A lot’s happened in Harlan, Kentucky since last we saw our intrepid hero. Well, not much has happened, actually. Which is just as well, since aside from Margo Martindale showing up out of nowhere and stealing our hearts as Mags Bennet, matriarch of the Bennet clan, there’s not much we remember. It’s been three weeks since Raylan was shot, and he’s spent that time trying to recuperate. Spending hours down at the shooting range, shooting everyone but the target, then giving the empty room the shifty eye, making sure no one’s around to see how off his game he is. But whether Raylan’s shooting bullseyes or nothing at all, it’s just nice to have Justified back in our lives.
This was a show that really tried catering to the casual viewer in its first season. While those first few episodes focused on the bad guy of the week, the show eventually threw all that stuff out about halfway through the season to focus on a more serialized story it had quietly been laying track for in the background, focusing on the fight between Raylan and Boyd we all knew was coming. It turns out that Justified the serial was way better than Justified the procedural, and it’s been a happy marriage ever since.
“The Gunfighter” set up another long arc we’ll see play itself out over the course of the season. This time the baddy is being played by Neal McDonough, Hollywood’s favorite albino, best remembered for his role as that guy who died in Star Trek: First Contact. What’s interesting about his character is, well, we don’t really know. At this point we just see him as that all-knowing, all-powerful businessman. He has connections, money, and BIG plans for Harlan County. And with his smooth talk, ruthlessness, and crazy James Bond gun up his sleeve, Raylan looks to have met his match.
Just as interesting, maybe even more so, is the man McDonough’s character is Fletcher “Icepick” Nicks — who you may recognize as professional dick Joey Quinn from Dexter — another shadowy underworld type set on Raylan’s trail. Nicks makes the mistake of so many TV bad guys before him: not killing his victims right at the start. He’s got a game he likes to play, setting his gun down between him and whoever he’s come to kill, counting down from 10, giving them the chance to go for it, right before stabbing their hand with an icepick, taking the gun and shooting them in the head. Rookie mistake, and it doesn’t work on Raylan. When confronted with the game, Raylan simply pulls the table cloth, and the gun, toward him and shoots Nicks in the chest. I honestly don’t know if it killed him. I hope not, because I’d like to see him come back at some point in the season. Although I guess the only way he could do that now would be from prison. Hmm.
Anyway, Raylan, his manhood confirmed, is ready to get down to business. F*** this bleeding hole in his side. He’s got bad guys to catch.
There was something special about Margo Martindale on this show that we may never see again, but McDonough — and Icepick, if he sticks (R.I.P. COMEDY) around — look like they’re going to deliver a story as good as anything we’ve seen on the show so far. After only one episode, things are still a little murky, but after two seasons, I think we can trust the show to deliver the goods.
And let’s not forget that McDonough and whatever he’s doing is only half of the show. Walton Goggins is back for more, which is as it should be. After throwing Raylan through a glass window for not handing over Dickie Bennet to him last season, he’s sent to big house to wreak all sorts of havoc. Boyd’s fight with Raylan may have been a little over the top, just trying to get the character back in prison. But if being back in jail means Boyd will get to spend some more time with Dewey Crowe, I can look past it.
And of course, the women. Natalie Zea (my old girlfriend) is pregnant. And I doubt she’ll approve of Raylan running all over the state, getting shot in the stomach. And how many times can a girl be taken hostage before she gets the hell out of that relationship? Ava’s back, too, taking the reigns of Boyd’s fledgling and maybe-over-before-it’s-begun weed business. As much as I love these ladies, it sometimes seems like the show keeps them around just to class up the joint. They both had more interesting things to do last season than they did in season one, so hopefully that trend will continue.
I’m sure there’s some chess metaphor that applies to all the pieces the show is setting up right now, but it doesn’t really seem to apply for a show set in Kentucky. So… a hootenanny? A hootenanny. And hard apple cider. Nothing? Nevermind.
I won’t be reviewing Justified every week. But I’ll be poking my head in a few times this season to see how things are shaping up.
My One Gripe With This Episode:
- DOES THE ENTIRE EFFING PLANET KNOW ABOUT TOMMY BUCKS???!!!
2004 was a good year for TV. It was a year that gave us Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Deadwood, House, Rescue Me, Stargate Atlantis, Entourage, CSI: NY and Veronica Mars. You may not love all of these shows, but there are some pretty big hits in there, and many of them have only just ended their runs or are still on the air. Most years aren’t like this. Most years, we watch as the television landscape turns into a killing room floor, as networks take their cattle prods to the heads of all those new shows they’ve spent so much money on but no one seems to care about. There’s so much junk to wade through that whenever we find a show we actually like, it’s really exciting. Maybe you’ve found the next big thing, and you’re there right from the beginning!
So you’ve found your show, and just like the kid from Tulsa, Oklahoma realizing for the first time that he’s from Tulsa, Oklahoma and smoking crystal meth to dull the pain of it all, you begin to get addicted. And if your show, like so many others, is an underdog that isn’t performing too well in the ratings, things only get worse. “F**k those guys at the AV Club!” you proclaim to no one in particular, “This show is the BEST show on TV!” And then one day the unthinkable happens. Your show gets canceled. The depression sets in. Your rip your clothes and smear ashes in your hair. You go into seclusion. You vow never to watch FOX/ABC/NBC (probably NBC)/CBS/FX again, because how could you continue to support them after this? Well, as a friend once told me, it never gets easier but it does get better. And it’s true. Eventually you’ll forgive the network for killing your baby. But from now on that show will hold a special place in your heart. And while, in some dark corner of your mind you’ll be peripherally aware of the fact that your show had its shortcomings, you’ll choose to ignore them, and you’ll never ever voice them aloud. Your show was perfect, and must only be treated with veneration and respect.
This sums up much of the sentiment I heard going around the internets when FX canceled its poorly-advertised buddy-private investigator series, Terriers, almost one year ago today. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James starred as Hank Dolworth and Britt Pollack, two unlicensed private investigators who, over the course of the first (and only) season, get into all sorts of tomfoolery in the fictional town of Ocean Beach, California. The show popped up on a metric shitload of “TV’s Best Of” lists and its cancellation was seen as one of the biggest tragedies of last year’s television season**.
(**I heartily endorse TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Dan Feinberg’s excellent Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, but listening to the praise they so generously lavished on the show was a little sickening.)
Now, Terriers has popped up on Netflix Instant, and we’re seeing some of that same chatter bubble up to the surface, bemoaning the death of that perfect show. Talking about it as if, when it died, a piece of our innocence had died along with it. Yes, Terriers was a good show. Above average, even. But in the end, it was a repackaged cop drama whose biggest selling point was its two lead actors. The story-telling was at times uneven, with the Lindus investigation — the season’s main arc — drifting in and out of the narrative. I’m not saying a show has to hit its main arc and focus on nothing else every week, but Terriers felt like it was spinning its wheels the same way The Killing was by pushing off the Rosie Larsen investigation, sometimes for weeks at a time. And during these off-weeks, Hank and Britt seemed to be incredibly lucky, running into all those people who just happened to be in the market for private investigators, and unlicensed ones at that. Sort of like the time I asked Cornelia Neptune, who went to the high school I used to teach at if she could find out if there was any treachery afoot when my grandmother left her fortune to her lawyer, Herschel Goldfarb.
Anyway, the show’s problems didn’t start and stop with the storytelling. Terriers’ dialogue sometimes reached a Gilmore Girls-like level of obnoxiousness (One of the more memorable lines comes in the pilot, when Logue says, “You killed my friend, and now I’m going to destroy you!”). Karina Logue, who played Hank’s mentally-ill sister, Stephanie (and who just happens to be Donal Logue’s real-life sister) was undoubtedly one of the best parts of the show, and was kind of unceremoniously swept aside toward the end of the season.
When added together, all of these things equal a show that’s good, but very rarely is it great (if at all). I liked Terriers, too, and I’ll admit that it was a show I rarely thought about when I wasn’t watching, but always seemed to enjoy more when I was. It had a lot going for it. It was fun, and other shows should be so lucky to have the same sort of chemistry we saw between Logue and Raymond-James. But ultimately this was a show we knew was going to be canceled, and quite a bit before it was made official at that. And I think people’s disappointment clouded their critical eye, so that for years and years they’ll be looking at it through rose-colored glasses. Luckily, the show works as a self-contained unit, so not getting another season isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. And now that it’s on Netflix, it’ll always be there for people to enjoy. But we should enjoy and at least pretend to be aware of its shortcomings.
Anyone else excited about learning who the man in black (leather sex gear) is? My money is on one of Constance’s gentleman callers… she seems like the kind to be a lady on the street and a freak in the sheets.
OMG! EWWW! It’s Tate! That is so messed up (which just seems redundant when talking about this show.) So, I was wrong – Tate is the incubus who seems to be capable of spawning potential devil children, and it turns out the most recent owners bought the latex black body suit as part of their relationship drama.
We also got a little more insight into the relationships between all the spirits in the house – seems Tate is acting out some of his mother issues by being the perfect “son” for the house’s original owner, Mrs. Montgomery – specifically, working to secure her a new baby to replace the one dismembered and reassembled by her huffing husband. But what will happen when her interests conflict with those of Tate’s new love, Violet?
New girl on the block Hayden is confrontational with the original lady of the house as well as Moira, who calls Hayden “cheap and horrible and not half the lady Madam is.” Madam, in this case, is referring to Mrs. Harmon. But Hayden has some insights – the house’s power holds her here, holds Mrs. Montgomery here and holds other innocent souls, which presumably includes Constance’s other child, as well as those who are “in on the game,” which I’m thinking refers to Tate and Moira – the only spirits who seem to have overcome certain conditions of their death. It’s unclear where Constance fits in – maybe she’s alive and well (since we’ve seen her off the property) and just in tune with the spirits thanks to her medium friend.
So Hayden tells us that she and the other spirits can make themselves known or unknown to the house’s living inhabitants. She also says “we’re supposed to fix our issues, but we never can – it doesn’t stick.” Perhaps hauntings in the AHS universe are common, and the house’s unique property is that it doesn’t allow for its dead residents to eventually resolve their issues and move on. The re-emergence of the school shooting victims on Halloween would support this theory.
Each week, we’re getting a more complete peek behind the curtain of this universe, but the inconsistencies still need to be ironed out – like Tate’s, um… potency and Moira’s aging issues. And why doesn’t Mrs. Montgomery know she’s dead? Or remember the circumstances of her death?
But in the short term, we know the mission: Hayden is going to drive Vivien crazy and take the babies (can she do that?) for herself and Mrs. Montgomery. This is at least the second time Tate has tried to “secure” a child from Mrs. Montgomery – he killed the most recent owners – the gay couple, when they started having relationships problems and were no longer going to adopt a child.
So why haven’t their ghosts been more active in the house since Halloween? Clearly the guest stars have been available for the flashback sequences – did these characters not have issues to work out before moving on? Is Moira making progress with hers by confiding in Vivien? She seems to have taken a shine to her and advises Vivien to leave, which, to her credit (and the writers’) she does, but not before Moira makes this potentially significant observation: “That’s what men do. They make you think you’re crazy so they can have their fun.”
But, of course, Vivien can’t actually leave; she’s confronted in her car by the intruders from a few weeks ago, and Tate appears to be trapped by the house – unable to pursue Violet. But if that’s the case, how can the intruders get into the car? I would think their range would be the same as Tate’s, right? We saw Tate off the property during Halloween – and also when he had his off-site session with Ben. Gah! What does it all mean!?!?!
And now that he’s slept with Violet – is that because he loves her or is he making another baby back-up? He told Violet that he would “always be here… as long as you want me here.” There seems to be some underlying significance to the wording of that statement. But seconds later, he acknowledges to Violet that the “others” can hurt her (um, Violet – this would be a good time to ask about that first trip down to the basement) but warns her not to tell her mother for fear that she (Violet) will be labeled as crazy.
I’m thinking about this show too hard. Here’s a funny line from Vivien’s confrontation with Ben (who is becoming less sympathetic as a character with each episode):
“If you are about to diagnose me with post-traumatic stress syndrome, I’m going to bash your fucking face in!”
In the final scenes, we learn that Tate is tired of hurting people, which we an assume he’s been doing on behalf of the ladies of the house. Hayden calls him out on this compulsive behavior and says he has “mommy issues,” to which he replies, of course, “know a good therapist?” Ba dum sum psh! Thank you ladies and gentlemen – I’ll be here all week. Tip your wait staff!
So much cheese in this show, but at least we get a good story pace in each episode and across the series as a whole because by the end of the episode, Hayden has gotten her way – Tate’s second rape attempt prompts Vivien to accidentally shoot Ben. “I wasn’t shooting you; I was shooting the rapist in the rubber suit.” If that’s not a quick pass to the asylum, I don’t know what is.
Luke (aka hot chocolate rent-a-cop) has some very astute observations about the suspicious nature of Ben’s relationship with Vivien, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. She’s hauled off to the looney bin, and she’s okay with it. “At least I’ll be out of this house.”
I don’t know how I can ever judge people who watch soap operas when I get so much guilty pleasure out of a show like this. She’s pregnant, with TWINS – one or both might be the devil – and her estranged husband cheated on her with a student whose death he covered up after lying about being with her during the abortion of his child.
I’m embarrassed, but I still contend this is better than Real Housewives of Jersey Shore or… god forbid…. Two and a Half Men. *shudder*
Anyway, we’ve now identified three of Constance’s four effed-up children and her former lover, aka burned dude. I wonder if Tate is the one she considered “perfect” since he was clearly physically healthy in compared to at least two of his siblings. And how quickly we’ve forgotten about Adelaide! I feel like her story ended rather abruptly (getting hit by a car will do that to you), even with last week’s visit from the friendly neighborhood medium. I’m wondering if she’ll be back in some iteration or if her death outside the property is going to serve as a proof point to the mythology that was established this week: if someone dies on the property, they stay on the property… except on Halloween, of course.
Every time I think they’ve exhausted scary movie tropes, another one rears it’s (very) ugly head… the neglected monster child chained up in the attic/basement – homeboy even LOOKED like Sloth. I’m expecting One-Eyed Willy and his bountiful treasure to be discovered under the house any day now. It hasn’t gotten old for me yet – I love seeing what thinly veiled reference they’ll pull out next. What hasn’t been done yet? The call is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE. We’ve got to have a babysitting situation at some point, right? Violet’s about the right age. Hmm… what else am I missing? Scary animal a la Cujo perhaps?
There was a lot to like about this episode – the Goonies reference was just gravy. For instance, this line: “There are a lot of minority men in this city who would like nothing more than to ravage me on this countertop.” HA! I swear to you I spit when dowdy real estate agent Marcy uttered that line. It was equally hilarious when burned dude made his pitch about how he’s discriminated against because of his appearance, and if he’d known how awful the persecution would be, maybe he would’ve changed his mind about saving the children on the burning bus. I love it when humor fits so seamlessly into shows that aren’t necessarily inherently funny. I guess you could argue that AHS is funny in a campy sort of way, but that’s different – in that, you find humor in the absurdity – this is just witty dialogue.
As for campiness, there is plenty of that too – watch Vivien’s face after she… well, after she…. um. Yeah. Just check out her expression as she sits on the side of the bed. It’s so classic horror cheese it’s funny. Same with Ben’s visit to burned dude’s apartment – the mysterious man sitting in the dark in the corner and smoking a cigarette, plus his dramatic exit – hysterical.
But here’s what bugs me. You’ve got a situation where there’s clearly something insane going on… and characters that have basically unlimited access to each other, but no one seems to be sharing any information. I had the same issue with Lost – surely some of these questions can be answered and connections can be made if these characters would just use all of their spare time to chat. I mean, has Violet not confronted Tate about being… um, dead? Has she not talked with her parents? Has she not had any kind of follow-up conversation with Constance?
I know, I know. I’m trying to find logic in a ghost story. So, I’m wondering if there are some additional connections we haven’t witnessed yet – like Marcy – does she know burned dude? Is that why she was so quick to pull the gun on him? Do Constance and Marcy have a history of some sort?
More questions, obviously, but we did get some good answers this week. We found out, for all intents and purposes, what the “rules” of this supernatural story are – if you die on the property, you stay on the property – no peace unless your body is found and buried elsewhere, I guess?
So Constance sticks around because at least two of her children were killed in the house… and burned dude’s girls and wife were killed there too – will we see them sometime soon? I think the death toll is up to thirteen confirmed – Dr. Montgomery, his wife, their baby. The two nurses. The gay couple. Burned dude’s wife and two daughters. Constance’s two kids. Ben’s Boston girlfriend. The intruders didn’t die in the house, did they? And of course there’s all the women and children that came to Dr. Montgomery. Just trying to keep it all straight.
Two interesting nuggets we got this week that I’m guessing will have a pay off at some point – first, Tate’s admission that his life would’ve been a lot different if he’d had a father like Ben. I’m guessing we’ll meet more of Constance’s lovers over the years. Second, Vivien’s revelation that she only gets sick when she leaves the house.
Final thoughts – how has Constance continued to get away with crimes? And OH. MY. GOD. SHE. BIT. OFF. HIS. PENIS.
P.S. Anyone think the Harmon twins might be…. gingers!?!?! First-episode callback FTW!
Maybe it was because my DVR was malfunctioning, and I had to watch this episode four times to make it all the way through or maybe I’m just feeling guilty for being such a bad blogger, but I wasn’t really feeling this episode. After the last two, where it seemed like they just threw in as much scary stuff as they could come up with (more on that when I catch up… and I will), this episode was a little more subtle but also a little less exciting.
The primary storyline revealed what we already kind of knew – that Tate is not exactly the boy next door. I find it interesting that such a graphic school shooting scene would make it on air, but credit where it’s due – Ryan Murphy has never been one to shy away from a controversial storyline. So, Tate killed those kids, and, for all intents and purposes, himself, but we never find out why. And that question, which has haunted his mother, his victims and his community, is now haunting Violet. Her parents, too wrapped up in their own issues, aren’t there to intercept her initial freak out, so once again, Constance is the one calling the shots, introducing Violet to her medium friend and explaining that Tate is stuck between two worlds, unaware that he’s dead and with no apparent memory of his past. I have two questions. First, he clearly knows something about the house and its… peculiarities. After all, he was involved in the attack on the popular girl in the basement and seemed fairly comfortable making arrangements to dispose of the intruders’ bodies. Second… at one point, Ben called Tate’s “mother” to explain why he needed to discontinue treating Tate. So, if Constance is his mother and the one who arranged for Tate to see Ben in an attempt to help him “move on,” who did Ben talk to on the phone? Hmmm. I’m not sure yet if Tate’s confession of love will be some kind of redemption for him or if it is leading us further down a path of destruction for Violet.
The secondary storyline concerns Vivien and the baby… and once again, we get some great shout-outs to some other classic horror scenes, and you just have to love it (or at least I love it) when shows like AHS and True Blood and Nip/Tuck embrace the absurdity and don’t get so caught up in the artistry of making television that they can’t get a few miles out of a scene where a pregnant woman. eats. brains. Brains. She eats brains. So, this week’s homage is to Hannibal… with just a smack of Rosemary’s Baby. Because we also got some closure on the nurse’s reaction to the sonogram – apparently, Vivien is carrying the devil. Who didn’t see that one coming? Speaking of seeing things coming (zing)… who else knew – before the previews for next week’s episode – that the stage was being set for a little love triangle between Vivien, Ben and the hot security guard? That part of the episode was, well… less subtle. While I was glad to see some real consequences for Ben’s actions, and I did LOVE Vivien’s verbal assault on him, I have a feeling her precarious situation with both the house and the baby will bring them together again sooner rather than later. I just wonder if that will happen before or after the police come knocking on Ben’s door because now TWO of his patients are dead.
Overall, a solid episode, but nothing spectacular. Needs more Zachary Quinto. As for prophetic, multi-layered dialogue, this line stood out from our friendly neighborhood medium, Ms. Billie Dean Howard: “When you’re chosen, you either get with the program, or you go crazy. Understanding the truth is your only choice.”
We got lots of juicy gossip in this episode. I actually think it’s pretty smart to pace these “big reveal” episodes with more self-contained episodes like last week’s Home Invasion. It keeps things from getting repetitive but also satisfies the audience’s need for answers.
So, it appears Constance was the lady of the murder house at one point and killed her unfaithful husband as he attempted to rape maid Moira. Did she also kill Moira? She clearly shot her through the eye, but what has prompted her to continue aging, at least in the eyes of Vivien?
I think it’s really going to be important to pay attention to how the characters interact with one another and with the outside world. Think Sixth Sense. Who is acknowledged by the outside world, and in what form? We know that the police officer who visited Ben saw young Moira, so is it like she said, that men and women see her as they want to see her? If so, what else that is witnessed in the house is dependent on one’s gender, history, experience, etc.?
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I did find it interesting that the origin of the “murder” part of the “murder house” is in abortion… it explains the photos of children and the clear link the show is pushing between pregnancy, childhood and terror, but it seems a little overtly moralistic for Ryan Murphy.
As usual, this episode had several stop-and-think lines of dialogue, either because they contained potential foreshadowing or because they had several layers of meaning. For example, when the ob/gyn says that “death, divorce and movie” are the three most stressful events a person can experience, and poor Vivien is potentially facing all three. Then there’s the fabulous Jessica Lange with her line: “With soil this toxic, the best you can do is just to cover it up…” a sentiment that can be applied to the physical house and land, to his marriage’s rocky past, to the house’s mysterious history and of course, to the toxic people surrounding the house. Last line I found particularly poignant was the exchange between Ben and burned dude after the latter kills the former’s mistress with a few solid shovel whacks.
Ben: “You’re a murderer!”
Burned dude: “But you’re not, and now all your problems are solved.”
Speaking of solving problems, I was impressed (to a limit) with the relatively believable way the writers dealt with the dilemma of Vivien wanting to GTFO of that house. Given the current economic climate, it was pretty clever of them to make that the reason they’ll be sticking around the murder house for the time being. Less convincing: bratty teenage daughter’s threat to run away if they move. I didn’t buy that, and I also hate bratty teenagers in general, but especially for being bratty just for the sake of the story.
Okay, wrapping up – it appears Moira was buried in the backyard and misses her mother and now can’t leave the house? Did I get all of that right? I’m not sure how all of that information is going to play out, but I wanted to get it down now because I’m sure it will become relevant at some point along the way.
I’m fighting the temptation to keep comparing this show to Lost because it integrates supernatural and scientific/pragmatic/realistic elements into the same world, so that you’re never sure if the answer to the next mystery is going to be metaphysical or whatever the opposite of metaphysical is. For example, when Ben blacked out after his session with Tara’s mom from True Blood, I thought he might’ve actually killed her, or imagined her altogether or been possessed. But it turns out, he was just drugged by Moira with a drug that was detected by the ob/gyn, and his recorder was just swiped by his suicidal patient.
Solid episode – we got some good movement on the plot and some great insight into the history of the house. I’m still really liking American Horror Story, and part of that can be attributed to Connie Britton’s really amazing performance; it makes me want to watch Friday Night Lights. What do you think? Are you digging it (pun most definitely intended) so far?
So, I love that the virgin dies in this week’s opening scene – it’s such an accepted cliché in horror movies that the virgin survives; they even referenced it in the Scream movies. So, it was fun to see that turned on its head.
Have there been any other single story, sustained horror/suspense TV shows like this before? I can’t think of any, but that doesn’t mean anything. The only ones that come close are Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt, but those weren’t continuous sets of characters and ongoing storylines.
I ask because I noticed that we’re getting a lot of classic horror themes and archetypes pulled from a variety of classic scary movies, which I find entertaining because you get to experience the gamut of what’s considered “scary” – the subtle emotional psychosis of an obsessed ex-lover, the paranormal creature in the basement, the creepy burned dude, the chick with white hair – it’s got a little bit of everything!
It might get old, I guess, but for horror movie fans, it’s fun to see these little tropes make cameos. There are times, though, when even I have to roll my eyes at some of the overly obvious choices. Case in point: the ball rolling back after all the characters had left the scene. I don’t know why this is different from the other horror movie staples, but for whatever reason, this one didn’t do it for me.
Another thing I’m bored with is the vibrating cell phone interruption – it was used on Community a few weeks ago, and I guess I’ve just seen it too many times recently, but it’s grating on my nerves.
Anyway, overall, a solid second episode; Jessica Lange brings some serious acting chops to her role, and watching her play the stuck-in-time vengeful, creepy neighbor is just a delight. She had some great lines this week. “Our beauty was an affront to the gods.” “I have the nose of a truffle pig.” The whole cupcake sequence was played to perfection, and we got a little more insight into her personal and family history.
Brief digression – Ryan Murphy has a way with title sequences. The opening credits for Nip/Tuck, from music to pacing to visuals, was just pitch perfect, and the same can be said for AHS. Fewer and fewer shows are using the title sequence to set the mood, opting for those extra few minutes of plot and dialogue instead, but I think it’s the right decision for a show like this – where you really have to get into the right frame of mind before watching.
Another great dialogue exchange between Ben and creepy burned dude: “I’m trying very hard not to judge you.” “Me? You murdered your entire family.” “Yes, but I was never unfaithful.”
I also loved the scene immediately after, when Ben does “the honorable thing” and lies to Vivien about why he has to go to Boston. It had great tension, and as a viewer, you had to love the layering and irony in Vivien’s response: “You know what you are Ben Harmon? You’re a good man.”
Again, I think there’s a lot of foreshadowing and hidden meanings being seeded with the dialogue. For instance, when Constance says, “A mother never turns her back on her child” and goes on to discuss her one child who was a “model of physical perfection” who was “taken by other things.” I wonder if Tate is her son – he certainly seems to be an integral thread in the weave of the house’s dysfunction. And actually, after this episode, I’m wondering if Dr. Ben Harmon has ANY legitimate clients.
I’m not going to go into the main home invasion storyline – the copycat/tribute murder is another tried and true horror staple, and I thought it was carried out really well. I especially enjoyed witnessing the difference in the 2011 and 1968 responses to injured strangers at the door. When it was all over, I wondered how they could possibly stay in this house, so I was glad that in the preview for next week, there is clearly an effort to GTFO.
I have a sneaking suspicion that effort will be in vain, and we’ll be treated to more horror highlights in next week’s episode. I wonder if the constant suspense will get repetitive if it’s all build up and no payoff, but so far, I’m entertained, so I’m not complaining… yet.
Blogmaster James emailed me today and said “this one is kind of perfect for you.” Now that I’ve watched it, I’m not sure if I’m offended or just really transparent. Because he’s right. It is pretty perfect for me. This show is messed up… in all the most entertaining ways.
As with True Blood and Nip/Tuck, liking a show like American Horror Story is not something you’re necessarily proud of, but you know you’re never going to be bored. Right off the bat, we’ve established that normal rules do not apply. Anything and everything goes, and it’s smart to establish that at the beginning because it makes it more difficult to venture into shark-jumping territory later in the series if you jet ski over a giant squid in the pilot.
I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a haunted house. Love horror movies. Love a good scare. With very few exceptions, the pilot episode of AHS managed to be cinematically creepy without crossing the line into ridiculously hokey. I enjoyed the quick-cut cinematography – it may not be the most original way to convey mood, but it’s not something you see often in TV, and it’s damn effective.
I liked that we got the sense of an overarching theme. “People tell stories to cope with their fears.” This is American Horror Story, so what fear is this story addressing? Or am I getting too meta?
Vivien’s doctor asks her, “What are you afraid of?” and then the maid asks Ben the same thing. To me, this hints at some kind of psychological thriller-type element at play in addition to the obvious supernatural element inherent in the house and the cast of creepy characters surrounding it.
There’s a lot going on, and for the most part, the story seems to be progressing more through symbolism and imagery than narrative, so I am glad we weren’t subjected to a long drawn-out melodramatic mystery about “what happened” back in Boston. She had a traumatic miscarriage, and he cheated. They’re trying to start over again, and here we are. Now we can start the real mystery – the one that interests those of us attracted to a show called American Horror Story.
In that sense, I appreciated the movement of the story in the pilot episode, but I felt a few things were too rushed; specifically, their spontaneous return to intimacy and her resulting pregnancy. I get that shows have a limited amount of time in which to lure in an audience, but it felt a little contrived to go straight for sex and a baby right away.
So, aside from the larger mystery of WTF is going on with this freaky ass house, we’ve got to wonder who she actually slept with the second time and whose baby she’s carrying if the answer to the first question isn’t Ben. We also have this line “Don’t make me kill you again,” which basically confirms that the weirdos circling the house – the neighbor, her daughter, and the maid – are a part of the inherent mystery as well.
I’ll admit, I’m intrigued. I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a series from the pilot episode*. I usually resist watching new shows until I finally hear from a thousand and one people how AWESOME it is and how they CAN’T BELIEVE I don’t watch Modern Family/Breaking Bad**/Justified/Big Bang Theory. But Ryan Murphy, who has brought us Nip/Tuck at one end of the spectrum and Glee on the exact opposite (which I still have trouble mentally reconciling), is one hell of a storyteller, and I really think he does better in a wheels-off environment like basic cable where twists and turns aren’t going to turn off primetime-network-TV-watching middle America viewers.
One quibble: I like it when horror movies do creepy really well and don’t rely on the protagonists poor choices to advance the scary elements of the plot. So, when Vivien immediately called 911 after hearing a noise in her house, I was optimistic, but when she then left the phone downstairs, grabbed and knife and went AFTER the intruder, I couldn’t help but think “aren’t we past this yet?” And then we find out that Dr. Ben treats his psychotic patients in his home with his family in the next room? It may have worked on Growing Pains, but Ben is no Jason Seaver, and I have a feeling it will be less successful on a show called American Horror Story.
Overall impression: Freaky, weird, creepy, cool. I think I’m going to like this.
Scariest moment: Twin GINGERS!
P.S. I think Dylan McDermott’s had some work done
*Okay, the more I think about it, the more I realize how untrue that is. I watched Community from the beginning because I am obsessed with Joel McHale and loved the “ass burgers” joke in the series preview (waaaaay before South Park did it). I also watched Dirty Sexy Money (meh; expected more from Peter Krause after Six Feet Under) and Pushing Daisies (awesome show – R.I.P.) from the beginning. Oh well, 1/3 ain’t bad, and I’m optimistic about AHS.
** I do have every intention of watching Breaking Bad soon… just haven’t yet.
In the first minutes of Louie’s season premiere, Louie CK’s daughter tells him that she likes spending time at her mom’s house because she’s a better cook than he is. That, and she loves her more. CK takes this in stride. It’s just one more unpleasant truth in a long string that I imagine began not long after he was born. They finish brushing her teeth and as she heads off to bed, Louie gives her finger, and says that he loves her.
The ability to take unpalatable truths and turn them into something we can laugh at is what makes Louie such a unique show. Fans of CK may know the story of how the whole thing came about. FX offered him the chance to develop a show, but said they couldn’t pay him as much as other networks. To make up for the low paycheck, they gave him complete creative control. CK writes, directs and edits every episode of the show. And rather than get a group of friends together and tell the same dick jokes over and over again — I’m looking at you, Nick Swardson — he put together a show that, whether it’s funny or slightly depressing, always manages to stick with you.
And the thing about Louie is that it can take almost any premise and turn it into something thoughtful. In this week’s episode, Louie’s pregnant sister comes to visit. They spend some time shooting the breeze, complaining about Louie’s ex-wife and raising kids. Later that night, Louie hears her screaming about some pain in her stomach, and has to rush to get her to the hospital. His neighbors, who Louie doesn’t know, come over to help. One of them stays with his kids while the other one helps him to the hospital. As a group of doctors and nurses roll his sister into the emergency room, all yelling over each other, she farts. And, well, that’s it.
Is it crass? Yeah, a little bit. But I think it says something about getting our hopes up and ultimately being let down, or having things turn out differently than expected. Louie’s sister is screaming and pregnant, so obviously something’s wrong with the baby. But it turns out to be gas. Louie spends years raising and caring for his daughters only to have his youngest tell him that she loves her mother more. In these situations what can you do besides stand there and wave the stink out of your face?
I’ve seen the first four episodes of the new season, and they tend to skew a little darker than what we saw last year. And that’s okay. Serious Louie is just as good, sometimes better than funny Louie. And after being hit in the face with those promos for The New Girl, I’m convinced we need a show like Louie if for no other reason than to bring a sense of balance back to the cosmos.
Well, Wilfred is definitely a thing that happened. And not surprisingly, given its cuh-raaazy premise, my opinion of the show changed about every five minutes.
First and foremost, a big round of applause for FX for taking a chance on it in the first place. Wilfred is the kind of show that’s either going to be brilliant or fail spectacularly. And even though I haven’t seen enough to make a judgement either way, I’ve seen enough to make me want to see more. The show follows Ryan (played by Elijah Wood), a late-twentysomething who’s reached a point in his life we’re all familiar with. That point where we’re not quite happy with the way things have been going, we’re questioning the decisions we’ve made and trying to decide whether we need to make a change or maybe just end it all. After a botched drug overdose, Ryan meets Jenna, his neighbor who asks if he wouldn’t mind watching her dog while she’s at work. Of course, Ryan doesn’t see a dog. He sees Wilfred.
Wilfred’s a show you have a hard time accepting at face value. From the very beginning you begin looking for something to explain why Ryan’s seeing things the way he is. He took a lot of drugs, so maybe he’s hallucinating. Later in the episode we hear Wilfred quote a line from Dune, a copy of which we saw earlier on Ryan’s nightstand. So maybe that’s it. This is all happening in Ryan’s head. But as one day drags into the next, Wilfred sticks around and Ryan doesn’t drop dead, we begin to suspect the problem may go a lot deeper than we originally thought.
In tonight’s episode, Wilfred and Ryan break into the house of a neighbor who’s constantly making all sorts of racket with his motorcycle, driving up and down the street and generally treating everyone like an a**hole. There’s this weird Fight Club element that plays into the whole show. Wilfred begins picking Ryan apart, pointing out things he doesn’t like about himself and using a chewed-up tennis ball as an object lesson on what Ryan needs to do to man-up and get back in control of his life. And he does it with such a deadpanned, gruff intensity that you either bust out laughing, or stare at your television, wide-eyed and wondering if what you’re watching is one of those rare, brilliant pieces of art you’ll never fully grasp or understand. All you know if that you like it.
My biggest problem with the show doesn’t lie with tonight’s episode. It lies with episode 10, and season 2, and season 5. Where exactly does a show like this go? There are some practical questions I think deserve to be looked at. Wilfred isn’t Ryan’s dog, so can the show justify pairing them together each week? Maybe the thinking’s that, if we’re willing to accept a talking dog, we’ll accept anything else the show throws at us. And if that’s the case, maybe what they’re doing once they’re together won’t matter, either. Eventually, though, it’s going to have to be something more than digging holes in the backyard or humping the attractive waitress’ leg. I guess you have to make those jokes (because he’s humping her leg!), but they’re only going to take you so far. Ryan’s problems finding a job hint at a world beyond the sofa in his apartment, but we’ll have to see how the show does in the coming weeks before knowing whether it does anything worthwhile with it or not. There’s definitely a strong chemistry between Wood and Jason Gann, who plays Wilfred. And we get a lot of scenes of them just hanging out. Sitting on the couch, walking down the street. All this is pretty strong stuff despite the fact that there isn’t much going on, and maybe that’ll carry the show a ways longer yet.
So it’s all very interesting. I don’t know if I’d say FX has got a hit on its hands — I’m sure there are going to be people out there who hate this show — but they do have something very different, and that ain’t nothing. Maybe the whole thing will go nowhere, but I imagine there’s at least 5 or 6 episodes worth of good leg-humping jokes. Going forward, I may not be reviewing this show every week, but I’ll definitely pop in every few episodes to see how things are going.