Friday, October 19, 2012

American Horror Story, S2, E1 - (2012)

The only TV show I watch regularly.

Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producer:  20th Century Fox Television
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Evan Peters; ft. Adam Levine, Chloë Sevigny
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, insane asylum, alien abduction, mad scientist
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  In present day, newlyweds Teresa (Jenna Dewan) and Leo (Levine) are on a honeymoon touring the 12 most haunted spots in America; equally as interested in having their own fun as they are in discovering ghosts.  Their last stop is to the Briarcliff Manor, a large building first built as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients (complete with a "death chute" in the basement to dispose of the dead) but later turned into a Church-owned asylum for the criminally insane.  Hearing a loud noise, the couple moves from one bang to another until Leo is viciously attacked by an unseen force behind a door.  Cue opening credits.
In 1964, we are introduced to Kit Walker (Peters), a young and friendly man who is living with his new black wife in secret, as she is afraid of what society would do to them if they were found out.  That night, prompted by strange loud noises and blinding lights, Kit runs out to defend his house and bride.  We subsequently are shown various, choppy clips of him being the subject of an alien abduction.
In the next subplot, we are introduced to the driven journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) who is hoping to make her big break by doing an exposé on Briarcliff and some of its patients.  She is given an interview with the sadistic head nurse Sister Jude (Lange), who quickly realizes what she is up to.  Lana has really come to see the admittance of a horrible serial killer, called Bloody Face, who has terrorized the town of late: killing and skinning 5 women, one of whom was black.  Of course, it is revealed that Bloody Face is none other than Kit, who has no memory of committing any murders, especially not that of his wife.  No one believes his insane stories of being abducted by aliens.  Through Kit we are shown the inner workings of Briarcliff as well as the maladies of its patients.
Moving right along, we meet the frightening Dr. Arden (Cromwell), who introduces the major theme of science vs. religion.  He and Sister Jude, respectively, represent these two forces in the institution.  Through this subplot, we become aware of the monstrous tests Dr. Arden runs on some patients.
Through these various subplots, we are introduced to the major themes of the episodes and perhaps the season in general, all of which have a heavy focus on society (individual perception vs. social perception): race relations, homosexuality, religion, science, truth and lying, good and evil.  Much as in last season, the episode jumps around from the past to the present day dilemma of Teresa and Leo in an enticing introduction to Season 2.

I love American Horror Story.  Last season it was the only program I would actually make time in my schedule to watch as a dedicated fan.  The writers and creative team did a beautiful job of balancing classic, supernatural horror (ghosts, haunted houses, the devil, the spawn of satan, murderers) with what really frightens us to our core as humans (burglars, unfaithful spouses, miscarriages, suicide, school shootings, and even home realty).  That is what made the show truly about American horror, especially on a personal level.  I already see this season doing the same thing, although perhaps more on a public level - still behind walls but no longer in a home, well, at least not one for families.

So far the plot is filled with all the little stories we know to look forward to in this complicated show of variously overlapping terror.  First and foremost we have Sister Jude (Jessica Lange fans cheer for joy), who is so complicated that I still didn't know if I liked her or not up until the final events of the episode.  Here we already have a high ranking nun, a symbol of pious authority, who is very clearly dealing with her own personal demons and desires.  Lange is already doing a great job acting, and I'm glad she is so different from Constance in Season 1.  I'm a little confused by her accent and by where this season takes place in general, not that we need to know anything except East Coast (soo different than Season 1).  In her accent I'm hearing traits of southern mixed with the occasional Boston or Upstate New York.    Peters also uses a hard-to-pinpoint semi rural sounding accent.  We know that in two weeks the episode is titled "Nor'easter," which means they have to be within about two hours of the coast and north of the Mid-Atlantic if it's going to be a serious storm.  Oh well, less meteorology and more reviews, Horror Buff

I like Peters so far, too.  He's back again as - surprise! - a killer who doesn't remember anything (although I don't think he did anything intentionally).  I'm not usually crazy about the whole "blame it on the aliens" thing, but as this is the '60s and it was done tastefully throughout the episode, I think it's an interesting touch.  Good acting on his part; he seems much more mature than in Season 1.

As of yet, I think the scariest subplot is Lana's.  First of all she has to live in fear for who she really is, and then she meddles too far into Briarcliff's matters and suffers the consequences - with no friends or family to save her.  Any plot involving psychiatric wards always plays the card of "you're crazy if we say you are," because I think that someone who denies they're crazy is only considered that much crazier.  Once you're committed, who's to say whether or not you actually belong there?  Scary stuff!

Final critique:  That being said, I am really excited that this season has started up.  The small scares are already abundant, and the deeper terror is still being uncovered.  Good acting, interesting episode: we're off to a good start.  Stay tuned next week.

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