Movies never show what happens to the hero when he or she walks off into the sunset, villain vanquished. “Bad Mother” digs into that idea a little bit, and it’s effective stuff. Showrunner Jami O’Brien has sped up Vic’s slow transformation over the first season from a tee-totaling good girl into a tattooed, secret drinking, family-leaving damaged woman. The heart of the character is still there, and the dedication, but she’s been mostly waiting for Charlie to show back up, and with his apparent demise, what’s left for her but to deal with the problems she’s created in her family due to worrying so much about a decaying old man in a coma?
The parallels between Vic and her father can’t be ignored at this point. She’s as much a victim of PTSD as he was, and despite seeing just how much pain he brought on his family when she was growing up, Vic is determined to make the same mistakes he did, albeit without the infidelity. She drinks too much, drinking in secret to stay out of sight of Lou and Wayne, and when she finally reaches a breaking point after a horrible accident, she runs back to Haverhill and leaves her loved ones behind, just like her father disappeared on her in the night. Vic, at least, says goodbye to her son before bailing on him, proving she’s at least capable of learning one lesson from history.
The time jump is performed neatly. Lou, who was a fun character in his appearance last season, remains a fun character, and Jonathan Langdon has Lou acting as pleasantly supportive of Vic, but not willing to let her destroy their family in the process. He’s tolerant, understanding, clearly loves Vic (and the feeling is clearly mutual), but at the end of the day, there’s only so much erratic behavior he’s willing to put up with from her. For her part, Ashleigh Cummings slides nicely into the role of a damaged Vic McQueen, and the aging up of the character is a better fit for the actress, with Vic seemingly trapped in the dress and lifestyle she’d taken to as a teenager, much like her father in the first season. Even Jahkara Smith’s Maggie has matured more than Vic, at least in how she dresses and how she conducts herself in relationships.
Vic remains in the past, because she can’t let go of the fear that her past will come back to haunt her, and given the success Bing has in finding the Wraith and getting the engine back into it, if not fully restoring it, she’s right not to believe that Charlie Manx is dead. It’s taken time, a lot of time, but an evil like that never truly goes away. Not as long as the allure of Christmasland remains and Bing Partridge remains on the loose.
Season Two of NOS4A2 does a good job of progressing characters, and establishing that this time, the stakes are much higher for Vic and Maggie than they were before. They’re no longer just kids banding together to fight evil, they’re adults with loved ones and families that make them more vulnerable to people like Bing and Charlie. Considering Maggie can’t use her tiles without having seizures and Vic’s son is having dreams about Charlie Manx, things are much more dangerous by the time the desiccated heart on the autopsy table begins beating in Charlie Manx’s sawed-open chest.