Thursday, October 25, 2012

American Horror Story: Tricks and Treats (2.2)

It's funny that there isn't so much a singular protagonist this season. As a result, last week's premiere seemed to travel down various tangents as it went along, bouncing from a story about Kit, the incarcerated maybe-murderer, to a story about Lana Winters, snooping reporter locked away to keep her quiet. Then there was Jessica Lange, so dominating the screen but not so focused upon that she instantly became the show's lead. Tricks and Treats introduced Zachary Quinto as a do-gooder doctor disgusted by the regressive treatments at Briarcliff Hospital, and it was yet another ingredient being added to the mix. It's not at all a complaint, but it's been a little hard to entirely latch onto one clear lead so far. Whereas last season saw the Harmons very much at the center of things, Asylum seems far more eager to bounce around between a tight ensemble -- even if it remains at least atypical to not have one character who really anchors it all.

Unsurprisingly for a second episode, we got small insights into most of the cast this week, some of their back-stories and personal kinks explored, and the writers introducing a more streamlined approach to the season as a whole. While the show is lacking in a central figure that you can really root for right now, the work being done on the characters themselves is deserving of praise. The real connecting idea on offer remains that feeling of repression, and how even the characters running the asylum indulge in secret, sinful desires in their private lives. I guess it's traditional territory for work like this, but it remains reasonably effective nonetheless.

Sister Jude is keeping secret the vehicular homicide she covered up years prior, the ghost of the little girl she killed still haunting her in one form or another. She was also a big ol' ho back in the day, a truth brought back to light via a "your mother sucks cocks in hell!"-style devil-child. Naturally. And was that a pang of guilt crossing her face during Lana's electroshock treatment? It's always interesting to see how Jessica Lange plays a scene, never allowing one direct emotion to entirely take over the moment, bathing everything in ambiguity.

Dr. Arden, too, is all about the repression -- but in a far sleazier form, considering how adamantly repressive he is to the women around him. He regularly picks up prostitutes and forces them to dress up in habits, and has a unique interest in BDSM. Again, it's sort of traditional for this kind of character; but I liked that he still insists on covering it up a little, how he requests that they talk for a while before having sex, treating his purchase of her as something far cleaner and legit than it actually is. Like Lange, though, Cromwell is playing each scene very specifically: appearing genuinely flustered around Sister Mary Eunice, not taking advantage of a situation that could have so easily resulted in a brief flash of nudity. Compared to his aggressive, towering anger towards both Shelley and the hooker, it's a fascinating contrast.

There were also cool moments that weren't given a ton of attention but were equally as effective, Shelley discussing how her general interest in sex and her jealous, hypocritical husband both wound up getting her institutionalized, and later Sister Mary Eunice tearing the sheets off of her in bed, fully aware that she was previously exposing herself to Dr. Arden, that's if it was even her at that point... or the demon that seemed to take up residence right before. As Shelley, Chloƫ Sevigny is constantly on the edge of wildly overplaying the character, and you can tell she's trying to pull a Jessica-Lange-in-season-one thing to jumbled returns, but it's hard to not feel for her character in general. Lily Rabe, meanwhile, can so easily turn on those 'crazy-eyes', conveying so successfully that underlying sadomasochistic streak.

Lana's story was also interesting, how she initially tried to partner with Grace to make her escape, only for her to balk when Grace insisted on Kit joining them. At first I questioned why somebody fully aware of Briarcliff's methods of incarceration would feel so adamant of Kit's guilt, but therein lies the mystery of her character. Is she trying to be 'model patient' enough to get released? Or is there just too much risk to letting a potential murderer get out there into the world? It's easy to write her off as ridiculous, but I like her conflicted feelings right now.

Working as something of a second introductory episode, Tricks and Treats felt necessarily standalone in a lot of ways, full of creeping characterization and burgeoning arcs. There was nothing too spectacular on offer, but the fact that an episode of this type can still be so much fun speaks promisingly for the rest of the year... and when the season inevitably flies off the rails at some point down the line. B+


- Poor Clea. Poor closeted, conflicted Clea. Though I can't see her being off the show entirely, considering this is American Horror Story. Ick to Bloody Face, though. Ick, ick, ick.

- Like a couple of episodes in season one, there was a strong spook-of-the-week theme with the brief story of the 'chronic masturbator turned full-Linda Blair' dude. Unlike some of the more detached and uninteresting subplots last year, like Eric Stonestreet's freaked patient or Mena Suvari as the Black Dahlia, writer James Wong at least heavily tied the story to Sister Jude, in a successful method of conveying necessary exposition.

Guest stars
Chloƫ Sevigny (Shelley); Adam Levine (Leo Morrison); Jenna Dewan Tatum (Teresa Morrison); Clea DuVall (Wendy Peyser); Fredric Lehne (Frank McCann); Devon Graye (Jed Potter); Robin Weigert (Cynthia Potter); John Aylward (Father Malachi); Andrew Rothenberg (Mr. Potter); Jenny Wade (Abigail); Jennifer Holloway (Barb); Vanessa Mizzone (Lois)
Writer James Wong Director Bradley Buecker


  1. I was disappointed by this episode, it lacked a certain order I think to make it better. It just seemed a little too all over the place for me, but I am willing to accept it as a necessary set up for later episodes.