The sixth episode of American Horror Story is a perfect example of a show struggling to find its identity. You’d think that a Ryan Murphy series featuring ample amounts of sex, murder and ghosts, set against a dark depiction of Hollywood would be writing its own playbook, especially considering there isn’t much of an established formula to follow. In the world of this show, weird begets weird.
The show works best as a kind of Grand Guignol camp, full of blood and guts and crazy caricatures. As an audience, we can tolerate creepy images and crimes that make sense in the fictional universe of the show. But when events hit as close to home as they did in this last episode, it creates a bipolar tone that AHScan’t seem to remedy. Confused? Let me explain…
In a flashback at the opening of the episode, we’re taken back to 1994, the day of Tate’s high school shooting spree, which we learned about in the last episode. Under the direction of Michael Uppendahl, this tense reenactment is undeniably riveting. However, it’s a vast departure from the previous tone of the show because; well… it was frighteningly real. And realism like this doesn’t belong on a series that tends to eschew human emotion and rational thought. This is a show where dead people commune with the living and smart women have unquestioning sex with men in rubber suits. I come to it for escape, not documentary.
Do I think AHS is a bad show? Well, no. Murphy and company are willing to try new things but sometimes it’s too fine a line to blend soap storylines with the truly morbid. As the episode continues, other plot lines bring it back to the comfort of the supremely weird. In an effort to help her son Tate cross over from his self-inflicted limbo, Constance teams up with her medium, Billie Dean Howard (played by Sarah Paulson, looking better than ever) and Violet to urge him into the afterlife. (Taissa Farmiga, it should be said, does terrific work as a teen dealing with both the unreal and the surreal.)
Together, Constance and Billie Dean deliver the best line of the night. Billie Dean says to Violet, “I used to be like you…until I was 25. When out of the blue my cleaning lady shows up as I’m brushing my teeth. Except she’s got no toilet brush and rubber gloves, she’s naked and bloody. Her husband murdered her with an ice pick.” To which Constance utters in perfect throwaway fashion, “It’s hard to keep good help.”
And THAT is a moment that perfectly exemplifies what American Horror Story needs to be. Kitschy, Dirty, but also still a little formulaic and safe.
The rest of the episode’s storyline echoed that more familiar, stylistic feeling, especially Modern Family’sEric Stonestreet’s guest role as a man afraid of the “Piggy Man” killer of lore. He finally confronts his fear, though at the same time he ironically confronts a murderous intruder. Oopsie! Vivien, meanwhile, continues to move toward divorce but tells Ben that he can remain a presence as a father.
So at this point, almost halfway into the show’s first season, American Horror Story is keeping its plot cards close to the vest (watch out! The Killing did this as well) while still finding its footing in terms of narrative tone. As I’ve said previously, I’m still interested in seeing where this show will take us and I’m hoping next week doesn’t make me wait as long to exhale.
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