American Horror Story: Continuum

Posted on January 17, 2013

We’re getting a strong whiff of “Final season of Lost” from our television lately.

We were two of those people who didn’t hate the Lost finale as much as the internet told us we were supposed to. No, instead we reserved our ire for its final season as a whole; a rambling, pointless exercise that asked its audience to shift their focus away from all the things that made the show so engrossing, and focus instead on former side characters or brand-new characters who ultimately had little impact on the story before they were (usually violently) dismissed from it. Over on Friday nights, Fringe is currently drowning in “final season of Lost” -isms, which is why we ultimately abandoned weekly reviews of it. The show got deadly boring and self-indulgent and we didn’t feel like ranting about it every week. We may pick up the finale and review it, though.

But American Horror Story doesn’t have to suffer from the same problems, mainly because it doesn’t ask its viewers to hold on for any longer than a dozen-plus episodes before ending the story for good. It’s why the show can get away with such uneven efforts and tonal shifts. If we’d had to wait five seasons to find out the final fates of all these characters, you can bet the vast majority would have left in annoyance several seasons back. But this episode represented such a massive shift in the storytelling, that we almost felt like we were watching an entirely new season of AHS and all of these familiar faces were playing new characters. We found ourselves missing Sister Mary Satan, Doctors Thredson and Arden, and even lesser players like nympho Shelley. And in their place, we were stuck with a bunch of post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers and the threat of alien invasion.

And strangely? It worked.

Granted, when you’ve got people like Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange helping you to bring your tonal shifts and left-field story exercises to life, you’ve got an advantage. And since one of the things the show did very well this season was to get us to care about the fates of such disparate characters as Sister Jude, Kit, Lana, Grace, and even Pepper, it’s not surprising to us that we spent this episode holding our breathe, just as much as we did back in the days when Lana was having a basement dance party with Thredson. The settings and storytelling lacked tension in the way they were presented, but the simple fact of them was enough to induce tension in the audience. What, exactly, the hell is going to happen to these characters now? That question hung over every scene, making even a Candyland session or a book reading seem fraught with potential dangers.

But what probably made it work more than the acting and the inherent tension, was the bold move to shift the story up by several years, showing what happened to these characters post-Horror Story. That’s not something audiences are normally treated to, and we found the glimpses of the lives of these supremely damaged people to be the most interesting part of the story so far. Say what you will about AHS, it’s not a show that spins its wheels. It moves and expects you to keep moving with it. If you cast your mind back to episode one of this season, you certainly weren’t in a position to predict that Sister Mary Jude would be completely insane by the end, or that Kit would be a loving polygamist father with a strong moral center, and Lana would be a successful, polished, and ultimately empty woman. What makes these fates work so well is that they all had their roots in the story and even though you probably couldn’t have predicted them, now that they’ve happened, you couldn’t see them happening any other way. It’s a great little trick Ryan Murphy’s pulled off. We’re surprised to hear that this season is not being well received. In many ways, it’s a far more daring and complex story than the one they tried last year, and while it hasn’t been perfect, this penultimate episode has us thinking they might pull it off.

Having said that, we’re not entirely thrilled that the climax seems to essentially be coming down to Dylan McDermott’s scenery chewing and … aliens.  Never have we missed Sister Mary Satan so much.

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