Episode 1: “The Shorter Way”
Directed by Kari Skogland
Written by Jami O’Brien
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Graveyard of What Might Be” – click here
In Iowa, Danny Moore (Asher Miles Fallica) hears his mom having sex. He’s sad. He goes to her room, telling her he feels like “the only person in the whole world.” She shoos him off. The kid goes downstairs to watch cartoons on TV and eat cereal. Static takes over the television. He hears “O Christmas Tree” being sung outside. He goes out and there’s a candy cane on the porch.
At the curb, a Rolls-Royce’s door opens revealing a backseat filled with presents. It, naturally, draws the boy. An old man outside tells him “You‘re up past your bedtime” and the car door shuts Danny inside. The old man is Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto). He understands the boy’s sadness. He’s come to take the child away to Christmasland, where “unhappiness is against the law.” Mom doesn’t fare too well, not with Manx’s henchman Ives (Michael Maize) about to snap her neck.
Soundtrack note: “You’re a Superstar” plays here
We go to Harverhill, Massachusetts.
This is where Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) lives. She’s looking into colleges. She works as a cleaner. She’s cleaning a house when an old friend, Willa (Paulina Singer)— who lives in the big, bougie house— arrives. They talk about old times a little. Vic works with her mother, Linda (Virginia Kull). They’re a working class family, as opposed to Willa’s family. Linda’s trying to make sure her daughter keeps an eye on the future. Both for her own sake, as well as the sake of her parents, who can’t support her forever like more well off families. At home, dad Chris (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) clearly has a drinking problem, and may or may not have big time issues with money. Either way, it’s a horrible environment for a girl to be around with the parents fighting.
Maggie Leigh (Jahkara Smith) comes upon the insane scene at the Moore house. She worries about Danny, who didn’t turn up at the library when he was supposed to, and assumes the worst. The cop on the scene doesn’t do much to help. Maggie sees a broken candy cane in the road, finding it suspicious. She’s got the magic touch. It ain’t yo mama’s Scrabble! Because what she comes up with spells THE WRAITH. She’s catching the trail, albeit in an abstract way.
Vic takes her dirt bike for a run to blow off steam while her parents fight. She comes to a rickety covered bridge. She goes to cross it, hearing bats inside. She feels a high-pitched tone in her ear. This is the signal Manx picks up. Back home, Vic’s dad laments not being able to pursue a musical career, due to mostly financial trouble. He wants his daughter to pursue her dreams, knowing that if “fear dictates your life” then life will pass by very fast and very dreary.
“I hate this town”
At school, Vic trades comics with the janitor, Bing Partridge (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), a friendly giant-type. Later, he sees an ad for Christmasland in one of them. In art class, Vic’s teacher says she has a shot at good schools. Then something curious comes up. She’s drawing the covered bridge. It reminds her teacher of the one in town— the one that’s torn down. Existential crisis intensifies!
Manx isn’t pleased with Ives. The henchman’s making things messy for the old man. He’s decided to put his henchman on the “Naughty List,” which means being tossed from the moving car. Danny’s shocked. Manx is gradually reeling the boy in with his act.
What’s REALLY going on?
At a diner called Aunt Carrie’s, Vic and her dad chat about her art. She shows him the sketches she’s done. He’s impressed by her talent. She’s trying to figure out if there are any other similar bridges. At the same time, Vic gets no support from her mother. Linda is constantly worrying about money, even trying to make decisions for her daughter about the debt she might incur with student loans. Basically the girl’s feeling suffocated by her parents and that town alike.
Vic goes to a party at Willa’s place. It’s a lot of bourgeois people drinking fancy cocktails. Willa’s mom Angela (Karen Pittman) found Linda’s credit card. This brings Vic’s mind back to the bridge, the spray paint spelling WILLA’S. Then Willa takes her to meet a bunch of people. Most are dickheads. Rich kids assume people who are poor aren’t smart. Even Angela is presumptive about Vic’s family.
That night, Vic begins to wonder if her father’s been hitting her mother. The next day, she’s more paranoid than the night before. Her parents are fighting, just as bad as ever— this time, about a missing watch. This sends her back out on the bike. She comes to the covered bridge again. She goes through.
AUNT CARRIE’S is spray painted on the wall this time.
Vic zooms to the other side, coming out near the diner. She’s all fucked up. Things feel strange. She goes inside, where she’s given her dad’s watch. She goes back outside. Other people are amazed at the covered bridge appearing from nowhere. She rushes back through again, her eye getting red and sore.
When she turns back, the bridge is gone.
Back home, Vic falls unconscious. She sees visions of the Scrabble tiles, the face of Manx. Simultaneously, Charlie awakes in his Wraith. The old man takes out a map, looking for a location. Some great spots include Pennywise Circus and Lovecraft Keyhole. Charlie sees the Shorter Way appear. Danny wakes up, knowing something weird is happening to him. He also notices Manx looks “younger than before.”
Vic wakes at home in bed. She’s had dreams of Charlie. Now, she’s with her father. She confronts him about hitting Linda. He passes it off as “too much to drink.” He doesn’t actually take any responsibility, telling his daughter he’ll never do it again. She mentions the watch and the bridge. Chris thinks it’s fever talk.
She passes out and wakes later. Linda tells her Chris left and reveals he’s had affairs. Vic refuses to accept it. She goes back to the bridge, where TIFFANY’S appears on the wall. She’s taken through to the other side, coming out at a house where she sees her dad with another woman.
Nearer to Christmasland, Manx becomes even younger. He’s sucking the life of the boy until the kid will be nothing but a weary bag of bones. He’s dropping Danny off before heading out to Haverhill. He has… errands to run.
This opening episode is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! Admittedly, Father Gore’s never read the source material. It doesn’t make a difference, because this was so much macabre, dreadful fun. It’ll be exciting to watch where things head next. Great mix of supernatural spookiness and heartfelt, raw human drama.
“The Graveyard of What Might Be” is next.