TV Show Reviews

NOS4A2: Inscape From Reality

NOS4A2 (pronounced Nosferatu) is a supernatural drama that airs on AMC and is available to stream on Hulu. It is based on the novel of the same name written by Joe Hill, son of authors Steven and Tabitha King (and author of Horns, which we reviewed previously).

NOS4A2 follows Victoria “Vic” McQueen, a young artist who struggles with her place in the world. She wants to go to art school, but her mother wants her to work for the family business. Her father, on the other hand, supports her in all things, but the bruises on her mother’s face lead her to suspect he’s not the man she idolizes.

When her usual escape from a tumultuous homelife brings forth a surprising supernatural ability, it puts her on the radar of Charlie Manx; a vampire of a different color. He lures children into his Rolls Royce Wraith (license plate NOS4A2) and uses it to drain them of their souls. Once the child has been drained completely, he leaves the creature that remains in Christmasland; a twisted village where it’s Christmas everyday and only “nice” children may enter.

Naughty children need not apply

I wish that I’d gotten that description of the show when I first saw it on Hulu, but I looked at the jumble of a title and the brief description that was far too vague and made a hard pass. I’m a little disappointed in myself, because now that I’ve seen the show, I was actually impressed with how it turned out. 

There Is No Inscape

Vic and Manx are “Strong Creatives.” These individuals are able to create and use Inscapes, which are basically parts of their imagination that manifest in the real world. In order to effectively use these Inscapes, a strong creative has to use a “Knife,” which is generally an object of importance to the Creative.

I don’t know what my inscape would be, but this is definitely my “knife.”

Vic’s inscape is an old covered bridge called “The Shorter Way” that allows her to find lost things.

It sounds a lot more convenient than it actually is.

The bridge only takes her to the general vicinity of the thing she wants to find, and actually traversing it causes several negative side effects. Fluid and pressure build up in her left eye, and she gets a whopping fever that can leave her incapacitated for days. 

What I like about this system of Knives, Inscapes, and Creatives, is how it frames the characters. It makes each character’s power an extension of themselves that’s more than your generic “they’re angry all the time so their power is fire.” 

At one point, Manx is looking for Vic, and the only thing he knows about her is what her inscape is. From that one piece of information, he is able to divine a great deal about her.

Building Character

While the story is ostensibly about a psychic teenager fighting a vampire chauffeur, the interpersonal relationships are where NOS4A2 is at its strongest. Watching Vic deal with her train-wreck of a family while fighting with an immortal, soul-sucking Christmas elf is what makes the show worthwhile. Without the intermingling of these two elements, we’re left with either a depressing family drama, or another season of October Faction… and no one wants that.

The rest of the cast is just as broken, and therefore just as interesting, as the main character. There is:

  • Maggie, a strong creative and recovering drug addict who is trying to find one of the children that Manx kidnapped
  • Bing, a neuro-atypical custodial worker who ends up working for Manx, and…
  • Jolene, septuagenarian and Strong Creative who failed to stop Manx several decades before the show began.

Charlie Manx, the series antagonist, is a great bad guy. He’s well spoken, generally friendly, and completely insane. He’s one of those bad guys that absolutely thinks he’s in the right. He believes that he is “Saving” all of the children he’s abducted from their “terrible” parents.

The level of intensity Manx brings into his delusion allows him to steal the show in any given scene. I attribute this to the excellent acting of Zachary Quintos, but I’ll also own the fact that Manx stands out because he is one of those characters you love to hate. Every time he came on screen, I was both glad to see him and actively hoping that someone would shoot him in the face. 

So yeah… the characters are pretty great. 

Outscape

While there are elements of the show that are somewhat awkward, and the pacing is sometimes broken up in weird ways, NOS4A2 is pretty solid. It might not be the greatest drama to come out of AMC, but it stands firm on its own and shows a willingness to try something different. 

I’m giving NOS4A2 a 7/10 for putting a different spin on vampires.

I will, however, leave you with my main gripe about the show. 

Charlie Manx has fashioned his entire life around “Saving” children. He absolutely believes that he is doing the right thing, and that he is the good guy in the story…but if that’s true, why is his license plate NOS4A2? He never refers to himself as a vampire, or acknowledges that what he’s doing is vampiric. So why would he have a license plate that acknowledges what he is? It should say something about Christmas or something since that’s what his whole persona is built upon.

Instead it clearly shows that he knows what he is, and what he’s doing, or at least has enough self awareness to request that specific vanity plate from the DMV. Is it a joke?… Does he get a chuckle out of it?

Whatever the reason, it does make for an interesting title to the show. I just wish it had been something else, because this stupid vanity plate is keeping me up at night.

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