Season 1: Episode 3

THE GAS MASK MAN

Don’t beat yourself up too much, Vic McQueen. Even if you listened to Maggie Leigh, you might not have been able to save Haley. That Charlie Manx is a cruel old fox and you’re just starting out. Others have faced him and failed, and you might well have done no better. But we’ll never know for sure, will we? The good news is, Haley won’t be needing a cat-sitter while she’s off in Christmasland.

Oh, and hey: who the hell is the silver-haired lady with the roller skates??? Fans of the novel will instantly recognize her as… a complete stranger, because she isn’t in the book. Jolene skated into this story from a corner of the NOS4A2 universe I never explored in the novel. Tell you something else: we haven’t seen the last of her. She may have more to tell us about Charlie Manx. It’s just possible she’s in on a few of his secrets. Remember: Vic and Maggie and Charlie aren’t the only folks with unique powers. There are others.

photo credit: AMC Network Entertainment
Zachary Quinto as Charlie Manx, Judith Roberts as Jolene July; Season 1, Episode 3;
Photo Credit: Dana Starbard/AMC

For me, the highlight of the episode is that bit where Vic and Drew Butler visit the Rhode Island School of Design. You don’t need to be a genius to see that NOS4A2 is all about escape. Vic’s bridge is a broad metaphor for the way your imagination can take you away from a humdrum existence and on to something better. I have this notion that people need to escape their everyday lives almost as badly as they need food or drink. It’s very close to a basic need. And Vic yearns for a way out even more than most of us: she has so much she wants to leave behind.

With that in mind, I dug when Vic arrived at RISD and for one bright, glittering moment, she was allowed a glimpse of a happier future, one that might be attained without supernatural powers. All that’s required is a smidge of talent and a lot of passion. Some people like stories where the heroes are sullied, remorseless hard-asses, but not me. I think good horror is about empathy, not brutality, and works best when we have some heroes we can cheer for and admire. We want RISD for Vic. We want all the best for her; which means we’re also ready to stick with her while she faces the worst. (Or so goes my theory)

Course you know how it goes when you’re the hero in a horror story… don’t get your hopes too high for four peaceful years of study at RISD, Vic. If you wanted lasting happiness, you should’ve got a show on some other channel. Turns out Art School is going to be almost as hard to reach as Christmasland, and all the things Vic is running from—her toxic home life, her impossible powers, her responsibility to use her gifts to stop Charlie Manx—can’t be fled. When a financial aid officer gently encourages Vic to acknowledge she comes from an abusive home, the whole RISD daydream smashes like a dropped vase. She can’t do it, and anyone who’s had even a taste of codependency gets why… the rules of love and loyalty forbid telling on the people who hurt you. Our heroine reels away, overcome by another raggedy vision of Charlie Manx. Vic staggering into traffic while she’s assaulted by psychic flashes was, for me, a powerhouse of a moment. It’s not in the book, but I wish it was.

One other thing I noticed about the show, an aspect I’m only just picking up on, even though I’ve seen each episode a good 5+ times. In the last newsletter, I mentioned how I love seeing Vic and Maggie together; they create a Butch-and-Sundance crackle of energy. It strikes me now, though, that the show is full of these vital duos. Charlie and Bing are the Laurel and Hardy of murder, a pair of obscene and vile killer clowns. Chris McQueen and Linda McQueen are another matched set. Think of them as the salt and the pepper—or the bullet and the gun.

Maybe that’s a functional thing: characters come alive when they have a foil, someone to verbally spar with. I am reminded of a favorite quote, the playwright Tony Kushner’s remark that “the smallest individual unit is two people, not one; one is a fiction.” It is for sure harder to make drama with only one person standing on stage. One person is a flint with no steel to create a spark. Put some of our favorite pairs together, though, and you can set fires.

Vic and Manx are a duo, too. He’s Christmas forever and she’s the fourth of July. He wants to put her on ice and pretty soon she’ll be looking to light his ass up by the rocket’s red glare. She better take care, though. Vic ain’t the first lady to risk getting on Charlie’s naughty list: just ask Jolene.

ASK4U2
Fan Special
Calling this week’s ASK4U2 feature a “fan special” is the cute way of admitting I fell behind and didn’t complete the usual planned cast/crew interrogation. My bad. I’ll make it up to you next week with a two-for-one deal… we’ll be talking with Virginia Kull (aka Linda McQueen) and Ebon Moss-Bachrach (aka Chris McQueen) together for a Mom & Dad special! These guys obviously need a marriage counselor. Unfortunately, they got me instead!

In place of the usual Q&A with one of the creative minds behind NOS4A2, I thought I’d open it up to a few questions from the peanut gallery. I spread the word on Twitter that I’d be glad to answer any of your questions about the book, the show, or the comic book WRAITH (which expands on Charlie’s story). It’s my great pleasure to answer all your questions about the knotty themes, psychological underpinnings, and delicate craft that went into creating this one-of-a-kind TV event. With that in mind, let’s get right to it!

*checks Twitter*

Um, no, that’s not really… I was thinking we’d talk about, y’know, other…

… sigh.

While I’m always happy to sign people’s mint editions of NOS4A2, there’s a special pleasure in being asked to scribble in one that’s been well-loved: broken spine, torn cover, pages falling out. Collectors of course have a whole language of ruin to describe books that have fallen from grace in this way. A paperback with a lot of fissures in the spine is creased; creases that have deepened into holes are cracked; spines that have suffered the very worst may even be cocked.

I’m not sure that any of these terms really cover what you’re talking about, though. Perhaps for some books we should employ the German word Stretcheleinheit, which means, roughly, “caressed.”

Oh my God, what kind of sick f&#@$ would show something like “Scissors for the Drifter” in a TV show! I can only hope we’re never subjected to such a thing. Don’t you think we have any standards at all???

I would argue that we already have—that the first episode of NOS4A2 in many ways adapts some material from the first issue of WRAITH. That said: yes, certainly, some little bits of WRAITH can be found here and there throughout Season One. If we’re lucky enough to score a Season Two, we may have even more.

Three sources:

As a child, I was haunted by Pleasure Island in Pinocchio, a place where little boys go to smoke cigars and drink and curse and gamble and make animals of themselves. Only, of course, in the process they are transformed into actual animals, gradually metamorphosing into braying jackasses (ha ha, good one, Walt). In many ways, Christmasland is no different.

The place also has a source in Animal Farm. After Boxer the workhorse is worn out and broken down, the pigs ship him off to the glue factory for a few bucks… but they tell the other animals that their good friend Boxer has retired to a place of ease and happiness, which they call Big Rock Candy Mountain (if memory serves—I may be wrong). I remember reading that and feeling a little shiver of macabre satisfaction: I took a perverse pleasure in such a sweet and innocent euphemism for the grave. Big Rock Candy Mountain even appears on the border of Christmasland in the book.

Finally, I read a poem, “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” which also may be decoded as a sugar-sweet (and very chilly) euphemism for death.

Charlie is serving something as sweet as ice cream to the children he takes west. The only price tag for eternal happiness are their souls.

I feel you—this jacket is the secret scene stealing guest star of every episode. Isn’t it?

I can’t answer this question today, but in the week to come I’ll speak with our brilliant costume designer, Sonu Mishra. I may be able to tell you more about this jacket when we all reconvene next week to talk about episode four: a dark, disturbing thriller of a chapter titled “The House of Sleep.” See you then.

Author Joe Hill; photo credit: Gillian Redfearn
Author Joe Hill; photo credit: Gillian Redfearn