“We’re all magicians with different tricks. What’s yours?”
As Vic navigates her way through the strictures of her stay in a hospital psych ward, she discovers an ally in Jolene July, who offers up an important kernel of knowledge for Vic’s struggle against Manx and the sad reality that sometimes, people can’t be saved.
For the second time in three weeks, NOS4A2 beginnings are set in the past. This time it’s to the 50s where Jolene July’s relationship with Charlie Manx is briefly explored. The discovery that the two were an item all those years ago was the biggest surprise of the episode and, for a few moments, threw a bit of smoke around Manx’s origins. But the key to this flashback was Jolene’s rejection of Charlie after discovering his lies regarding the children he was purportedly saving. Her own Strong Creative ability to travel to a place by a sort of astral projection told her that much and, after turning down his marriage proposal, she narrowly escapes being run down by Charlie and his homicidal Wraith.
Jolene’s escape bleeds into the present and Vic’s experience in the psych ward. Once again, the cinematography establishes an off-putting disorientation for the viewer that parallels Vic’s own frustration and bewilderment.
Vic’s stay and psych evaluation is a major stumbling for her character but, like most setbacks a hero has, Vic’s experience in “The Dark Tunnels” is vital to her journey. Coincidental rooming with Jolene aside, the interaction between the young and old Strong Creatives makes this episode.
Off her drug regimen, the once-invalid Jolene becomes a spry, almost joyful version of herself, free from the constraints of the hospital’s watchful eye. Though she temporarily arrests Manx’s plan, Jolene’s greatest contribution is reinforcing Vic’s conviction to fight this old evil, even though the children already taken by Manx have no hope of being rescued. Too often the motivating factor for a hero is to save a person they care for when, in fact, a greater aspect of heroism is standing up to a force like Manx is about putting it on the line for those not yet affected by the crosshairs of that specific evil.
Unfortunately, after her near-death experience, Maggie doesn’t quite share Vic’s new sense of purpose. She’s understandably shook, with bruises covering her body and a surgically-repaired knee, Maggie rejects this fruitless fight, even discarding her Scrabble bag as she sets to return to Here, Iowa. Couple this with the fact that Jolene takes her final breath in the dark tunnels and Vic is well and truly alone. Manx may have been waylaid due to Jolene’s attack on the Wraith but, sooner or later, Vic will have to face him with no one at her back.
The first step past the halfway point of the series, “The Dark Tunnels” offers not only a greater insight into the antagonist but it also the fact that others have tried and failed to stop him. Vic has officially accepted the mantle of hero though she also finds herself alone. With only four episodes remaining, Vic is by no means out of the woods as it pertains to stumbling blocks, but she’s overcome the biggest one yet—finding the will to face the unknown.
Take Me Home, Country Road
- There is nothing that tests someone’s convictions more than facing their own mortality. From day one, Maggie’s been the sole person who was seemingly all-in on tracking Manx down and saving Danny. After her ordeal, one that included seeing Danny’s monstrous visage, she’s cashing out while she still can. Though this plays more like a roadblock Maggie has to plow through in order to get back on the hero’s path, the truth is that sometimes being derailed so thoroughly puts someone in the doldrums where they just can’t get back on that original path.
- Jolene’s arc was an extremely versatile narrative. Not only do we get more information on Manx, Jolene is a two-sided example that good does not always win and, despite being down for the count, you’re not necessarily out of the fight. Old, weary, and alone, Jolene does finally bow out but not before imparting nuggets of wisdom and strength to the next generation set to face the nightmarish antagonist. “My fight’s long over,” she tells Vic, “but I couldn’t rest until I knew someone could pick up the fight”. She knows Vic has the potential to end Manx and, before dying, Jolene gives the young woman the key to defeating Manx and, more importantly, the faith in herself that she can.
- Based on Jolene’s mural to the children taken by Manx, there’s no saving them once they succumb. As morbid as it may sound, I hope they stick to this and Vic doesn’t find a way to save Haley, Danny, and the others. From the start, NOS4A2 has always had this sobering and morose tone, one that highlights the dark reality of life. “The Dark Tunnels” reinforces this idea, presenting Jolene as someone who failed against that darkness. Bringing back all the lost children would, in some ways, cheapen the lesson that sometimes when a person is taken by the monster in the shadows, there’s no getting them back; all we can do is stand up for the next person. With no hope of saving Haley, Vic finally understands it’s bigger than her; walking back what seems to be a cemented fate for Manx’s victims would give NOS4A2 a happy ending at odds with the tone the series has firmly established.