American Horror Story Recaps: Chapter Five
Have you ever been to a haunted house? You know, not an actual one, but something some savvy local businessman might set up to rake in some of that sweet Halloween dough. You stumble from room to room, being bombarded with any number of zanily gruesome images, in an attempt to instil some sense of horror into your soul. But much as you might try to buy into it, to gamely play along, there’s a little voice at the back of your head going “This is all bullshit, isn’t it?”. That’s how I feel about this episode of American Horror Story.
Okay, alright, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Evan Peters and Frances Conroy cropped up in this episode, and they were both great. Evan Peters is one of those mind-buggeringly talented performers (I recently watched season one of AHS again, and his performance as Tate Langdon is better than you even remember), and despite the fact that he was handed another way-overblown-camp role, he was great. As Edward Philipe Mott, who originally built the house, he’s by turns sinister and tragic, unsettling and pathetic- and bloody hell, he only gets about twelve minutes of screentime (though I was a little concerned his ritual sacrificing might involve another in AHS’ illustrious line of bummings-to-death– thankfully, I was wrong). Frances Conroy, as a cannabalistic redneck matriarch, gets even less, but her tiny exchange with Kathy Bates was the high point of the episode, two magical actresses bringing some prestige into all the chaos.
But, beyond that, this episode was terrible. Fucking awful. To artlessly drag back in my haunted house analogy, it seemed more intent on bludgeoning us with unpleasant images and ideas that actually tying up the themes that were present at the start of the season. We stagger from Matt, Shelby and Flora being pursued through the house by Samara from the Ring (I mean, that was her, right?) while Kathy Bates and company wait patiently outside to horribly murder them, then bumping into the ghost of Mott in the basement, who leads them through a spooooooky secret passageway, from whence they end up in the woods, encountering the cannibalistic clan of Conroy (trademarked) who smash in Denis O’Hare’s face for, um, reasons, before getting dumped back at Kathy Bates’ feet just before her son has a change of heart after four hundred years or so and chucks her in a fire, facilitating their escape. By the end up, I wanted my admission fee back.
It’s a mess- an ugly, gory mess (the close-up in Denis O’Hares crushed visage was so clearly there for shock value, as was the lingering shot of Shelby’s brutalised leg). None of it meant anything. The first episode of this season set up an interesting story of a brittle love on the brink of breaking- and all of that is forgotten as Angela Basset swoops in to save the day (in the interest of transparency, I have always dreamed of Angela Basset pulling up next to me in a car and ordering me to get in) and the lot of them escape to presumably set up the next episode’s big twist. What a waste. What a pointless, messy, ugly, and uninspired waste. Even the occasionally fun writing or inspired direction here took a back seat to shit like Wes Bentley giving a speech in an accent more terrifying than half the shit they seemed to think was actually unnerving. As a British person, I am actually a little offended that Wes seems to think that we sound that much like a bunch of wankering divs.
And I’m still left with so many fucking questions-I mean, where to start? To begin with, why didn’t Kathy Bates and company just kick in the door and murder them from the off, since there was nothing apparently keeping them out of the house? Why did Wes Bentley have a random change of heart then, when they’ve been doing this for centuries? What was pig-man all about- where did he come from, who was he before he was balancing a jauntily-angled severed pigs head on his face? Why, when we had a huge dump of the house’s history courtesy of Denis O’Hare earlier in the season, didn’t we find out about Edward Mott before this? Why weren’t there ghosts of all the dead servants craicing about all this time? Where was Lady Gaga in all of this- she’s the cause of all of this, the reason it’s happening, was she busy that night or some shit? Why did the cop drive away, and why would he give her a lift in the first place if he was just going to leave? How on Earth can Cheyenne Jackson be considered main cast when he hasn’t been on-screen yet and we’re five episodes in? What was the deal with Shelby feeling the ground breathing out in the woods in the first episode? Why is this show never half as interesting as the fan theories people come up with for it? And, most importantly, who heard Wes Bentley’s accent and let him do it in front of a camera, and can we keep him away from that person for his own well-being?
This aren’t ambiguities, they’re plot holes. I feel better now that I’ve got that out, but that creeping sense of doom is coming once again- the same I got last year with the Doctor Who recaps, the knowledge that I had committed to this so I had to continue. Once again, AHS has less shot itself in the foot than taken off everything below the knee with a dull, uninspired episode that offered more questions than answers and yet swanned off at the end all chuffed with itself regardless. After a promising, interesting start, the season swiftly devolved into all the worst parts of this show, packaged in a slightly different wraparound, and told us it was innovative. And, without a doubt….it just isn’t.