American Horror Story S9E3: Slashdance

by thethreepennyguignol

I know last week I asked for American Horror Story to show it’s hand, but this is…well, I’m pretty sure this is the storytelling equivalent of them slicing it off and sending it through the mail to me with a note made up of letters cut from newspaper articles all about violent murder sprees. And I’m not sure what to make of it.

Okay, well, to be fair, I actually did enjoy this week’s outing, Slashdance, a little more than the first couple of weeks – it’s immensley silly and actually seems keen to embrace the dead teenager slashfest that it promised at the outset. Everyone is basically a scumbag and probably deserves to lightly die; Rita is an awful person and has secretly been Mindhuntering Mr Jingles in the strangest attempt at a redemption plot I’ve ever seen. Billie Lourd is banging Sexy Richard Ramirez. Ray accidentally murdered a frat pledge, tossed him down a mountain, then got his head bashed off by driving through a blade on a motorcycle. Cody Fern, in a role he’s much better suited for than the son of Satan, is settling in nicely to the guilt-ridden hysteria of a gay-for-pay dancercize instructor. It’s just – I mean, yeah, chaos. But somewhat entertaining chaos.

Which is really the best that I can hope for, these days, with this show. Sometimes, it’s so easy to forget that this is considered prestige television; this is, after all, a season where Matthew Morrison’s enormous dick is a major character point, a gag that even Two and a Half Men deemed passe after a few episodes. This is a season which employs the “I shall spill my deepest darkest secrets to this person while I assume they are out of it, OH NO they are actually awake who could have FORSEEN?” trope. A season where a serial killer can be both well-known enough to have likenesses of his face made and sold, but who the entire main cast haven’t heard of, apparently. It’s a dumb show, but sometimes that dumbness can be fun. I have nothing against a little nonsense once in a while; in fact, I’m quite the defender of it, in the right circumstances.

But there was a point, long ago, when this was prestige television. It really was! You remember that scene between Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy in season two, where they discuss mortality, guilt, loss, death, everything over the course of about five minutes and somehow it’s the most subtle, gorgeous, layered scene you’ve ever seen? Compare that, for example, to a scene in this week’s episode, where Mr Jingles (John Caroll Lynch) has someone engage him on the psychology of his crimes for the first time. He listens, respond, and then sits there and announces “this is the first time I’ve felt heard in fourteen years”. John Carroll Lynch is a fantastic actor, and this show doesn’t need to sit there and announce his feelings for us when it has already laid the groundwork for how this would make him feel. What was once conveyed in a look, a touch, a comment, is now smeared over the screen without the barest hint of subtlety, even though the writers, directors, and actors are smart enough to make that work.

I should let go of that version of the show and I know that. Because that version of the show stopped existing a long time ago. But damn, I miss that version of American Horror Story – I miss the version that could somewhat easily balance even the silliest tropes with something that felt a little more grounded, something that had a little punch. I came to this show way back in the day because it felt like, amongst all the Halloqueens puns and leather costumes, it just about took itself seriously. But now, it’s gone with the safer option of throwing that to the wind; if it doesn’t take itself with any level of seriousness, then the audience can’t, either, and therefore there’s nothing weighty for them to fuck up. They can’t get anything wrong, as long as they don’t try to get anything right.

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 411Mania)