American Horror Story
I'll discuss both seasons separately, but first, I want to address a problem across both seasons, the one thing holding me back from loving the show wholeheartedly: its treatment of abortion. In Murder House, two of the main characters we are presented with are Ben and Tate. Ben is a man who repeatedly cheated on his wife with a younger woman-shortly after his wife suffered a devastating miscarriage. Tate is a mass-murderer and a rapist. But as these are our main characters, we are meant to empathize with them, to look beyond their crimes and see the humanity underneath. In Tate's case, it's even suggested that his original, and most brutal killing spree wasn't entirely his fault-that he was brainwashed after a lifetime of living in the titular murder house.
But how did the house become such a dark, evil domain in the first place? The original occupants of the house performed illegal abortions. Now, late-term illegal abortions are rarely a good thing for anyone, but no differentiation is made between back-alley abortions in the 1920s and legal abortions now. Abortion is broadly referred to as murder by multiple characters, and this statement is never challenged throughout the season. As a pro-choice woman, presenting me with the horrors of murder and rape and than placing abortion on a pedestal as the ultimate evil, well, it just doesn't cut it. Asylum handles it slightly better, in that a main character actually makes several attempts to abort her child of rape, but multiple characters again refer to her actions as murder, and she ends up carrying the fetus to term after basically admitting they were right ("there's been too much death already"). This leads to an ending in which she shoots her homicidal adult son through the head. Because murder still beats abortion, right? I'm crossing my fingers the show can move on from this "theme" in the coming seasons, but if not, expect another rant later.
I really loved this season. I didn't like Ben and Hayden, but just about everything else worked for me. I'm definitely more of a character person than a plot person, and while Asylum had the better story, I like Murder House best because of how invested I was in the characters. Tate, Violet, Vivien, Moira, Larry, Constance; I felt each of them so acutely, and I was really rooting for their happiness (or redemption) throughout. I must make special mention of Connie Britton, who has such a warm, inviting presence about her that really helped ground the supernatural shenanigans going on around her. I definitely felt her absence in Asylum. The rest of my thoughts are a little scattered, so I'll make a list:
- The cute dog pictured above lived to the end of the season! I'm one of those people who always gets really happy when animals make it through horror films/shows.
- I must admit, I did get sucked into the Violet/Tate relationship. I'm a romantic at heart. However, I was really impressed that the writers chose to split them up and stick with it to the end. There are some things a relationship just can't recover from and too many narratives overlook that for the sake of ~true love~.
- Adding onto that, I loved the final scene between Tate and Ben, where Ben calmly explains exactly what Tate is-a psychopath-and what that means for him. When he finishes, Tate is silent because he has no words to refute any of it. Idealizing fictional psycho/sociopaths has become very common in the last few years, and while AHS isn't fully above that kind of thing, this scene still remains one of the best I've seen that really drives home how harmful that thinking can be.
- I like the way this show not only introduces bad characters and slowly reveals their good side, but also introduces good characters and slowly reveals their (very) bad side. It keeps you guessing in a more complex way than just throwing scares and gore at the screen every few minutes.
- Now onto my main issue, the finale. Could it have any more endings? I thought the show could have ended when Violet rejects Tate and is reunited with her mother, when Ben is leaving with the baby, when he dies, when the new family moves in, when the new family moves out, the Christmas celebration... It just went on and on and on. And it felt like such a Hollywood ending for a supposedly dark and horrific show-the whole family is happy and together forever. Especially since it makes no sense for Vivien to just turn around and want to be with Ben again because they just happen to both be dead, especially with Hayden still running around. It felt like compensation for breaking up Tate and Violet and I couldn't swallow it at all.
- Also, like Asylum, there were a few plot threads that annoyingly didn't go anywhere. Tate is built up by several characters as being the literal devil, but in the decades he's been dead, he's only killed three people and raped one woman. Terrible crimes, absolutely, but nowhere near Satan levels. And while he did father the antichrist, it was possible because he was dead, not because he was a rapist or killer. Any other male ghost in the house could have accomplished the same thing. As well, it was never explained why Moira continued to age after she died, and had shape-shifting powers.
Asylum definitely didn't grab me the way Murder House did. As said, I'm a character person, and it took a long time for me to warm up to most of the characters this season. What it does have is a much more complex story-line than the first; while in Murder House, all of the story-lines were connected to the house and therefor converged by the end, each story-line here moves farther and farther away from the rest as time goes on. As a result, there's also a lot more unanswered questions and wasted potential than in Murder House.
- The biggest surprise for me was Lana Winters, who I didn't feel much for one way or the other for most of the season, but in the last few episodes her character blossomed to the point where she may be my favorite of both seasons combined. The writers weren't afraid to "go there" with her character and took her wherever her determination could go-that is to say, everywhere. While most of the major arcs were tied up quite neatly like in Murder House, hers is as brutal as it comes and makes for a fantastic finish to the mad ride that is Asylum.
- I thought Zackary Quinto and Dylan McDermott were both better cast here than in Murder House, they make fantastic serial killers.
- Similarly, Adam Levine makes a fantastic serial killer victim. A+.
- I like that Jessica Lange was once again in love with a younger man. Older women are rarely shown in a sexual light in films/shows (you can even see this in Murder House with Moira, whose sexuality disappears when she's in her "true" older form), and it's refreshing that she gets to break some of those barriers here.
- And of course, have to give a huge shout-out to her performance. I wasn't super into Constance until near the end, but Sister Jude is so riveting throughout, you can't look away from her for a second. The way her story ends really touched me and was one of my favorite moments in the show so far.
- More shout-outs to the ladies: Mary Eunice. I will concede that her storyline ended horribly, like... really? That's all it takes to defeat the devil? But Lily Rabe was so much fun that I can look beyond that. Yet another Murder House actor who really found her perfect role this season.
- Dr. Arden ruined Babe for me. -sheds a single tear- But yeah, I haven't seen most of James Cromwell's work so his turn here, wow, I had no idea he was capable of a role like this. Again, his character's exit off the show was among the wasted opportunities, but it's hard to be sour when you look at all we did get from this guy. I don't scare easily but I was definitely on edge every time he was on-screen.
- More wasted opportunity: everything to do with Kit/Grace/Alma and their alien dilemma. If they were really going to do so little with it they should have just scrapped the aliens altogether. Because really, aside from Alma's disappearance and the 2-day pregnancies, nothing else about this arc really requires the aliens when it's all said and done, and those two things could be worked out in different ways.
- To end on a positive note: Frances Conroy as this badass yet soft-spoken angel of death. Another A+ for casting (also loved the score that played whenever she was around).