“I’m gonna make sure this baby never, ever meets anyone like Charlie Manx.”
In general terms, “saved the best for last” is often a phrase of positive implications. Yet, that assumption is predicated on what came for it not putting an entity too far behind the eight-ball to make a difference. If the race to the end is littered with oily and uneven roads, where layers of detritus have been haphazardly neglected, that last gasp can only go so far in rectifying what came before it. This is an unfortunate reality for “Sleigh House” and “Gunbarrel”, the two-part season one finale of NOS4A2.
It starts off fast in “Sleight House”, the most consistent episode of the season. Craig pays Bing a visit, determined to make the man pay for what he did to Vic. But Craig’s anger blinds him and the unsophisticated plan of attack lands Craig in the hands of Bing and his employer, Charlie Manx. Despite his oafish behavior, Bing’s desperation to be worthy of entry into Christmasland brings Vic and Craig’s relationship to Manx’s attention. Manx can’t hide his disgust when Craig all but confirms the consummation of that relationship. To Manx, Vic has been sullied, and she is no longer worthy to become mother for all the orphans awaiting them at Christmasland. As horrible as he is, killing those he deems unworthy of children, Charlie Manx possesses a fascinating naiveté. It’s an almost a 1940’s or ‘50’s modesty to him, one that plays off like a darker mirror to that of Steve Rogers/Captain America. But where Rogers slowly finds he does have to adapt to the times, Manx holds dear to his warped sense of propriety…and what’s a little murder when you’re doing it for the kids?
When she realizes Manx has Craig, Vic heads to Sleigh House to rescue her lover, ignoring the Scrabble bag warnings that she’s not ready. Like Luke prematurely confronting Darth Vader, Vic is crippled when Manx tosses her bike into the bridge, cutting Vic off from her Strong Creative abilities. The separation from her Knife and Inscape is a painful blow but Vic has no time to process the loss as Manx sets to burn his own house to the ground and Vic along with it. What NOS4A2 has lacked in a tangible sense of tension and danger, “Sleigh House” makes up for in spades. Vic’s struggle to escape the blazing furnace real enough that, for a fleeting moment, I accepted she would die and Manx would win the day. Instead, like a true hero, Vic pulls on her inner strength and escapes the burning house…only to watch Manx drive away. Thanks to Lou Carmody (Jonathan Langdon, In Contempt, But I’m Chris Jericho!), Vic makes it into town and there discovers just how far she’s come in her fight to save Craig.
Whereas “Sleigh House” provided some much needed momentum to a story that has been rife with sloppy narrative, disorganized character arcs and, at times, amateur production values, “Gunbarrel” delivers a worthy capstone. Vic’s final confrontation with Charlie Manx at a gas station in Gunbarrel, Colorado emphasizes Vic’s calling as the hero of the story. In a heartbreaking moment, she sets fire to the Wraith, knowing that it’s the only way to stop him. But there is no victory without a corresponding sacrifice. For Vic, that sacrifice is watching the Wraith explodes with Craig trapped in the back. Ashleigh Cummings anguished screams that personifies Vic’s loss is a testament to her talents and, no matter the displeasure one may have with NOS4A2 as a whole, there is no denying has she’s carried so much of it on her shoulders.
But what’s a series without a bit of a cliffhanger? Though the Wraith is seemingly damaged beyond repair, it’s not completely destroyed. Thus, Manx is still alive, though only in the most basic of senses. Craig’s death is a profound change in Vic’s life, not only because she loved him—a prospect the series did not provide ample proof of existing—but she’s now pregnant with his child. Much like Maggie’s heartbreak has caused her to flee Iowa and settle in Haverhill, Vic’s traumas drive her from Haverhill. She doesn’t have a real plan, only knowing she has to protect her child from monsters like Charlie Manx. The declaration is to Lou—her newest friend—would have been an ideal way to end the season’s end but instead, we’re given what would have been a perfect post-credits scene when the braindead Manx, after an unknowing mechanic takes the first steps of restoring the Wraith, wakes long enough to proselytize to a woman he senses is neglecting her child. His sharp-toothed and wicked smile as he falls back into unconsciousness is a promise that his return is nigh.
For a show that started with such potential, it’s fair to say NOS4A2 failed to deliver and the quality in these last two episodes further highlights what could have been. “Sleigh House” and “Gunbarrel”, though not outstanding, are strong enough to erase some of the black marks left by too many underwhelming episodes of weeks past. Carmody’s late addition gives Vic another ally as she moves forward in life and inevitably has to face Manx once more in the recently announced Season Two. Will next season fall more in line with the book, where an older Vic fights to keep her child safe from the monstrous Manx. Whatever direction it goes, these two episodes have injected hope into my expectations going forward. It seems as if the creators have found their stride and will be ready to deliver a stronger, more consistent narrative.
Take Me Home, Country Road
- Though I had issues with some aspects of Vic’s story—primarily those dealing with Craig and her friends, the hero’s journey was handled quite well. From wanting nothing to do with this fight to getting back up after being knocked down, Vic McQueen is the embodiment of the hero. But victory comes at a cost, reminding us that sometimes, to do what’s right, we may lose what we love. Even with the solid arc, Ashleigh Cummings brought Vic McQueen to life, capturing my attention and emotionally investing myself in her journey. It’s because of her that, even in the show’s weaker moments, I still maintained an emotional interest in seeing it through to the end.
- Just as important as Manx still surviving, Bing Partridge is still out there, laying low. It’s scary to think that now, working at a dentist’s office with access to all manner of anesthetic gasses, if he’ll be preying upon the unsuspecting; or will he keep his hands clean, like a sleeper cell awaiting activation? But how will he stay out of sight? Maggie’s already set to use her Scrabble bag to help Detective Hutter bring him to justice.