American Horror Story S9E2: Mr Jingles

by thethreepennyguignol

I’m starting to feel like American Horror Story has shown its hand one too many times.

You know? I’m sitting here, watching the second episode of 1984, taking in these little details that the show is sprinkling in to tell us that All Is Not As It Seems. And I know already. I know that! Apocalypse pulled this “twist” nonsense out to ruin my fun, Roanoke did the same, and I’m sure Cult would have tried if there was a single throughline in that show that had lasted more than fifteen minutes. And I can’t help but want them to just hurry up and get there already.

This habit of setting up a standard horror story trope and then knocking it down with Le Grand Twiste is a perfectly acceptable idea, and I’ve seen plenty of movies and shows make it work for them (I rewatched Lake Mungo recently, and that’s a superb example of that if you’re looking for a really great take on this notion). But American Horror Story has this habit of rendering the opening few episodes of this idea such a banal indulgence of the trope that goes on for about three straight hours, and it’s hard not to just want them to get to the point already, you know?

So what actually happened in this episode? Well, Cody Fern was involved in a violent situation with someone using anti-gay rhetoric to conceal their wrongdoings and – wait, wasn’t that just the last season of American Crime Story? Either way, Cody Fern is doing gay porn but doesn’t want to be, and his presumable pimp-adjacent bloke turns up to try to blackmail him back to work. Only to be promptly killed, because God forbid we set up some conflict that actually leads somewhere, right? Emma Roberts is boring the crap out of me with her Tragic Past and the story of how her would-be husband slaughtered everyone at their wedding because he suspected her of cheating; Billie Lourd is creeping the crap out of me by putting the moves on Roberts as soon as she’s finished recounting her gory matrimony, because there’s no better indicator of how very into ladies a girl is than hearing about her marriage to a man.

Oh, and that really was Richard Ramirez turning up at the end of last week’s episode. Good for Zach Villa for breaking through to dramatic television with a role as juicy as this, but also, more cogently, what the fuck? I know that American Horror Story loves to drag in real-life violent murders and the murderers who committed then – especially when they were committed against women, am I right, lads? – but Ramirez’ appearance in this episode feels so gruellingly thin and uninspired, pulled out of the Big Book of Violent Misogyny that this show so often draws from, that it really just does look like a chance to give the true crime fetish community some new material to gif themselves over.

Oh, sorry, no: to be fair, this episode is all about trauma. I know that, because it tells me at least a half-dozen separate times. It’s why we get a potted history of Ramirez and his own difficult upbringing; it’s why Emma Roberts gets such a glaringly overblown backstory, and why Cody Fern’s Xavier has to have someone turn up to shake him down and reminds us of why he felt the need to flee from LA in the first place. And don’t get me wrong, good horror is often about trauma of one kind or another: but American Horror Story seems to have forgotten that it’s not good horror anymore.

It’s uber-violent genre parody and as many excuses for anal rape death as can be fit into one season, and that’s not the place to get up and wave your arms about around the horrors of trauma, you know? Emma Roberts warns one of the generic male cast members who I’ve already forgotten the very existence of not to get close to her, because everyone who gets close to her ends up hurt: the show must announce this through hokey dialogue because they sure as hell couldn’t trust us to get it and take it seriously with the over-the-top gleeful gorefest that led to this revelation. There’s room for an exploration of something serious alongside the ridiculous slasher hysteria that this season is tossing about, but they don’t really work in the same plot, you know?

The one small glimmer of hope in this episode is Leslie Grossman, whose performance, like I said last week, is really impressing me compared to her previous roles on the show. She’s the one who listens to Ramirez’ retelling of his childhood, and Grossman actually manages to bring some depth to the absurdity of that scene, connecting her trauma and freedom from it through religion with his similar actions. And she’s the one who seems to lead us to the incoming twist, as she comes across one of the campers from her past who she thought was dead, but who seems to be reliving his deaths over and over again instead. A story far more interesting than the sub-Friday-the-13th we’re being treated to for the time being.

Which brings me back to my main point: I just want them to get there already. Show your hand, let us get to the good stuff. This show has always struggled maintaining plots for more than three episodes at a time, which is the reason, I believe, that these twists come so far into the season’s run. But what we’ve got is a relatively uninteresting take on an overdone genre, and even the goofy costumes and over-the-top characters are starting to wear thin. Get to the point, and save me the four episodes of time-wasting this time around. How about it, huh?

Well, that’s us for this week’s episode – what did you think? Frustrating meta-disaster, or promising start? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this article and want to see more stuff like it, check out my Game of Thrones snark-caps, my Doctor Who reviews, and my Star Wars movie retrospective on my other blog, No But Listen. As ever, please consider supporting me on Patreon for access to exclusive posts and a chance to choose what I write about!

(header image via Comic Book)