Ah, yes. The “throw every horror element we can think of at the wall” portion of our story. We remember it well from last season. Unlike then, we are prepared, however; although we’re not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. After all, last season was all about the audience sitting on their couches and saying out loud, “What the FUCK am I watching?!?” Once you go into it knowing that it’s going to be nuts and it’s going to alternately chuck dearly held conventions of televisual storytelling and indulge in them at the same time, it’s not quite so much fun.
Not that this episode wasn’t fun. Well. “Fun,” in that “watching people get tortured and/or killed” kind of way. But yes, there is a lessened sense of gleeful pandemonium in comparison to last season just because we’re trained to expect it now. The show’s creators seem to have responded to this sophomore dilemma by throwing even more story at us. We’re at … what? Four now? Four different horror movie storylines at work here? We’ve got the serial killer story, the torture porn story, the demonic possession story, and possibly the creepy aliens story, all vying for our attention. We’d love to entertain the notion that this is all going to brilliantly tie itself together into a neat narrative bow by the end of the season, but we’re not so foolish. It’ll be a mess straight down the line and right on out the door, just like last time. The question is whether it’s going to be a fun mess that keeps us guessing or just a plain old mess.
Last night’s episode was fun and kept us guessing, but we did get the whiff of plain old mess a couple of times throughout. Then again, we also got the distinct impression that we’re being faked out somehow. Dr. Arden is one creepy little misogynist, but we’re not entirely sure his hooker saw what we’re meant to think she saw. In other words, he’s creepy, but it seems too easy to believe that he’s Bloody Face. For all we know, that hooker saw some fetish pictures that shocked her – and that’s it. It was shot to make us believe she was looking at horrifying crime scenes or something, but we couldn’t help noticing what that scene wasn’t showing us. It all seemed very calculated.
There seem to be two themes running through this season; one is that people who live outside the sexual norm are getting terribly punished for it. It’s all lesbians and oversexed women and miscegenists locked up inside that nuthouse. The second theme seems to be that no one’s as evil as they first appear to be. We said last week that Jessica Lange unlocked the big actor box labeled “EVIL NUN,” but she’s got depths to her character. Granted, those depths don’t actually make us love her more or make us think she’s on the side of the angels, but they help cast her in a more human light. She’s a woman with some dark secrets who’s done some highly questionable things, but she’s not necessarily the Grand Evil in the story. If anything, it feels like that has yet to be revealed. That seems like an odd thing to say, considering the devil himself has made an appearance (and doesn’t seem to be leaving any time soon), but the story feels pupal at the moment. We’re not yet aware of what this is really going to be all about.
The flip side of not accepting the so-called “evil” characters at face value is that we can’t quite trust the “good” characters. We’re clearly meant to believe that Kit didn’t kill his wife or any of those other women, and we’re clearly meant to believe that he’s misunderstood at best, but we don’t feel like the other shoe has dropped with him yet. And Zachary Quinto’s appalled Dr. Thredson DEFINITELY has another shoe to drop, probably a really big one. As for Lana, we sympathize, of course, but we wonder if we won’t be seeing some serious Stockholm Syndrome coming out of her in the days to come.
This is all a very roundabout way of saying that last night’s episode was a lot of crazy shit to process for one measly hour of television and we haven’t even come close to processing it. This is why we think a lot of TV critics don’t like the show. It’s kind of difficult to assess until its all over and if you apply standard critical criteria to it, you’re just going to wind up frustrated. As an episode of television, this was a more-than confusing hour. As a chapter in a finite story, it’s got some real meat to it and makes us want to see what happens next.