I want to make it very clear, right at the top of this review, that I am not the kind of person who believes that subtlety is necessary for good storytelling. My favourite genre of anything is the musical, a world often delightfully devoid of nuance; one of my favourite movies is Streets of Fire, a film which can’t even spell subtlety. I reviewed Riverdale for two entire seasons, not entirely unfavourably. I’m not asking for Barry Jenkins-levels of deep emotional wit here, is what I’m saying.
Happy Halloween, one and all! I hope you’re all having a suitably spooky and safe season of scares, and thank you for joining me for another one of these reviews which I still, unaccountably, continue to write out of actual choice despite the seething mess of this season so far.
The pre-credits scene for this episode, Red Dawn, oozes with the promise of what I really want American Horror Story to be. Dede, pre-show, attempts to catch her philandering father out with one of his hook-ups. In the process, she discovers that he is actually a serial killer, and that she has stumbled across one of his kills mid-slaughter. It’s a violent sequence, yes – I had to watch giblets jiggling out of someone’s split-open torso – but it’s driven by the confrontation between Dede and her father and…it’s just great.
Look, for the love of fuck, alright? Can we just? Can we just for once? Can we just for once not?
Can we just for once not try to make a notorious and real-life serial killer and rapist and noted misogynist into some sexy object of lusty feminine desire? Can we stop depicting bisexual people as oversexed, immoral psychopaths? Can we stop dragging out esteemable talent like John Carrol Lynch and paste on comically bad dialogue for them to attempt to emote through? Can this show just not be shit in every way it’s possible to be shit for one singular second?
Maybe I’m just in a bad mood today. But this week’s episode, True Killers, just rubbed me all kinds of the wrong way. My biggest problem with this season is probably the inclusion and overt sexualisation of Richard Ramirez; look, Zach Villa, the actor playing him, isn’t entirely the problem here, though his perma-snarl is slightly embarrassing by this point. But why, oh why, oh why, did the show decide that showing him as a sexy bad boy was the way to go? If you must indulge that trope, invent someone to do it with – if you must include Ramirez, don’t spend four episodes underlining how sexy and damaged and in need of the love of a good woman he is. I‘m abjectly fucking tired of the intense interest that pop culture has taken in violent misogynists lately, and American Horror Story has been an atrocious offender of this trope of late.
Okay, I’ve got that out of my system. But that’s not to say that even beyond that this episode has a lot to offer. American Horror Story has always attracted actors of notoriously high quality, but these last few seasons it’s just been aggressively wasting them: Cody Fern is a tremendous dramatic actor, but feels as out-of-place here in the low-effort camp as he did last season, while John Carroll Lynch just isn’t getting the meat he needs to get into this performance (I recently watched No-End House, which featured him as a villain, and his incredible mix of empathy, tragedy, and terror proves that he knows just how to do this). Emma Roberts gives good bitch but is grossly miscast as the final girl-adjacent here, and somehow Matthew Morrison seems to be the only person tonally suited to this mess of a season so far, which is something of a horror story in and of itself given, you know, his previous work.
Of course, we’re prime time for the twist everyone saw coming: Lesley Grossman was actually the one to commit the killing spree that initially closed the camp, and pinned it all on Benji/Jingles to get away with it. It’s been so strongly telegraphed that it barely even counts as a twist, but it still leaves a lot of cheerfully unanswered questions about why Benji has become an actual serial murderer in the intervening time. Well, I suppose they try to offer an answer to that in a few scenes of him receiving violent electroshock therapy, which, and I don’t want to bang on this drum too much, but as a therapeutic tool really has a much worse name than it needs to have and is very useful for a lot of people, and could probably use American Horror Story not using it as a spooky trope?
Every season, I come in to these recaps thinking I might not be inherently irritated by what I’m going to see. Every season, I am made to look a clown (also speaking of clowns, read our Joker review). This show wants to sexify the image of real serial killers, waste numerous talented performers (and behind-the-scenes staff too – Jennifer Lynch directs this episode, and does really well with it despite the irritating subject matter), and generally just regurgitate boring horror tropes and call it prestige meta-narrative.
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(header image via TV Fix)
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.
Ah, American Horror Story. Garbage? Yes. Brilliant? Yes. The next season is due out in just a few weeks, so it seems like the time to delve into the show’s, uh, mixed back catalogue – from best to worst, I’m ranking everything this show has injected straight into my veins. You can take a look at my predictions for American Horror Story: 1984 right here, and in the meantime, let’s get some opinions up in this joint!
Wow! It’s American Horror Story-o-clock already? Yes, the first trailer for the next season, subtitled 1984, is here, it’s probably pretty queer, and it’s going to be going ahead without Evan Peters. And hey, as your local cynical American Horror Story scholar, I think it’s only right that I take a look at it, right? To the teaser!