TV Review: NOS4A2: The Gas Mask Man

“I know you don’t want to hear it, okay, but you can’t run from this.”

As Vic takes the step towards a better future and desperately trying to ignore her newfound abilities, Charlie Manx arrives in Haverhill, searching for Vic, the ‘Strong Creative’ that has the power to disrupt his Christmasland plans.

Right out the gate, “The Gas Mask Man” provides a snippet of Charlie Manx and how long he’s been roaming the land. Jolene July, a ‘Strong Creative’ now paralyzed and housed in a psyche ward for decades is visited by Manx as he hones in on the vibes of the newest ‘Strong Creative’ to show up on his radar. Jolene is a broken shell, diametrically opposite to the strong, vibrant person she used to be (as glimpsed in the picture on her nightstand). The timeline presented for Manx’s reign begs the question of just how many victims—both children and those trying to stop him—he’s left in his terrible wake. While he searches for the potential wrench in his plans, Manx also makes use of his time in Haverhill, finally putting Bing (Olafur Olafsson, The Widow, Hilda) to work by taking Haley Smith. Manx may not know this little girl is Vic’s friend but, from a narrative perspective, it’s that predictable plot development that will invariably draw the protagonist (Vic) from her reticence to be involved and into the fray with this unknown enemy.

Vic’s attempt to ignore her new abilities are thwarted when horrible images of Manx make their way into her head. (Photo Credit: Zach Dilgard/AMC)

For Vic McQueen, it’s more of the same. Three episodes in, much of NOS4A2 has been the crafting the complexities of Vic’s character. Her life in the small town of Haverhill is one she desperately wants to free herself of and her artistic abilities and the possibly getting into RISD for college is that way out. Unfortunately so much around her is doing its damnedest to prevent this escape.

Manx aside, Vic’s parents, while they both love her, are poor examples of stability or possessing traits necessary for success in a world much larger than Haverhill. Her story is one lived out so often; a talented person whose life, through no fault of their own, stutters to really take off. There are those able to pull away from the miserable cards dealt by such a chaotic early life but there are so many more that can’t find the way out, don’t have the impetus or support to claw towards that promise of a new life.

For one moment, after her visit to RISD (one where the horrible visions of Manx interrupt her day), Vic believes her lot is to be trapped in Haverhill, never able to make anything of her life. Thankfully she’s propped up by Willa and then Drew (Rarmian Newton, Rise, Tell Me a Story), the teen from the wealthier side of the tracks who himself is trying to break free of his own familial prison, albeit from a financial perspective, much nicer. Their words and Vic’s desperate desire for more pushes her to actions that, while they may hurt her parents, could be the spark she needs to be on her way. Thus, it’s a shame when Vic discovers that Haley’s missing and, when she finds the body of the little girl’s kitten, she knows that wishing something away doesn’t make it disappear.

Similar to the two previous episodes, “The Gas Mask Man” suffers from that same sense of tonal confusion. While that air of dread is consistently surrounding the story, there’s also the jarring nature of how some scenes are spliced together—particularly those involving Maggie—that has made NOS4A2 such a mixed bag. Thus far, Vic’s story has been the lodestone, preventing the series from spiraling out of control and into a wicked mess. Ashleigh Cummings continues to impress and even the dysfunctional relationship with her parents offer stability to the up-and-down narrative. Though NOS4A2 has been a decent show with nothing spectacular yet to occur, the underlying potential for the show to break out from its early doldrums is there and, with more than two-thirds of the season still left, I’m cautiously optimistic that these series will eventually hit its stride.

Take Me Home, Country Road

  • The episode lead-in where Manx visits the elderly Jolene is a great tease to the lengths of Manx’s reach through the years. We’re just scratching the surface of his character and though, as mentioned, Quinto’s performance has not been outstanding, like the series itself, the pieces are there for him to break out as we get more from Manx’s malevolent origins and sinister designs.
  • One of the big things about last week’s episode was Vic pushing back against Maggie’s premonitions of what Vic needed to do. Vic showcased the classic “I don’t want this” attitude of the reluctant hero, something she doubles down on in “The Gas Mask Man”. But as all reluctant heroes find, there is always something to draw them into the conflict. For Vic, it’s Haley’s abduction by Manx, one will force the young woman to confront the truth of her destiny and arresting (albeit temporarily) her plan to leave Haverhill as nothing more than a distant memory.
  • Though Vic’s drama is, for the most part, very well crafted, I’m not as sold on the “love triangle” drama between her, Drew, and Craig (Dalton Harrod, Second Act, TURN). In some ways, it seems like an afterthought as we’ve not gotten much interaction between Vic and the two guys. Though she showed Craig her Inscape in the series premiere (which was a big secret for her to reveal), there has yet to be a moment between the two that helps us understand their connection. At least with Drew, he’s the new guy in her life, thus doesn’t share any type of history. Still, what the story gives us between him and Vic is much more solid than between Vic and Craig. In a way, Vic and Drew are kindred spirits, trying to escape the future laid out for them by their parents. Her opening up to him on what she wants in life feels like an earned admission, unlike Vic confiding in Craig. They represent the two possibilities for Vic’s life: the past and present in Haverhill versus a much more alluring future out in the world. How the show cleans up this part of Vic’s life will go a long way in determining my reaction to if/when they fall victim to Manx’s wrath.