Monday, January 21, 2013

American Horror Story: Continuum (2.12)

For anybody even casually familiar with Ryan Murphy's work, you'll know that he likes nothing more than a cool idea. From his early satirical work with Popular to the initial color, pop and energy of Glee, he's an incredible innovator, somebody who can engineer strong, mainstream television complete with an emotional underbelly. What he lacks is follow-through, instead an eagerness to explore something new instead of sticking stories out, leaving numerous arcs from his various series feeling half-baked -- such strong openings, but a tendency to peter out.

Continuum, the first episode this year to be actively broken into separate vignettes instead of just accidentally winding up that way, is full of cool ideas, small individual concepts that feel ripped from intriguing headlines or memorable B-movies. But it quickly become sort of flat and soulless on closer inspection. It's clearest this week with Kit's experimentation in polygamy. Before you go deeper, there's a tense silence about these scenes, a bristling feeling of the unsaid that lingers far longer than the axe-murder that follows. Secret resentments, the repeated snapshots of wood cutting and the prevalence of knives and possible murder weapons, it's an interesting character piece -- sort of like Big Love if it were set in the hippie era and featured alien invaders instead of copious Bill Paxton ass.

But it's here that things get sticky. This is a strong story on its own, but feels disjointed and random when positioned alongside everything we've seen with these characters before. The alien arc in particular, from its early beginnings with Arden through to the continued insistence on Kit's 'specialness', has frequently muddled around searching for a kind of narrative spine, and it feels stranger still that it's wound up being more a commentary on jealousy and marriage than anything that could be described as science fiction. It's just a tremendous leap, one that underwhelms when it should feel complete.

Jude's arc has similarly muddled around over the last couple of episodes. Stranded within the walls of Briarcliff, all the show can really do at this point is bash you over the head with her latent insanity. There were some interesting moments at the top of the story this week (the meddling of the Monsignor, the arrival of the Angel of Death as a prison inmate), but again descended into derivative 'madness' tropes. Yes, it's shocking that all of what we see is proven untrue, and I liked that we as an audience were placed directly into Jude's fractured mindset through much of her vignette, but at this point I'm still unsure what the show is trying to do with her long-term. Clearly she's lost her mind, but are we still hoping for her prolonged survival? A grand epiphany as she shakes off her delusions?

While it wasn't as strong as the polygamy thing, Frances Conroy's appearance again seemed like something that just sounded cool on paper. She and Jessica Lange have had some wonderful scenes together this year (their diner confrontation in Dark Cousin ranks up among the very best of American Horror Story), so it makes sense to throw them together again. But the butch scenery-chewing of Conroy's performance felt crazily on-the-nose, lacking any internal weight. It's just another distraction in the end, one that pushes Jude further down the rabbit hole, only we're still unaware of what that rabbit hole is really trying to say.

Like Jude, Lana is also experiencing a major transformation as the season wraps up, but it's shockingly even more abrupt than the one engulfing her former asylum buddy. Now a successful author in 1969, Lana is rude, snippy and driven by fame and ambition, a literature diva instead of the strong heroine we all expected her to be once she broke out of the asylum. It's another sort of random development, once again made a little more palatable by Sarah Paulson, an actor who could probably make a sudden transformation into a giant grasshopper monster seem authentic and heartfelt, but I guess sad in the long run.

Continuum ends with a welcome indication of where the season finale is headed, namely Lana and Kit attempting to bring down Briarcliff and save Jude, but it sure took a difficult journey getting there. And, like so much of this season, you can no longer totally trust your instincts with any of it. The horror genre thrives off of that kind of unpredictability, but Asylum hasn't mastered the art of consistency just yet. It's never felt like a year that intentionally set out to provoke and surprise, instead it's just felt sort of directionless, every once in a while doing something extraordinary. Considering how great the year started out, it's a disappointment. B-


- From a structural standpoint, credit is due for the fun cross-cutting of time and place seen throughout the episode. From the way Alma is suddenly an inmate at Briarcliff, to the smash to Dylan McDermott's Bloody Face Jr., smoking away in his vehicle in the present day -- it was all pretty grand and interesting.

- What was up with Evan Peters' accent in the kitchen scene at the start of the episode? It was like Mark Wahlberg stuck in a blender.

Guest stars
Frances Conroy (Shachath); Clea DuVall (Wendy Peyser); Britne Oldford (Alma Walker); Robin Bartlett (Dr. Miranda Crump); Naomi Grossman (Pepper); Jack Conley (Officer Woods); Lorinne Vozoff (Older Bookstore Owner); Deirdre Lovejoy (Young Bookstore Owner); Elizabeth Bond (Rena)
Writer Ryan Murphy Director Craig Zisk


  1. Interesting to hear about Ryan Murphy and ideas, since this is how I feel at the end of the season. So many cool things could have happened (yes, I'm still on about demon vs alien), but instead sort of fizzled out.
    I also feel so sickeningly cheated about how Grace and Alma where treated but can only hope that their deaths will mean something in the final hour of the show - and indeed the lives of their children.
    I've already seen that you graded the finale with an A so I'm mildly hopeful. Soon, I'll know.

  2. Don't worry about bringing up the alien thing a lot, it was definitely the arc that felt less satisfying, of all the arcs we got this season.