As someone who owns a handful of cheaply bought and precariously installed surveillance cameras primarily used to monitor people losing their minds in front of the free library in front of my house, I know all too well the (verging on) unhinged thrill of catching someone in the act of something. But in the case of Jaslyn (Gabourey Sidibe) and her douche-lord husband Bryce (Max Greenfield), their home surveillance isn’t monitoring unhoused people spitting on tattered copies of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but rather the active or passive sins of their past.
In the second episode of American Horror Stories season two, Jaslyn and Bryce, a young married couple, move to a gated community called Mountain View Place. In a flashback that takes us 20 years into the past, we see that Jaslyn has issues with feeling safe stemming from a tragedy that took place as a child when a person wearing a bunny mask broke into her family home via her bedroom window and, although it’s presumed but never shown, bound and then killed her parents. In her newly purchased house as an adult, it’s as though, emotionally, she never really left that room.
In an off-budget splurge, Jaslyn spends $200 on a doorbell camera called Aura, which really should have been named Karma as it seems to allow spirits to ding-dong their way back into a person’s life in search of resolution or, in Bryce’s case, revenge. After having to remind her pissy-faced “you’re so crazy” husband why she felt the need to spend her own money on such a thing, he fetches his little man sack to install the device on their front door, and it’s not long before it starts delivering menacing notifications to Jaslyn’s phone app. While working on her newly launched jewelry business from her home office, a notification is received, but when Jaslyn checks the app and calls out “Hello,” no one seems to be there. Instead of one of the maniacs waiting in the bushes to cut her throat that the man who sold her the Aura warned of, Jaslyn sees nothing but raccoons. In a scene unbecoming of the previously demonstrated strengths of an actor like Gabourey Sidibe, who demonstrated her ability to pull off Minotaur sex with a straight face in her role as Queenie in AHS season three, Coven, she leaves the presumed safety of her home’s interior to go flailing about in the darkness of her front yard — and for what?? — to close the lid of the trash can the raccoons were rummaging around in? Let the HOA ticket you! There are ghosts and/or throat-cutting maniacs out there! This scene reminded me of the popular series of TikToks that make fun of people in horror movies running from a killer but pausing along the way to play a few notes on a piano or stir a bowl of noodles cooking on the stove. If it were me, I’d be watching this activity from my app, nestled indoors, making notes of things to joke about later on Twitter. Don’t ever go outside to “check” on something. Adulthood is all about perfecting how to dissociate while sipping merlot and hoping for the best. Did our mothers teach us nothing?
When harmless raccoon footage later turns into footage of a corpse-looking man wearing a Madewell jumpsuit who is seen only on the Aura app and goes otherwise undetected by the neighbor’s camera, Bryce, because he’s terrible, tries to convince Jaslyn that it must be the work of a hacker who has gained access to their app. He even goes one step further in his douchey crusade, telling her to “Google it,” which she does. Several different YouTube investigations are referenced in this episode as Jaslyn tries to figure out what’s going on, but the one that stands out most features a young man explaining that the Aura camera is “punching into the quantum realm” and acting as a magnet for spirits. Honestly, between throat-slashing maniacs and clingy spirits, which would you prefer?
Through some introspective research and a visit to the residence of the sister of this ding-dong ditcher, who simply wants to be left alone to enjoy her bowl of hard candies, Jaslyn concludes that the spirit attempting to gain access to her home is a man named Dayle Hendricks who worked as a janitor at her high school and became fixated on her when she was a teenager. He used to leave her little love notes and put candy in her locker, but she would just kinda politely shine him on and then make fun of him to her friends. When Jaslyn finally caves to his from-beyond-the-grave affections and lets him into the house, they both apologize to each other and he crumples into ash, satisfied to have concluded that painful chapter in his life. In a local-news clip Jaslyn watches later, she sees that he’d been missing for two months and killed himself weeks before visiting her home via a jump from an overpass. The spirit who arrives next, this time to conclude some business with Bryce, had a more gruesome and far-sadder demise.
Although surprised to receive new dings from the Aura, Jaslyn is less afraid this time because she knows the deal. And when she sees the spirit of a young woman on her doorstep, she knows this particular visitor isn’t for her anyway. The woman calls out that she’s scared, doesn’t know where she is, and that something happened to her in Grace Park. Checking the camera, Bryce becomes angry and rips the Aura off the door, chucking it into the trash. Jaslyn retrieves it because she’s rightfully curious about what this pretty young ghost wants with her husband and is gaslit into some tall tale about her being Bryce’s former fiancée who he broke up with and left to walk home alone in the dark, which led to her being killed in a hit-and-run. Then we get the real story.
The woman, named Mary Jeane Burkett, was pregnant with Bryce’s child at the time of her death. After a fight in Grace Park where Bryce demands that she “get rid of it,” Mary stumbles in front of an oncoming car and gets hit. As she lay crumpled and bloody in the road, Bryce stares at her, weighing whether to help her or use the accident as an excuse to rid himself of his “problem.” He makes his choice and lowers his foot onto her neck, snapping it. With everything out in the light, Bryce tells Jaslyn that a baby wasn’t in the plan and now she’s not either, swinging at her with a fireplace poker. Mary intervenes and kills her murderous ex-fiancé the same way he murdered her. Good for her, but bad for Jaslyn, as now Bryce is ringing the Aura app installed in the apartment she relocates to. What grievance could this man have, though? She’s no longer part of his plan unless that plan is to purchase finely crafted dangle earrings.
The AHS franchise loves to work real-life events into episodes with references to serial killers, like the Black Dahlia killer in Murder House, Madame Delphine LaLaurie in Coven, and H.H. Holmes in Hotel. This episode of American Horror Stories draws upon dozens of real-life doorbell camera hacks, such as the one detailed in the ABC News story “Terrifying video of family’s hacked Ring camera system.” In this video, a family receives a demand for bitcoin or they’ll be “terminated.” Really makes you question if it’s scarier to have access to visual confirmation of the killer bitcoin nerds of the world, waiting to con and/or throat-cut, or be left with the anxiety of wondering what terrors lay in wait just beyond your wacky-phrase doormat.