I reviewed the premiere episode of NOS4A2 way back at the beginning of June. It was titled “The Shorter Way,” and it gave the viewer a quick glimpse into what this series was going to be all about.
You don’t need me to tell you whether or not this show is something that will appeal to you. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and accept the existence of a world where magic works for some people and includes monsters of both the human and inhuman varieties, if you enjoy a story with a dreamlike, almost fairy-tale tonal quality that still manages to be grounded in working-class America, and if you don’t mind not having everything explained to you fully, then you may enjoy this series.
Also, if you’ve already read some of author Joe Hill’s stuff, and you enjoyed it, you’d probably like this adaptation of his novel as well.
If you haven’t read Joe Hill yet, but have enjoyed things written by Stephen King (Joe’s dad), Peter Straub, Bentley Little, Neil Gaiman or Dean Koontz, then chances are you’ll find something to like here as well. Hill has earned his place among the best horror-fantasy writers out there. And that’s no small praise.
I watched the first season of NOS4A2 without having read the novel beforehand. I understand that there are differences between the two, which didn’t sit well with some fans of the novel. I get that. I’m not immune to disappointment in adaptations of my favorite novels. Others have been upset because the title itself (a vanity plate of the chief antagonist’s 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith) reads like “Nosferatu” and seems to suggest that this is a novel about vampires. And it is—sort of. Certainly not your father’s (or Joe Hill’s father’s, for that matter) vampires, of the nocturnal, sleep by day in a coffin, turn into bats and hiss at crucifixes variety of vampires. Nor of the glittering, stalker boyfriend breed of YA novel vampires.
Charlie Manx (played with creepy panache by Zachary Quinto) preys on children and robs them of their lifeforce in a very stylized form of vampirism that involves his driving a vintage Rolls around while wearing chauffeur’s livery and growing more youthful as his young kidnap victims lose their own humanity. Manx is that creepy predator your mother always warned you about, offering candy to children to get them into his vehicle, which he uses to transport them to his own magical world of Christmasland.
There are insinuations throughout the season that it is the Rolls-Royce itself, the Wraith, that is in the driver’s seat, so to speak, controlling the once-human Manx. Damaging the car hurts Charlie, for instance. Plus, the car can do things on its own when Charlie isn’t in the literal driver’s seat. Much like a car we once knew named Christine.
Manx isn’t the only character in this story with magical powers, however. And like Sylar before him—on Heroes, when it was good—Manx needs these other powered individuals for some reason. Our chief protagonist is Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings), a working-class girl from Haverhill, Massachusetts, who might have stepped out of an early Springsteen song or even a Stephen King novel. Using her dirt bike, Vic is able to summon the Shorter Way bridge, which no longer exists in what is loosely termed reality in this series, to travel to distant places and find lost things . . . and people. Vic becomes friends with another powered individual, a medium named Maggie (Jahkara Smith) who has a connection to one of the children kidnapped by Manx. Her power includes using a magic bag of Scrabble tiles to answer questions Ouija-style.
While part of the story indeed plays out like a comic book—which makes sense because Joe Hill, as the creator of the comic-book series Locke & Key, definitely keeps a foot in that world—there is also some genuine drama unfolding here. Vic wants to escape from her workaday world and go to college to pursue art, but she’s always keenly aware that she exists in a different social class than some of her friends. Of course, there is a boy who is in love with Vic, even though he’s been seriously friend-zoned throughout much of the season. And there is on-going marital strife between Vic’s parents, beautifully portrayed by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (who was Micro on The Punisher) and Virginia Kull. The Boston-esque accents become a bit grating at times, but that’s something I could overlook in pursuit of good story.
Other characters get their dramatic arcs as well. Maggie gets injured and lapses into drug addiction, which is not a new problem for her. She also loses her personal support system when her sheriff friend is killed by Manx. A secondary character, a janitor at Vic’s school who is on friendly terms with her, emerges as a too-real villain in his own right, and he’s deadly with a nail gun.
NOS4A2 is getting a second season, I’ve heard. I liked the first enough to continue watching it, although I understand the criticisms leveled by some who didn’t like it as much as I did. While this series has its scary moments, it is much heavier on the fantasy-magical side than the horror. Charlie Manx, our Christmas-loving vampire character, often comes across as more of a supervillain than a boogeyman. Those of us who can accept a generous dose of magic with our reality (twisted though it may be) would have little problem with this. In fact, that’s a big part of what makes this show enjoyable for me. It is an adult fairy tale.
Firewater’s Sylar-Was-Always-a-Vampire Report Card: A
I kinda like the car, too.