REVIEW – NOS4A2 Episode 1 – “The Shorter Way” (SPOILER FREE)

It's been just over six years since Joe Hill's NOS4A2 was published, in April of  2013.  Fast forward and now Joe is one of the executive producers of the TV series adaptation on AMC.  Horror meets dark fantasy as we follow the immortal Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto) who feeds off the souls of children.  His existence could now be threatened by a young New England  woman named Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) who has a special gift that she is just beginning to discover.  So since the first episode hasn't quite premiered yet, I wanted to give my spoiler free thoughts on this first episode.

It is going to be very difficult to talk about too much without spoiling anything, so I will be giving a lot of my initial impressions here.  I will tell you that the first five to ten minutes are probably the most intense in the entire show.  There are some nice horror elements there, but really void of jump scares which I found refreshing.  You don't have to wait long to see Charlie Manx, and exactly what it is that he does to capture these children.  If you're a fan of the books, you know that Manx takes these children to a place called "Christmasland" where unhappiness is illegal.  One message that really stood out to me here, take care of your kids.  Seriously, if you have kids, you'll be checking on them all night after this one.

Keeping things on Manx for a minute, Zachary Quinto's transformative performance in this first episode alone is quite amazing.  Charlie Manx is a different kind of terrifying.  It's not just because he is taking children, it's what happens during the journey and the mental state of Manx himself.  As Joe Hill told us during the NOS4A2 press conference at WonderCon, Manx actually feels like he's doing the right thing.  Once you see what he's doing, and pair it with the fact that he feels like he's doing the right thing, that's quite scary.  Then you have The Wraith, which is the car that Manx drives.  Fans of the book know that there is more to the car than just transportation.  There is a hint of that in this first episode, but we don't find out a whole lot about it.  The look of the car itself is pretty amazing, and definitely adds to the eerie tone surrounding Manx's character.  It also happens to stand out a lot though, and I'm wondering if that will be a factor going forward at some point.

Now let's talk about Vic McQueen.  I was drawn to this character immediately.  Part of this was the fact that I am originally from New Hampshire, as is most of my family, so seeing her family and friends in general helped draw me to the character a bit.  More than that, Vic is a dreamer, she has more talents than she even realizes and she's just hoping that she will be able to pursue the thing that she loves.  We get to learn a lot about Vic as the episode goes on, and we see her go on quite an emotional ride in this very first episode.  Her family life is a very complicated one.  Her father Chris (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is very supportive of her and wants her to follow her dreams. Her mother Virginia (Virginia Kull) wants her to take a safer approach and join her in cleaning houses. What I did not expect is for a huge wrench to be thrown into this family dynamic that changes everything for Vic. This one hit me hard, and as someone who has not yet read the book, I did not see this coming. They do a fantastic job at setting up these characters, and driving this moment home. Don't worry, you'll know what I'm talking about when you see it.

As for Vic's abilities, we get to see how they develop and just how multifaceted they really are.  There is no one thing, or one trigger, and there is still plenty of mystery surrounding these abilities after this first episode.  We have seen the "I have powers but I don't understand them" thing before, but for some reason, this just felt different to me.  Part of this could be the small town New England feel, and part of that could be just that there is no set ability.  Part of this is also the bridge, which plays a huge role in the story.  The bridge itself is stunning, but when once you get an idea of what it can do, again this adds to the mystery.  It could also be the connection, both literally and figuratively, that ties the story of Vic and Manx together.  Again, as someone who hasn't read the book, this is something that I am watching out for.

I also want to talk about this New England setting.  One thing that this show does very well is dropping the stereotypes.  The thick New England accents are not something we really get in this show.  Being from New England, trust me when I tell you, not everyone talks the way you might see in previous shows and movies set there.  It was just very refreshing to see that kind of attention to detail.  We also get to see the middle class and upper class lifestyles blending together here, which again play a role in the story and helping to drive home Vic's character. It also gives a great sense of community, which is something else we get to see play out once kids start to be taken.  The town also happens to be beautiful, and at one point we get to see a lakefront party that is very New England.  It also adds to the creepy factor when you go from this to the unsettling ride in The Wraith with Manx.

There are a few other characters that I think we only scratch the surface of in this first episode.  We are introduced to Bing (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson ) who is a custodian at Vic's school. He is also a fellow comic book fan, and that is one of the ways that we bond. It's in one of these comic books that we see how Bing's character might play a bigger role going forward. Fans of the books, I'm sure, want to shout this from the rooftops. Another character that we only see for a short time is Maggie (Jhakara Smith), who seems to have abilities of her own. She also has a connection to these disappearances, and is doing her own investigation. Whether or not that will lead her to Manx, we will have to wait and see.

There is a lot that I am leaving out here, and that is because I don't want to spoil this show for you. To me, NOS4A2 is the kind of psychological horror that really draws me in. In it's very first episode, there is so much character development in such a short time, that you can't help but get invested in these characters. A lot of shows tend to draw this out and hope you'll remain interested, NOS4A2 does it in the first hour. Combine that with a beautiful setting and the supernatural/fantasy aspect, and this could be one of those shows that could be the next big hit for AMC. If you're sick of jump scares, and stories that really don't matter in the grand scheme of things in a horror story, you will find this show very refreshing. I can't wait to see where this ride takes me.