This NOS4A2 review contains spoilers.
NOS4A2 Season 2 Episode 1
Turning the holidays on their ear is something of an easy way of creating irony within a production. I’ve watched dozens of Christmas horror movies, and another dozen or so horror movies related to other holidays not traditionally associated with killing, so it’s something I’m very familiar with. NOS4A2 does a solid job of using Christmas as something ominous, with the twinkling lights and zooming rides of Christmasland populated not by adorable, doe-eyed children, but by mini-demons with razor sharp teeth who play games like “Scissors for the Drifter” and do things like tackle and eat the smallest one of the bunch. Christmasland was already trying too hard to appeal to kids, but this extra layer settles it: Christmasland is as creepy as its Strong Creative mastermind, Charlie Manx.
Then, as the kids giggle and gnaw on the smallest, the lights begin to flicker, the rides slow down, and Christmasland goes dark. The barrier between the living world and Christmasland weakens to the point where children can pass over to the other side, but the other side doesn’t have any fresh meals for hungry children, but a quick erasure from existence once Christmasland’s borders are breached. It’s not a safe world for children, particularly the vampiric spawn of Father Christmas.
One of the smartest things NOS4A2 does on its second season is skip ahead a little bit. Eight years on, Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto) hasn’t emerged from his coma, the Wraith remains a motionless hulk, and everyone not named Bing Partridge (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) is trying to move on with life. Vic (Ashleigh Cummings) has a nice life with boyfriend Lou (Jonathan Langdon) and her son Wayne (Jason David) in Colorado, and Maggie (Jahkara Smith) and Tabitha (Ashley Romans) have set up shop in Haverhill with everyone save Vic trying to put Charlie Manx out of sight and out of mind. For eight years, everyone has either been trying to forget about Charlie Manx, with varying degrees of success. What happens when he’s no longer a risk to return – when the sole focus of Vic McQueen’s worry is no longer there to torment her?
Movies never show what happens to the hero when he or she walks off into the sunset, villain vanquished. “Bad Mother” digs into that idea a little bit, and it’s effective stuff. Showrunner Jami O’Brien has sped up Vic’s slow transformation over the first season from a tee-totaling good girl into a tattooed, secret drinking, family-leaving damaged woman. The heart of the character is still there, and the dedication, but she’s been mostly waiting for Charlie to show back up, and with his apparent demise, what’s left for her but to deal with the problems she’s created in her family due to worrying so much about a decaying old man in a coma?
The parallels between Vic and her father can’t be ignored at this point. She’s as much a victim of PTSD as he was, and despite seeing just how much pain he brought on his family when she was growing up, Vic is determined to make the same mistakes he did, albeit without the infidelity. She drinks too much, drinking in secret to stay out of sight of Lou and Wayne, and when she finally reaches a breaking point after a horrible accident, she runs back to Haverhill and leaves her loved ones behind, just like her father disappeared on her in the night. Vic, at least, says goodbye to her son before bailing on him, proving she’s at least capable of learning one lesson from history.
The time jump is performed neatly. Lou, who was a fun character in his appearance last season, remains a fun character, and Jonathan Langdon has Lou acting as pleasantly supportive of Vic, but not willing to let her destroy their family in the process. He’s tolerant, understanding, clearly loves Vic (and the feeling is clearly mutual), but at the end of the day, there’s only so much erratic behavior he’s willing to put up with from her. For her part, Ashleigh Cummings slides nicely into the role of a damaged Vic McQueen, and the aging up of the character is a better fit for the actress, with Vic seemingly trapped in the dress and lifestyle she’d taken to as a teenager, much like her father in the first season. Even Jahkara Smith’s Maggie has matured more than Vic, at least in how she dresses and how she conducts herself in relationships.
Vic remains in the past, because she can’t let go of the fear that her past will come back to haunt her, and given the success Bing has in finding the Wraith and getting the engine back into it, if not fully restoring it, she’s right not to believe that Charlie Manx is dead. It’s taken time, a lot of time, but an evil like that never truly goes away. Not as long as the allure of Christmasland remains and Bing Partridge remains on the loose.
Season Two of NOS4A2 does a good job of progressing characters, and establishing that this time, the stakes are much higher for Vic and Maggie than they were before. They’re no longer just kids banding together to fight evil, they’re adults with loved ones and families that make them more vulnerable to people like Bing and Charlie. Considering Maggie can’t use her tiles without having seizures and Vic’s son is having dreams about Charlie Manx, things are much more dangerous by the time the desiccated heart on the autopsy table begins beating in Charlie Manx’s sawed-open chest.