American Horror Story
All right, probably non-sports fans. Are you ready for the exit remarks? Last night marked the tragic end of season two. I say tragic because I now have no idea where I will get my weekly dose of abject insanity, violence, and sex mania. I mean, aside from Kathie Lee and Hoda. Let’s do an extended recap, then we’ll wrap up with some banal closing remarks and maybe a song. Just a little wink to Catholic Mass.
We begin in an Instagrammed-looking flashback. Son of Bloody Face Johnny is wearing a denim jacket enjoying the audiobook of Lana’s memoir, Tales of Bloody Face, both of which indicate that he’s a poorly socialized nightmare not fit for pleasant company. I mean, an audiobook? If you’re not in the car or at the gym: lazy. But maybe his cardio is walking around abandoned mental hospitals, because that’s what he’s doing. Hey, anything beats Zumba.
All of the ghosts of Briarcliff past are speaking to him. Mainly, his parents telling him about how he never should have been born. It’s like one of those Halloween haunted houses you went to growing up, but for the children of divorce. It’s four months earlier. Oh, good, it’s my nemesis Adam Levine and his TV wife, Jenna Dewan. Johnny is pissed to have his Audible.com time interrupted. As predicted, it was him hacking off Adam’s arm. It looks like the one he uses to hit the buzzer on The Voice, so maybe our long national nightmare is over.
In the present, Lana is having her makeup done for a TV interview and explaining to the journalist that a portrait of her on the wall was rendered by an airplane-drunk Bono en route back from Somalia. I don’t know about you guys, but I think “trapped on an international flight with Bono” is too disturbing, even for this show. I certainly hope that’s not season three. In addition to some pretty great Ellen Burstyn age makeup, she’s now got a pretty home and a beautiful, Anne Bancroft–ian girlfriend who accuses her of lusting after Julian Assange. Well, he does have a bit of a late-in-life lesbian thing going on, I guess. She’s also being honored by the Kennedy Center and having dinner with Sondheim, which is what happens when you play M*A*S*H with Ryan Murphy and get the best possible result. (The worst is: shack, Tucker Carlson, a thousand kids, no Kennedy Center honors.)
The journalist wants to talk about Bloody Face and Lana doesn’t. She brings up Heath Ledger for some reason. Uh … okay? I was going to say “too soon” but then again: Anne Frank. They cut between a flashback of Lana exploring Briarcliff with a camera crew and the present-day interview, because explication. The church, she explains and as we saw last week, sold the asylum to the state and then things got bad there. And things are pretty gross. In fact, state-run Briarcliff looks a lot like my two least favorite things: the video for “Enter Sandman” and people chewing with their mouths open.
She demands to see Jude, and the orderly is like, “Oh, okay.” Wow. What a friendly place. Speaking of music videos, Jude is doing some real “Come to My Window” writhing. Lana helps Jude out of her cell and, hopefully, into a place where she can be deep-conditioned. This incident, we are told, got Briarcliff shut down and helped win Lana even more acclaim after exaggerating memoirs that in no way needed to be exaggerated. But alas, she admits to the journalist in the future, the whole thing was faker than a Chinese iPhone exposé. She never rescued Jude, because Jude was gone by the time she went back for her. Ummm … So the camera crew was taping … what exactly? Andy Serkis in a green body suit? Lana stops the interview to ask for some sparkling water. It’s brought to her by … JOHNNY! Wait a minute. Psychopaths? Working in the ENTERTAINMENT industry? Is that possible? I can’t believe Entourage would lie to us.
Next up, we’re kicking it to a little Carole King when she shows up at Kit’s house, which is looking a little worse for wear. He’s happy to see her, until he realizes he’s being filmed. He invites her in, and she tells him she found a file that says Jude was released to his care. Oh, man. I love a May-December thing, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that sex scene just yet. Kit explains that, seized by the spirit of forgiveness, he and what’s left of his ginchy multicultural family helped nurse Jude back to health, via juices from their garden. Let me tell you, I’m doing a juice fast right now, and I’d much rather be living in Briarcliff, because at least they have crazy bread. Jude apparently feels the same way, because she ultimately has a wig out and starts walloping his Bennetton babies. They lay their magical alien hands on her and lead her into the forest.
“I still don’t know what happened in those woods,” says Kit. Uh, I do. Kevin Costner plays catch with his dad and my father cries, embarrassing the both of us.
Kit’s kids have special powers, I guess, because Jude returns magically healed and ready to cut a rug. Let me pause for the million billionth time to reiterate: Jessica Lange is phenomenally beautiful. That hair! That body! I need to know her secret. If kissing Dabney Coleman is actually the secret to eternal youth, then so be it. Sadly, Jude dies after a particularly strenuous bout of swing dancing. Parents, don’t let your children listen to Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Even on her deathbed, she looks like she’s just had a seaweed wrap. I hope part of Lana’s exposé involves getting the number of her dermatologist. Frances Conroy arrives right on time, dressed as usual like she’s come from a speakeasy-themed fund-raiser at the botanical gardens. Bless Ryan Murphy for giving the Rachel-kisses–Winona Ryder smooch of this show to two gorgeous grand dames of the American theater.
Now, alas, it’s time for the monsignor to pay the investigative-journalism piper. Shakespeare in HOT WATER! In flashback, Lana ambushes him in a stairwell. Are we finally going to tie up that loose plot point about why he hired a Nazi who experimented on patients? Uh, no. He drives away and kills himself. I guess we’ll never know anything, except the fact that Joseph Fiennes still looks pretty damn good with his shirt off.
Finally, Lana admits during the interview that Bloody Face Junior didn’t actually die in infancy. Turns out, she actually visited him once when he was a kid, when a bully was asking him if he wants to suck a brontosaurus’s dick. This episode was apparently written by Tim Minear, with help from Wesley Willis. She helps him up and then disappears forever.
In the future, Bloody Face is listening, taking in the whole confession while angrily pounding a doughnut. Kit, we learn, remarried and got a sweet John Holmes perm before getting sick and disappearing in his forties. We gather that the aliens took him, but I’ve had gerbils before, so I was like, “Look behind the washing machine!” After the camera crew leaves, Lana invites her son to have a drink with her. She’s somehow intuited that he’s not actually a teamster. In fact, he was munching on a pastry earlier because he cut the real doughnut guy’s throat. I guess he’s also on a juice fast.
He tells Lana he’s here to kill her. She takes it with the serenity of somebody who wears elegant statement jewelry and has a Warhol print of her own face. He says he realized that she was never coming back for him that day on the playground when he heard the tape of her ranting at Thredson. Where might he have come across that, you ask? “I found it on eBay,” he growls. EBay: where you can find a Dorito that looks like Carl Weathers and also that your mother tried to abort you.
He whips out a gun and says something about how he wants his dad to be proud of him. Lana starts working her con magic and sweet-talking him. Of course, she gets the jump on him and blows him away. Well, there’s something to talk to Sondheim about tonight, I guess.
In one final flashback to Lana’s first visit to Briarcliff, Jude warns her, “If you look in the face of evil, evil’s gonna look right back at you.” Then we fade out, in a lovely overhead shot of the stairwell, to the one-last-time-for-Johnny strains of “Dominique.” And that’s all for this season.
Ready for a little postmortem?
Immediately after the show, my friend Andy (who is WAY too invested in this show, and in Adam Levine in general) messaged me, “Oh, God, what a predictable ending.”
But you know what? There were only so many ways this could go. I think this season has given us so much of the unpredictable that it was nice to see a (relatively) happy ending for all of the “good” characters. Jude and Kit got peaceful deaths, and Lana will hopefully spend many more years with her opera singer.
One thing became rapidly evident this season: This is less of a television series than an acting showcase, and I’m completely okay with that. It’s like if you showed up to drama class one day to find that your flamboyant instructor was tripping his face off on salvia: You’re Anne Frank! You’ve been abducted by aliens! You’re the angel of death! And, as in improv, there is no “no” in American Horror Story.
This show has brought us Connie Britton eating brains, and Chloë Sevigny being scarfed with a rosary. I love it because I generally can’t believe they got X person to do Y bonkers thing, but they all look terrific doing it. When people tell me they’ve “given up” on the show, I think that perhaps they’re missing the point. This is not Lost. You cannot think of this as a mystery show, because it isn’t. It’s a whole other creature. A legless, boil-covered, nymphomaniacal one.
This is the rare show that’s less about the destination than the journey. Because of the “independent story line” setup of the seasons, you’re not going to have a cliffhanger, and will-they-or-won’t-they romantic arcs must be condensed into “of course they wills, and its going to be weird.” If you’re watching for some kind of payoff at the end, you’re watching wrong.
The nice thing about Ryan Murphy having established himself as a reliable television hit maker is that he’s afforded the ability to play. If you’ve read any of the interviews with the performers, the dynamic is really unusual. Jessica Lange says she wants to wear a sparkly dress and sing, and the writer’s room gets to work.
Does that happen on any other show? I mean, yes, the loose ends can be frustrating, and sometimes the absurdity misses the mark. But the same thing can be said of Homeland, but without the promise of ever seeing Saul comfort Carrie with a little “High Flying Adored” while the ghost of Bin Laden pops out of a closet and does the Patti LuPone part. That kind of shit only happens on AHS.
It’s like a Gertrude Stein salon for actors held at a GWAR concert. He gets to invite fabulous and interesting people over and make them do dance numbers, throw up into buckets while masturbating, and demand to see one another’s mossy banks. It’s fun. It really is.
The payoff comes in the form of spasmodic, weekly dada horror. It’s Mad Libs via Hammer Horror, and therein lies the joy of it. You have to let go, and let Murphy.