NOS4A2 is based on the 2013 novel by Joe Hill. Follow me through the first 6 episodes (after they individually drop on AMC, please) as we walk through what we’re watching, how it matters and what could happen next.
I’m not going to spend too much time comparing the book with the adaptation because that nonsense is unnecessary. There are SPOILERS because, this is, after all, a RECAP, so, with that in mind, let’s get started.
NOS4A2 S01E01: The Shorter Way
Review: this episode is all over the map and I blame the editing, so I’m doing my recap in the way that makes the most sense, by main settings and by character.
Vic McQueen is helping her mother Linda (Virginia Kull) clean houses during the summer before her senior year. Vic wants to go to art college and absolutely has the ability but there’s no money, and Linda doesn’t want her to get her hopes up because ain’t no one paying for it. Instead, Linda encourages Vic to stay with her and go into the house cleaning business.
Vic’s parents simply don’t get along, are fighting about a missing credit card and his drinking. Vic takes off on her motorcycle and ends up at a covered bridge. Inside in neon spray paint is “WILLA’S.” She hears a piercing noise and feels a sharp pain in her left eye. Back home, Chris nursing his hand in a cooler of ice takes her to art class because he says he doesn’t know where Linda is. In art class, her teacher sees her bridge drawings in progress and says it reminds her of a bridge that was demoed 15-years prior. Vic wonders if there could be another decrepit covered bridge, but there was only one Shorter Way.
Later at Aunt Carrie’s burger bar in Lake Winnipesaukee, when the subject of Vic’s college aspirations comes up again, it’s shot down definitively by Linda. Vic decides to head to Willa’s family’s lake house to watch the fireworks. She’s handed her mother’s credit card by Angela Brewster, Willa’s mother (Karen Pittman). Angela also offers domestic help to her and Linda, but Vic angrily brushes her off. In meeting Willa’s private school friends, Vic experiences the great divide that comes from the rich summer people and the blue-collar Haverhill townies, trading barbs with cute kid Drew (Rarmian Newton). She makes a connection with him, but gets tired of defending her family and her town and walks back to the motel. A less lavish party scene pays out in the parking lot, with people drinking beer around an open fire. Her mother sports a huge bruise on her face where Chris hit her earlier.
The next day, Linda and Craig are having yet another explosive argument, this time over a watch he lost at the lake. Vic, tired of the arguing, takes off on her bike again and finds herself at the presumably Shorter Way Bridge with her parents arguing voices once again in her head. The neon writing on the wall now says AUNT CARRIE’S. There is a high pitched whine and bats and static surround her as she emerges on the other side. Her eye is red and bloodshot and she’s dizzy. The dishwasher (David Charland) hands her her father’s watch, and outside, the Shorter Way Bridge is visible to everyone. She mounts her boke and heads back through. On the other side in Haverhill she turns around and the bridge is gone, leaving her with a massive headache and hemorrhaging in her left eye, She makes it as far as neighbor Haley Smith’s (Darby Camp) place before collapsing with visions of a gas mask, Scrabble tiles that spell The Wraith, a stack of library books, and ancient Charlie Manx. When she wakes up, she’s home, in bed with a fever and her mother telling her Chris has left and he wants nothing to do with either of them. Vic won’t accept it so she hops on her bike again, and with her father firmly in her mind, takes The Shorter Way once, and whose neon pain now reads TIFFANY’S. On the other side is a cabin in the woods where her father is drinking and embracing a younger woman who can only be Tiffany.
Basically: Vic McQueen is a miserable teen and strong creative who discovers a supernatural ability to find lost things by way of her motorcycle and a bridge that no longer exists. The price for using that ability is likely brain damage.
Maggie Leigh (Jahkara Smith – yes, that’s Sailor J of the viral contouring video) comes across the crime scene that is a missing child, Daniel Moore’s mom and Not Dad. She has purple streaks in her hair and Scrabble tile earrings in an F and U. She knows Daniel and is instantly worried, but is told the police are handling it. At the library, she reaches for a bright purple bag of Scrabble tiles and asks “where’s Daniel?” She reaches into the bag, her arm disappearing well past where the bag would end and as the lights flicker she pulls a handful of tiles that spell THE WRAITH. She talks Sheriff Bly (Chris McKinney) into giving her information about the crime scene and the body of Peter Ives (Michael Maize), a Florida nurse practitioner who was wanted in connection to lots of disappearances. Bly is unconvinced that Maggie can help and would rather stick with old fashioned police work. Back at the library, she asks her tiles how she can find the Wraith and they tell her THE BRAT, the nickname Vic’s father gave her.
Basically: Maggie is our quirky older friend who is a thousand miles away yet has a strong connection to The Wraith and Vic. She is well aware of her abilities to vaguely find things using her bag of Scrabble tiles and uses them to limited success. That’s literally all we know about her.
Here, Iowa/The Road to Christmasland
Young Daniel Moore (Asher Miles Fallica) is awakened by the enthusiastic sounds of his mother and her boyfriend. He desperately wants to crawl into bed with her, but since it’s otherwise occupied, she shoos him back to his own room. Daniel is abducted by old man Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto) when he’s lured into a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith with the license plate (NOS4A2) filled with wrapped presents and the sounds of Christmas music. He watches as his mother is murdered by Peter Ives on their front lawn and Charlie tells him that his mother doesn’t care about him but they’re going to Christmasland where being sad and lonely is against the law.
Finally, there’s Charlie Manx driving Daniel in the back of his car to Christmasland. He was accompanied by Mr. Ives but since Ives left bodies and syringes has already, Manx no longer had a use for him and dumped him in a cornfield. Daniel has started to cine around to the idea of Christmasland and look pale and wan. Manx, by comparison, is looking a little more lively for a man who’s been driving non-stop. Later as he rests in what could be a barn or garage, he has visions of Vic and he pulls out his map. Along the northern seaboard, there are dots which mark The Empty Forest, Pennywise Circus, Lovecraft Keyhole, and a new dot appears, The Shorter Way Bridge. Daniel wakes up in the back seat and he has deep black lines along his face and neck, his lips are chapped. Sometime later when he wakes again, the ground is covered in snow and despite it being July, it’s snowing. They are very near Christmasland and Daniel feels a whole lot better about his situation, even if his eyes are sunken and his teeth are sharp black points. Manx, on the other hand, is looking younger than ever he tells Daniel that there are only rides and fun in Christmasland, and his new friends will teach him a new game called “Scissors for the Drifter.” At the end of this episode, we see Bing Partridge (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), a janitor at Vic’s school, sitting on the floor in his underwear, flipping through a comic book she’s loaned him. There’s an ad in the back asking if he believes in Christmasland. We can all bet he probably does since Manx is down one henchman.
Basically: Charlie Manx is a sort of psychic vampire who leeches the essence from lonely children and takes them to a snowy place he calls Christmasland. We haven’t been there yet, but it looks cold.
Fun Easter Eggs:
On Manx’s map we see Pennywise Circus near what is probably Derry, Maine, no doubt a nod to Stephen King’s IT (King is Hill’s dad, but I don’t have to tell you, that), Lovecraft Keyhole, near what is probably Providence, RI, home of HP Lovecraft, and the Treehouse of the Mind, which is a callback to one of Hill’s own novels, Horns (published by William Morrow, 2010). I don’t have a reference to The Empty Forest, but if you know, I’d love to hear it.
This is a very slow start to a very dense story. Sure, we’re introduced to all of the main characters, but it really isn’t until the last 15 minutes that we start to see what we’re getting into. It’s a lot of family drama and very little tension has to do with the mysterious Manx and Vic’s bridge. It’s a long way to go to become vested in the next 9 episodes. I know this is the first episode but it’s all over the map, and I blame the editing. We don’t spend any more than a few minutes on bits and pieces and overall, I think it could have been cut to be more streamlined and coherent.
We’ve met Vic, her bridge and her dysfunctional parents. We’ve met Charlie Manx and his creepy car. We’ve met Maggie and her tiles. We’ve met the ancillary characters in both Haverhill, MA and Here, IA and they all seem like fun, quirky outsiders but they’re just images on a screen we haven’t yet connected with. Ashleigh Cummings is great as disaffected Vic, trying to get out of her dumpy town and find out what she’s missing. Zachary Quinto always gives great villain and Manx is sympathetic enough to his victims, only wanting to give them the all of the fun playing Scissors with Drifters can offer, even if it means sucking out their souls through the Wraith. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Joe Hill’s novel and I don’t remember what nightmare Scissors with Drifters was, but I’m almost willing to wait to find out. Jahkarta Smith is Maggie Leigh, a strong creative with her own inscape (the Scrabble tiles), but other than her funky purply fashion sense, we probably could have waited until the second episode to meet her.
I don’t like giving passes to premiere episodes, especially on premium channels, just because they have a lot of information to divest in a short amount of time. NOS4A2 put a bunch of people on screen and gave them very little of a compelling nature to do. Had it been me (and I’ll never be a showrunner, but I’m writing this and you’re not) , I think I would have focused solely on Vic and her bridge and how it impacts her life with brief run-ins with Manx before giving us Maggie, Bing, and basically everything else. We don’t have anyone to root for and not a huge reason to tune in next week.
I’ll admit, I struggled through watching Episode One because I just couldn’t see it finding it’s legs in 55 minutes. This season of NOS4A2 only runs 10 episodes, but unless we start picking up the pace, I can’t see a compelling reason for Season 2.
NOS4A2 premiers on AMC June 2, 2019 at 10:05pm, and subsequent episodes air on Sunday nights. Parental advisories may include child abduction, demonic child transformation, off-screen sexy times, murder by syringe, murder by ruck and roll, eye trauma, and implied domestic violence.
Did you see tonight’s episode? let me know what you thought, and I’ll see you next week!