This review contains spoilers.
2.11 Spilt Milk
American Horror Story has never been shy about diving into meta territory, both with its musical cues and in its shooting style. This week’s episode, Spilt Milk, did both of these things with its nods to Candyman (the music was repeated pretty often this week to great effect) and the work of Fake Hitchcock himself, Brian De Palma. I always enjoy when the show gets referential, especially musically, and this week was definitely a treat.
This was, from beginning to end, the most visually interesting episode of American Horror Story this season, thanks in no small part to director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. There are so many clever edits and tricks this week, from multiple time-jumping match cuts involving the Bloody Face gang to a brilliant tracking shot through the asylum as inmates are being fed their meals of carbs and (especially) the way in which Lana’s escape is filmed that if I started naming all of the great camera work, I’d run out of space. Suffice it to say, the show has never used so many interesting angles, filming techniques (Dutch angle, fisheye lens, both in the same scene), and editing tricks (split screen) in the same episode to such great, dizzying effect. The whole thing felt like waking up in the middle of the dream, shocking and disorienting, and it does not let up for a moment.
In many ways, this visual weirdness makes up for the fairly sedate (by AHS standards) dialogue this week. Brad Falchuk’s pen did produce some great lines this week, particularly those delivered by the brilliant Dylan McDermott (who should be a part of the show for its third season, if only because he’s so great at delivering the craziest stuff imaginable) and the always reliable Zachary Quinto. The twists and turns this week’s episode took weren’t tough to follow, but even with all the strange twists the show seemed… strangely serious. That’s not a bad thing, just an odd thing for a show built on insanity and repulsiveness (though it has its moments, all involving McDermott).
The straightforwardness actually helps tie into the interesting visuals by reinforcing the episode’s dreamlike quality. It seems like a strange fantasy, and even when things take a turn at the end, it still seems like something out of, say, Lana’s mind (and they even tease this within the episode). I’m still not entirely sure what we’ve seen over the past two episodes is real, though I really hope it isn’t some sort of post-lobotomy St. Elsewhere moment in the mind of Pepper. I doubt it is; I think I’m just overly suspicious.
Still, with the rate the show is burning through storylines and characters (and how quickly a lot of characters seem to be leaving the asylum), I can’t help but feel like there’s one or two huge surprises left in the show before the end of the season. The end is coming soon, but there’s a whole lot of twists left in this roller coaster. After all, the show is down multiple characters at this point, from the long-forgotten-until-this-week Wendy to recent departures/deaths, yet it seems like nothing is every truly gone in AHS world.
I have to question if the show’s commitment to being more grounded is a good thing or a bad thing. Ratings are still very good, but are down this season, possibly due to the fact Asylum isn’t the balls-out acid trip that Murder House was. I think that the fact the show is more coherent makes its strangeness that much more powerful (and very funny, to boot) but sometimes I miss the absolute nonsense it used to serve up.
Spilt Milk seemed to be aiming to supply some meat with the cheese we all know and love.
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