This review contains spoilers.
2.2 Tricks And Treats
It’s the “all dirty secrets must be revealed” episode of American Horror Story, and if you thought the more realistic, less haunted setting would tone down the show’s desire to be psycho-sexually off-putting, then you, good sir or ma’am, thought very, very wrong. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s second season of American Horror Story hasn’t quite produced an image as imminently GIF-worthy as Dylan McDermott’s crysturbation quite yet, but it’s working very hard to top the first season in terms of sheer kinky perversity.
One of the great appeals of American Horror Story during the first season was its sheer willingness to do something absolutely insane at least once per episode, if not more often. While American Horror Story: Asylum seems to be intent on building a reasonable world, rather than simply a house full of ghosts, it also seems to be unwilling to break from its tradition of gleeful insanity with this week’s impressive collection of bits and pieces mashed into a television show.
James Wong gets a great deal of credit for this. As this week’s writer, he had to balance a whole lot of stuff around the central exorcism storyline, and he’s able to do this very skillfully while giving the actors plenty of chances to show off their own skills. Every major inmate at Briarcliff gets some screen time this week, from Kit, Grace, and Lana getting multiple interactions with one another to the excellent sequences of Dr. Arden with his lady companion of the evening (Jenny Wade). It’s obvious that James Cromwell is having a lot of fun playing the role of the conflicted Dr. Arden, who seems to personify the American Horror Story balancing act between repressed pervert and blatantly abusive manipulator. Talk about a brilliant performer; no matter who he is paired with this week, from Our Lady of Promiscuity Shelly’s expository monologue about her back story to the wonderful Lily Rabe, the obvious object of Dr. Arden’s obsession.
James Cromwell plays a great creeper, but Lily Rabe—one of my favorite actresses of the first season—plays an absolutely wonderful ingenue. (She even looks a little like Mary Pickford, unless I’m going blind.) The entire cast is brilliant, and American Horror Story is one of the top ensemble shows on television. Top to bottom, this is a show with some great actors involved in it, and no guest spot seems too small to fill with someone awesome. Particularly strong this week was the scorching Lizzie Brochere, who said more in one searing glance from her betrayed blue eyes than a whole page of scripted word ever could. Every scene with Brochere and Paulson’s Lana “Banana” worked very well for me, but especially so when Kit got thrown in as a third wheel.
There seems to be a growing conflict between the world of Briarcliff and the modern world, as personified by court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto, looking very dapper in his sixties suit, glasses, and ‘parted by a bandsaw’ hair). On one hand, there’s a bloody exorcism this week, the height of Catholic mysticism. On the other hand, you’ve got Dr. Arden and his (possible, probable) fiendish experiments in science. There’s the forward-thinking Dr. Thredson and the backward-thinking Sister Jude, who beats the sin out of patients with her 50 Shades of Grey cane closet, shock treatments, and multiple other abuses of power. Accountability versus control. Repression versus expression. Science versus religion. The past versus the future. Sanity versus insanity.
There are any number of ways the various characters and story lines can go, and I like that there’s an element of unpredictability that remains in spite of the show’s tighter plotting. This week’s episode was jam-packed, but director Bradley Buecker kept things moving and gave the show’s special effects team plenty of chances to shine when he wasn’t making great use of the massive filming space he has at his disposal. He still can’t get Jessica Lange to stick with an accent, but I have no doubt she’ll either find one or I’ll enjoy her Southern Bostonisms so much that it won’t matter.
Being enjoyable is what American Horror Story is best at. No matter what direction this season takes, I’m pretty confident I’m going to enjoy the ride, and isn’t that what television is all about? It may not be the best dialogue or plotting, but it’s probably the most consistently fun, entertaining stuff on the boob tube right now. Like the Pink Floyd song, this is a crazy diamond that keeps on shining.
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