AHS: Ready for the end game . . . .

FX_AHS_ImageGallery_0000_03Last night I was laid low with a migraine and didn’t live tweet American Horror Story: Coven, though I was watching and shrieking right along with everybody else.  So I’m thinking maybe now, as we go into the long dry spell that is the holiday break, might be a good time to stop and take stock of where we are in more than 140 characters.

Regular readers of the blogness might recall that I started off the season after the premiere saying that I loved this new story of the New Orleans witches and the voodoo queens who loathe them even though it punched nearly every button on my hate list for horror.  Poisonous poontang, crazy church ladies, rape rape and more rape, and anal atrocity when all else fails to shock – those tropes are all still there in almost every episode, and I don’t like’em any better now than I did in October.  But the good still outweighs the bad, and even if it didn’t, I couldn’t give up this story without finding out how it comes out to save my sanity.

So, the bad:

  • When Queenie begged the Minotaur to “love” her in the garden shed and ended up with even lower self esteem and obvious internal injuries.  They almost lost me with that one.  Queenie deserved better as a character, and though she did a fantastic job of playing the scene without flinching, Gabourey Sidibe deserves better as an actress.   In a recent episode when Queenie slaughtered a would-be rapist, I saw what they did there, contrasting the old Queenie with the new.  But it still felt clumsy, cruel and unnecessary.
  • All those damned crazy mamas.  What. The. Fuck, Y’all?  Did Mare Winningham lose a bet?   And unless she’s going to rise up with something brilliant in the final act, the Patti Lupone character is a waste of space put in for no better reason than to make mean fun of Christian fundamentalism in all its repressed, Lysol-wielding glory.  All I can say is bleah.
  • The way nobody on the voodoo side of New Orleans has any personality except Marie Laveau.  Over at Miss Robichaux’s Academy, even the portraits hanging on the walls have an intricate backstory.  At Marie Laveau’s, people just come in to get their hair done and get shot.
  • The pacing on the witch hunter plot.  While the writers may have known about Hank’s family history and the big bad Delphi Trust from the beginning, it felt like this was a great big daemon ex machina brought in last night to push everything to a crisis for the final act, a brilliant notion that occurred to somebody over their Thanksgiving turkey.  I like it; it works; it just seems like too big a plot point to have been a secret until this point in the story.  But I’m willing to be talked out of this one; this may just have been a slow reveal on Hank.

But enough nitpicking; on to the Very, Very Good:

  • Kathy Bates, Kathy Bates, and ever more Kathy Bates.  No other actress could have played the character arc of The Education and Dismemberment of Delphine LaLaurie and made it not only make sense but be genuinely moving.  We know she’s a monster, the worst on display here, and yet we’re rooting for her; we want her to get better; we want Queenie to save her soul.  Last night watching her disembodied head weep to hear Odetta sing about freedom should have been Grand Guignol comedy, but it wasn’t.  Intercut with the horrific images of Hank’s massacre in the hair salon, it made me cry.  And that’s the thing about this whole story, the thing that makes it better than the first season.  It’s not just cool and edgy and scary and shocking – it’s human and heartfelt, too.
  • Every little thing about Fiona.  Speaking of touching scenes, nothing has gotten to me more all season than Fiona helping the grieving mother in the hospital resurrect her stillborn daughter.  I love her twisted love for Cordelia; I love her desperate love for herself; I love the way she loves the Axe Man and the way he loves her back.  This part was obviously written purely as a love letter to Jessica Lange, and she’s proving she’s worth every word.
  • The weird-ass love triangle between Zoe, Kyle (better known at our house as Frankenwiener), and Madison.  It tickles me to see these two teen-age girls, one outwardly shy and inwardly certain, the other just the opposite, create their own version of Prince Charming and share him like a toy.  Extra points for the way Fiona has taken him up as a pet.
  • Every moment between Queenie and Delphine.
  • Every shot of Angela Bassett’s exquisitely beautiful face which somehow manages to be stony and expressive at the same time.
  • Myrtle, the most specific and cuckoo version of the classic crone figure I’ve ever heard tell of.
  • All the incredible visual details and layers of gorgeous horror, from Madison’s outfits to the sight of Myrtle burning at the stake – this is what gothic should always look like.  For once, a piece of art lives up to its title sequence.

So now we wait until January 8.  Truth be told, I don’t really care who the new Supreme is; I just want to know what happens next.

AHS: Asylum – Thanks, but no thanks

SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR THE VERY FIRST EPISODE OF SEASON TWO.

Last year, I was an avid, obsessive, totally addicted viewer of FX Network’s erotic horror series, American Horror Story.  Even when I hated it, I loved it.  So this year, even though I’ve been booked solid with writing commitments and family commitments and day job commitments and everything else, I had no doubt whatsoever that I would watch Season Two:  Asylum, just as voraciously.  Even when my baby sister who knows me well warned me after the first episode that it dealt with one of my least-loved horror tropes, the evil insane asylum, I was keen to watch and downloaded the first two episodes from the PlayStation Network.

So yesterday, after we finished hanging the ceremonial bat lights and spider webs on the front porch in prep for trick or treat, Max and Sister Lex and I sat down to watch the first two episodes.  I made it about halfway through episode 1 before I said, and I quote, “Turn that shit off my TV!”

Please understand, I am not offended at all by the sexual content or the manipulation of religious symbology; I’m not bored by the 1964 settting; and I believe any storyline that results in the maiming and possible death by bleeding of Adam Levine can only be a blessing.  I would also sign any petition to have Jessica Lange declared a national treasure.  But y’all . . . aliens?  Unanethesized surgery?  It’s like Hostel raped the X-Files, and it gave birth to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was immediately strangled by Agnes of God

Which may be the point.  The first season of AHS was just as much a mash-up of true crime mythology and pop horror, and it may well be that I liked it better because I liked the component parts better.  Lex is right; I have a real and very personal twitch about horror stories set in mental hospitals (don’t even get me started about the 1999 remake of The House on Haunted Hill).  And I absolutely loathe the entire “torture porn” genre, which is obviously a powerful influence and component in this story.  (The opening sequence with Levine, for example, could have been lifted straight out of a new installment of Saw or any of its imitators.)  But Season 1 just seemed to have so much more story.  Yes, there were pure shocks – who had ever seen a gimp suit on non-pay cable before?  But everything seemed slotted into the central drama of this seemingly-gorgeous American family held together with lies and delusion, and the setting, Murder House, felt like the perfect, even inevitable vessel for that drama.  Season 2 may well gel beautifully at some point, and I freely admit I haven’t seen enough to judge it as a narrative whole.  But what I have seen felt more like four or five separate SHOCKING!!!! vignettes, all shot and edited like slasher flicks, with only the most tenuous connection to one another than it did any kind of cohesive story that could carry on through an entire TV season.  And the connections to the asylum itself seemed just as tenuous.  Season 1 was like an infuriatingly clever and jaw-droppingly sexy postmodern, post-deconstruction take on The Haunting of Hill House.  What I’ve seen of Season 2 felt like a sick stoner’s staged reading of an old issue of the Weekly World News

Which again might well be the point.

Again, I’m only speaking for myself here; a lot of smart people I know are absolutely enthralled so far, Lex included.  But I’m really disappointed, and I’m cutting my losses early.  Like I told Lex yesterday, I don’t get why the new season has to be so completely different, why we needed a whole new setting and a whole new genre of paranormal – aliens instead of ghosts.  Like I told her, in the second season of Friends, they didn’t celebrate their success by recasting with six ugly people who hate one another and hang out in an alley smoking crack.  And yes, I totally get that AHS is NOT Friends, nor should it be.  But it ought to at least be fun to watch, and for me, this season, it just isn’t.