‘NOS4A2’ Season 2 Review: A Directionless, Groan-Worthy Drag

     June 21, 2020

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In a search for some purpose, it looks like AMC’s NOS4A2 has veered into preaching the antiquated gospel of Victorian morality with its second season. In the first season of the AMC adaptation of Joe Hill‘s novel, viewers were introduced to Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings), an 18-year-old whose dreams of attending art school get derailed when a special gift allowing her to travel via magical bridge (referred to as an “Inscape” in NOS4A2-speak) to find things which are lost. It puts her in direct opposition to Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto), a wizened vampire who kidnaps children and ferries them to an otherworldly place known as “Christmasland” while feeding on their souls.

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Image via AMC

After an uneven but mildly entertaining first season, the NOS4A2 story ended with Vic learning she was pregnant with childhood sweetheart Craig’s (Dalton Harrod) son after setting Manx’s deathtrap of a Rolls-Royce Wraith on fire. Torching the Wraith, a totem of Manx’s immortal power, also sent the vampire-adjacent villain into a coma. Vic manages to put the pieces of her life back together in the aftermath, put aside any dreams of attending Rhode Island School of Design after securing a hard-won full ride, and embrace young motherhood.

Season 2 begins eight years later, ostensibly in the present day (or closer to it). Vic has settled down in Gunbarrel, Colorado, with Lou Carmody (Jonathan Langdon), the sweet and supportive biker who helped her defeat Manx in the Season 1 finale. Vic and Lou are parents to Vic and Craig’s son, Bruce Wayne (yes, like that Bruce Wayne) McQueen (Jason David). Back in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Vic’s friend and fellow Strong Creative Maggie Leigh (Jakhara Smith) has settled down with cop-turned-FBI agent Tabitha Hutter (Ashley Romans) and temporarily put aside her special Scrabble tiles which helped her and Vic find lost children back in Season 1. And, rounding out the table-setting in the Season 2 premiere, we also catch up with serial killer and Manx’s right hand, Bing Patridge (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), who is working to restore the burnt-up Wraith and help bring Manx online.

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Image via AMC

Before I go any further, I want to make it very clear every actor in NOS4A2 is doing their damndest. Cummings and Quinto have tricky jobs as they lead this cast and are working overtime to make their performances as layered and watchable as possible. I’ll also give big kudos to Smith and Langdon, who are the heart of NOS4A2 and who I enjoyed watching immensely.

The true sore spot of Season 2 is the writing. For a show adapted from a book and an art form somewhat dependent on the quality of its storytelling, that NOS4A2‘s writing is severely lacking is a big red flag. I was able to watch the first five of 10 total episodes allotted for Season 2 and boy, was it not at all enjoyable. In general, you expect every season past the first of a particular TV series to do things like further the plot, develop characters, and perhaps even latch on to a theme or motif which helps enrich the viewing experience. Unfortunately, Season 2 mismanages its screen time by casually and aimlessly moving from scene to scene, occasionally remembering the dramatic thrust of the show and hurriedly throwing in some scraps of momentum forward.

NOS4A2 also forgets to do any kind of meaningful character development which might make me give a hoot about these fictional folks caught in what appears to be an extraordinary battle between good and evil. Worse still, when it comes to the themes this season is interested in drilling down on, how does watching five hours worth of regressive discussion about why women must be good mothers and provider in order to prove they’re worthy enough to not have their children taken away by know-it-all men who patronize them sound?

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Image via AMC

That’s right: NOS4A2 Season 2 goes completely old school in its handling of Vic, the character we are supposed to care the most about. Sure, I care about Vic, but it’s only because I want to save her from the confines of this awful season! Vic has been through the wringer, with unsupportive parents battling through their own demons, the tragic loss of her boyfriend, the emotional toll of a forfeited college dream, and grappling with the supernatural circumstances she has been plunged into. Season 2 opts to have Vic deal with this by plunging her into the depths of alcoholism, something she is predisposed to because of her father (Ebon Moss-Bacharach). By the time we rejoin Vic in the beginning of Season 2, she is in the depths of her addiction, her inadequacy as a young mother telegraphed through brief mentions of forgetting to pick her son up from school, seemingly focusing on the possible return of Manx rather than her family, and generally shutting down as she attempts to deal with her trauma.

NOS4A2 spares zero sympathy for Vic, all but condemning her for her behavior and forcing her to fight even harder to prove she is worthy. NOS4A2 makes time for Bing Patridge to threaten to teach Vic how to be “a good mommy” while threatening to take her son away because of her bad behavior (I can’t believe this show is real). And if you were worried whether there are at least a handful of monologues from Manx which see him spouting odious manifestos about a woman’s place, why women are only good enough to be mothers, why women should be good and chaste, and all the rest ad nauseam, worry not; there’s plenty.

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Image via AMC

As a final note, it’s worth cautioning that NOS4A2 has no problem turning its Black characters, all of whom occupy supporting roles in service of Vic’s narrative, into cannon fodder. Barely any development is given to Maggie’s narrative, but she suffers greatly while helping Vic. Lou and Tabitha, also meant to help and support Vic in her battle against Manx, endure serious physical trauma. Even if NOS4A2 Season 2 wasn’t being released during a time of serious and necessary upheaval, with Black Americans fighting for their Constitutional right to not be killed at the hands of the police and oppressed by systems which privilege whites, it’s still a serious problem that this show doesn’t understand how it reads to treat Black characters like this. It’s troubling and unnecessary and frankly, the team behind this series needs to examine their motives for crafting these particular arcs for these particular characters.

I could hardly contain my groans after enduring soul-crushing minute after soul-crushing minute of whatever morality play NOS4A2 seems keen to act out this season. This season seems concerned with focusing on the conflict between Vic and Manx, but the meandering and crude way in which it tells this story couldn’t be more off-putting if you tried to write it yourself. Unless you are a die-hard NOS4A2 fan who has been clamoring for more of the Vic vs. Manx showdown, I would strongly advise you to spend your time watching literally anything else.

Grade: D-

NOS4A2 Season 2 premieres on Sunday, June 21st at 10pm ET/PT on AMC.

Television