There sure are a lot of amputations on television this season. The trend started with Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy, who lost her left leg above the knee after a plane crash — and while she’s healing just fine physically, psychologically she’s a mess. Then on The Walking Dead, Hershel’s fellow survivors had to crudely cut his right leg off following a zombie attack. His condition was pretty touch-and-go there for a while, but he has since recovered enough to whack a zombie with one of his crutches. Finally, on American Horror Story, Shelley had both her legs amputated above the knee by the psycho, evil Dr. Arden as some kind of sadistic punishment for sexuality. (Or something?) Cutting legs off! It’s the hottest trend around.
The most important part of any dramatic amputation is that there be a screaming blonde woman involved somehow. Grey’s and AHS covered this by having the screaming blonde be the amputee, but there are ways around it: TWD had Hershel’s daughter Beth on the sidelines. Screaming, crying, whimpering — these are all acceptable.
It’s also helpful, just in terms of trendiness, to avoid standard medical ethics. On Grey’s, Arizona’s surgery was performed by close friend and pediatric specialist Alex Karev. But at least Arizona had a traditional and legitimate medical setting. Hershel himself was the only doctor present at his own amputation, which was performed in a decrepit prison cafeteria with an ax. Shelley was the unluckiest of all, though, since her double-amputation had absolutely no medical purpose and was just something Dr. Arden felt like doing. She was anesthetized, but it appeared that he performed his twisted surgery all by himself in a grody, makeshift operating room.
Finally, it’s essential that the “reveal” of this amputation be played for maximum shock value. Grey’s achieved this with the dramatic pulling back of a blanket, while TWD just zoomed right in on the gushing wound itself. AHS has the benefit of being a horror series, so it can use the melodramatic edits of cutting back and forth between Chloë Sevigny’s face and her gruesomely raw stumps. In all cases, though, the shows were hoping to elicit a strong “gaaah” reaction from the audience. Success! (Success?)
So, there you have it. Fall’s big thing wasn’t obnoxious gay guys, it wasn’t lousy doctor shows, and it wasn’t female-driven comedy: It was stumps.