believably morphs her tragic vulnerability into righteous defiance, adding even more layers to Manx’s undead daughter than I or any of my fellow book readers likely ever expected. Even when it became clear that NOS4A2 was going to do more with her, I never would have expected Millie to become such a complex and interesting character.
Jason David also deserves a lot of credit for breaking our collective hearts as the vampire version of Wayne. We’ve seen him show angst before, but never with this degree of malice.
Speaking of that, you gotta feel awful for Vic. Thank goodness Maggie was there to help her (both physically and emotionally) or there’s no way she would’ve made it. Vic might be made of steel, but Maggie is pure fire. She also served as a sharp voice of reason and understanding when her friend needed to hear it the most.
Ashleigh Cummings and Jahkara Smith have been consistently great, but I’d almost forgotten what a wonderful team they make.
And of course we can’t forget about Zachary Quinto, who took Manx places that we hadn’t seen yet (like being completely thrown off his smugly assured high horse from all sides) and knocked it out of the park. It’ll be interesting to see what Manx does next week now that he officially has nothing to lose.
It will also be a lot of fun watching how this exceptional television series wraps up what has been one heck of a great story. As far as adaptations go, NOS4A2 has been one of those rare instances where the TV show gets all the important stuff right while successfully adding its own unique elements.
I normally don’t reveal anything about the upcoming episode in these recaps, but I’ll make a small exception for next week’s season (series?) finale: If you’ve read the book and think you know how things are going to play out, then make sure your couch is equipped with a seatbelt.
NOS4A2 (AMC)Read our interview with ‘NOS4A2’ showrunner Jami O’Brien here.
Read our interview with ‘NOS4A2’ author Joe Hill 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.