8/20/2015

Ruminations on American Horror Story

So my lovely bride and I have been watching American Horror Story since the beginning, and I have to admit I have mixed feelings about the series overall.

The simple explanation is that I liked season one, didn't like season two, LOVED season three and so far I'm disappointed in season four.

But Peter McQueeny isn't satisfied by simple explanations! Lord no! On with the longwinded explanation!

I think that at least 60% of what season one had going for it was the mystery. We didn't know what to expect from the show yet, and that made it easy to get involved. And they had good actors, which helps.

In a more technical sense, what made season one good was that it had a group of protagonists (some of whom developed into villains) that drove us through a central plot arc. It was a haunted house, and all the subplots were properly subordinated to that main story. And the ending rocked.

Season two just went totally off the rails for me. I felt like it was unfocused; jumping randomly from one plot line to another.  There really was no central arc holding things together. Just a location with some backstory. God, the amount of backstory they shoehorned into that season was downright criminal. How about some narrative present, please?

Also, I just plain don't like Sara Paulson.
Yeah, I said it. I think Sarah Paulson is a second-rate actress. So making her one of the primary protagonists of the series didn't work for me.
Season three was much more focused. It had a central storlyline to carry all the dangling subplots. It was a simple story (witches trying to survive in a hostile world) but it was enough. And Sara Paulson was mercifully filed away in a (well-written) supporting role.

The only thing I didn't like about season three was that Taissa Farmiga's character got sidelined for the bulk of the series. Not only do I have a schoolboy crush on her, but the character was our entry point to the story. She was set up as the protagonist, but then pushed aside so Jessica Lange could get all gross and GILF-y on us (which, by the way, is becoming AHS's thing now: gross, GILF-y Jessica Lange). Ew.

Farmiga's character did emerge as a protagonist toward the end, but I wish they could have kept the momentum up the whole time.

Season four is now falling prey to the same flaws as season two. Season four started with a central plot, and it was a good one: the townspeople hate the freaks and the freaks hate the townspeople. Enter Twisty the Clown, and you have a classic 'wrongfully-accused' narrative. Beautiful.

And then--for no reason at all--the writers killed Twisty. Not only were we robbed of the most richly terrifying and demented character in four seasons, but Twisty's demise also resolved the freaks vs. townspeople plot before it really had a chance to get on its feet.

At first, I thought that Twisty had died to give way to Dandy, who I enjoyed only ironically right up until the point where they gave him that awesome American Psycho-esque scene where he pumps iron in his tighty-whiteys and decides to be an artist of murder. Brilliantly uncomfortable stuff!

But then--again, for no reason--the writers put the breaks on Dandy's storyline and make him go all gooey over the Sarah Paulson twins.

Brief aside--season four is giving me a double dose of Sara Paulson. God help me.
At the end of the last episode I've seen, we have Dandy re-affirming his goal of becoming a killer, but in a much weaker scene.

Sorry AHS writers, you don't get to double down on your strongest scene. The only effect the weak attempt had on me is that I no longer give a flying flip what happens.  Even if they build Dandy into a second Twisty and reignite the primary plot (which, I'm guessing, is what they're planning), the writers have now lost my trust. They took what I consider to be a bad turn, but instead of committing to it and trying to make something out of it, they keep changing direction, and now we're adrift just like season two. To compound matters, the net is buzzing with rumors of Twisty's return, which means the writers are really refusing to commit to a story line, and this season is *probably* going down the tubes.  My only lingering hope is that they will kill the Sara Paulson twins, and I won't have to listen to her syrupy rendition of a Southern accent anymore.

Speaking of accents! I wish they would quit giving everyone accents! That kind of stuff just knocks on the fourth wall for me. I look at the character of Elsa, and all I see is Jessica Lang doing an accent. Which prevents me from loving or hating the character, which in turn prevents me from giving a hoot what happens to her.

I'm a completist, so I'm gonna wind up watching the whole series no matter what they do. But if my TV were stolen today, the remaining episodes of AHS would not be one of the things I would miss.
Walking Dead? Now that, I would go to a friend's house to see.