Living on Netflix: American Horror Story (Episode 1)

AHS0

I’ve heard a lot of good things about this show.  It’s supposed to be a mash up of many kinds of horror elements into one series, and each season is its own self-contained story.  With a 12 episode season to explain what is going on, I think it has real potential to go in depth with what is going bump in the night, which is a pretty unique angle in horror.  Not often do we spend a lot of time with the person or entity terrorizing the heroes.  Sure, we have characters like Hannibal Lecture, Norman Bates, and even Freddy Kruger to an extent, but going into how the monster was made is something that a television show can deliver that an hour and a half movie can’t.  With that in mind, let’s get this started.

So the episode starts with a flashback to 1978 where we come across Adelaid who will turn up later, as well as these two, who Adelaid says are going to die.

It’s like if the Weasley twins went to the dark side
It’s like if the Weasley twins went to the dark side

Right away you can see that this show has zero subtlety.  Take one look at these two, and you can already guess what their like and their ultimate fate.  If that’s not enough, one of them actually say “I hate trees” before half-heartedly hitting one with his bat.  They proceed to fuck up the abandoned house for no other reason than to be dicks, and of course, both of them get brutally murdered in a way that is unexplained.  After this we get a title card telling us that it’s “today”.  This is something that confused me quite a bit for a good chunk of this episode because it’s actually another flash back.  We meet Vivian Harmon who’s at the doctors for some reason (we later learn she had a traumatic miscarriage).  The doctor tries to prescribe some hormones for her, but we find out she’s a health nut (“I don’t even let my family use plastic bottles”) but it’s hard to not be on her side when the doctor is being REALLY pushy about it.

“Side effects!?  What are you, some religious nut?  The side effects include SCIENCE so shut up and take them!”
“Side effects!?  What are you, some religious nut?  The side effects include SCIENCE so shut up and take them!”

Anyway, after that, she goes home (I thought it was the house from the beginning at first), and finds her husband in bed with another women.

“Baby, I wasn’t fucking her, she was just helping me make the bed!”
“Baby, I wasn’t fucking her, she was just helping me make the bed!”

We finally get to the opening credits which include some creepy imagery, but are confusing and incongruous.  (FORESHADOWING!!!!)  At this point we get to the ACTUAL “today” which is six months after the previous “today”.  The family is moving to Los Angeles for reasons I’m still not sure of, and look at the haunted house.

I’m keeping an eye on this realtor because she was one of the actors to play Juanita in “Titus”, and trust me.  You don’t turn your back on her!
I’m keeping an eye on this realtor because she was one of the actors to play Juanita in “Titus”, and trust me.  You don’t turn your back on her!

Despite finding out that the last people to own the house murdered each other, they decide to take it!  What could go wrong!?  In the real world of course, absolutely nothing.  TV world?  Well, let’s wait and see.  The husband (Ben) continues to come off as a total sleaze bag when he tries to get it on with Vivian.

“I’m so glad we moved away from that other house with all those bad memories of… mistakes being made.  Let’s just let bygones be bygones and let the past be the past, huh?  Okay then.  Let’s have ‘new house’ sex.”
“I’m so glad we moved away from that other house with all those bad memories of… mistakes being made.  Let’s just let bygones be bygones and let the past be the past, huh?  Okay then.  Let’s have ‘new house’ sex.”

I’m not sure what to think about Ben.  He comes across as pretty human in this (neither the ideal husband, nor the abusive monster), but he’s still kind of unpleasant to be around.  He reminds me of a less violent version of Jack Torrance, though I’m guessing they’re gonna play with that angle at some point later.  The next scene is where things start to get weird, but not in a scary way.  We see the daughter (Violet) who’s at her first day of school, smoking a cigarette.  This catches the attention of one of the students there, who has a fucking conniption about Violet smoking.  She starts screaming at her, telling her to put out the cigarette, and when Violet does, she yells at her for doing it on the ground (where the hell else is she gonna do it?) and demands she fucking eats it.

You see?  This is what happens when anti-smoking groups make stupid fucking commercials like this one.
You see?  This is what happens when anti-smoking groups make stupid fucking commercials.

Oh, but her Grandma died of lung cancer, so that explains it.  The next scene, we get reintroduced to an adult Adelaid who snuck into the Harmon’s home and informs Vivian that she’s going to die.  Okay, so should I stop watching the show now?  We know she’s going to die because Adelaid is some sort of psychic.  See, the problem I’m having so far is that they’re playing this almost exactly like any other ghost movie, except they have to stretch it out for another eleven hours.  If you’re not going to do anything new with the formula (which the show hasn’t proven that it will), then why make it a TV show instead of a movie?  Hell, a mini-series will do, but don’t inform me that the character is going to die ten episodes before it does.  This is why The Ring was actually seven days long.  We also get introduced to Adelaid’s mother (Constance) who’s a real piece of work.

“Let me spin you a tale of a life not lived to it’s potential, and the mongoloid daughter that ruined it all.”
“Let me spin you a tale of a life not lived to it’s potential, and the mongoloid daughter that ruined it all.” (Her words, not mine!)

She spends the next five minutes (still hasn’t been invited by the way) and explains her back story like some character from Pioneer Village.  Seriously Vivian; how the fuck did you and your husband decide to buy this house before checking to see if some alcoholic nutbag lived next door?  So far, we haven’t gotten anything that’s too silly.  Ok, the kid with the cigarette issue was a bit odd, but this next scene?  Yeah this is where I realized these characters might be too stupid to live for much longer.  We find out that Ben is a Psychologist (Psychiatrist?) who has sessions with patients IN HIS OWN HOME!!!  If you couldn’t tell that was a stupid idea, the show helpfully points this out to you by having his only patient (that we are aware of) be some Columbine worshiping, Wanted reading, suburban psycho fuck who’s about the same age as Ben’s daughter, and proceeded to seduce her like that snake from The Jungle Book.

Hey jackass.  You’re making Juggalos look dignified.
Hey jackass.  You’re making Juggalos look dignified.

Even Ben realizes how fucking stupid this is because he almost immediately tries to get the cops to keep an eye on this guy, but for some reason they don’t.  Oh, and it turns out that Violet is cutting, because why not.  So far, we have the psycho girl at school, the psycho kid in therapy, and the psycho neighbor next door with the psychic kid.  What the hell else are you planning to throw at us this episode?

“Hello.  I’m the maid whose worked at this house for the last few decades.  Didn’t the relator tell you I’d be by?”
“Hello.  I’m the maid who’s worked at this house for the last few decades.  Didn’t the relator tell you I’d be by?”

We also get the creepy maid, who inexplicably (I seriously can’t tell what fucking rules are in place for this show) looks like a hot 20 something in the eyes of Ben.

Dude, you can’t be stupid enough to think that sticking your dick her in is gonna lead to anything other than your death right?  She’s giving off REALLY evil vibes.
Dude, you can’t be stupid enough to think that sticking your dick in her is gonna lead to anything other than your death right?  She’s giving off REALLY evil vibes.

Okay, the neighbors, the teenagers, and now the maid.  Anything else!?  Are you gonna stick to what you’ve got, or do you have more up your sleeve?

Of Course.  Frank Langella from The Box.  Why the fuck not.
Of Course.  Frank Langella from The Box.  Why the fuck not.

We’re halfway through the first episode, and we already have enough antagonistic forces to start the legion of doom.  We’ve just been setting up character after character without really getting to know any of them besides what archetypal horror caricature they represent.  None of them are even that scary.  They’re just fucking rude.  Adelaid keeps going into their house unannounced, her mother doesn’t really give a shit what Adelaid does, the maid is forcing herself onto Ben despite him saying to get out, and the teenagers are… well acting like teenagers.  At this point, we probably get the best scene in the episode which is a fight between Ben and Vivian.  It’s rough, both sides are making good points as well as tearing down the other, and it ends with them finally having sex.  It’s probably the scariest thing we’ve seen so far because of the raw emotions that both of them have been repressing for months finally let loose.  Alright, so after we get some decent acting and a believable situation, what does the show decide to throw at us next?

“My name is Darth Vader, and I come from the planet Vulcan.  Oh, and I’m here to fix your cable.”
“My name is Darth Vader, and I come from the planet Vulcan.  Oh, and I’m here to fix your cable.”

Are you fucking kidding me?  How the fuck is this supposed to be scary?  When the hell is a full body gimp suit anything but laughable? This is also one of the more confusing parts of the episode.  She has sex with the guy in the gimp suit, who is either the husband, or someone else that she sees as the husband (I guess in the same way the husband sees the maid as super model).  We also inter cut with a scene that’s either happening at some other time or simultaneously with the gimp sex where Ben is… holding his hand over a burner?  And then Constance says “It’s not time yet”.  Again, not scary.  This is just confusing.  I’m guessing that Ben is getting “Shining”ed by something in the house, but I’m having trouble caring at this point.  Alright, the next sketch in this cavalcade of random set pieces is a plan that the psychotic kid (Tate) and Violet come up with to get the Cigarette Crusader of her back.  Violet tells her she’s a coke dealer (why not) and that she’s willing to give her some coke for a truce.  Apparently the cigarette girl is a coke head, and follows Violet down to her basement where Tate is waiting.

“The coke is down this dark hallway where there aren’t any exits.  Pinkie swear!”
“The coke is down this dark hallway where there aren’t any exits.  Pinkie swear!”

Again, a pretty confusing scene where the lights start flickering and Tate seems to summon a dead lady to attack the cigarette girl (I refuse to learn her name).  So does Tate have supernatural powers too?  It sees to be the case because at the end of the scene, the cigarette girl runs off with scratches on her face, and Violet tells Tate to fuck off.  He doesn’t take this well and yells at Violet “I thought you weren’t afraid of anything!”

You have my attention now.
You have my attention now.

This one line and one look is probably the most interesting thing the show has done so far.  I like the idea that Tate actually cares for Violet in his own fucked up way and that he’s somewhat insecure about… being a ghost?  Having demonic powers?  Whatever his deal is, he’s clearly not as ‘into it’ as he lets on in the sessions with Ben.  We also find out that the burned guy is one of the former residents of the house who ended up roasting his entire family to death, and warns Ben to get out.  It’s actually a pretty good sequence where we see him pouring gasoline on his family while they sleep before lighting them up.  It’s genuinely unnerving, and gives us a bit more back story about the house.

“The voices told me to burn them all.  In hindsight, it doesn't seem like it was the best of ideas.”
“The voices told me to burn them all.  In hindsight, it doesn’t seem like it was the best of ideas.”

There’s clearly more to him than what he’s told Ben, but I think that’s a good thing to keep us interested about future episodes.  After that we get a scene with Constance and the maid (Moira) which you’d think would be a really interesting scene (two antagonistic forces butting heads), but the dialogue is so cryptic and kinda pointless that the scene feels wasted.  We find out that Constance killed Moira, but as far as revelations go, it’s pretty weak.  It’s clear that death doesn’t seem to affect Moira all that much, and the fact that Constance did it doesn’t seem to have any difference than if someone else does it.  It’s bait for future episodes, but not very enticing bait.

“You remember that I killed you right?”  “Yeah, I remember.  You don’t have to bring it up every time we chat.”
“You remember that I killed you right?”  “Yeah, I remember.  You don’t have to bring it up every time we chat.”

The last scene is between Vivian and Ben where we find out she’s pregnant again, and all I’m thinking is that they’re going for an Omen homage because frankly the show seems determined to check off every last possible trope of the horror genre.

“I was thinking Damien.  Or how about Belial?  Cthulhu could work.  We’ll call him Cuie for short!”
“I was thinking Damien.  Or how about Belial?  Cthulhu could work.  We’ll call him Cuie for short!”

Pilots are always a pain in the ass to talk about.  They very rarely represent what a show is going to be like when it actually gets going, but they’re the key to getting an audience hooked in the first place.  This one fails because it tries so desperately to keep its audience’s attention that it fails to actually make something compelling.  It’s (presumably) a sizzle reel for what to expect from future episodes with its constant gear shifts, random sketches, and numerous characters.  I can’t say that this episode has sold me on this show being great, but I did have fun laughing at a few of the scenes (gimp suit?  Seriously?).  I’ll have to watch a few more episodes before deciding whether or not to recommend it, but so far I see some potential that will hopefully not be squandered once the show actually gets going.

[P.S. The Juggalo joke was cheap shot.  Apologies to any Juggalos out there]

One thought on “Living on Netflix: American Horror Story (Episode 1)

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