This NOS4A2 review contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 2.
NOS4A2 Season 2 Episode 2
In a bisected episode, NOS4A2 digs deeply into the story of the show’s villain, Charlie Manx. On one hand, with trails of blood and ichor and a flayed open chest, “Good Father” tells the tale of his rebirth. Something gets Charlie Manx up off the slab and gives him juice enough to escape from police custody, after a great effort on his part. And in the other half of the episode? “Good Father” shows how a well-meaning dreamer goes from being a limo driver married to a beautiful, rich heiress to the dessicated vampire who opens the episode on a slab in a morgue and who lives off of the life energy of children brings home to Christmasland.
At certain points during the first season of NOS4A2, I must confess that I felt like Zachary Quinto’s performance was veering uncomfortably into a territory that felt like old man drag queen; that is, Quinto was going for a super-exaggerated look, adopted a super-exaggerated rasp, and generally tried to look as though Charlie Manx was more mummy than human. Admittedly, in “Good Father,” there is a lot of that as well, but rather than feeling a little too over-the-top, the performance feels more grounded, and something about the scenes of Manx shuffling around, particularly during his low-speed foot escape from the hospital. Quinto is hunched and laboring, shuffling along painfully, and rather than similar moments in the first season, this one feels a little more authentic. It’s one of the better physical performances on a show that seems to be defined by how well its actors act out various physical ailments, and the makeup has definitely improved since the first season.
The revived Manx, bloody and cut open and held together with staples—Manx staples himself shut in a horrifying sequence—is less human than a walking corpse. He might still breathe and talk and think, but in his movements he’s more like a zombie than a human, living up to the comment his wife makes about how something in Charlie’s eyes resembles Nosferatu himself. It’s downright chilling, and John Shiban cribs both from the progenitor of all vampire films and Halloween 2 (the John Carpenter version) for the scenes of Manx skulking around a deserted hospital, casting very long shadows as he goes about his way.
The strangeness of Charlie Manx is obvious, both in the flashback sequences and in the modern day sequences. Manx seems to have the same sort of problem that all of the Creatives have, and that is a lack of connection to the real world. Vic loses herself in her art, Maggie lost herself in drugs, and Charlie’s a dreamer, with big schemes to make money that don’t seem to pan out, and a willingness to roll the dice on himself regardless of the circumstances. Certainly, his family might be struggling, and their house might be in a shambles, but if nothing else, he believes in himself even when no one else does.
Full credit to Zachary Quinto in his performance, particularly as the younger Charlie Manx interacting with Millie (Mattea Conforti), who follows along with every dream Charlie has, and the two of them spin up the idea of Christmasland together, partially to celebrate Millie’s birthday and partially to escape the drudgery of the real world. The more Charlie and Cassie (Celeste Arias) fight and struggle, the more elaborate Christmasland seems to become, until it’s the glittering, sterile wonderland Charlie dreams into existence. It’s beautiful and unchanging and lifeless, as much as Charlie is eternally unchanging and lifeless thanks to the bargain he made with whatever forces enable his vampirism.
It’s undoubtedly an attempt to make Charlie Manx a more sympathetic figure, and David Grimm tries his best to establish that in his script. Charlie clearly loves his daughter, even as he blows up at his wife. It’s established early that there’s something not quite right with Charlie, as his father-in-law declares, and Charlie’s never quite able to make his dreams into reality. The one step he makes to bring about his dream isn’t going out to get a real job, it’s to pawn his wife’s mother’s jewelry, which is the final straw that breaks the relationship. Charlie has dreams, but he’s also established as weak and selfish. Sure, he’s a great driver, but he keeps taking shortcuts (asking for a hand-out from his wife’s family, stealing the jewelry, and making sure he keeps custody of his daughter by killing the pair of them in the back seat of the Wraith). Rather than face up to his failures, it’s always someone else’s problem. Charlie’s pathetic, but never likable. Even his scenes with his daughter seem a bit too cloying.
He is trying too hard; compare the efforts of Charlie to the ease with which Bing (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) bonds with children, particularly in this episode. Charlie might have big dreams, and feed into the innate greed of children, but Bing actually connects with the foundlings and abuse victims that Charlie “saves” from the real world and enshrines in Christmasland. Charlie cajoles and bribes, but Bing actually connects with them, as he did once upon a time with Vic McQueen. For a smart kid like Wayne, Charlie’s act won’t especially help him. Wayne seems more drawn to Charlie’s darkness, rather than the allure of candy canes and a winter wonderland (or just curious about the mystery that has his mother all worked up).
Then again, all Charlie needs is an in, and he seems to be able to get kids into the back of his Wraith without directly grabbing them and tossing them inside. And if he can’t, Bing certainly can, with his many rhyming couplets about the appropriate behavior of children and what rewards come with that. Charlie Manx was dangerous before; now that he knows that the survival of Millie depends on his survival, he’ll be even more determined to get rid of Vic McQueen, one way or another.