AMC’s Joe Hill adaptation NOS4A2 wrapped up its second season last night. After bringing the epic conflict between TV’s oddest vampire and the motorcycle-riding young mom who’s trying to end his reign of terror to surreal heights in its second-to-last episode, the finale felt like a giant exhale...for the most part.
Throughout season two, NOS4A2 has shifted its focus away from its troubled hero, Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings), and onto its even more troubled villain, Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto). We got a full-on backstory, showing us Manx in his pre-vampire days, growing up in the brothel where his mother worked. There, he started to cultivate his hatred of women; he also naively began working as a procurer for the town pedophile (as it happens, young Manx ends up killing them both).
We also met Manx’s wife, Cassie (Celeste Arias), who he grows to loathe because he thinks she doesn’t support his dream of starting a chauffeur business. (She doesn’t, but that’s mostly because she thinks Manx is prioritizing his ambitions over his family’s day-to-day survival.) She dies circa the late 1930s, which is also when Manx transforms their young daughter, Millie (Mattea Conforti), into a mini-vampire who’ll stay frozen in childhood forever.
All this gives more than enough insight into Manx’s motivations, as well as the terrifying rage that’s always bubbling just below his overly formal mannerisms. That NOS4A2 wanted to expose Manx’s inner layers makes sense; not only is he the title character, but there’s also so much about him that feels wildly random without context. Why is he obsessed with Christmas? Millie was born on December 25. Why the twisted need to “save” the kids he kidnaps? He’s trying to make up for aiding a child molester. Why does he have a fancy-ass Rolls-Royce Wraith? Well, it was to be the flagship car in that business that never quite got off the ground.
Thanks to season one, we already know all about Vic McQueen and a fair amount about her BFF, Maggie (Jahkara J. Smith, who brings some much-needed brightness to the show’s perpetual gloom), so it makes sense for Charlie to get his due. And Quinto is able to make his fantastical character feel believable in all his guises, including those involving a ton of old-age make-up when Manx’s powers are at their weakest. But all that focus on character-building, not to mention all those flashbacks, robbed NOS4A2's second season of some of its forward momentum.
While season one was all about a teenaged Vic discovering her powers—along with her entry into the strange world that brought her into contact with Manx in the first place—season two has rarely felt as exciting or urgent. It’s also been obvious from the jump that season two’s thrust would be “Manx kidnaps Vic’s kid,” building toward a showdown inside Christmasland, the holiday-themed psychic creation where Manx hides his stolen children.
Season two’s curveballs, if you can call them that, come courtesy of the kids at the center of the Vic-Manx power struggle: Vic’s son Wayne (Jason David), and Millie Manx. NOS4A2 has shown us several children being snatched up by the villain and his assistant, Bing (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, whose ability to make such a monstrous character sympathetic is pretty astonishing), and we see how Manx “feeds” on the essence of the young souls once they’re ensconced in his Wraith. But it’s not until Wayne is captured that we really see how the transformation affects Manx’s victims, beyond their sudden sprouting of pointy monster teeth. There’s a mind-control element that turns vulnerable kids against their parents, which Vic finds out the hard way when she and Maggie charge into Christmasland to rescue a boy who stubbornly doesn’t want to be rescued.
Meanwhile—amid her growing suspicions that Christmasland is more prison than playland—Millie reunites with her own long-lost mother, who pops up as a ghost to remind her daughter of the life she left behind. It’s a startling enough encounter that Millie’s inspired to slip through Christmasland’s borders and enter the real world at the end of episode nine. Finale spoilers below, so stop reading if you haven’t watched season two’s tenth episode, “Bats.”
Christmasland is gone—blown up by Vic and Maggie’s strategically placed array of bombs after Vic manages to rescue Wayne and free the other kids. Charlie Manx is gone—killed when Vic makes his Wraith crash through the magical bridge she uses to get around, then cremated when his body washes up in the real world. You know he ain’t coming back from that, especially when we see his Wraith being crushed to bits in a junkyard.
What remains, however, is the trauma. When the scene flashes to “one month later,” we see Wayne still hasn’t fully recovered from his time under Manx’s spell; neither has Vic, for that matter. But we do see that the family—with the help of the steadfast Lou (Jonathan Langdon)—is starting to figure out the healing process. Not so lucky is little Millie Manx, whose eagerness to break into the world beyond Christmasland apparently evaporated as soon as she escaped. Not only is she reluctant to break the special ornament that’ll release her soul and restore her to “real girl” status, she’s determined to rebuild Christmasland, though it’s unclear if she has inherited her father’s ability to do that.
What is perfectly clear, however, is that her turn toward redemption earlier in the season was just a temporary thing; now that she’s prowling around the ruins of Christmasland, she’s taken to feeding on any human who dares get too close. Well, a ghoul’s gotta eat, right?
AMC hasn’t yet announced anything about bringing NOS4A2 back for a third season, but the finale does leave one obvious place for the story to pick up: with Maggie. After her relationship with Tabitha (Ashley Romans) ends, mostly because the down-to-earth FBI agent would prefer not to have a girlfriend who’s a magical risk-taker by nature, Maggie decides to fully embrace her supernatural gifts. She’s been through a load of shit over the last two seasons—she’s been beat up, run over, stabbed, and worst of all, treated as a second-banana character—but it hasn’t stopped her from being curious about what other hidden realms are out there for her to explore.
Last we see of her, she’s excitedly taking an enchanted elevator to somewhere called the “World of Thought.” If NOS4A2 decides to keep going, it should leave vampires, motorcycles, and anything pertaining to Christmas behind, and absolutely follow Maggie instead.
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