This NOS4A2 review contains spoilers.
NOS4A2 Season 2 Episode 6
One of the smarter choices in “The Hourglass” is to lean on Maggie (Jahkara Smith), who has been underutilized this season. She was such a crucial part of the first season of NOS4A2, being Vic’s inroad to the world of the supernatural, and this season she’s mostly just been hanging around, afraid to use her bag of tiles due to the horrible side effects she suffers. That in and of itself is an important role—gifts have consequences—but it’s not the most exciting thing to be on television, and to see such a dynamic character sidelined is always disappointing. However, Maggie proves her worth in this episode, because of her willingness to put herself in danger for her friends and her gifts.
The only thing I remember about the Fullmetal Alchemist series is the repeated refrain regarding the law of equivalent exchange. To use a power means something of equal value must be given up. For Vic (Ashleigh Cummings) and Maggie, that seems to be their physical health, with Vic having debilitating headaches and fevers and Maggie progressing from stuttering to seizures. For Charlie (Zachary Quinto), it’s the lives of others, specifically children (and, one might argue, assistants, given that all of Charlie’s goons end up dead or possibly in jail). The Hourglass Man, aka Jonathan Beckett (Paul Schneider), shows Maggie a different way to get around the cost of her gift has chosen. However, there’s still a toll that must be paid.
The toll is more than just physical. One of the things Maggie and Hourglass discuss during their time at the hotel bar is that, for people like them, having a relationship with a normal person is difficult. They’re drawn to the power, but they fear it as well, to paraphrase one of the better lines in Loy A. Webb’s script. If nothing else, Hourglass is charming, and has a good ability to lure someone in with his words, as much as with his power, even if his power ends up being dangerous for everyone around him due to his ability to force people to do whatever he wants for the span of time in which the sands fall, and the fact that using his gift tends to be, as seen in the doctor in the cold opening and in the FBI agents previously, self-cleaning. To use a gift while mitigating the cost means either you hurt yourself, or you hurt someone else, which is an interesting moral dilemma (though it’s not the sort of dilemma that Maggie will wrestle with given her personality).
Hourglass has tried both, and when he catches Maggie trying to escape his hotel room with his stolen hourglass, his response should be unsurprising. He’s no stranger to violence, and he’s going to get the answer he’s seeking, one way or another. After the slow, ominous build-up between the two, with Jonathan showing shocking bursts of sudden violence when confronted with answers he does not like, it’s not a surprise that his scene with Maggie results in a violent brawl, but it is satisfying to watch it escalate slowly until the final blow-off, which is well shot by Hanelle Culpepper and puts across a lot of the desperation Hourglass feels at searching for, and being denied, the same sort of immortality that Charlie Manx has, while also allowing Maggie to demonstrate her scrappy, street kid roots. It’s an aggressive, relatively quick fight that doesn’t belabor the point, or completely negate the size and strength advantage Hourglass has over Maggie. She wins by fighting dirty, and she slinks away with newfound knowledge at great cost.
One of the interesting discussion topics between Maggie and Hourglass was the fact that normal people have a very hard time dealing with Strong Creatives, thanks to their gifts, and that’s shown pretty well in the episode’s B plot, involving Vic and her mother (mostly) coming to terms that Vic has an actual, literal gift. Even Chris (Ebon Moss-Barach) is able to come to Vic’s side on this issue, working hard to win Lin (Virginia Kull, who plays a solid no-nonsense mom) to trusting their daughter’s abilities. Or at least her belief that she has abilities, because threatening to have her put in a mental hospital for a second time wouldn’t give her much credibility with the FBI.
Of course, the FBI doesn’t really acquit itself well in this episode, either. Linda’s line to the FBI agent that the initials stand for Failed, Bad, and Incompetent is really funny, particularly in retrospect when the FBI field office director takes Tabitha off of the Bing Partridge case for being too close to it, not knowing that she’s the only reason any of them have gotten close to Bing in the past. And with her sidelined with a broken arm and Vic sidelined with a broken Triumph, no one’s going to be able to slow Charlie Manx down long enough to save Wayne McQueen except, perhaps, Wayne himself.