We sat on the couch like Ryan Murphy’s bitter ex-boyfriends last night, harrummphing and eye-rolling our way through the season premiere of American Horror Story, just waiting for it all to fall apart because we’d been burned too many times before. Oh sure, we hooted and hollered and “YASSSSSS, MAMA”‘d our way through every scene with Miss Jessica and covered our eyes every time Stabby the Clown showed up, but through the entire 92 minutes, we kept saying over and over again, the bitterness creeping higher each time, “It’ll all fall apart. Just wait.”
And it will. Unless Murphy and Co. manage a complete 180 on their method of operations, this will all be an incoherent mess before it’s over – and probably before the halfway point. Some seasons were better than others in this regard, but in the end, they either collapsed under the weight of their insanity (Asylum) or fizzled out because nothing ever amounted to much in the story (Coven). Only the first season managed any sort of balancing act, and even then, we suspect people’s memories of it (including ours) has smoothed over all the rough spots of that story.
We couldn’t help but giggle over that twisted Tupperware party. And in a world of scary clown images, they really managed to outdo themselves with the design on Stabby. Which reminds us, the art direction here is the best it’s ever been and absolutely should win an Emmy. And Sarah Paulson really brought the weird to her performances of Dot and Bette. And yes, it all rips off Tod Browning’s “Freaks” from top to bottom (we will be very disappointed if we don’t hear one “Gooba-gabble” this season), but it does it so well. And finally, whatever doubts we have were shunted aside and all but forgotten when Jessica Lange inexplicably turned into a hybrid of Marlene Dietrich as filtered through David Bowie. We want to call it genius, but it’s so hard to tell the difference between that and madness sometimes.
Why was a freakshow proprietor singing “Life on Mars” to an empty tent, nearly twenty years before the song was released? Oh, who cares? Your mouth dropped, didn’t it? You asked yourself “What the hell am I watching?” didn’t you? Then that was the point. In fact, that’s always the point to American Horror Story, which really couldn’t care less about things like internal consistency or plots that make any sort of sense. In true, classic horror show fashion, it’s about making you feel something, even if that feeling makes no sense. It’s a funhouse creepshow and everything is fake, so why are you screaming?
Which brings us to our next point – and the main reason why we’re looking forward to what’s coming this season: this was the first truly scary or creepy AHS episode in some time. Sure, there were some pretty horrific scenes in last year’s Coven, but very little of them had to do with horror tropes. Watching a racist torture black people is damn horrifying, but you couldn’t remove yourself from the horror and enjoy the ride. It was too real-world to give anyone that thrill of being in the dark and not knowing what’s going to happen. But THAT CLOWN, people. We don’t even have a phobia about clowns, but that was the scariest fucking clown we’ve ever seen. Pennywise just hung up his wig and said “Forget it. I can’t top that guy.” The scene with the kids in the cages was pure nightmare fuel.
Downsides? Well, it seems to us that they’re already overloading on plot and they haven’t even introduced all of the characters yet. Three different characters committed murder in this one episode alone, all for different reasons, and all of those murders appear to be very important to the story. Thematically, we’re looking at a “Who are the real freaks in society?” theme to the season and while that’s to be somewhat expected in a story like this (you could argue that you can’t get away with not examining it as a theme), it sure is a cliche. We hope Murphy can bring more to the table than ruminations on that hoary old question, especially since, what with the rape and murder this episode, he’s obviously not going to be offering up lovable freaks with hearts of gold under their deformities. He’s got quite the balancing act ahead of him because we don’t live in an age anymore where you can vilify the physically disabled for being monsters – and yet that’s the entire hook of this season. Considering what happened when he decided to examine the history of slavery in this country, we expect it’s another balancing act he’ll fail and wind up offending a whole lot of people. Then again, in true horror show fashion, that seems to be at least part of his goal each time.
It’s fun and dark and scary and great to look at. Yes, it’s all going to collapse and we’ll all probably be offended over something. Strap yourselves in.
[Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/FX]