American Horror Story. Season two. Four months later.
I’m happy to say my hopes for this season were for the most part absolutely executed.
What it had going for it again was a brilliant season of discussion about hard modern American issues, everything from religion to the handling of mental patients, to the way we look at people with mental disorders. To issues like abortion and women’s rights and the role of women in society.
The show handles these issues with extremity and the kind of “othering” perspective gained by the horror lens that allows examination of different sides of these issues. Without being too spoilery, take for example, the instance of rape by a derranged serial killer. Is that an okay situation for an abortion? Or on the other hand, as the show demonstrates, what if choosing to do the “right” thing, keeping the baby to avoid more death, winds up turing on its head. By putting emphasis on nature instead of nurture, by studying this idea of essential evil, the show suggests that maybe even in the instance of doing the “right thing”, not the right thing happens.
That’s the real depth of post-modern, horror storytelling: turning issues on their heads, considering things differently and extremely and forcing you to think.
The season played with beautiful dynamics between monsters (traditionally embodying the deeper “American” horrors of the series rather than the purely grotesque ones). Here we have represented: religion and whether there can be such a situation as purity of the human being, and equally the ideas of pure evil in a human being; science as a method of salvation and destruction, embodied in the Aliens, used toward the end (the white light) to contrast the work of religion (the shadows); the masculine, represented by the serial killer Bloody Face, the idea of paternity and motherhood, of power of women, sexuality, and what that means to society.
Studying the play of these ideas is absolutely what makes American Horror story one of the most brilliant shows on television. AHS is the bar I set when I walk into a horror movie.
Now, this season did have some flaws. I actually stopped watching for a number of weeks because I wasn’t into it. The season felt early on as if it bit off more than it could chew. Throwing in mental patients with deranged killers, with monsters, with aliens, and possession. It was too much. Tack on the upping of the more extreme camera work, action too fast paced to milk the scares, the level of in-your-face gore and horror — it felt that the writers had lost their way from the thematic hearts of the show.
But I returned, watched the rest of the season in two sittings, and was blown away by the end. The threads were brought together, thematically and practically balancing each other out, to arrive at a cohesive whole.
And, upon reflection, the cons wound up supporting the real positive work of the show.
Though the link from the aliens to the demonic wasn’t particularly elaborated on in terms of practicality (a la that god-awfully executed but brilliantly realized Fourth Kind), it was there subtextually and thematically. Aliens as scientific advancement. Religion as archaic advancement. Nazis somewhere in between. The dialogue throughout between the three.
One of my early problems with the season was the real claustrophobic feel. Creators would likely say they were going for that. It’s the idea of an Asylum. You’re cut off from the world. You don’t have a lot of freedom. It should be claustrophobic. They might say then my reaction was a sign of successful execution, where I felt it had more of a feel of being fake.
But this idea of fakery brings up a fascinating angle on it. This idea of what is real and not real. Of Camp. In storytelling, Camp as a genre, or style, is where you can see the strings, where you can see behind the scenes, where you have “reality” immediately presented to you, and you know to some extent what is not real. This places emphasis on what is more important: what’s real: Emotions; Story; Theme.
So in this case, that element of Camp that was played up more this season than last season, worked. I’m more of a fan of uber realism, myself. But here, whether intended or not, it was successful. The whole season we wind up questioning these ideas of reality: what’s real, what’s not real. Right down to the set-work and camera work.
The constant Dutch angles were a little much for me, but they contributed to that over-the-top style of horror that American Horror Story doesn’t shy from. That idea of Camp storytelling and essentially this in-your-face horror, where we’re not afraid necessarily to show the monsters we’ve made. We’re almost proud of them. We like to put them in your face, we want to talk about these issues. The hard issues.
And that I think is crucial and essential American Horror. And it wraps up the real success, even in what I didn’t like about it, for season two of American Horror Story.
Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com