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.

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