American Horror Story: Tricks and Treats

Posted on October 25, 2012

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.




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  • AuntieAnonny

    I’m still confused about the “serial killer” storyline, is it a monster, a mad scientist (collecting brains)? Or is the mad scientist the owner of the.. um, Frankenstein, who goes out and does most of the dirty work?

    • Isana Leshchinskaya

       let’s not forget what sister jude said in the first episode: all monsters are human

  • muzan-e

    On the one hand, I had trouble with last night’s episode – purely because of the torture porn aspect that you mentioned.  I can’t do it. I cannot do people in pain.  Matyrs may be a brilliantly-shot film illuminating themes of real interest to me, but I’ll never watch it because I cannot do people in pain. I watched most of last night’s episode with my finger near the fast-forward button or my hands over my ears. 

    However, I give them great credit for their handling of the exorcism.  It’s taking place in a mental institution, after all – a deeply religious mental institution – and the obvious route would have been: The horror of religion taking the place of science! If only this boy had been medicated during the height of his psychotic break!  It’s a familiar old trope but it’s tailor-made for their setting.

    So I really do applaud them for lunging right into the rocky middle ground:  Would anything have saved him? The exorcism certainly didn’t, and the drugs treat the body but not its uh, extra passenger. If they’d begun with both from the beginning? Perhaps?

    It was interesting. And I give them credit for that constantly, too, because ‘interesting’ is something that horror films seem largely to have forgotten about lately.

    • KathKo

       yes, I agree. that’s why I kept watching the first season and looked forward for the second one.
      It’s an interesting show that goes straight through obvious roads but manages to surprise us. I mean haunted house urban legends, killing ghosts and demonics baby first and now raving nuns ruling asylums full of serial killers, creatures of doom, possessed kids and abducting alien. What’s not to like ?

    • Sophia Vaccaro

      dude. preach. i could never watch a real horror movie. i would have to be sent to an institution afterwards i swear.

  • MilaXX

    I’m not sure what happened because last season, I found this show boring and silly and this season I kinda like it. I still don’t find it scary, but I think I like characters a bit more this time around.

    • Gener1c

      I’m with you.  I tried my best last season because my husband loved it, but I couldn’t come close to sitting through an episode.  This season, I really look forward to it so far.  I think for me it had to do with last season’s (fairly trite) haunted house and failing marriage themes versus the (equally trite but somehow more interesting to me) asylum and creepy religion themes this season.

      • MilaXX

         Mmmm, perhaps. Can’t say I’m a fan of creepy religious themes, but it doesn’t bore me nearly as much as last season. I think I may like the actors more this season. I don’t find Dylan McDermott even slightly sexy so that may have had something to do with it as well.

  • nannypoo

    I’m trying not to overthink it. It’s fun and creepy and well-acted. And pupal.

  • Sobaika

    I have to constantly remind myself not to overthink this show. Just be appreciate the cheap thrills and all the good Evan Peters bum. There needs to be a running count of how many asses we see throughout this season.

    I don’t like Grace though. She seems sweet and we’re obviously mean to like her, but we know absolutely zero about her character. She sort of pales next to Evan Peters and Jessica Lange.

    • littlemissstrange

       Also Zachary Quinto needs to be the next ass revealed.

    • KathKo

      I think she’s not as sweet as she appears to be.
      I think she’s portrayed to be the only sane one in the asylum so we would think “how did she end up there in the first place ?
      But in fact, I guess she will be the most vicious and raving one inside.

  • Mossy bank. That is all. Also, GAH.

    • Smelly clam. 

      And I thought I’d already heard all of the vagina euphemisms in existence.

      • michkabibbles

        i’m a little late to the discussion because i have to wait to watch it on demand, but i am so glad i read the comments because i was so sure sister june said ‘snowy clam’, and i did not understand that reference at all!

  • littlemissstrange

    Any excuse to get Zachary Quinto back on my TV with his nerd glasses and his low sexy voice… YES PLEASE!

  • So, I didn’t watch the first season, since no review made me want to waste the time, but I’m in a Halloween-y spirit this month, and figured I’d give this season a shot.
    It sounds like the stuff I really don’t like (the editing, the “throw everything at the wall” nature of the storytelling, the “ooooh social commentary!!!” bits, and the fact that it’s really not actually scary at all) are trademarks and I’ll just have to live with them, but I do love me a good mystery. I’m pretty “eh” on alien stories, and possession stories only go so far with me, but I think I’m in it now for the creepy character backstories and the identity of the serial killer (even if he does have just the stupidest name in the history of serial killers, both fictional and historical). 
    I’m really, really intrigued about how all this might tie together. And what the present-day story has to do with anything, since right now, it seems less than unnecessary. It might be foolish, but I’m really hoping they offer up anything on that front. It seems to me that a show like this can really only succeed by either outsmarting the audience or being too random to keep track of. I can forgive the latter if it’s aiding the former, but I’m worried this might turn out to be all random and no smart.

  • roadtrip1000

    Love your insights into the show’s latest themes. Just watched both episodes back to back. Still mesmerized by this program although at first I felt something was missing. Then I realized that I missed the dichotomy of last year’s house. The house provided the family with the initial illusion of being a refuge and with enough denial they could rationalize what they couldn’t explain. Sure there were strange sounds and goings-on but the place was beautiful and a bargain to boot. However this season, right from the start, it’s clear that there’s no physical place that will give even the illusion of safety. The horror is relentless and on a whole different level. At certain points my senses were numbed. But then there were enough twists and turns, predictable or otherwise, to draw me in all over again. (I’m looking at you Sister Mary Eunice.)

  • KathKo

    it was indeed a fun hour, even if sometimes accents were a bit to thick for me to understand everything (what with english not being my first langage). I’m planning to rewatch it this week end in order to get everything.
    As a matter of fact I am intrigued by the character of Grace, who seems like the only sane person in that hospital, crew included.
    The problem is if you’re sane and sound, how the hell did you end up there ? Even if you don’t agree with the reasons why Shelly got stuck there, at least you could get how she ended up there. Same with Kit and Lana.
    For Grace, well, I’m guessing she might be one of the only person in that hospital who belongs there and shouldn’t be let out.

  • Vanja

    “What the FUCK am I watching?!?” is my reaction as well. I haven’t seen the first season, but I kind of like this show…I think. I’m not really sure what kind of show I’m watching and how it all will end. I’m not even sure what the writers want me to think, it’s a bit confusing, but I’ll go along for the ride. The cinematography on this show is gorgeous and Jessica Lange is great.

  • Mason Lavin

    The whole thing with the Doctor and the Prostitute struck me as very “Bluebeard.” He’s clearly got fantasies about the Young Nun (can’t remember any of the names so I’m capping their roles). But the scene with the prostitute dressing up reminded me of the fairytale. Girl is told she can go all sorts of secret places, but not ONE and immedieately goes there. Prostitute is told she can’t touch anything, but is left alone, and so of course she does, and catching her sets up the punishment, just like it does for the girl in the stories that finds all the dead wives.  If anything, I think she was meant to find the stuff, but certainly not meant to flee successfully.