American Horror Story seems to be breaking new grounds for crazy stuff this season, all while telling stronger stories. They just keep getting stranger and stranger, the twists keep getting twistier, and the show seems willing to go anywhere and do anything just to keep the viewing audience off balance. They’re more than successful at it, too, as I keep getting surprised by the random stuff that happens even though I expect nothing but weirdness.
You would think at this point, American Horror Story couldn’t crank up the craziness to last season’s level, but this week’s episode from the mind of Jennifer Salt just might be the most insane 40-something minutes of television I’ve seen on any network not HBO. Even including HBO, this was sheer bananas, with every plot twist being topped by something else. It was like a game of anything you can do, I can do better, except scripted by maniacs. In short, it was a great Halloween episode.
For starters, the entire episode takes place during a horrible storm. Talk about serendipity. A few short days after a horrible storm tears through real-life Massachusetts, a horrible storm tears through the fictional Massachusetts of American Horror Story: Asylum. Interestingly, actual Hurricane Sandy is something of a Nor’easter herself; the remnants of the hurricane met with a more traditional cold core weather system which dumped even more rain than usual for a hurricane and led to blizzards and 2-3 feet of snow in the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. This was a year after a Halloween nor’easter. Given that last week’s American Horror Story was the day before Halloween, it appears that they got their timing down perfectly for this storm.
All the rain, the flickering lights, the general moodiness created a great atmosphere for director Michael Uppendahl, even if it limits what he can do in terms of composition. There are still plenty of cool moments, particularly a late-episode reveal of a plot twist that I thought was classic, and some good use of slow-motion and Dutch angles at various points. Uppendahl doesn’t use a lot of trickery, but what he does use is effectively deployed. He lets the writing and actors do their thing and stays out of their way.
Every possible plot thread from the first three episodes is revisited this week, and in grand fashion. The triumvirate of Lily Rabe, James Cromwell, and Jessica Lange really dominated the episode, with Dr. Arden and Sister Jude both being manipulated by Sister Eunice, agent of chaos and Satan’s minion. She’s absolutely wonderful in this role, and now freed from Eunice’s cute innocence, the more wicked side of Lily Rabe appears. She delivers some of the best lines of the episode, and her expressions, particularly when watching The Signs of the Cross, are stellar. As for Lange and Cromwell, they both put in some great work, particularly in their first face-off in the episode. Jessica Lange really got to show off this week, and she and Lily Rabe are going to end up competing for awards this ear, I think. Lange last year got the show up and be flashy, but this year she’s got to carry the weight of the show while Rabe gets the flashier role as the possibly possessed nun.
I have to wonder something. The show keeps fleshing out elements, adding in new things, revisiting one-offs from other episodes. So far, the bulk of the action is in ’64, and I definitely approve of that. The Lovers and the modern world storyline keeps taking fun, weird turns, but the real action is in the past. I’m not as engrossed in The Lovers, probably because there hasn’t been as much of them, and all I want is more Grace, Thredson, or Penny and less Adam Levine. It’s not terrible and I’ll keep an open mind. Generally, every odd story the show throws at viewers ends up being worth it. Even Bloody Face will pay off in the end, no doubt.
Three episodes in, and we’ve had three brilliant episodes. The show’s writing and plotting seems stronger, and today showed that the program’s creators and runners aren’t willing to throw out all the trashy, crazy fun in exchange for coherence and effective storytelling. Just as well. If it wasn’t insane, it wouldn’t be AHS.
Is there a limit to the amount of craziness you as the audience will accept from this show? Or are you, like me, willing to embrace anything so long as it ends up being entertaining. I can’t help but wonder if the show is crossing lines some people are uncomfortable with, or if it has crossed so many comfort zones that it’s got diplomatic immunity for being offensive?
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