American Horror Story: “Origins of Monstrosity” & “Dark Cousin”

Posted on November 29, 2012

We can accept – we have no choice, really – that American Horror Story defies conventional storytelling techniques and that it’s going to gleefully keep throwing things in the air in order to keep our attention. That’s the show. That’s always been the show. It’s a huge part of why the show is entertaining at all. But that doesn’t mean it always works or that we’re supposed to love it in order to love the show. Like many Ryan Murphy vehicles (all of them), it’s a wildly uneven ride and at least in this instance, he’s found a genre in which that style works and, even better, an actress who grounds it by delivering stunningly charismatic and fascinating performances.

In fact, if it weren’t for the impressive performances coming out of the cast this year – especially Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Lily Rabe, James Cromwell, Sarah Paulson, and Frances Conroy – we don’t think this story would work at all. It’s those performances and the highly stylized way the show is shot that keeps our attention, but with these last couple of episodes, we’ve checked out on the story aspect. And we’re willing to say it now: it’s worse on that front than it was last season.

Last week’s “Origins of Monstrosity” felt like a big ol’ pile of filler to us. It added nothing to the story to find out that Dr. Thredson has mommy issues or that Sister Mary Eunice was cruelly teased. We suppose it’s worthy to find out that Dr. Arden’s experiments have something to do with his fear of nuclear apocalypse, but we can’t really say it adds much either. And throwing that Bad Seed knockoff into the mix seemed particularly pointless – and a possible bridge too far on all the horror tropes they’ve been checking off of a list this year.

And in perfect AHS fashion, they followed up an episode that felt like filler with an episode that suffered from far too much story. Pacing has never been this show’s strong suit. What made this episode a little hard to take was how fractured it was. By the time the show remembered to return to Sister Jude and the dying Nazi hunter – a full 20+ minutes into the episode – we realized that pretty much every single character is off having a story arc of their own, which means we have episodes like this one, where it just feels like a succession of unrelated scenes. But like we said, they manage to keep us tuning in because it’s all so stylishly rendered and beautifully acted. That scene in the diner with Sister Jude and the Angel of Death was so beautifully acted that we realized we’d forgotten to breathe through most of it. That one scene – and maybe the scene with Sister Mary Satan and her “cousin” – saved the episode from being tedious.

Two plot developments we really hated and which almost ruined the episode completely for us: Sister Jude finding out that the little girl she hit did not, in fact, die and Lana escaping Bloody Face only to wind up back in Briarcliff through a series of outrageously implausible if not downright silly events. We realize that once you throw aliens, the devil, and mutant zombies at the audience in the same story, it’s a little late to complain about plausibility issues, but both of those plot turns were so bad they pretty much had us checking out of the story. How did Sister Jude manage to convince herself that the girl died when she spent all of the last 15 years obsessing over it? You’d think her constant returning to the scene of the crime (figuratively speaking) would have somehow unearthed the exact nature of the crime she committed. And the thing with Lana was just plain silly. Yes, we get that misogyny and violence against women is a major theme with this season, but to have her escape a woman-hating serial killer only to get picked up by a woman-hating suicide case was just a bit much to take. And it makes no sense to send a car accident victim to a mental hospital instead of, y’know, an actual hospital.

But we’ll shrug it off. Things seem to be coming back together again after having been blown apart. Sister Jude will surely return to Briarcliff to face off against Sister Mary Satan. Lana is going to have to somehow face off against Dr. Thredson. Kit? We have no idea. That guy’s on his own.

One final thing: We hope we’re wrong, because we’d much rather be surprised by a plot twist, but it seems pretty obvious to us that the modern-day Bloody Face is the child of Lana and Dr. Thredson.

Okay, we lied. One more final thing: The image of the Angel of Death’s black wings was quite beautiful. Or at least, it would have been if they didn’t keep snapping open like an umbrella.

Tags:

  • A. W.

    This show has become VERY difficult to watch because it is so misogynistic. It serves as a vehicle to indulge Ryan Murphy’s hatred of women, particularly lesbians. How else are we supposed to interpret a show that is so violent towards women, so hateful of women? I’ve grown weary of watching horror after horror gleefully (pun intended?) inflicted on every single woman in the show. It’s torture porn of the worst kind.

    • Qitkat

      I know it’s considered ridiculous to comment on shows which one doesn’t watch, but I do read these recaps. I’m disturbed enough by them that I haven’t been tempted to try the show out again after watching this season’s first episode. For the record, I mostly enjoyed last season. While the very darkest elements of our culture have always been fascinating to writers to be considered entertainment, and I have watched my share of them, Dexter, for one, this season of AHS crosses some line for me. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your comment.

    • JMansm

      Wow. The show is clearly condemning violence against women, lamenting how it hasn’t gotten less severe over time, and presenting the female characters who are affected by it as tragic figures. Ryan Murphy obviously doesn’t hate lesbians or women in general otherwise he wouldn’t give us shows that consistently pass the bechdel test and write one of the best lesbian romances in the form of Santana and Brittany over on glee. I apologize if I’m being brash with you but I actually knocked my coffee over in disbelief when I read what you wrote and now I need to go clean it up.

      • A. W.

        I think you may be confusing “depictions of era-relevant abuse of women” for feminism. It’s tempting to look at the miseries visited on (as I said) every single woman in the show as condemnation of violence against women, but the show’s staging of it sexualizes their torture, and the amount of pain heaped on them has become egregious. At this point, the abuse of Lana has gone from an exaggerated metaphor into ridiculous misogynistic territory. I also have a huge issue with how female sexuality is being portrayed.

        The real problem is that all the female characters are negative representations of female tropes: desperate sex-crazed nympho, stupid virginal blonde, egotistical career woman willing to risk her life for glory (who gets beaten to a pulp and raped as punishment), wide-eyed sinner emotionally dependent on a man, etc etc. If Tom and Lorenzo are right and the new bloody face is the product of Lana’s rape, we can add the “mystical pregnancy” trope to the list, with the added bonus of “pregnancy as horror element” so common to the sci-fi and horror genre.

        I’m also not trying to be too brash, but I would encourage you to analyze the show beyond its surface level.

        • http://www.tomandlorenzo.com/ Tom and Lorenzo

           I think it’s fairer to say, based on his work here, on Glee, and on Nip/Tuck that Ryan Murphy doesn’t “hate” women; he’s just particularly bad at producing well-rounded portrayals of women. He either elevates them to bitch-goddess status or he attempts to make points about their roles in the patriarchy by reducing them to victims. Since his storytelling style tends to be bombastic and over-the-top, the bitch-goddesses wind up veering into raging psychopath territory and the victims are subjected to ridiculous levels of torture.

      • Sobaika

        To me there is a fuzzy but definite difference between era-specific issues and the choices writers make. I don’t think Ryan Murphy hates lesbians or even women, and on some level it may be a byproduct of the show’s emphasis on raunch + gore, but facts are facts. Every single character – from Jenna Dewan’s newlywed to the faux Anne Frank – has been punished for not fitting into a traditional woman’s place, and often times, exhibiting non-traditional sexual behavior. They can go on about ‘the patriarchal male’ all they want, but our culture is very comfortable both sexualizing and torturing women for entertainment and shock value, and this show buy’s right into it.

        • http://twitter.com/al_ber_to Alberto Muñoz E.

          I don’t really mind the fact of the dumb depictions of women in the series. After all, practically the whole horror genre seems to be based on this “punishment of women” mentality. However, for some reason, Ryan Murphy seems intent on trying to showcase some pseudo-moralistic crap on his show (mostly on Glee and The New Normal, but also on AHS to some degree). One would think he would be one of those who would try to steer away from this particular depiction.

          • http://twitter.com/mk_patter Megasus

             The horror genre IS based a lot on violence against women, but part of the reason that they get away with this is that it is ALSO a horror trope to have “the final girl” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_girl), that is, the girl that actually makes it out alive. I think what is off-putting about this season so far is that the final girl doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. Especially after last night, with so much almost escaping only to be thrown back into the fire again. Or just having hte women die outright.

          • http://twitter.com/zombuki Ms. Bee

             ”I don’t really mind the fact of the dumb depictions of women in the
            series. After all, practically the whole horror genre seems to be based
            on this “punishment of women” mentality.” Why wouldn’t you “mind” this? This is the real horror. I worked with a guy who only watched horror movies, when I asked him why he said he liked to see women scared … he was completely serious by the way and a very creepy guy.

          • Sobaika

            Good grief, EW. Stuff like that makes me never want to leave the house. 

      • JANE LANE

         Just because something passes the Bedchel test, doesn’t mean it has good depictions of women. And Brittana being a good lesbian romance is arguable.

        • JMansm

          I didn’t use that as evidence that it has good depictions of women. I used that as evidence that Ryan Murphy doesn’t hate women. I will address the Brittana thing when I’m on my lunch break.

          • JANE LANE

            I don’t agree that it proves that either. And my mind is made up about Brittana. I was turned off the minute we found out Brittany was cheating on Artie because Santana manipulated her into thinking that it wasn’t cheating if they had the same plumbing. Not that Artie’s much better. 

    • JANE LANE

      This. I love horror movies, and I’m not really bothered by ridiculous and unrealistic violence and gore.  But AHS bothers me because I can’t shake the feeling that I’m looking deep into Ryan Murphy’s Id evey time I watch.

      • A. W.

        Exactly! I can’t shake the feeling that the suicidal guy in the car is Ryan Murphy’s self-insert.

  • Sobaika

    Ethan Rom was the weak part of the episode for me. I like the actor a lot, but they’d already been hitting us over the head with misogyny for weeks. And if they really needed to go that route, they could have made the dialogue less clunky. 

    “Oh you want to just jump in my car like that? It’s all your fault you know. You women. I hate women. Women ruined my life. Women women women women. Suicide time.”

    Also, I was bothered that the rape scene was so… sexualized. The way it was shot, the music, all the heavy breathing, not to mention Quinto’s fabulous ass, etc.

    • http://twitter.com/Goldielox73 Goldie

      Anytime I see him in a show, all I can think is “He’s Tom Cruise’s cousin.” 

    • littlemissstrange

      I KNEW THAT DUDE LOOKED FAMILIAR. Fucking Ethan. And yeah it was dumb.

      Zachary Quinto’s ass. I know he was pretending to rape a lesbian but…. totally worth watching this show.

      Even though I adore ZQ and would be pissed at the disappearance of his fabulous acting, I cannot understand why Lana would let Thredson live. Seriously. He killed the woman you loved and he raped you. You don’t fucking let go of that chain as quickly as she did.

      • tereliz

        I know! She had him, had nearly killed him in his own “lair”, where she could have sat back, had a smoke and some wine while she waited for the cops to come check out all the overwhelming evidence that Thredson is Mother-Bloody-Fucking-Face!!!! Guh! 

        • Terrie_S

           Not to mention that would have gone a long way to addressing the problem of “women as victims” that this show has.

          • tereliz

            EXACTLY!!

  • tereliz

    I had a really hard time with these last few episodes because they didn’t seem to accomplish anything. They essentially just restored the status quo, with Lana winding up back at Briarcliff and Arden and Sister Jude still at odds, and people still think Kit is Bloody Face.

    Sister Jude finding out the girl she ran over wasn’t dead didn’t feel right to me. How could she not have known? I mean, she couldn’t have been so cloistered (pun intended) when she entered the abbey that she couldn’t have found out, and she was so obsessed with the moment, I can’t believe she didn’t learn more. And was the fact that the girl didn’t die not written in BOTH of those newspaper articles Sister Mary Satan gave to her/left for her to find?

    And—while I can believe that a missing mental institution inmate might be sent back to Briarcliff once the hospital found out who she was and treated her (all while she was unconscious, of course)—I CANNOT suspend my disbelief enough to buy that she escaped Thredson, only to jump into the car of Ethan the woman-hating suicide crasher. NOT COOL, AHSA, not cool. As a fiction writer, I call shenanigans. On a positive note, Frances Conroy looked fucking amazing, didn’t she? Her eye makeup was just beautiful, and the wings…!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/Y3OY6COEVBS2STNCUNIRZ3COUE Claudia

    Did I miss the review of last week’s episode or did that not happen?  Not complaining, just fretting I’m missing out!  

    • http://www.tomandlorenzo.com/ Tom and Lorenzo

      Did you read the post? Or even look at the post title?

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/Y3OY6COEVBS2STNCUNIRZ3COUE Claudia

        No, I did neither as I’m catching up on last night’s episode so didn’t want to spoil.  My apologies. But thanks for your kindness.

  • cindy_lightballoon

    Well, Lana was an escaped mental patient, so I’m sure the authorities were told to keep an eye out for her but it was still quite silly. And that scene with Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy was really moving, I loved it.

  • http://www.lifeinspice.com/ rose88

    AHS has moved rather rapidly over the past few weeks from the top of it’s game to near shark-jumping territory.

    I’m more than willing to suspend my disbelief for all sorts of things, hell I was even okay with the aliens!  But the Lana plot line now has me rolling my eyes and screaming GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK ALREADY! at the screen.

    It’s too early in the season for resolution, so Lana…

    Can’t be clever enough to actually kill Bloody Face when she finally has the advantage.

    Needs to hitch a ride with a Suicidal Batshit Crazy Woman Hater.

    Has to be sent back to Briarcliff, where she…

    Immediately blabs everything to Sister Mary Satan, because nothing that’s happened to her has left her with any trust issues or sense of discretion.

    If only the writers had the subtlety not to introduce stuff like that as “Hi, I’m a ridiculous plot device intended to keep this shit going for another 6 episodes!”

    But with that said, it was great to see Frances Conroy again and I’ve never seen her look more gorgeous!  I’d totally make out with her and die.

  • PrunellaV

    Lana’s return to Briarcliff echoed Violet’s experience last season of running out of the Murder House only to find herself back inside it again. Not sure what to think of that. The sequence with Lana felt like a dream.

    • ScarlettHarlot

      Agreed, Lana’s escape had a definite dream-turned-nightmare quality to it, so much so that I assumed she was just dreaming she’d escape and after the car crash in her nightmare would wake up to find ZQ totally fine, and that they’d never even fought. 

  • http://twitter.com/mk_patter Megano!

    Pretty sure Lana wound up back at Briarcliff because she’s an escaped patient from there. So I think she did go to a normal hospital, and then they sent her there. 

  • VermillionSky

    They could have had the guy in the truck be suicidal without the he-man woman hater schtick.   Or, they could have just had him be really drunk, or hit a deer, or find some other way to crash the car without inducing nearly as many eye-rolls.

    • tereliz

      Even a guy telling her she “owed” him for the ride—and struggle ensues and they crash, of course—would have been more believable than Lana running from one guy with mommy issue to another with major misogynist tendencies who’s ready to kill himself and her at the PRECISE MOMENT SHE GETS IN HIS CAR. 

      Boo. 

  • YolandaHawkins

    The minute that Lana got in the car with the women-hating suicide guy (aka Tom Cruise’s cousin) I said aloud, “You’ve got to be fu*king kidding me?!  Preposterous!!”  And then it was “Oh what the hell; that’s the essence of this show.”  I couldn’t agree with TLo more that the saving grace of this show is the performances Zachary Quinto, Lily Rabe, James Cromwell, Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy and Miss Jessica Lange.  I don’t call it “The Jessica Lange Show” for nothing.   

  • the780

     Ryan Murphy’s shows always remind me of a spinning top. Starts off a little wobbly, but gets it pretty straight on. Then after a while it starts spinning a little off and then its all over the place just before it completely falls over.

    I think we just went from spinning a little off to being all over the place now.

  • Erin Hillier

    It seems like everyone is expecting AHS to be Mad Men in terms of plot development, but why?  It’s a horror story, and no other horror story I’ve ever read, seen, or listened to has the heroine or hero ever made a sensible, realistic choice to end a story arc.  Of COURSE Lana escapes one horrifying, mind-boggling situation only to walk right into a completely unbelievable, equally terrifying path right back to where she started; futility, even contrived futility, is at the core of a classic horror story and AHS put it to more than good use this week.  

     This show is trash…beautifully acted, decorated and filmed trash, but trash nonetheless.  Stop being such snobs and enjoy the ride.  

  • roadtrip1000

    Glad you guys made note of the wings. Maybe I just needed some comic relief but every time those wings popped open (like an automatic umbrella) I found myself laughing out loud.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QOUZGTVKFINDYQJQHP7YRFJ2XE disco scandalous

    sister jude had to believe that child was killed in order to “save” herself and her soul by marrying god, you see.
    - it’s like a divine veil of sacrifice/martyrdom

    as for lana
    - it goes back to series 1
    where you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave

    this is of course where my mind goes with the show now that i have fully submitted to the unbridled battshittery that is this show

  • chris

    I was thinking with all the different plots happening, the one that is addressed the least (aliens) might just be a possible preface for next season? They’ve covered all the horror tropes this season, what is there left to do after this? If the alien plotline doesn’t get wrapped up (and how could it?) then maybe the focus of season 3 will be alien abduction throughout the generations, or something along those lines.

  • dharmabum8

    I actually liked the Origins of Monstrosity episode quite a bit. Comparing the different origin stories of the various creepy evildoers made for a nifty character study (like Thredson’s murderous insanity springing from his desperate longing for loving mother figure while little bad seed Jenny could care less about her loving mother, who she viewed as an obstacle that must be removed) and enough of a thread to hold the episode together. They lost me a bit with dark cousin. I kept wondering why the angel of death didn’t come earlier for poor Shelly who clearly wanted to escape her misery. And yeah, Lana jumping into the car with a suicidal Ethan Rom was just one misfortune too many.

  • schadenfreudelicious

    I could watch Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy read the phone book to each other…

  • http://twitter.com/gl1tterboots Pretty Cure Chevalle

    Can we just talk about how AMAZING Frances Conroy is and how fucking ecstatic I was to see her in this episode? The scene between her and Jessica Lange was pure television MAGIC. 

  • lchopalong

    I realized what it is about this season that disturbs me so much more than the last one; it’s the setting. A haunted house concept is kinda campy, fun, and very much the stereotype. To me (and I know not everyone feels the same way), haunted houses aren’t possible or real. Institutions like this one is set in are. Disgusting things happened in real mental institutions for a lot longer than we like to think. The vast majority of them were horrid, wretched, evil places for hundreds of years. Knowing that makes this season unpalatable for me, especially with the huge focus on how women are being treated. I get that maybe he’s trying to make some sort of statement about how women are treated horribly in institutions like this, in the horror genre, etc. but I feel like the vast majority of FX’s viewers aren’t going to be so intellectual in how they absorb it.

  • ccm800

    good opener episode or three – Buncha crap filler with no arc or story telling just gimmick – halfassed lazy pull together at the end if  your luck = every damn thing lazy ass Ryan Murphy has ever created. Done. 

  • http://twitter.com/DarrenNesbitt Darren Nesbitt

    Frances Conroy  with that black wrap cape, and that veil. . . 

  • ZnSD

    lol oh and don’t forget that Lana and BF’s son is none other than Dylan McDermott.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5UQHEKG5EDX4T6NMARUC565TPQ Amy

    Those angel wings had me flashing back to HBO’s Angels in America!

  • http://twitter.com/gl1tterboots Pretty Cure Chevalle

    Does anyone know what song is playing when Shâchath is about to kiss someone? It’s a really, really incredible melody that helps set the tone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000343051911 Scott Fitler

    The writing… meh. The acting… wonderful! Why can’t they find a better vehicle for these amazing actors?