“The Gas Mask Man” (Episode 103)
June 16, 2019
In last week’s episode of NOS4A2, Vic fled her parents who were fighting (again). Crossing the Shorter Way, she found herself in Here, Iowa where she met Maggie Lee, Scrabble tile reading Medium extraordinaire! Maggie explains the basics of Vic’s power and gives her a general overview of the enemy Vic has been chosen to face, “The Wraith.” However, Vic isn’t ready to be chosen for anything yet and heads home. Speaking of Charlie Manx, our immortal villain recruits Bing Partridge and gives him the highlight, elevator pitch of what Charlie is trying to accomplish. Catch up on all of the action from Episode 2 with our deep dive recap and review here.
Now, on to Episode 3 of NOS4A2, “The Gas Mask Man” … BEWARE OF SPOILERS!!!
Essex County Psych Ward, Haverhill, Massachusetts. As old-timey music plays on a transistor radio, we pan across a room (note a picture of a pretty waitress on roller skates, a 50s-era diner set-up) to an old woman sitting in a wheelchair. The radio picks up familiar static and the old woman becomes agitated. As we see her trying to move her chair, trying to reach the room alarm, we cut to a blurry figure coming down a hall of the psych ward … it can only be Charlie Manx. In the security office, the distracted guard is slow to react as the facility loses power and all of the security cameras go dark. Christmas music begins to play on his headphones. At a nurse’s station, we see the silhouetted figure of Charlie Manx sign himself on the visitor’s log- rules must be followed, I guess. I should note Charlie is carrying a big, wrapped present.
In the old woman’s room, the lights are out and we can see the lady’s breath. It’s cold in here now. Charlie Manx, looking a bit older than last week, enters the room and the old woman is NOT happy to see him.
“Sweet, Sweet Jolene. Time, I see, has not been kind.”
Charlie laments Jolene’s wasted potential but says he’s not here about the past but rather, current events. He asks if Jo has been building her inscape without him, has she found a “Shorter Way”? Jolene July (Judith Roberts) shakes her head no – she must not be able to speak. Charlie accuses her of being a whore and says that whores lie. He flips open the gift wrapped box and takes out a pair of roller skates (just like the ones on the young Filly in the photo – that must be a young Jolene). He’s got a plan to find the truth …
Charlie straps the skates on to Jolene’s feet, this is his test to see if she’s been making an inscape — the skates must be her knife? Manx is equally wistful and menacing here, clearly Jolene is some former love in his life … this kind of bitterness reeks of an ex. He pulls Jolene roughly from her chair and “dances” her around in a circle, her limp body slapping the floor with the skates. He menace whispers that he felt a strong creative in the area and needed to know if it was her interfering with his plans. After a minute, he lets her fall to the ground, like a doll with its strings cut.
“I can’t say whether I’m relieved or disappointed that I know it isn’t you. Let’s not wait another 50 years before we see each other, Jo.”
He doesn’t kill her (surprisingly) but he doesn’t help her up, either. Also, 50 Years?!?
Cue the Opening Credits.
Haverhill, Massachusetts. We come back to Vic looking anxious as she stares at the costs for RISD and FAFSA forms. By the way, it’s 2012, we know this because her forms are for 2012-13 student aid. Her trepidation about paying for college is forgotten when her computer fritzes with static and is replaced with more flashes.
A man wearing a gas mask, a kid’s drawing of a man and girl holding candy canes, a structure burning.
Vic closes her laptop with a frustrated flurry. She heads outside to find (drunk) Chris and Tiffany barbecuing. I can’t what’s worse, this or the creepy visions. Vic asks her dad for tax paperwork, it’s needed for her financial aid application. Chris tells her that he works under the table and “people go to jail for tax evasion.” He proposes she ask her mom. Ugh, Chris. You suck.
Casa de McQueen. Vic rides up and finds Linda hard at gardening. Linda assumes she’s there to live but Vic just wants to talk tax returns. Linda gives Vic the SAME excuse as Chris, they don’t pay taxes, their money is off the books. Linda’s suggestion is, forget college and get a job. Vic is all, “nopers, not interested in cleaning toilets.”
Which, BURN! But also, I know your mom’s a bitch Vic but don’t be a dick.
Linda changes tactics and proposes vocational college, like hairdresser school. Um, have you seen Vic’s hair, Linda?!? No, there will be no hairdressing school for Vic. Linda offers her a cleaning gig on Friday for some cash and Vic is all, “I’ll let you know. Peace.”
Here, Iowa. Sheriff Bly calls Maggie, she missed taco night, and he was worried. She asks about the Nebraska lady and if she called? No, the Sheriff replies and he tells her that she’s like his daughter and he doesn’t want to find her frozen on a park bench … again. “Step away from the Scrabble Bag,” he begs. And she’s all, “I’m good, don’t worry.”
Maggie disconnects and finds a pretty young woman behind her, looking for a book of poetry …
Which is a code apparently because we cut to the girl eating Maggie out as Maggie recites love poetry. Hot. Sadly, the cunnilingus is interuptus when the lights start to flicker. Maggie stops her friend, who is hard at work, and says she needs a rain check. Alone, Maggie grabs her Scrabble Bag.
Haverhill, Massachusetts. At that exact moment, Charlie and the Wraith roll up to Vic’s High School. Bing hustles up to the door and Charlie asks him if he’s done as Charlie asked? Bing reports that the Shorter Way refers to a bridge but that the bridge was torn down. Charlie knows better, though, and says the “proprietor” can’t be far from it. Excellent work, Bing. FYI, Charlie is looking even older than he was in Jolene’s room. Bing was a bit shocked by this (remember, so far, he’s only seen him as young, handsome Charlie).
We come back to Charlie and Bing at the foot of the missing Shorter Way. Bing gives some backstory about the bridge being torn down after a paved road led to its disuse and disrepair. Manx uses this information to help fill in his prey’s psychological profile …
“A demolished bridge from a bygone time. Our Strong Creative has an old soul and a sentimental attachment to broken things.”
Charlie is distracted by Vic’s bats fluttering over the missing bridge. He adds to the psych profile that the Strong Creative likes to traverse long distances and so, probably yearns to escape their circumstances. Does that remind you of any, Bing? Bing can’t get over someone using a bridge that isn’t there.
They are interrupted by Haley showing up, still looking for Mittens. Goddamn cat is always missing. Charlie stops her and says that they’re also lost, just like Mittens. Haley has good stranger danger instincts, and a strong loyalty to Vic, so she doesn’t give Vic up when Manx asks about anyone using the Shorter Way Bridge. Charlie calls Haley out by full name and warns her not to lie to him. Then he offers her a candy cane (remember last week, Vic had a vision of a candy cane in Haley’s hand). She tries to leave and Bing grabs her … which makes Charlie flip out.
“We must never mishandle children, Mr. Partridge. Hell isn’t hot enough for those who do. Let this be my first and final warning.”
Meanwhile Haley kicks Bing in the shin and bolts.
Vic rides up to the Brewster’s house to see Willa. She has a vision of a Christmas wreath on the door, dripping blood. It goes away after a second but the eyeball buzzing is back. My guess is that Charlie being so close is making her senses fritz like static on the Wraith’s radio.
Vic asks if Mama Brewster is home as she needs help with RISD, but Willa is all, “where there’s a Willa there’s a way.” Inside, Willa smokes up and they talk about the McQueen tax evaders, Vic living with Chris and Tiffany and forging financial aid papers. Vic won’t screw her dad that way but proposes using Mama Brewster’s friend in the registrar’s office. Willa is game, Road Trip to RISD!
Back in town, Vic shows up at the High School as Bing is finishing loading gallons of shady liquid into his trunk. She needs to get into the school because she left her portfolio in there and Bing, having a soft spot for Vic, relents. As they walk down the school hallway, Vic picks up Bing’s mood and asks if he’s okay. He says he’s nervous about messing up a new job he has. He’s already made one mistake and he’s worried about fucking up again. Vic peps him up, giving him more inspiration than her mother has ever given her. The Irony. Vic asks Bing, “Remember what Dr. Incubus said to the Blue Heron?”
“If you don’t believe in your greatness, no one else will.”
Bing thanks Vic (he calls her “college girl”), and unlocks the art room. When she heads in, something like a dull lightbulb goes off over Bing’s head. Oh, no. Don’t you think about it, Mister!
Cut to Vic speeding home on her bike when she see Maggie waiting on the side of a road. How did you find me, she asks?
“I’m a librarian … and a Medium. I can find anybody.”
Maggie needs to chat. Vic thinks this about being chosen and finding Danny but Maggie has more pressing business and warns Vic about the Scrabble tiles warning that the Wraith is hunting her. Maggie says that Strong Creatives can sense each other and thinks the Wraith is here in town, looking for Vic. Vic says she hasn’t sensed anything but Maggie calls bullshit on that …
She reminds Vic that she said she saw the library and asks what else she’s seen? Vic doesn’t answer and instead, uses Craig’s warning about using her powers one day and the next, a dog turning up dead. Same as Vic, Maggie doesn’t have a dog so no worries.
“I’m not going over my Bridge again. For anything or anyone.”
Maggie stresses the seriousness of this situation, her Tiles CALLED her, they NEVER do that. They interrupted a blow job, for God sakes! Maggie doesn’t mention this last part. Vic pushes past her and says sorry, she’s out of the super powers game.
The next day, Vic gathers her portfolio and readies herself to leave the house for the RISD visit. She looks as made up as we’ve ever seen her. Outside, Craig and Chris are talking about the damage on Craig’s bike (no specifics on how it happened) and Craig wonders if Vic should be leaving town … what with her powers and all. Willa and her rich friends rolls up. Drew is tagging along to check out RISD with Vic while Willa and Simon are going to visit Brown. Vic doesn’t have the fondest memories of these rich douchebags (from the Labor Day party at the Brewster lake house).
Essex County Psych Ward. Maggie isn’t quite done trying to help and shows up at the Essex County Psych Ward (where Jolene is). As an orderly walks her to a room, they talk about the power outage the night before and Maggie mentions she’s hearing the place is haunted. The orderly says the guy on duty last night said he felt a ghost’s presence but then changes topics to why Maggie is there instead of the regular woman? He introduces Maggie as being from New England Reads … Seems like Maggie has a plan to talk to a Strong Creative today one way or another.
RISD. Drew and Vic walk through the beautiful campus, which is packed with people because of an open house. It’s bustling with life and joy and happiness, the complete opposite of Vic’s normal existence. She’s smiling. I don’t think we’ve seen Vic genuinely smile … where her smile reaches her eyes, but she is here.
They wander through a room of displayed work and Drew impresses Vic with her art history knowledge. She’s already in love with this place, it’s her dream come true. At the meeting with the registrar lady, she makes clear that she doesn’t need to see Vic’s work – her job is try and facilitate getting Vic to the school. She proposes Vic explore emancipation from her parents … using a special clause that grants independence from abusive homes. Registrar lady got the 411 from Mama Brewster.
The buzzing begins and Vic gets disoriented as she denies having an abusive home. This went down hill so fast, it’s heart breaking. As Registrar lady drones on, Vic has a flash of Charlie Manx, Ghoul Daniel Moore and a pair of bloody scissors (“scissors for the drifter” is a favorite game at Christmasland). Vic bolts and is in a semi-chaotic panic attack as she stumbles away from the RISD building. She continues to see flashes of Charlie Manx in full bloodlust form and wanders right out into traffic. After narrowly missing being hit by a car, Drew scoops her up and walks her back to the sidewalk.
“I never should have come here, I don’t belong.”
Drew calls that statement crazy as well as the sentiment that McQueens don’t go to college. Drew tells her that people do hard tings every day because they love and Vic snaps back that Drew is fooling himself thinking he’ll go anywhere other than his parent’s “beloved alma mater in Cambridge.”
Sick Burn, Vic but also, don’t be a dick.
She says that they’re both stuck on their paths laid out for them. Drew counters that today has been the most fun he’s had in years. And so, if they were stuck on their paths, that would really suck. She agrees and he takes her hand. Gah, I don’t care about this teenage love story. Blech. That being said, Drew did talk her down from her freak out so I guess it served a purpose.
Essex County Psych Ward. Maggie wanders the hallway and notices a light flicker outside a particular room. Bingo. You will not be surprised to find this is Jolene July’s room. Jolene is seemingly out of it and, after noticing how cold the room is, Maggie drops the New England Reads act. When she finds a candy cane in Jolene’s bed, she guesses that the Wraith has already been there. She explains to the mute Jolene that she’s a Medium and knows the Wraith is hunting a Strong Creative right now. Maggie came here because she read about the strange power outage; she asks Jolene A. why did he visit you and B. did the Wraith mention a “Vic McQueen”?
Jolene tries hard to speak and makes an excited grunt noise when Maggie notices the young picture of Jolene. The pieces are all coming together for Maggie and guesses that Jolene is a Strong Creative and that the skates are her knife. That Jolene is interacting at all to these questions which would seem like nonsense to anyone else is proof enough, no? Maggie realizes that the Wraith didn’t find what he was looking for from Jolene.
“He’s going to hurt my friend.”
The House of the Gas Mask Man. We come back to Bing cracking open a locked chest filled with porn mags and a gas mask (the one we saw his father wearing in the nightmare from last week). He gets himself dressed in a very deliberate way and puts duct tape over the identifying marks on his work overalls. He cradles the Gas Mask reverentially before putting it on. It’s terrifying.
Cut to Bing breaking into someone’s house. The POV is Bing’s, through the Gas Mask, his breathing filtered and Darth Vader-like. He’s making his way through the house as we hear water running in another room. Sounds like a shower. In the kitchen, Bing finds a used condom in the trash can … and he picks it up.
Which, Gross Bing. But also, Tacky, owner of house, for leaving the used condom on top of the garbage can and not putting the can away. Double Gross. Gross All Around.
Outside the bathroom with the running water, Bing turns on his gingerbread-flavored sevoflurane gas and lets it run under the door. Inside the bathroom, an attractive woman hears something as she’s getting out and calls out, asking if it’s Steve. Sadly, it is not Steve, Beautiful Lady (Elizabeth Stanley). Bing holds the door closed as Beautiful Lady struggles to open the door. She calls out for “Haley” to dial 911 but passes out soon thereafter. Beautiful Lady is Sharon Smith, Haley’s mother. Oh, no!! Bing peeks in on Sharon and then heads upstairs for his real job.
Bing creeps into Haley’s room and gasses her until she’s unconscious. He takes off his mask, scoops Haley up into his arms and carries down the stairs and outside to the waiting Wraith and of course, Charlie Manx (who is looking super old now). Haley wakes briefly as Bing puts her in the car and asks if Charlie is Father Christmas?
“Yes, child. Rest now.”
Once Haley is in the car, Charlie reminds Bing to grab the mother. As Bing hobbles off, Charlie notices Mittens, the Goddamn cat, has finally turned up. He roughly grabs Mittens by the head and kills him as the screen snaps to black. Charlie Manx, you’re fucking monster.
Providence, Rhode Island. Night has fallen and Simon and Willa are going on about how Brown is a blast while Vic and Drew walk quietly behind them. When prompted, Vic tells Willa that she loved the school and Drew chimes in that he also loved it, so much so that he’s applying. These two, they’ve been changed from today’s experience. How remains to be seen, but changed.
Vic gets a call from Maggie and tells the richy riches to go on ahead. Maggie is so happy to hear Vic’s voice, she’s been trying her all day. She blurts through confirming the Wraith is in town and that she tracked down an old woman who is also a Strong Creative that the Wraith paralyzed. Also, she got another message from her tiles:
Mean anything to you, Maggie asks Vic? Vic takes a quick glance at Drew standing off to the side but then shakes it off and tells Maggie that it doesn’t mean anything.
Maggie tries to tell Vic she can’t run from this but Vic wants to hear about this even less than she did yesterday. She hangs up on Maggie.
Willa asks if everything is okay at home and Vic responds by asking Willa is she could really help Vic forge tax papers for the financial aid forms. Willa is 100% confident in her skillset. Vic still seems unsure but Willa isn’t. “You don’t owe your parents a damn thing,” she tells Vic. Which, true. She tells Vic not to lose out on this experience because the Adult McQueens are shitty and ignorant.
“Break the cycle, McQueen.”
Haverhill, Massachusetts. The next day, as Vic waits for her dad to come out of Tiffany’s, we see her finishing a (fraudulent) Form 1040 in her father’s name. Chris asks how the trip was as Vic quickly hides her papers. Great, she says, and says that she figured it all out. He tells her that of course she did, she’s super smart. As soon as he drives away, she mails the financial aid papers.
You’re committed now, Vic!
Inside, Vic takes a call from Steve, the Steve that Sharon Smith was calling after. We only hear Vic’s side of the conversation but clearly she’s responding to not seeing Haley but guesses maybe she’s in the woods? Until, she sees the picture of Mittens that Haley made for Vic back in Episode 1. A light bulb goes off on Vic’s face as all of the color drains from it. She tells Steve she’ll be right over.
As Vic gathers her stuff and leaves, she calls Maggie. It wasn’t “Smitten,” it was “Mittens.” The Wraith has done something at Haley’s house.
Vic pulls up to the Smith house and parks next to a police cruiser. She hears Christmas music play over the walkie talkie system as she passes by and it gives her pause.
As she starts to approach Steve and the gathered policemen, she stops and kneels in the dirt. She finds Mittens’ name tag and a foot away, Mittens’ dead body. She picks him up as she begins to hyperventilate.
The episode ends, close on Vic’s face, as an angelic version of “Christmastime Time is Here” plays on the soundtrack.
Now that we’ve established the world and its mechanics in the first two episodes, tonight felt like the beginning of a long narrative arc that I suspect will carry us forward for several episodes, maybe the whole season.
In the Monomyth or Hero’s Journey, popularized by Joseph Campbell in his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, every Hero narrative begins with the Call to Adventure, a call to head into the unknown. Typically, and for whatever reason, the Hero initially rejects this call, they want no part of it. We call this, the Refusal of the Call. We saw this Call to Adventure in Episode 2, Maggie specifically tells Vic she’s the chosen one to find lost children. Vic rejected the call to adventure.
Tonight, Vic tried to be “normal.” She tried to avoid her powers. In the end, Vic has to answer the Call to Adventure. Vic doesn’t love many people in this world. She loves Haley Smith, as much as one sibling loves another. Charlie Manx knew this from his profile of Vic and his interaction with Haley. He knowingly forced Vic’s hand and pulled her into her own Hero’s Journey.
Once the Hero accepts the call, the Hero meets their mentor or their guide. Vic has already done this – Maggie. If this were a role playing game, Maggie the Medium would be the Mage. She’s a supernatural being who will be able to lend assistance and explain things to the Hero.
Next? The crossing of the threshold into the unknown, the Hero leaves their known world behind and quickly encounter the “Belly of the Whale” and “The Road of Trials.” Experimenting with the Shorter Way and now, finding dead Mittens, Vic is already on her way.
The point of the Hero’s Journey is for the Hero to descend into a pit of trials and tribulations; to overcome and learn some new truth and/or power and, thereby, undergo a change or metamorphosis (apotheosis and receipt of the ultimate boon); and to, ultimately, return to the normal world, the master of two worlds – free from fear of what held them back before.
Vic has begun her Hero’s Journey and now, we get to watch as she proceeds along the path and winds her way closer and closer to her Abyss, her ultimate trial …. Charlie Manx.
Can she do it? I think so but I also think it’s going to be a wonderfully dark and messy ride along the way. Join me, each and every week as we go along on this adventure together.
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