NOS4A2 Season 2: Jami O’Brien On Humanizing Charlie Manx

NOS4A2 showrunner Jami O'Brien talks sympathy for Charlie Manx and the consequences of being a Strong Creative in season 2.

NOS4A2 Season 2 Charlie Manx
Photo: Zach Dilgard | AMC

The following contains spoilers for NOS4A2 season 2 episode 7.

Despite having significant experience in the world of television, NOS4A2 showrunner Jami O’Brien, like the rest of us, isn’t quite sure where the industry is going to go. She’s as in the dark as anyone during the time of COVID-19 and a growing rift between online streaming services and traditional cable and broadcast television. However, rather than being intimidated, she’s game for the challenge. 

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“Every day it changes and I think it’s still changing. It may change again into something that we have no idea about, you know what I mean? But all that said, I mean any opportunity to make something, I embrace,” O’Brien told Den of Geek during a San Diego Comic-Con At Home interview.

That game-for-anything mentality is certainly on display when considering her accomplishments as a writer and producer on cult favorites like Flesh and Bone, Hell on Wheels, Big Love, Da Vinci’s Demons, and Fear The Walking Dead. That experience behind the camera and in the writer’s room undoubtedly comes in handy as the executive producer and series creator charged with adapting Joe Hill’s best-selling book NOS4A2 for AMC. We spoke with O’Brien about creating short-form content for the internet, the darkness at the heart of Charlie Manx, the larger world of NOS4A2, and the cost associated with powers beyond those of ordinary humans.

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Den of Geek: There seems to be a trend, particularly among AMC shows to have content related to the main series released digitally. In the case of NOS4A2, there was the web series. Do you feel that that flexibility and the blurring of lines between digital content and network content is kind of a way forward for television?

Jami O’Brien: Oh, what a great question. I don’t know the answer. I will say this about it, I enjoyed “Ghost,” which was our digital short that we made during season one and I think that it’s a fantastic short in its own right. And I do think that it supports the show in a great way in terms of like, “what’s going to happen next with TV?” I feel like I’m always behind on that. Every day it changes and I think it’s still changing and it may be, or it may change again into something that we have no idea about, you know what I mean? But all that said, I mean, any opportunity to make something, I embrace. So however it winds up shaken out, I’m here for it.

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Do you have any other sort of side stories or other stories set in the NOS4A2 universe that might make a good web series? Possibly something more with Tom Savini? Because I got a real kick out of that cameo.

Oh, thank you. Yeah, he’s a lot of fun. You know, there have been a lot of ideas bandied about, Joe Hill specifically has a bunch of ideas for various shorts. We didn’t have the opportunity to make one while we were shooting season two and then, unfortunately, we got shut down like everybody because of the pandemic. So fans will not be treated to another digital short this season, but, if we get more seasons, I think that there’s a lot of excitement about different ways to kind of enhance the world in the same way that we did with “Ghost.”

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The first season of the show was mostly about discovering the world that Vic finds herself in, with Inscapes and Strong Creatives and the gifts that she, Maggie, and Charlie all have. The second season seems to dig harder into the consequences of these gifts, and the toll that they take on the user. Was that deliberate to set up what these, essentially super powers are, and then start to kind of yank the rug out from under the characters in certain ways?

Yeah. I mean Maggie says to Vic in episode two of season one, that every gift comes with a cost and when we meet Vic and Maggie, they haven’t been at it that long yet. Though we see Vic’s eye gets red, Vic’s eye sometimes bleeds, we see the bats leaving the bridge, and we have a suspicion that that has something to do with Vic’s state of mind. She hasn’t really suffered the deep consequences of it, at least as far as we know from using her gifts in season one.

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But when we come back in season two, we see that there has been psychological damage to Vic, which is… that has a number of causes truthfully. One is her encounter with Charlie Manx, another is just her childhood wounds from her family of origin. But I think an argument could be made that it’s also from using her bridge. That takes a toll on Vic’s psyche. And of course when we come back, Maggie, who had been using her bag, her Scrabble bag with Tabitha in the eight years since last we saw them, initially at least to try to track down Bing Partridge. We see that the consequence of her continuing to use her gift has actually made it so much worse that she’s reluctant to use it. The stuttering has kind of moved on to seizures, full-blown seizures. And that was always our intention that we would eventually see the costs of using these powers on our characters.

A lot of the second season seems to be focused on Vic’s PTSD regarding dealing with Charlie Manx, but also we really dig more into the origin of Charlie Manx, who he is, what he’s all about. Does that kind of change the way you approach the show from a creative standpoint?

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We always knew that we were going to tell those stories about Charlie Manx and our plan was always to tell them in season two, if we were lucky enough to get a season two. I’m really glad that we were because I find them compelling and so I’m glad we got to tell that story. In terms of does it change our approach to Manx? The answer is kind of.  It’s funny, last season, some of the feedback that I was hearing from fans on the show was this debate about whether or not Charlie was really bad, or if what he was saying was true, that he’s saving kids in bad situations. And I felt like there were a lot of folks who were believing Charlie’s story about himself, which is great, but I thought it was important to give another point of view on that story and really interrogate. He says he’s doing this all for the kids. Is that true? You know, I think that if you ask Zach Quinto that question, he would say yes, but I’m not so sure. I don’t know that I trust Charlie as much as Zach does. Charlie believes his own press, but I’m not sure I do, if that makes sense.

You said that there are some people who want to root for Charlie and kind of lean towards him. Some of the revelations that we see about his childhood, about his life, are definitely the kind of things that would make him more of a sympathetic character. So do you find it difficult to strike that balance between giving him a greater third dimension, more humanization, but not making him so sympathetic that those people who are on the fence towards him just become full-on Charlie Manx fans?

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I don’t think that Charlie came from nowhere. He comes by his wounds honestly. Charlie had a rough childhood. So did Vic McQueen. They turned out to be very different people. Fundamentally Vic, though she is flawed, is a selfless person in a lot of ways. She is a courageous person, she is a big hearted generous person, and Charlie, his reaction to kind of his rough childhood, as traumatic as it was, was the opposite. It didn’t make him a bigger person. It made him a kind of more greedy, stingy, grasping vampire person.

And that’s interesting. You know, it’s in episode two of season two, we see a portion of his origin story. We don’t go all the way back to him as a child, which we do later in the story, but we see him with his wife and his child. And you know, to me that moment when he goes to Christmasland for the first time in the Wraith with Cassie and Millie, that he’s not expecting to go to Christmasland, his intention is to drive off a cliff for lack of a better term. It is a murderous impulse. So I think that that speaks to a darkness that is within Charlie that is not within Vic.