Saturday, January 5, 2013

American Horror Story: The Name Game (2.10)

The Name Game brought to mind American Horror Story's ability to just do whatever the hell it wants to do. Like Mary Eunice singing along to You Don't Own Me earlier this season, it's difficult for the show to disguise the fact that sometimes they just feel like doing something outlandish and nutty for the sake of it. Sure, they grant Sister Jude's musical number an explanation here, but in general the idea remains awkwardly tossed in. That Ryan Murphy decided to do it due to a random suggestion by Jessica Lange is either a wonderful testament to this show's flexibility, or a concerning indictment of how directionless a lot of season two could be described as, considering the scene could occur with such ease. I'm still undecided.

The scene itself is shocking in its incongruity, but not in its visual surprise. We've crept into an era in which musical numbers on television are no longer inherently fun, it long having become a go-to form of boundary-breaking for shows a little long in the tooth, so if anything it only looked like another stunt. There are parts of it that are likable, particularly Kit and Lana slowly getting into the routine after a minute or two of looking unimpressed, but you can't help but feel that it's an unnecessary distraction. Frustratingly, it managed to steal attention from the rest of the episode, which already featured some notably strong material.

Asylum has now hit the home stretch, meaning we can expect various storylines to come to a close. Reaching its end this week was the continued Mary Eunice/Arden saga, wrapped up with an array of provocative imagery as the Monsignor threw Mary Eunice from a great height, Arden soon after deciding to join her in the incinerator. While I've enjoyed the campiness of Mary Eunice's recent transformation, it sure was refreshing to see the show root her possession in tragedy once again, the Monsignor pulling her spirit out of her and giving into her pleas for help, having tired of fighting against the devil inside. It actually works as an interesting metaphor for Ryan Murphy's work, the underlying sadness and real-world horror generally hidden by the shiny camp he seems so fixated on.

Arden's curtain call was similarly haunting. While we're no clearer on the actual specifics of his attraction to Sister Mary Eunice, it's easy to read into it, his demonic character so consumed with hate and violence, only being unable to deal with the very human feelings that he'd recently adopted: affection for a young nun, compassion for her plight, and jealousy over her love-making with the Monsignor. Both Lily Rabe and James Cromwell have done spectacular work this year, so it makes sense for them to exit together. Even if I never expected it to be so literally fiery.

Elsewhere, I'm worried that Jude has hit a wall. She's still being slowly lobotomized and is struggling to stay lucid and together, but isn't this all just a fancy way of introducing a soapy amnesia story? Yeah, real-life inspiration and mental illness exploration and so forth, but we're still essentially watching her move in slow-motion. It seems we're headed for a redemption story (at least that's what I'm hoping), but she needs to be active once again instead of breezing through proceedings, casually dispensing exposition whenever the script calls for it. It's almost like the show played its hand too quickly with her, and are now just biding time until the finale.

While the musical performance stole the show whether you were a fan of it or not, The Name Game was otherwise something of a return to form after a couple of weeks of staggering. It brought to mind some of the stronger moments of season one, wherein the show threw away the wackiness and focused on how inherently tragic the circumstances of the year actually are. That's probably a good direction to follow for the final three episodes. B

Notables

- Again nothing concrete on the alien baby front, but we were at least saved a demonic/UFO birth scene. And while it remains vague as a story, bringing Thredson and Kit into the fold should hopefully expand future developments here.

- I'm hoping the Thredson arc is wrapped up next week, as I think the show is at the point where the back-and-forth between he and Lana threatens everybody's collective interest. Every additional episode sees one of them get the upper hand from the other, but something actually propulsive needs to happen at this point to keep things moving.

- Ryan Murphy revealed that this episode dropped a hint for next season's spine, and fan consensus is reaching towards witches (I Put a Spell on You on the jukebox) or circus freaks (Pepper's monologue). I'm more partial to the former, since the Chloƫ Sevigny arc at the start of the year already stepped into deformity territory. Plus circus freaks are just too ooky for me.

Credits
Guest stars
Frances Conroy (Shachath); Mark Consuelos (Spivey); Barbara Tarbuck (Mother Claudia); Naomi Grossman (Pepper)
Writer Jessica Sharzer Director Michael Lehmann

1 comment:

  1. I personally love circus freaks, but it is probably a good thing they went with witches as who can beat Tod Browning's 1932 masterpiece (here if you've never seen it: http://vimeo.com/64576339 )

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