American Horror Story
The best part about this season so far is just how bright it is. Just think about it: The creepiest moments in last night’s very good episode happen when the sun is out. Think about Elsa going to recruit Barbara at that grotesque fat camp in Miami, Elsa and Edith having their showdown in Elsa’s cotton-candy palace of a tent, and Gloria anxious and smoking on her therapist’s couch. These are all scenes saturated with color and diffused with light. Even the (maybe superfluous) final shot was about the contrast of Dandy’s alabaster skin (say what you will about him, but he’s got a great ass) and the porcelain tub with the red blood he’s bathing in. The beauty of it somehow just makes it even more deranged.
This is such a contrast to past seasons of AHS, where all the bad stuff lurked in the dark. Murder House was all about dark corners and the shadowy basement. Asylum would actually make your television set dank after watching its gloomy dungeons. And the only thing that wasn’t a shade of grey in Coven was Myrtle Snow’s red hair.
The best scene of this episode was one of the brightest. It’s the final confrontation between Dandy and Gloria (RIP), where she is planning to flee the country with her son and he overhears her calling him “fragile.” We thought that Gloria was always blameless in this equation, aiding and abetting Dandy, but not really causing his psychosis. It turns out that she was part of the problem all along, unable to tell him no and willing to marry her second cousin if it meant she could have a fancy house with a playroom with a tiny croquet court in the middle. Just like in Deliverance, incest is always to blame.
But it’s that game room, with its shiny surfaces and aggressively upbeat interiors, that is so damn creepy. It just highlights the theme of this season, that no matter what sort of smiling veneer you put on things, the darkness will still burble up from underneath and come through. It’s not the darkness that’s scary, it’s the darkness sullying the shining happiness we’re all supposed to expect that is the real monster. Or maybe it’s that cloying happiness itself that is the monster?
As for Dandy’s origin, well, I find it a little disappointing. I would like it if his murderous rage had some sort of trigger, but it turns out that he’s just an inbred, spoiled child who doesn’t like to be told no. It’s not that something happened to him to make him this way, it’s just some sort of innate flaw. Sometimes I guess that’s true, but it doesn’t make for very interesting drama. But I’m not going to let it get me down, though. This was a decent episode, and it’s Christmastime, and there are protests on my block and helicopters over my apartment and I’m not going to get baited into railing about Ryan Murphy again. Not today! Maybe next week (probably for sure next week), but tonight I am going to keep it upbeat.
Anyway, Dandy finally dispatched with his mother, something we all knew was inevitable. Do you think he was really going to kill himself? No, I didn’t, either. And neither did his mother. She knew he was going to take her down, and it’s better to go quickly with a bullet than slowly in some awful prison cell for killing Regina, their visitor with the amazing sweater-set and tiny purse. I mean, did Gloria really think anyone was going to buy that story about her going to buy squash? Patti LaBelle does not go to the market to buy her own damn squash!
There were just so many great moments in this episode: the psychiatrist you don’t see, a fat lady called Ima Wiggles, Stanley and Elsa plotting to decapitate Ethel while Elsa is wearing that amazing turban. Seriously, where do they get all these amazing clothes? These carnies are supposed to have no money, and Elsa is literally walking around in furs. Doesn’t anyone find that odd?
Ma Petite’s murder set everything on course for Elsa and Gloria’s confrontation. After they find her sari in the woods, they know that she’s dead, and Elsa breaks down but Ethel calls bullshit on it. What’s funny is that Elsa’s screams for Ma Petite were so much more believable than her canned ones for Ethel when they find her later in the woods. A Jessica Lange–Kathy Bates standoff is always an amazing one, especially when it involves Ethel shooting Elsa in the wooden leg and Elsa hurling a knife into Ethel’s eye socket. Poor Kathy Bates. The things they do to her on this show! Will she please be allowed to keep her head on her shoulders next year?
We also learned a little bit more about Elsa’s legs (I hope this connects to something in the future) and where they came from. Apparently they were crafted by an Italian doctor whom Elsa spoke to in Italian. So this German lady knows Italian suddenly? (Remember, Brian, you’re not going to get upset in this recap!) But it was all worth it to hear Elsa say, “Death would be preferable to Tampa,” which is surely the “Knotty Pine!” of this season.
But my favorite story of this episode is the Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves alliance of Desiree, Amazon Eve, Grace Gummer, and that half a lady whom I don’t think even has a name. It was a caper, a self-contained little exploit for just this episode that managed to shed some light on Grace Gummer’s character and also gave Esmeralda a moment to shine and talk sense into everyone. Also, Angela Bassett got to say, “Then I’m going to cut your dick off and shoot you in the head,” with unrestrained glee that is usually reserved for talking about designer shoes, rich desserts, and Dandy’s ripe backside.
It was also a treat to see Lee Tergesen in his underwear strapped to a chair. We haven’t seen that since Oz went off the air. While this impromptu alliance and its motivation seemed a little sketchy, their work was incredibly solid, filled with creepy visuals, like tatted-up Grace Gummer walking up the stairs to confront her no-good father. I sort of love her new tattooed look. It’s so interesting and symmetrical that I could stare at it all day. Maybe her father was right; maybe it is an improvement.
Of course they chose to tar and feather him because, well, of all the tortures around, that just seems the most terrifying. Even if it didn’t hurt, imagine trying to get all of that tar off? It would be like that booger you can’t get off your finger, but over your entire body. That is the most frightening thing that has been on the show all season. This is what AHS should be doing more of — progressing the action in a scary, unique way that gives us something to get scared about but also makes the characters deeper in a meaningful way. Don’t let the plot drive the characters; let the characters drive the plot. I learned that in my Writer’s Annex screenwriting class. That was $459 well spent!
The one thing I can’t bring myself to care about this season is Edward Dildohands and Esmeralda’s romance. I’m just not buying it. There’s something about these two that just leaves me cold. They had no chemistry last year (I figured it was because he was playing a reanimated hunk of flesh that slept with his mother), but it’s no better this year, when they’re both regular(ish) people.
But still a minor thing for a show that, finally, seems to be on track at least for a little bit. We have Elsa and Stanley cleaving through the population of the freak show at a clip, the twins squirreled away and ready for a return, Dandy about to go on a rampage now that his mother is gone, and Gabourey Sidibe on the hunt to find her lost mother. There are only five episodes left. Here’s hoping that they all count.