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NOS4A2 - Cripple Creek - Review

3 Aug 2020

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Throughout this second season, I have been fascinated by which characters the writers/producers choose to place in each episode. I couldn't even fathom Vic not being in any of the episodes, yet she seems to appear/disappear at will and it usually makes dramatic sense. Sadly, this episode suffers without her presence for me, but still delivers a satisfying, nuanced, character-driven episode.

Instead, "Cripple Creek" divides itself into two distinct parts where we learn more about Charlie Manx's dark origins and, hopefully, settle the recent online debate that Charlie is not, in fact, helping these children in anyway by delivering them to Christmasland and turning them into vampires, like he is determined to do with Wayne, who makes one of the most stunning mistakes I have seen any character in any television show do in this episode, but more on that later. The first part concerns Bing and Charlie in the real world, dealing with the consequences from the last episode where we learned that Bing has finally had enough of Charlie's abuse and inconsideration of everything he had done for him. You cannot really blame Bing. He waited for Charlie for almost a decade, a little like the dog from the Futurama episode, "Jurassic Dog," except Bing was able to bring his master back from the dead. Doing that, Bing knows how Charlie functions outside of Christmasland, which he seems to know little of for someone who has been slaving away for Charlie like Bing has. It is not clear that Bing sees that he has been helping Charlie for a noble cause that never really existed in Charlie's mind. Their relationship is meant to finally come to a startling climax here.

The (more compelling) 2nd half of the episode concerns Charlie's backstory. Just when we thought we had seen all we needed to see of Charlie's past from the second episode of this season, along comes his childhood origins via Millie seeking into the forbidden house in Christmasland where the ghost (?) of her mother continues to reside and the gingerbread gas Bing spreads around. We learn of Charlie's dislike of women and other formative experiences that helped create the dark mental landscapes of Christmasland that infects everything that enters it. Charlies seems to bridge the extremes of fear and desire to save children from bad home situations. We see him as a child (Aidan Pierce Brennan) who is manipulative, yet can influence those around him. An owner of the general store, Mr. Tim (Gary Wilmes), sees the potential for Charlie to use this Pied Piper-like charisma to deliver boys to him to feed his own vampiric pedophile tendencies.

Of course, Charlie's mother operates a sickly whorehouse, so trading business for someone else's pleasure runs in his blood. I liked how the script balances the line between making Charlie both a victim of his circumstances and a monster who uses his inhuman personality to escape from his upbringing and use the children to maintain his immortality under the guise of being a good person. And, of course, young Charlie learned a thing or two from Mr. Tim on the art of manipulation. We have already seen him use it on Bing, Wayne, Mille, even young Oscar (Giuseppe Virzi) into going to be molested by Mr. Tim.

The performances of Zachary Quinto and Brennan made this episode stand out for me. Though the two performers differ in age, they both seem to inherently understand what makes this awful character tick and thrive. His manipulative power is so great that he has been able to calibrate the backseat of the Wraith to seemingly make the children is is abducting to forget the good times they had with their parents so they will not mind be taken to Chrismasland against their will, like Charlie is saving them when he really isn't. They experience the exact resentment Charlie feels about his own mother and past and think it is all that there is to color their experience. We see Wayne want to get away to see his mother again, but Bing reinforces the idea that Vic was all wrong for his upbringing (he wasn't entirely wrong, though).

Wayne is still speaking to the spirit of his father, Craig (whom, I now think, looks like the Elephant Man in the daylight in the back of that Wraith), but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence that Wayne will to his natural senses and realize that staying in the Wraith and helping Charlie just isn't the way to go. When we see Wayne making his potentially fatal mistake of getting back in the Wraith, we know he probably isn't making it on his own with all of Charlie's influential abilities. Wayne is told to hang on the good memories, since they are the only thing that will save him at this point, but Charlie's spell seems to be stronger than we realize, thus why he de-ages so quickly toward the end of the episode before impaling Bing.

In horror, as in life, bad memories are always easier to remember and cling to than the fleeting good ones. This season of NOS4A2, though, might end up as a good memory the horror viewers won't mind remember fondly if it continues playing its cards right like it does in this episode.