Is American Horror Story Too Reliant On Shock Value Now?

If your Wednesday night was anything like mine, it involved the welcome return of American Horror Story for Season 5, in which a bunch of characters do a bunch of ridiculously debaucherous things inside of a hotel. As this is a Ryan Murphy joint, it was chock-full of horrifying visuals and characters that lacked all sense of morals and good sense. There are many that have decried last night’s antics, and the show in general, for already being too gratuitously salacious. And so I wonder, is that actually the case?

Has American Horror Story finally gone “too far” in the shock value department?

In a word: Nope. That’s an answer that may not come as much of a surprise if you’re familiar with how much I’ve half-championed American Horror Story’s revelrous approach to being disgusting and absurd over the past four years. It’s a show that treats offending scenes as if they were post-inflation currency. If somebody mentions this show by name, the thoughts that are likely conjured up contain gory violence, revulsive sex, or degrading dialogue. That’s how this show rolls now, certainly, but it’s always been that way.

Let’s take what was probably the most disgusting segment of the season premiere of American Horror Story: Hotel: the rape-by-drillbit-dildo. There’s no question that this was a repulsive moment for several reasons, not the least of which involves an eyeless and mouthless ghoul (whose existence is somehow questionable) fucking a junkie to death, but not before he is urged to pledge false love to a chain-smoking “ghost” that will eventually sew him into a mattress. Well, that’s kind of all of the reasons, although one could argue that the visuals of the attack are more damaging to the psyche than anything that was just implied.

If someone thinks that this was without a doubt a low point in the show’s history, I offer up as a counterpoint the very first episode of American Horror Story, in which a ghost in a rubber suit not only raped a woman, but got her pregnant. Granted, she didn’t realize that it was a sexual assault because she thought it was her husband in the suit, but that level of trickery somehow makes it worse. (To me, anyway.) So the entirety of the Murder House season was based on a ghastly act. And some might say that its importance in the story makes it less excessive than the Hotel scene, but I’d rebut with the fact that we don’t know where this season is going yet, and that nearly every single thing that happens on this show is purposefully excessive, so they’re not doing anything different here. Beyond taking it further, but it’s also in a more metaphorical manner, since this season is all about addiction.

And if that sex-infused foursome-turned-massacre was too much for you, then why weren’t Twisty the Clown’s violent stabbings too much? Why wasn’t Jimmy pounding the obese woman too much? Why wasn’t Queenie getting off in front of a Minotaur too much? Why wasn’t Tate’s school shooting too much? Was wasn’t Madame LaLaurie’s slave murders too much? This is a show that featured an extremely unlikeable Nazi-in-hiding becoming a doctor at a horribly run insane asylum, where he used his power to experiment on people and berate women whenever possible. I mean, even the whole “the nun is actually Satan” was probably too offensive to certain segments of the population.

If American Horror Story’s purpose isn’t to entice viewers in the most elaborately gross and envelope-pushing ways, then I have no idea what it’s supposed to do. The show has never been known for telling particularly convincing or tight-knit stories, relying on moment-to-moment interest far more than providing a depth-filled narrative like other FX dramas. It’s about performance more than character. It’s about nuance more than structure. It is the less-than-decadent box of various chocolates more than the connected six-course meal. And it’s been that way since the beginning.

American Horror Story: Hotel airs (and offends) Wednesday nights on FX. Let us know what you think below.

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Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.