I may have spoken too soon about American Horror Story toning down its batshit craziness. “Nor’easter” features, among other things, Sister Jude getting drunk and wandering the halls of Briarcliff, Sister Mary Eunice allowing the demon inside of her to deliver lots of clumsy exposition, Dr. Arden’s small penis, and forest mutants. Clearly, all I’ve been missing is the sweet, sweet chaos of a Jennifer Salt script, where there’s no storyline so hyperkinetic she can’t intercut seven or eight others. One of the problems I had with this series in season one was that it presented really, truly terrible things as vaguely campy, and I had trouble getting my mind around that. Somewhere along the line, though, my defenses were worn down, because when this episode ends with Arden having cut off Chloe Sevigny’s legs, all I could muster was an, “Of course he did!”
“Nor’easter” tosses all of this craziness up against the same plot as last week, which is a little disappointing. I had hoped that we would eventually stop with the, “We need to escape!” stories, but here we are, all over again, watching to see if Lana, Kit, and Grace can get out of the asylum. Maybe now that they’ve realized the woods are filled with flesh-eating mutants, they’ll be content to hang out in the place where they’re being imprisoned against their wills, but I rather doubt this will be the case. As horror stories go, “Can the protagonists escape?” is a rather weak one, because if the protagonists could truly escape the horrific location, there would be no story. Once the three made it out of the building and into the howling wind, I briefly entertained the notion that this season would be less location-bound than last, but I should have known better. TV has to work on a budget, so they run from the mutants, right back into the middle of the horrors they so wish to escape. Assuming this is the last iteration of this story for a while, it won’t be a big deal, but it’s already repetitive, so I hope we don’t see this every week, as we did with Connie Britton last season.
That’s no matter, though, because the episode is basically an excuse for a “Jessica Lange and James Cromwell overacting in each other’s general direction” delivery vehicle, and on that level, it gloriously succeeds. By the time the storm is howling in and Sister Jude is getting drunk on communion wine (provided to her by a demon, no less), while Dr. Arden is using lipstick to paint up a statue of the Blessed Virgin, then calling her a whore, the episode has hit some kind of daffy magic. I mean, none of what they’re doing really makes sense. The characters on this show don’t have consistent motivations so much as they have back-stories that get constantly trotted out, the better for the writers to poke at them with a stick. The demon has been pestering Sister Jude with visitations from the girl she killed, while it’s been pestering Arden by offering him up Mary Eunice for his gratification. This sends both of them around the bend, which allows for the escape attempt.
I’ll have to admit I was wrong about Arden. Last week, I thought he might be part of the series’ general themes about how perversion and sexual immorality are often in the eye of the beholder. Now, he’s pretty clearly evil, but in such a way that he’s not really threatening, even though he’s contemplating putting the little alien bug (which, yes, still exists) back into Kit (or at least seems to be) or trying to rape Shelly. There’s a certain element of campy self-awareness to everything Cromwell is doing, as Lange had with Constance last season. In fact, that rape scene shows both the positives and negatives of the whole American Horror Story approach. The show steps up to something really terrible and horrifying, then backs away at the last minute through a crude joke. But at the same time, that joke is so bizarre that it becomes kind of funny in spite of itself. The whole reason Arden acts the way he does is because he has a smaller-than-normal and/or damaged penis? That’s not a motivation you’re going to see on just any show.
So if Arden is our villain—and a rather non-threatening one at that, even with the impromptu amputations—then who’s our hero? The easy answer is the trio of Kit, Lana, and Grace, and while they’re certainly the people with the most concrete goal—escape—it’s also a goal that would either shift the series past recognition or end it. This means there’s a lot of other stuff that has to happen, like Sister Mary Eunice’s possession, which is at once hysterical and fun but also sort of ancillary and pointless. (I do like the way the demon just fills us in on the necessary back-story whenever it’s needed, like when she rattles off the story of how Sister Jude came to be a nun.) The season is developing some interesting ideas—like the continued fascination the series as with the Venn diagram intersection between sex and horror—but the story is stuck in neutral. It’s more and more stuff getting thrown at the wall, with little of it sticking as well as it might have.
That said, this isn’t exactly a complaint. “Nor’easter” is the weakest episode of the season so far, but it also has more than enough wacky shit going on to keep me entertained. I’m not going to lie: When Sister Jude was stumbling around drunk, or when Sister Mary Eunice was talking about how Sign Of The Cross was going to feature the death of several Christians, I was riotously entertained, even as I was wondering what the hell was going on with all of this. In some ways, the usual rules of criticism just don’t apply to this show. It’s the kind of show where I should probably skip the writeup and just jump to the stray observations every week, because there’s probably more value in joking about all of the ridiculousness than in trying to pull it apart and see what makes it tick.
Grade: B for Bugnuts
To that end…
- I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy to kill Adam Levine. I suspect he’s really, actually dead now, thanks to the two… well, who are those guys? Random murderers just hanging out in an abandoned building? Hm.
- Thredson goes to check up on Lana’s girlfriend—presumably ex-girlfriend now—and he finds signs that indicate that Bloody Face may still be at large. Lana takes this as an excuse to finally start trusting Kit, which you knew was inevitable. I’m sure she’ll be done trusting him by the end of next week’s episode.
- I’m enjoying Chloe Sevigny much more this week, now that the show has treated her more than sexually crazed window dressing. I particularly liked when she made her argument for why she should move to Paris: “Here, I’m a freak! There, I’d be celebrated!” You and me both, Shelly. You and me both.
- When writing Arden's dialogue, the writers seem to have taken a cue from Travis' dialogue last season on Dexter, given how much he enjoys saying, "Whore!"
- Lily Rabe is having way too much fun as a demon-possessed nun. Still, just how long can the show drag this out before people start to suspect what’s up?
- Lots of quick shots of spooky beasts this evening. Our three escapees run into the mutants and get a slight look at them. (I’m assuming they’re mutants entirely because they’re tied to Arden and because, uh, I read an Entertainment Weekly season preview referring to them as such.) And Sister Jude comes upon some weird thing in the halls of the asylum. Alien? Demon? Who knows!
- Everybody ranting about how they needed to find “the Mexican” was Ryan Murphy-style casual racism played for comic effect done… right, I guess? If such a thing can be done right.
- “A movie full of fire, sex, and the death of Christians. What fun!” I think demon-possessed Sister Mary Eunice and I would have a good time.
- Man-ass update: None that I could see, though I will admit I was not looking very hard. I will be better in weeks to come.