I can’t say for sure when it comes to every TV series I enjoy, but I have preferred the second episodes over the premieres from each three seasons of American Horror Story, because there is a basic character familiarity, and we’re beyond the unstoppable conveyor belt of warped plot conceptions. But this season is already completely different from its predecessors because viewers aren’t solely depending on Jessica Lange for her brazen performances while settling for all the other actors going through the weird and wonderful motions, some more convincingly than others. (Asylum’s Nazi mad scientist James Cromwell is the obvious Emmy-winning standout here.) This year features Lange at her most unbridled and troublesome, Sarah Paulson nailing the timid but powerful role, Kathy Bates in the most gregariously obscene part she’s ever played, and Angela Bassett as the cold, dark fire smoldering behind them all. And when you take into account Lily Rabe, Taissa Farmiga, Gabourey Sidibe, Jamie Brewer, and even Josh Hamilton, it’s hard to imagine many other casts even coming close to topping it, should they stay solid. Plus, they do all kinds of fucked up shenanigans, while still keeping it obvious that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are really learning how to balance the pacing for their storytelling.
My point that I haven’t really made yet is this season, without any rubber suits, aliens, mutants, ghosts or demonic possession, can function as a particularly gory “women with powers” drama, which has been done before, and the performances can now finally rise above the wonderfully absurd plot elements that made for good “Huh?” times while wading through some melodrama. But I’m really glad the tables have turned and now the episodes are overflowing with strong scenes that use language and inflection to reveal powers, while the absurdity is kept to a constant minimum. For the adults at least. The younger characters adhere to the sudden whimsy of what they’re able to do with their powers – injuring an aggravating cheat of a customer or resurrecting the assembled pieces of corpses – but that’s precisely what they’re being taught to control. Then they can just grow up and become complex and coarse, vexing predominantly when trouble arises. I would love to see Emma Roberts slowly turn into the actress she’ll be 20 years from now during the course of this season, since I’m not really digging the starlet trip that she has to take.
And so if you’d asked me a few days ago what I thought the most exciting thing in this episode would have been, I might have mumbled something about LaLaurie going nuts when she sees how far black people have come, and of course seeing a Frankensteined Kyle from the preview. But instead we have…
Marie Laveau Does Fiona’s Hair
Hands down, this was the best scene in the episode, and one of three that made me excited for how evolved this story might get. Of course, we might get smog monsters and time traveling robots next week. But for now, we get to revel in a powerful witch meeting an immortal Voodoo queen, introducing themselves to each other by boasting about who they are and how their legacy is superior. But instead of coming out and saying that, we get Lange delivering priceless lines like, “Voodoo slave girl who graced us with her black magic. She couldn’t tell a love potion from a recipe for chocolate chip cookies if she had to read it,” and Bassett masterfully glaring Lange down while saying “You could offer me a unicorn that shit hundred dollar bills and I’d still never give you more than a headache.” They’re going toe to toe, and Fiona’s plan to sway Laveau with LaLaurie goes unheard. And this is all while Laveau is doing Fiona’s hair! It’s Such a ridiculous setting for a first meeting between opposing sides, and ends with what is probably my favorite piece of dialogue of the entire series thus far, where Fiona says, “Such a lovely place you have here. Nice to see you doing so well after all these years. I mean maybe in another century…you could have…two…shithole salons.” I swear there were fireworks coming out from the back of my sofa when she said that.
And so we skip ahead to the second best scene, in which…
Fiona Convinces LaLaurie to be Her Slave, Sorta
Following a fairly solid bit where the telepathic Nan lets LaLaurie out into the world, Fiona finds her on a bench in front of her tourist trap of a former home. This is where Fiona, who knows now that Laveau is remaining distant, takes LaLaurie under her wing, with pessimistic good news like “You’re not remembered fondly, but I guess that beats not being remembered at all.” And though there are few characters in TV already as detestable as LaLaurie (especially knowing her history), Bates humanizes her with the lost love of her daughters, strung up in a tree next to her husband at the hands of Laveau. Eye for a whole bunch of eyes. If Fiona and Laveau will not be friends, then LaLaurie is going to further that along with hooks blazing.
And then there’s Rabe’s resurrection witch Misty, who didn’t really burn to death last week, and who is able to make the stitched together Kyle into a real life stitched together brainless maniac. She listens to Fleetwood Mac, and she swears Stevie Nicks is a real white witch. She’s also starved for company apparently, and really digs Farmiga’s Zoe, and wants to teach her all about how “Rhiannon” is like, the way of the world, man. It’s worth noting here that Misty came up on two guys poaching alligators, bringing a few of the gators back to life in order to destroy the men who killed them.
And then there’s Paulson’s Cordelia and Hamilton’s Hank, a married couple who are desperate to have a baby, but they’re going opposite Bewitched where he wants her to use her magic to conceive while she wants to go the medical route. This may be a subtle way for magick to stand in for God, but I’m not saying that. There’s a huge sex scene with broken eggs and slithery snakes and Hamilton haws and mountain –sized orgasms. So I can’t even imagine what this baby is going to be. Hopefully we won’t have a season-long pregnancy as we did in the first.
And finally, it’s good to see Queenie explain herself as the descendant of a house slave in Salem who was the first to be accused of witchcraft. So she’s got legacy, and the girl is killing every line they give her. “I am the manager,” and “I didn’t even know there were black witches.” It doesn’t make her a major player just yet, but hopefully Queenie is allowed to step up.
I can’t wait for next week, and I’m leaving it at that.
Thoughts Stirring in the Cauldron
“Return to the mortal coil! Arise!” Did they really stitch together and have a small part in resurrecting a Frankenstein monster? Didn’t I say earlier that the absurdities were somehow limited?
I’m dreaming about Rabe singing Fleetwood Mac tonight.
“I will eat you!”
I hope they don’t use the “authority figures accuse them and Fiona swoons them” plot every week. I doubt they will.
“I’m Fiona Goode. I’m in charge everywhere!”
I really don’t like how the music keeps hitting the same notes and using the same sequences. Sometimes the digital cymbals are hitting too loud and sometimes the synthy bass is too slappy and sometimes there are these weird electronic howls that just come in and out of the scenes as the intensity rises. It’s like early 1980s horror. I hate it. I don’t mind the pieces in and of themselves, just their placement and repetition.
“Tough luck, bitch.” Or maybe someone should just kill Madison before she’s allowed to develop more character.