Wednesday, January 14, 2015

American Horror Story: Freak Show, Episode 11

Score Technician: Sean McConnell

Look, this needs to happen. None of us wanted it to come to this. But, try as we might to avoid it, we need to talk about Kevin.

Once upon a time there was a house. In that house lived a man who had moved his family across the country in an effort to move beyond a damaging extra-marital affair. This man had a wife. This wife, while shaken by/ashamed of her husband's infidelity, was no pushover. She agreed to this move, thinking that the uprooting would help the two of them work together to repair the foundations of a their once happy home. This man and wife had a teenage daughter. The daughter, displaced by her parents to the other side of the country and full of hormones, found herself even more isolated as her parents focus shifted away from her and to their damaged relationship. They all lived in a house. This was a bad house. An evil house. And this house, sensing the cracks in the paternal facade and tasting blood in the water, tore them to pieces. The house brought Tate. Tate, singularly one of the most evil and disturbing creations in any medium. And it was terrifying.

Is it news to say that no season of American Horror Story has come close to that first season? No, of course it isn't. Can any of the plots of subsequent seasons be summed up so simply? More importantly, can it be done in a manner that an audience could identify with? If you're still watching the show, then this is likely something you say to yourself at the end of every episode, sometimes in the middle of one. But given the grim phantasmagoria that Ryan Murphy and Co. create every year, why and how this has happened will always be an unanswerable question. Perhaps it's a mystery akin to Finnegan's Wake, something to be puzzled out by tomorrow's hapless undergrads laboring under the watchful (maybe amorous?) eye of some hip, underpaid adjunct professor.

Before we get started, it needs to be said up front that this is Ryan Murphy's show, so it is his responsibility and his alone. He's created one essential season of television, another season and a half of pretty decent television, and...this season. It's his baby. He runs it. It's his fault. Are we clear? Great. That being said, it should also be noted that part of the problem is Jessica Lange. Now, it's not that she herself is the problem. She's an amazing actress who pretty must averages a triple-double every season. But her star power and talent have exerted their own gravitational pull on the show. At this point (her last season), we may have finally crossed the event horizon. Let's take a moment to review how Jessica Lange's role changed season-by-season using these (totally finctional) writer's room notes:
  • Season 1 Jessica: It's the definition of high-wattage supporting role. Pop in for a few drive by's (if we can get her). Drop pithy bombs. Carry a few half episodes. Wow the audience with her obvious big-screen chops and elevate the performances of some pretty A-List TV talent. She can be the Dame Judi Dench of our show!
  • Season 2 Jessica: Elevate Jessica Lange into a co-lead role (if she'll take it). Bring in hot off the Enterprise new-Spock to also co-lead. Just to be safe, let's bring in another co-lead, someone Oscar-ish like James Cromwell. He was pretty evil in LA Confidential. And let's promote Sarah Paulsen to co-lead as well. She earned a shot to co-lead based on the two or three scenes she killed last season. Plus, if Jessica leaves, we'll need a farm system. Shit! Don't forget about Tate! Bring that guy but flip him around a bit. He's good now! Sickeningly good. Does anyone think we have too many co-leads now? There's no way this might get a little sloppy right? Speak now or forever hold your peace.
  • Season 3 Jessica: Okay, maybe we had too many leads last season. But people like us bringing in those Oscar people. Bring on Angela Basset and Kathy Bates. They can do what Jessica did in season 1, only now we'll have two of them! We don't need co-leads. Jessica's the undisputed lead now. She's earned it. She's won awards! She's amazing! The people want Jessica, so like sugar in a McDonald's burger, let's have more!
  • Season 4 Jessica: We have Jessica for one more year. Bring back those Oscar people from last season. No one can drive this car besides Jessica. This is her show. It's Jessica "fucking" Lange. People will watch. We'll figure out how to fix everything else next season.
A friend once said that as long as you maintained three points of contact, you were never in any danger from falling from a high place. He demonstrated this fact, by precariously hanging on the outside of a deck in a high rise on Michigan Avenue. As someone who hates heights, I was able to watch for maybe a second or two before becoming nauseous. But his point was well illustrated. As long as you maintain at least three points of contact, you're in no real danger of falling. For the last two seasons now, AHS has tried to get by with only one true point of contact, Jessica Lange. So why are we surprised that the show seems to be falling so fast?

The question we must ask ourselves at this point, is can Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) come in at the 11th hour as the second point of contact in order to help the show hold on until next season when Jessica has moved on and the show must (hopefully) stabilize itself? Only the nanobots know. Don't believe me? Just ask them.
  • Using your rent boy to also help you in obtaining organs/appendages for the black market. = +6pts (For getting more bang for your buck. WINK!)
  • Acting surprised at being tricked when you've been tricked constantly all season. You know the saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 16 times, and you can have my hands. What can I say, it's the Toledo Code." = -2pts
  • Burying the hatchet with your Siamese twin so that the two of you can find someone to bang. = +7pts
  • This guy's sign-off after being rejected for a two-and-a-halfway. From this point forward, we end all conversations and tender all professional resignations using the exact same gesture. = +9pts
  •  NPH magic hands. = +2pts
  • Sample(ish) scene dialog: "He took both [my hands]. Why?" "Cause he's a liar." "No he's not!"  "Goddammit son, have you not memorized all of the various amendments to the Toledo Code? It's all right there! I mean, it's your family legacy! Put your back into it!" = -6pts
  • Recounting the time when your father used to threaten to eat your perfectly normal fingers for dropping his beer as a way of explaining to your son why you abandoned him. = -2pts
  • Elsa turning down obvious talent because...she's a terrible business manager? Hates talent? Needs this scene to last longer? = -3pts
  • Using a plot that Tales From the Crypt crushed back in 1990. = +3pts (Sometimes it's good to revisit a classic.)
  • Side Note: What the shit, HBO? When can we watch Tales From the Crypt on HBO GO? Can someone make this happen. Please?
  • Bringing back Jamie Brewer. = +4pts
  • Unintentionally addressing your dummy during a job interview well after you've completed your act. = -2pts
  • Not immediately killing the man who took your son's hands despite previously immediately killing anyone who annoyed/irritated you. Well, that's just the Toledo Code. = -2pts
  • Inviting a ventriloquist doll to a two-and-a-half-way. = +4.5pts (The more the merrier!)
  • Elsa saying with a straight face, "I can always recognize a good deal." = -3pts (We think your two missing legs would take exception to that comment.)
  • Selling your frerakshow to a dummy. No, a real dummy. No, really, a real dummy. What part of this are you not getting? = -4pts
  • Standing by and doing nothing as your dummy murders your wife and her live-in lesbian lover. = -2pts
Episode Score: +11.5pts
Season Score: -31pts

So, how did the appearance of NPH affect AHS? Despite our concerns that our love of BarnWig would skew our results, the nanobots have confirmed that his presence seemed to energize the show. Thanks, science! Here's hoping he can hang around for the last two!

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