Zachary Quinto's 'NOS4A2' Character Examines What Really Makes a Villain
Spoilers ahead for NOS4A2 Season 1, Episode 2. Things are only getting creepier on AMC's NOS4A2. After sending in a Christmasland application letter to Charlie Manx, Bing (Vic's school janitor) is whisked away in the Rolls-Royce Wraith. Manx tells him that all children are welcome in Christmasland, but adults must first prove themselves. That's how they end up in what Manx calls the Graveyard of What Might Be. Manx isn't bad, he explains, because he saves children from a lifetime of unhappiness and suffering caused by their parents.
Bing, it seems, is drawn to Manx because of his own traumatic childhood. In a dream he seems to recall a scene where his father killed his mother. "I wish I could've saved you back then, Bing," Manx tells him. In the books, Bing notes that the ornament on the hood of the Wraith is an angel of mercy, similar to the ones who guard the gates of the cemetery.
From Manx's perspective, what he's doing is similar to the divine intervention of an angel. Manx describes the Graveyard of What Might Be as a sort of mental cemetery: he claims the children there aren't actually dead, but their childhoods are, if they're not rescued soon from their unhappy home lives. In the book, Manx explains that he only takes the children who he knows are headed for a miserable end, though he would take all children in the world if it didn't arouse the adults' suspicions:
"I bring only one or two children a year, and they are always children I have seen in the Graveyard of What Might Be, good children sure to suffer at the hands of their own parents. As a man who was hurt terribly as a child himself, you understand, I'm sure, how important it is to help them! The graveyard shows me children who will, if I do nothing, have their childhoods stolen by their mothers and fathers. They will be hit with chains, fed cat food, sold to perverts. Their souls will turn to ice, and they will become cold, unfeeling people, sure to destroy children themselves."
In this scenario, Manx clearly sees himself as the hero of the tale (stopping current and future wrongs), and as someone who grew up in a traumatic home situation, Bing is inclined to believe him. In the books, this is the start of a terrifying, volatile partnership between the two — Bing helps Manx steal the children, and in exchange he gets to use and abuse the mothers.
The show is unlikely to follow that same exact formula (not just because it's too disturbing, but because it would also threaten to undermine the girl power story it's building towards with Vic and Maggie) but Bing is likely going to aid Manx in some terrible way. Manx claims he brings Bing to the cemetery to help him see the importance of their work, but what he's really doing is manipulating a man, who he knows is susceptible to it due to his past, into helping with his abductions.
As for his claims of altruism, that's undermined by the fact that it seems like Manx needs to constantly consume the life energy of children to stay alive.
In Wired's The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast, author Joe Hill told hosts John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley that Manx definitely thinks of himself as the protagonist. "I think if you asked Charlie, he would say he's the hero of NOS4A2, no doubt. He is absolutely the good guy," said Hill. "He has dedicated his life to saving children from death, from shame, and all the painful stuff that comes with adulthood. The only problem is it's cost them their souls, so I don't think that that is a good trade-off."
The idea that Manx believes himself the hero that children need is likely going to put him straight on a collision course with Vic. It's interesting that as Manx is describing these unhappy children, the show intercuts it with scenes of Vic, who just discovered a vodka bottle in the freezer of her dad's girlfriend's home. Manx points out the tombstone of "Lily Carter, turned to a life of sin by her father, she never had a chance, her childhood ended before it even began" just as Vic is shown trying to figure out how to make a space for herself in the girlfriend's tiny crafts room, in a house her father abandoned her for. This is after her mother stormed the house and told Vic that if she stayed with her father, the only place she'd end up is pregnant and poor. Somewhere in Manx's graveyard, is there a tombstone for Vic?
Vic is repeatedly portrayed as feeling hurt and frustrated by her broken home, rushing off on her motorcycle every time a fight roars to life between her parents. It begs the question: if Manx were to offer the opportunity to get away from all of that, would Vic take it?