It’s a long and bloody road these days on American Horror Story, friends. It’s a straight-up slasher flick, with not much plot to hold things together. Does it work? Strangely…yes. I have a few things to say, so let’s dive right in…
Last week y’all might remember I went off on AHS a bit. I hated the episode, and I wasn’t shy about it.
In the week since, I’ve had some time to think and reflect. First of all, I was super ultra sensitive to violence due to the awful Walking Dead premiere, so when I was faced with the blood-and-gore of last week’s AHS, I flipped. I wasn’t in the mood, and it showed in my review.
Secondly, there are several things AHS did right last week. The pacing, for one: that episode moved. Shelby killing Matt was a major twist no one saw coming, and while it’s super icky that apparently Matt fell in love with his rapist, Shelby killing him in that moment and her subsequent breakdown worked.
Anyway, my point is I think I was a little too harsh about last week, and I’m trying to see this week’s episode through that lens.
The episode opened at the Polks, with Mama Polk and the younger son carving up Lee. It was a little overlap to last week, since (even though it takes like 12 hours to smoke meat but WHATEVER) Monet and Audrey were fed Lee jerky, and this scene showed them harvesting said jerky (ew).
We learned a small backstory about the Polk family. They started eating people during the Depression, and apparently it worked so well they just kept on. Also, yes, there’s major inbreeding, because the son tells Lee he’s “too young for Mama’s bed.” Lovely.
The younger son also tells her that the Pig Man from season 1 was actually a Polk. He was inspired by slaughtering pigs, and the Butcher’s people roasting people in a pig mask, and thus went on his murder spree.
Lee sort of bonds with the kid, and she acts like she wants his inbred redneck body. When he unties her she goes for the crotch, then gets him in a chokehold and that’s the end of him.
Meanwhile, Monet and Audrey are being held by the dad and other son. The son is making a necklace of teeth because they think the teeth will protect them from the ghosts. He breaks the necklace, so apparently he needs more teeth. They start to pull Monet’s, but the chair and the pliers break. Monet knocks the dad out and escapes, leaving Audrey behind.
The mom sends the dad and son after Monet, then pulls one of Audrey’s teeth. Lee shows up and knocks out the mom to free Audrey, and Audrey beats Mama to death with a hammer.
Back at the house, Dominic and Shelby decide to sneak out through the tunnels. Once down there, however, the Chens show up and chase them back into the house. Various ghosts herd them upstairs until they’re trapped in the bathroom once again.
Shelby is freaking out. Dominic tries to calm her down, but she’s sure they’re going to die in the house, and can’t get over murdering Matt. Before he can stop her, she slits her own throat and bleeds out. Dominic is alone and filled with self-pity and regret.
Lee and Audrey escape back to the house. Lee is badly hurt, and Audrey offers her some pain pills. When she goes to the bathroom she finds Shelby’s body, and Dominic tells them what happened.
Neither of them believe him. Lee doesn’t believe Shelby killed Matt, and Audrey refuses to believe that Shelby killed herself. They drive him out to the hall and the pig man kills him.
The next morning the women decide they have to go back to the Polk farm. As Lee points out, there are tapes of them killing people. Plus (though she doesn’t tell Audrey this) Lee recorded a message to Flora in which she confessed to killing Mason. I mean okay sure I guess. It just seems like a weird way to murder someone, and I honestly don’t know how she got him up on that effigy by herself.
They decide they can’t use the tunnels, because Lee can’t bear to see Matt’s body again. When they open the door, the pig man’s standing there! Audrey smacks him on the head, but he tells her to stop and takes off the mask. “Dylan?!” Audrey cries.
A LOT happened this episode. More deaths, of course: 2 Polks and 2 cast members, so a grand total of 4. They had to slow down the death pace a little or they’d run out of people.
I loved watching Audrey and Lee support each other, and their scenes together were great. Sarah Paulson as Audrey is a stand out so far, despite her wavering accent. She said Shelby was way too self-centered to have committed suicide, and her goodbye to Dominic, “you were a fantastic scene partner.” Lee and Audrey together are a charismatic duo, with Lee pushing Audrey through her panic and Audrey physically supporting a cut-up Lee. They were the best part of the episode.
We need to talk about the meta commentary this season is presenting. It’s a show-within-a-show-within-a-show at this point, and there’s so much going on. The Polks, for example, watched the show, and when Lee is surprised that they have a TV, the younger son says that they’re Americans; of course they have a TV!
The fact that shows like American Horror Story and The Walking Dead are such a huge success even with (or maybe because of?) the amount of violence and nihilism they contain says a lot about the American public’s viewing preferences. The audience for My Roanoke Nightmare and Return to Roanoke are just as bloodthirsty, if not more so, because in their case they’re watching real people…at least in the latter show.
It said in episode 6 that everything you’re watching from then on was “assembled from found footage” because the Return to Roanoke show never aired. Okay, so…where is this found footage being shown? Online? Some snuff film website?
Point being, how did this footage of all these people being brutally murdered see the light of day? Did they package it and sell it as a DVD? Who is watching it? Us, obviously, but I mean who in universe is watching it? We can remove ourselves from it because we know it’s all fake, just actors and props and etc (as Audrey tells the Polks their show was), but within the show’s universe it’s all real.
Of course “it’s all real” every season, but this is the first one to have the voyeuristic aspect added to it. During OJ Simpson’s Bronco chase, Domino’s pizza sold more pizzas than at any other time in the company’s history. So are people sitting around watching everyone get murdered and eating pizza? Is our fascination with other people’s lives and miseries that ingrained?
Dominic, during his self-pity spiral, says he just wanted his own spin off, something Sidney promised him if he played the villain well enough. This whole project was one big joke to the actors and producers, but to the “real” people: Matt, Shelby, Lee; it was deadly serious.
All of this is really just theoretical conversation anyway, but it does provide interesting insight into what counts as entertainment. Especially considering the current election climate, and some of the nonsense we’ve all been subjected to in the last few months. Apparently our tolerance for pain and absurdity is growing.
Images curtesy of FX