overnights

NOS4A2 Recap: Art School Confidential

NOS4A2

The Gas Mask Man
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****

NOS4A2

The Gas Mask Man
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Zach Dilgard/AMC

Vic McQueen has spent the first few episodes of NOS4A2 being batted from person to person, with everybody expressing an opinion on what she should actually be doing. Her mother thinks she should either go to a trade school or settle for cleaning houses. Angela Brewster thinks she should go to a women’s shelter. And Maggie Leigh thinks she should drop everything and chase down the Wraith. (To be fair, that’s what her magical Scrabble tiles seem to be arguing, too.)

So it’s particularly significant that, in this week’s episode, Vic makes an unmistakable step toward exactly what she wants to do next. Since the beginning of the series, Vic has slowly been circling an art degree from RISD, a dream that seems utterly unreachable without some generous financial aid. This week, she forges her father’s signature on a document that could get her some much-needed resources — but could just as easily reveal her father as a tax cheat.

It’s the most active choice we’ve seen our protagonist make to date, and a hopeful sign that NOS4A2 might be ready to inject her story with a little more agency (especially since she’s sticking it, however unintentionally, to her abusive deadbeat dad). And it comes after a whirlwind trip to tour the RISD campus, where Vic does her best to pretend she’s a normal teenager who can’t just teleport anywhere on a magic bridge.

Like every part of NOS4A2 pegged to Vic’s social life, this story is dragged down by the sheer blandness of the teens around her. Her best friend, Willa, is both obnoxious and insensitive, thoughtlessly flaunting her wealth as she plots how to get away with slacking her way through four years of college. I’m not entirely clear on whether we’re supposed to like Drew, the rich kid with an obvious crush on Vic. For now, all I can say is that I definitely don’t care what happens to Drew, and that his sudden decision to betray his parents’ wishes and apply to RISD isn’t exactly the brave stand he seems to think.

But lest we forget: This show is also about a Rolls Royce-driving, child-kidnapping vampire. The episode’s other big development happens back in Haverhill, where Manx — who can sense the presence of a “strong creative” who might turn out to be a threat — does his best to track down the mystery person who has been using the Shorter Way.

First, Manx torments a former enemy: an old woman whose roller skates once served a similar function to Vic’s dirt bike. Later, with Bing Partridge’s help, Manx even manages to track down the spot where the real Shorter Way bridge used to stand. Manx senses that the person using the Shorter Way is an old soul with “a sentimental attachment to broken things” who “longs to escape.” And while that’s the kind of generic “insight” you might get from a bad palm reader, it’s obvious that he’s already getting close to picking up Vic’s scent.

In an unhappy coincidence, Manx and Bing’s hunt is interrupted by Haley, the little girl who looks up to Vic. Manx does his best to be charming, but Haley is streetwise enough not to accept a candy cane from a creepy old stranger. So later that night, Manx and Bing team up to do things the hard way: gassing Haley’s mother with sevoflurane and carrying Haley off to the Wraith, never to be seen again. On the way out, Manx even snaps the neck of Haley’s beloved cat, Mittens.

The kidnapping is an unnerving sequence, reminiscent of the grim scene that began the series (though largely shot, in a Halloween–style flourish, through the eyes of Bing’s gas mask). We’ve already seen what happens to the kids who end up locked in the back of the Wraith, and it doesn’t look good.

But while chastising Bing earlier in the episode, Manx also draws an interesting line in the sand: “We must never mishandle children. Hell isn’t hot enough for those who do.”

Manx is an awful hypocrite — I don’t think anyone could sincerely argue that Danny hasn’t been harmed by his time in the Wraith, or that killing a little girl’s cat is anything but needlessly cruel — but it’s interesting to try to imagine this story from his perspective. We’ve seen how a terrified child can be corrupted, via the power of the Wraith, into a cheerily sharp-toothed little monster. And given that Manx himself has no shortage of monstrous qualities, it’s not impossible to imagine that he really believes he’s doing all these sad, lonely children a favor.

He’s wrong, of course. And now that Haley has been kidnapped and Vic has an actual, personal stake in Manx’s crimes, she has yet another big choice to make. As Maggie told her in last week’s episode, no one is better equipped to find these kidnapped children than the person whose superpower literally hinges on her ability to find lost things. Something tells me RISD is going to need to wait.

Detours

• At the site of the Shorter Way, Manx and Bing watch a cloud of bats flutter around — an image that should carry a little extra resonance for those who have read the book on which the series is based.

• I don’t want to disparage Maggie’s allegedly unmatched Scrabble skills, but come on, figuring out that SMITTEN should be MITTENS isn’t that much of a leap.

• In addition to the Shorter Way, Vic’s superpower continues to give her brief, creepy flashes of what looks to be the future. This week, the images include Bing wearing the gas mask, a house on fire, and a pair of bloody scissors.

• Pour one out for poor, sad Craig, whose obvious crush on Vic seems destined to go unrequited as he watches her speed off in a car full of rich kids.

• Chris McQueen’s new girlfriend specializes in making “beerings” — beer caps she turns into earrings. I know we’re supposed to think she’s gross and lame, but I kind of love her.

• Meanwhile, with Chris out of the picture, Linda McQueen clearly has designs on Sean the Mailman. Fingers crossed!

• Per the RISD website, Vic’s yearly tuition would cost $49,900, plus $13,400 if she wanted room and board. Let’s hope that forged tax return goes through.

• Maggie on reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved to a bedridden hospital patient: “She always manages to cheer me right up!”

NOS4A2 Recap: Art School Confidential