This NOS4A2 review contains spoilers.
NOS4A2 Season 2 Episode 10
For all the flack Game of Thrones gets for the way it ended, one of the things that the show always did that I appreciated was they didn’t save the big crazy finale for the last episode of the season. The ninth episode of the season always had the big shocking moments, and the tenth episode explored more of the after-effects of the big event and set the pace for the next season. “Bats” doesn’t quite do the same thing, but considering the bulk of the episode of NOS4A2 is more concerned with what happens after the escape from Christmasland and the aftermath of Charlie Manx, it’s pretty close.
It’s pretty clear early on in “Bats” that Charlie Manx isn’t doing so good. Every explosion in his Inscape racks his physical body with pain, every smashed window or toppled beam equates to some sort of tissue damage somewhere in his body. For Strong Creatives, their Inscape is a reflection of who they are, and Charlie Manx is no exception. Christmasland is as much a part of him as the Wraith, and by destroying Christmasland, you destroy Charlie Manx. Of course, we’ve seen Charlie Manx destroyed before. Death seems to only slow him down, no matter how final it might seem on the surface. the power of the imagination is a hell of a thing, and the allure of Christmasland seems to linger long after the place itself disappears into the great, staticky void.
“Bats” is split roughly 25 to 75 in favor of the aftermath of the Christmasland escape, and as such, it leans heavily on Jami O’Brien’s script to dig deeper into the lasting repercussions of just what Vic, Wayne, and Maggie experienced while doing battle with Manx in his Inscape. For Wayne (Jason David), Christmasland, and escaping to Christmasland, lingers long after the place itself collapsed. Wayne didn’t spend as much time in there as Millie (Mattea Conforti), but it’s clear that adjusting to a reality where you can’t eat sugar for every meal and have to brush your teeth is more difficult for him than Vic or Lou expected. Vic (Ashleigh Cummings), thankfully, is able to be there to talk to him, and in a particularly nice mother/daughter bonding moment with Linda (Virginia Kull), is able to figure out just where her parents went wrong and find a more productive way to approach Wayne’s pent-up longing for Christmas all year long.
It’s a solid redemptive scene for Virginia Kull, who spent most of the first season playing Linda as an anchor around her daughter’s neck, and a nice scene for Ashleigh Cummings to dig a little deeper into Vic’s lingering feelings about Charlie and her own childhood difficulties. She fled into her artwork long before she could flee into a bottle, and Wayne turns to art instead of turning back to Christmasland, no doubt thanks to the family moving across the country for a little bit to rest and recover outside of Charlie Manx’s backyard and the continued presence of Millie Manx in Wayne’s life. (Not that Vic is aware of that, but certainly after looking at Wayne’s drawing of Christmasland, she might have some suspicions about why her son keeps going out to the crumbling remains of Charlie’s house.)
We’ve already seen what happens to Vic without Charlie around, and now, it seems, the episode is exploring, through Wayne, what happens to the kids who suddenly lose out on Father Christmas and his benevolent presents of drifters to eat and people to stab. It’s definitely an adjustment, and it has left lingering after-effects on him, both emotionally and physically. Certainly, it would be worse for the children who spent longer in Christmasland and for the children who no longer have families they can return to for whatever reason. I shudder to think of the problems that would come from a Christmasland child who spends a decade in an ill-equipped foster care system, only to be turned out onto the street at 18 with access to weapons.
The care with which the script handles the post-Christmasland adjustment is mirrored by the care with which Toa Fraser handles the actors. The young actors, particularly Mattea Conforti, put across very good performances, naturalistic as children while still, particularly in the case of Millie, feeling threatening. Jason David does a lot of good work with his body language, particularly at the dinner table, and Wayne is clearly keeping secrets throughout, afraid to open up to his mother, but not quite up to the task of full deception.
Similarly, when Millie finds Wayne on the grounds of her father’s home and Inscape, for a brief moment, there’s a crackle of danger. Wayne, being Vic’s son, could easily be at risk of Millie’s wrath, but instead, the two of them find common ground, not in anger, but in longing for the way things used to be. Christmasland is all Millie really knows; Wayne got just enough of a taste to want to go back, preferring candy canes and roller coasters to tater tots and a manufactured home. There’s still some sort of aggression from Millie to Wayne, but at the same time, the two shared an experience that has bonded them, like Vic and Maggie with Charlie Manx. They might express their feelings in different ways, but they’ve found the only other person in the world who understands what they’ve been through and can communicate it on their level.
Vic, for all her talk of no more secrets and openness, is going to have to fight against her very nature to keep that promise. She’s reclusive; she deals with her trauma by running and hiding, either literally, in a bottle, or in her artwork. Wayne, at least, will have that art ability to lean into when he needs to communicate without words, but it’ll be up to Vic to be receptive and listen. She’s afraid of Charlie Manx; Wayne loves him, or at least loves what he provided him.They had wildly different experiences involving Manx, and they’ll never really understand one another in that area.
Unfortunately for Vic, the only other person he can talk about this stuff with just happens to be Charlie Manx’s twisted daughter.