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In Defense of 'American Horror Story' – It's Complicated


I have noticed a lot of complaints floating around the internet that American Horror Story went too far with last week’s four minute opener. In it, we see the death of a main character, Tate (it’s ok, he’s a ghost now!) and the Columbine-esque murders he committed. Some called it gratuitous to explicitly show what was already inferred from Episode 5, ‘Halloween Part 2’ in which Tate’s murder victims haunt him for a night.  I understand, it is no secret that the first four minutes of ‘Piggy Piggy’ were brutal. But I can’t help but see a reason for it.

From the awkward zoom-ins, cuts, and slightly crooked framing to the sanity or age of the characters in the house – everything about this show is unstable but peculiarly balanced, making it impossible for the viewer to get his or her bearings. By the time the viewer processes something pleasant there has already been a cut to something gut-wrenching, and vice-versa.

Take last night’s episode, ‘Rubber Man’. The intro bounces in time, from the conception of Vivian and Tate’s creepy half-ghost-half-human baby to the comedy of Zachary Quinto having cocktails with a friend a few months earlier. One second, we’re hearing Viv complain about losing her mind, and the next we hear Chad (Quinto) make the same proclamation, only to have his adorable friend give an adorable speech where she manages to adorably suggest nipple clamps and cat-o’-nine tails to get back his boyfriend’s affections. I laughed, a little bit, when she said that.

But then there’s a cut, we see Rubber Man, he takes off his mask, and… it’s Tate. Not even ten minutes into the episode, and Rubber Man’s revealed. The show moved from light humor to gigantic plot reveal in a matter of seconds. It’s like what the sales associate said at the sex store to Chad, “Every relationship’s a power play, with or without the… props.” To put it simply, things are just complicated to the point where the viewer cannot tell how to feel about the characters. You had the urge to sympathize with Adelaide, and she died. You find Constance’s quirky southern stereotype endearing? But she murdered Moira and arranged for her own child’s murder. What about Violet? She’s stubborn and strong, sure, but willing (albeit reluctant) to throw her mom under the proverbial bus at the end of ‘Rubber Man’.

And Tate? Between his sincere devotion to Violet and the “romantic bad boy with a heart of gold” act it’s hard not to like him. Five episodes of this, and then we learn of his past. There’s a reason it happens so late, after the viewers have grown to like him a little bit. Like I said earlier, the massacre Tate committed was hinted at in ‘Halloween Part 2’, but was not enough. To have the show dance around it could give cause for the viewer to dance around – and therefore ignore – what Tate did as well. It’s not complicated until all sides are revealed in detail. And that’s why we saw the cheerleader pee her pants before she died, the last one Tate killed. It’s the details that stick. It’s the details that make what Tate did real. It’s the details that scare us.

The main theme of the show as I see it is the emotional roller-coaster of the American dream turned nightmare. The American horror story isn’t riches-to-rags or total loss. Loss can be dealt with, moved on from. The horror of this show is the visceral depiction of highs and lows – going from pawing at your boyfriend in the library to praying for your life and peeing your pants while you wait your turn to be murdered. Then we see that same murderer struggle to save Violet’s life, to take care of her in Tate’s own way, and, again, we can’t help but like him. It’s complicated, dirty, confusing. American Horror Story explores the dark and light side of human life and makes no show to hide it – hence the TV-MA rating. So, to quote Hayden, “You better locate your balls before you go in there. That bitch is tough.” You definitely must be this tall to ride.

American Horror Story, Wednesdays at 10 PM on FX