NOS4A2 S01E01 Review: The Shorter Way – Just enough spookiness to hook viewers

NOS4A2, developed for television by Jami O’Brien (known for her work on shows like Fear the Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels), is based on the novel by Joe Hill. Even if you’ve read the book, though, there are still surprises to be found in the AMC series. That’s partly because some of it will be taken from the spin-off graphic novel Wraith. In addition, the book takes place over decades, and we don’t have enough time for that, at least not in one season. So we fast forward a bit.

For example, instead of meeting protagonist Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) as a little girl, we meet her as an 18-year-old, about to graduate from high school in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She doesn’t have the worst life imaginable, but it’s not that great, either. Her parents, Chris (Eben Moss-Bachrach) and Linda (Virginia Kull), care for her in their own ways, but their relationship is far more volatile. It leaves real bruises.

And in fact, it’s one of their rows that will propel Vic out of the house and closer to what I guess we can call her destiny. But at the moment, it just looks like an old covered bridge. That’s because it is, or at least, it was. As aspiring artist Vic finds out when she shows her dad a sketch of the bridge, “The Shorter Way” was demolished years ago.

That’s an unnerving thing to learn, obviously, after you’ve both seen the bridge and ridden across it. But that’s not the only mystery afoot. The first time Vic encounters the bridge, it gives her a clue about a missing object. The next time something’s lost, riding over the small bridge takes her to it, to a location in another state.

Unsurprisingly, though, there’s a price to pay. Right now, Vic just gets headaches and burst blood vessels in her eye, but unbeknownst to her, she’s forging a connection to something ugly. Apparently, The Shorter Way is a bridge out of our world and into other ones, other “inscapes,” or inner landscapes. We don’t know all the places it can go yet, but unfortunately, one of those places crosses Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto).

Who is Charlie Manx? He’s a ghoul, a child predator who roams the country abducting kids. The title of the show refers to his Rolls-Royce Wraith’s license plate, a word puzzle that hints at his nature. He’s a vampire, you see–not a blood-sucker exactly, but a thief of souls, of life-forces. And he lures children to the Wraith with the promise of a visit to “Christmasland,” “a very special place where every day is Christmas Day and unhappiness is against the law.”  (If a predator who uses normally innocent tropes of childish joy as his Venus flytrap sounds familiar, one of the inscapes on Manx’s personal map of horrors is “Pennywise’s Circus.”)

We join him in Here, Iowa, where he goes after young Daniel Moore (Asher Miles Fallica). He gets away with the boy, but the operation is largely a mess, due to the incompetence of his helper Ives (Michael Maize), who leaves clues behind. So Manx kills Ives. He’ll need another helper soon.

Also in Here is Maggie Leigh (Jahkara Smith), a librarian who can use Scrabble tiles similarly to how Vic uses The Shorter Way–to find out info or to find objects. When she asks for information about Daniel, the tiles returned spell out “WRAITH.” Later, they’ll spit out “THE BRAT” as a source of help for Maggie. As this is Chris’s nickname for Vic, it would seem as if the two strands are going to be joining together.

And that’s a good thing, because Manx is now prowling around Haverhill. Having put an ad in the back of a comic book, he’s now luring in a new helper, a gentle but troubled man named Bing Partridge (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). It’s unclear whether he’s cottoned on to Vic yet, but it’s only a matter of time. She may be the help for Maggie, but it seems as if it’s only a matter of time before Vic herself needs some help. A nightmare is coming.

7/10 – Although the series kinda gets off to a slow start, there’s still enough spookiness about to hook viewers. One reason is that Manx is an interesting villain–although he is objectively doing bad, he appears to view himself as the hero of his own story, rescuing children from neglect. So far he’s not overtly terrifying–in fact, he’s almost kindly. The worst monsters sometimes are.

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