Thursday, November 8, 2012

American Horror Story: Nor'easter (2.3)

American Horror Story, as fun a show as it is, sometimes agonizingly exists within the individual moment. The very best serialized dramas follow a traditional arc through-line, but also allow enough breathing room to tell smaller, less arc-driven stories. There's nothing explicitly wrong with how Asylum is operating right now, particularly the thriving sense that this is all headed somewhere sensical (a step up from the sometimes exasperating first season), but it's settled into a groove wherein every episode tells the next additional chapter of a longer story. So an array of showy subplots are merely teased out piece by piece with every passing episode, which makes it a difficult show to watch objectively.

The best example of this is presumably the teaser sequence series of vignettes, each one involving Mrs. Channing Tatum and Maroon Douche getting more and more killed with every passing week. We met them in episode one, they got terrorized in episode two, and here we see them get horrifically murdered, along with discovering the two copycat Bloody Face's responsible and the actual Bloody Face right there with them... or so we can assume. But it's a recurring bit that seems to have set a precedence for the rest of the show, meaning we get little glimpses here and there of things moving forward, but little that's firmly in-episode.

Of course, Nor'easter is mostly just another ballsy AHS hour, regardless that the narrative feels a little cut-and-pasted right now. True to form, it's easier to jump from point to point instead of trying to spot any overarching themes at work. Shelley and her poor legs probably grabbed the most attention this week, stumbling straight into Dr. Arden at his most sadistic. It was a return to some of the first season's crazier moments, notably the revelation that Arden is all crazed because he has a teeny weeny. Only on this show could that be considered a vital piece of character shading. James Cromwell is doing some incredible stuff with this character, by the way, entirely selling the self-disgust and anger boiling right underneath his shiny exterior. And when he loses it? Ugh, creepy as hell.

Lily Rabe is also quickly becoming this season's breakout star. Sister Mary Eunice is possessed by Satan, because of course, and the show is having a lot of fun with making her this sneaky and underhand version of Lucifer. She's somebody who explicitly knows everybody's weak spots, so prays on Arden's sexual dysfunction, as well as Sister Jude's continued guilt over the hit-and-run all those years ago. At the same time, it's hard not to love her gleeful temperment. This is a demon having fun, whether she's knifing somebody to death or watching Christians get eaten in a bad movie from the thirties. Girl crazy.

The show took a turn for the repetitive with yet another attempted breakout, but managed to balance it out with some surprising imagery. We saw what appeared to be one of Kit's alien buddies, and later a better look at the cannibal beasts in the forest. God, I just love that we have cannibals and aliens and nuns-possessed-by-Satan all in one episode. This show. Anyway, Nor'easter in that regard is probably one of the most striking episodes to date, full of intense visuals as Kit, Grace and Lana raced through the woods on the run from monsters. We're still not getting a real handle on what's actually happening, but it likewise remains irrelevant at this point.

The episode also gets a real kick out of exploiting the Cecil B. DeMille classic The Sign of the Cross for all its homoerotic charm. Like Asylum, it's a work that not-so-subtly explores the sexual repression and unconscious sexual desires of most mainstream religion -- something that flies right over Sister Jude's head as she screens it for her inmates during the nor'easter, believing it to be one of Hollywood's more faith-based pictures. But sex is all over it, titillation and arousal very much a key part of all the character's lives, which is quickly becoming a major part of this season, too. While most of the ensemble constantly posits that sex is bad, bad, bad... it's pretty much all they think about.

So this was generally a lot of fun. In terms of structure, Nor'easter is probably the weaker of the three episodes so far, but that overriding sense of batshit entertainment carries you a long way. Whether it's Jessica Lange slurring her words on communion wine or James Cromwell calling everybody whores, just enjoying the ride remains the defacto concept at work. B


- It says a lot about the show's ubiquitous insanity that it strikes you as odd when Lana and Dr. Thredson seem to strike up a kind of partnership. Both seem like normal people, lacking in literal madness, and I really hope Thredson doesn't betray her in some way. Zachary Quinto projects such an innate goodness on this show, it would suck if he threw her to the wolves at some point. Or the cannibals, whatever.

- I've always wondered whether Chloƫ Sevigny is a good actress or not. She's done some incredible work in the past (Boys Don't Cry and The Last Days of Disco, notably), but has the tendency to slip into slightly monotonous, mannered tones. It's something she's doing a lot as Shelley, and while you totally buy the character's vulnerability and feel profoundly terrible for her... sometimes Sevigny descends into melodramatics in a hysterical way, and it's sort of distracting.

- I'm totally calling Joseph Fiennes as Bloody Face. The laws of fiction usually dictate that whenever a character seems slightly underwritten or unnecessary, it's because they're revealed as hugely integral around about the final act. He didn't appear this week, and didn't have a ton to do in the previous two episodes, so I'm assuming he's the one behind the mask...

Guest stars
Chloƫ Sevigny (Shelley); Adam Levine (Leo Morrison); Jenna Dewan Tatum (Teresa Morrison); Mark Consuelos (Spivey); Fredric Lehne (Frank McCann)
Writer Jennifer Salt Director Michael Uppendahl


  1. Another great review, thanks! It'll be fun to see if Bloody Face is who you think he is.
    I just have to say, only three episodes in and James Cromwell and Jessica Lange...Wow! I mean, WOW! They are absolutely electrically mesmerizing.
    I'm talking John Lithwow-Dexter-mesmerizing here and I am absolutely LOVING this show!

  2. Great callback to John Lithgow. That's one of my favorite TV performances. He was unimaginably creepy on that show.

  3. Thanks for posting these reviews maxpower03 - I first starting reading them on douxreviews - I'm finally marathon watching this (been on the DVR for a while)! I enjoy your reviews as much (if not more) than the show!