American Horror Story: Hotel, can the anthology series be saved?

While the fan following is still generally strong for the FX horror series, AHS has floundered some what since its 2011 inauguration. Murder House set the bar high, and since the twists and turns, enigma, and captivating performances from those involved, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murhphy have seemed to drift away from the stellar character-driven narratives of season one (and two if you could stomach the gore) and head into the deep, dark depths of strange-ville.

Focusing on visual horror and uncomfortable sub-plots that often lend the viewer to ask “Was that a bit too far?”, American Horror Story descended into snuff porn and gruesome effects in season four, with Freak Show turning off a number of viewers. Series three didn’t do the show any good either, with the audience divided as Coven became a feminine tale of love and revenge. Can Hotel combine the elements of series one and two to give viewers an all-round, genre-busting season that leaves the disgusting visuals at home? Or will the departure of Jessica Lange leave a dent in the once-exciting television romp? Let me know in the comments box.

 

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AHS: Halloween continued

While Freak Show hasn’t yet been the best example of AHS on super-shiny form, this weeks episode (Edward Mordrake Part 2) was decidedly better then what we’ve seen so far. Some back stories were unleashed, and they were tough. The story of Elsa‘s history, and how she became an amputee was, for me, a little too much, and its this kind of storytelling that pushes one away from wanting to watch. Black and white scenes of tortuous sexual acts ending in the filming of a snuff film was enough to make me question why I stick with AHS. Having said that, this was a five minute juncture in a fifty minute episode, and to finally gain some insight into some of the acts at the show was certainly interesting. Mordrake, despite his malevolent intentions, may just be the character to breathe life back into Freak Show, somewhat reminiscent of a Murder House ghost. If there’s one negative to pick with the scenes in which Mordrake saves the show, its the green fog that accompanies him (hammer horror rings a bell, and although that’s most probably the intention for makers, it takes away from the serious nature of the show).

evan peters' lobster boy

evan peters’ lobster boy

Unexpected in this weeks offering was the rather sad back-story of the murderous Clown. His dirty costume, and blood-soaked mask are often enough to make you turn away by the time his scenes come round, and seeing him as a clean, and almost child-like performer before this was an intriguing juxtaposition (one which almost produced sympathy from those watching). Although what has previously happened to him doesn’t justify or even explain his psychotic activities, a look into the past is always AHS’ strongest moment. And as we say goodbye to, a character who has definitely been one of the most hair-raising antagonists of AHS, Dandy, perhaps becomes a new one (that’s right, the annoying, no-one-cares Dandy).  I think what can weaken the show as a whole is not giving enough screen-time to some of the strongest actors. Here a particular actor is certainly in mind, and you can easily guess who – Evan Peters of course. Whether he’s playing teenage ghost Tait, or Frankenstein style monster Kyle, Peters shines in these varying roles (and is so easily loveable in them). As Jimmy, he’s yet to have his moment in the spotlight, but the burgeoning chemistry between him and (off-screen girlfriend) Emma Roberts’ Esmerelda adds a nice touch to an often dark and slightly uncomfortable series.

What appears to be adding to the disappointing moments of series four is the judging and balancing of which characters are on screen, for how long, and what is taking place or being learned during this time. Angela Bassett has barely had any real air-time and Dennis O’Hare has featured in only two episodes (and collectively for less than fifteen minutes), these actors are what have helped make previous seasons’ so great, and the reason why Freak Show is so lacking. It’s important to note that while I’m certainly a little morose at the route this series has taken, I still think, on a whole, AHS is a great example of television at its best. We are only four episodes in, and the arrival of Gabourey Sidibe and Neil Patrick-Harris is yet to be had (both will add strength to an already beloved cast), and there’s still a lot to be understood about the group of outsiders Freak Show focuses on. Lastly, a turning-point for Jimmy and the rest finally came around, and not only do they have a sold-out show but a new found respect from the locals. Some interesting tweaks to the narrative meant episode four gave us perhaps a lot to look forward to (or, more appropriately, a lot to be apprehensive of).

American Horror Story does Halloween

The Halloween episodes of seasons past have always been some of the best offerings AHS have brought us. From zombies, to teen ghosts and this year an urban myth come to life; que this weeks episode Edward Mordrake (Part 1) (Mordrake being the myth). The appearance of this ghost, and legend, was definitely intended to be a terrifying attribute to Wednesday night’s episode, it didn’t quite live up to that expectation however. The introduction of Mordrake was most-certainly interesting, but not in the way it feels that AHS wanted him to be (y’know that scary kind of interesting, the enigma of what will he do, and to who). His back story made for fascinating fare and his conversation with Ethel, where this evil spirit takes sympathy with her, was a touching moment for season four. But still, there is something missing with Freak Show; the tone, aesthetic, captivating characters…this new season seems to lack pieces of all of these and more.

In previous seasons, exactly like this, there have been an ensemble cast playing characters who all share the spotlight, with Freak Show this doesn’t quite seem to be the case. Three episodes in we know little about Jimmy, apart from what has landed him and his mother into Elsa‘s care and as acts at the show, Bassett’s Desiree has barely said a word, and the most we know about Paulson’s Dot and Bette is that they dislike one another and killed their mother. There are no traits on show that compel us to be involved with these characters and their stories (so far), excluding Bates’ Ethel who this week had her moment in the spotlight as she shared her unhappy past. Its a trending theme now that AHS is starting to disappoint rather than intrigue. But, just as it seems that all may be lost, Lange (like is often the case) was on hand to once again bring some light relief to viewers eyes, and ears. This weeks song was Lana Del Ray’s Gods & Monsters, and the performance was really rather brilliant. As a lover of old meets new, its these junctures that are my favorite. Lange’s performance as Elsa brings us a slice of theatrical originality, and scenes like these stand out as a piece of kooky cinema, rather than an FX television show.

AHS welcomed back veteran Dennis O’Hare and Coven‘s Emma Roberts as a duo lacking a conscience and interested in making a quick buck. If this pair, and the others that have already been introduced can mold together and bring back the charisma seen in previous seasons Freak show could be saved from becoming an unmemorable, and frankly quite boring, addition to a generally great series. I’m rooting for it.