Fan or not, American Horror Story is the kind of show that cannot be judged on the regular merits of television programming—or storytelling, for that matter. One can’t outline plot points and arcs, or argue conventional strengths and weaknesses. It isn’t built that way. As an anthology show, there is no quality or tone guarantee from one season to the next. Theoretically, “horror” means “scary”, but the term is used a bit loosely in this case. Is the series an homage to horror and sci-fi movies and TV of the past, and is it chockfull of winks, rip-offs and interpretations of everything from Rosemary’s Baby to The Hunger? Absolutely! But “scary” is up for debate, and not the lens through which to evaluate this gorgeous mess of blood and glitter.
For five seasons, Ryan Murphy and gang have taken all three title words and stretched their definitions to within an inch of their lives. American. Horror. Story.
Season 6 approaches. Lies and rumors swirl around the theme. The Lost Colony of Roanoke, Orphanage, Village of the Damned, to name a few. Are they ALL true? Are NONE true? In the words of FX’s John Landgraf, “We just thought it would really be fun to keep it a mystery, so we are.” (Not to mention that “Pick the Right Promo” Mercedes-Benz sweepstakes at ahs6sweeps.com.) Anything could happen.
Because American Horror Story lives in the Land of Yes.
In the Land of Yes, everything is possible. Once a theme is settled upon, once the window lickers and pencil chewers have scribbled THE THEME onto the chalkboard and the Aye hands have prevailed, anything goes. It’s like a high school drama club that writes its own plays; every voice matters. Every single idea (if it fits, however loosely) under the umbrella of the theme, has a damned good shot of making it into the show. And this is MAGIC. This is INSANITY. This is what keeps people coming back year after year, even if the previous season sucked, even if a favorite actor or actress dropped out. If you have never seen an episode, it’s the reason you should give it a shot.
Walking past the door to the AHS Writers’ Room, the voice of whoever gets to be “In Charge” that year drifts into the hallway:
“Damnit Randy, shut up! We crammed aliens into the Asylum season for you, that’s more stupid than Susan’s idea to get Jessica Lange to sing Bowie! IT GOES IN!”
“What do you mean she’s gone? We just got a whole bunch of new costumes—can we get Gaga? Someone call Gaga. Do we still have Evan Peters? Oh, thank Christ. It’s going to be fine, okay?” How long can this go on?
Forever, presumably, or until Evan Peters finds a way into the movie industry that doesn’t involve the X-Men or a smart-juiced Olivia Wilde—so probably another couple of years. Besides, all the seasons are eventually supposed to link up or come together or something, and that will be one hell of a trick to pull off, if they can do it before the viewers that have been around since Season One completely lose interest.
The Moral of the (American Horror) Story is: keep an open mind. Just because Jessica Lange’s Sister Jude in ‘Asylum’ was incredible doesn’t mean she can carry ‘Freakshow’ by dint of another killer accent, alone. And just because Finn Wittrock’s Dandy in ‘Freakshow’ is the most punchable character since Pete Campbell doesn’t mean you won’t completely forget he’s the hot guy playing Valentino in ‘Hotel.’
Why not give it a shot?
Before AHS S6 hits, here’s a look back at the seasons thus far, complete with Personal Favorite rankings by Yours Truly.
Amanda’s 2nd Favorite Season
“Um, Amityville! The Changeling! Every ghost story ever. Rosemary’s Baby? That was in an apartment. Fuck it, why not?”
Connie Britton and one of the guys from Grey’s Anatomy move into an awesome house with their teenage daughter, leaving behind all the shit that happened somewhere else—All The Shit being a miscarriage and the mistress, Kate Mara. But the new house is crammed full of ghosts, and the neighbors (Jessica Lange and Jamie Brewer) won’t stop coming over. Weird noises. The Black Dahlia. A plot-relevant latex gimp suit. The introduction into the twisted hearts of many by Evan Peters, playing Tate Langdon. An eloquent conversational exploration of “gaslighting” and “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Denis O’Hare’s magical delivery of one of the best lines ever written, to a crying, clinging Dylan McDermott: “Hey, whatcha doin’ there? Taking a DNA bath?”
Amanda’s Favorite Season
“Cuckoo’s Nest is really all we need. Well, okay, the Catholic angle is a good idea. Yeah, possession and Catholics go hand in hand. And a Nazi Doctor? Wait, aliens? Okay, Randy, but this is your ONE! Make it work.”
This season has everything, including Adam Levine. Jessica Lange and Lily Rabe are perfection as Catholic nuns running a 1960s asylum, with Sarah Paulson as an infiltrating reporter, Chloe Sevigny as a nympho, and that cocksucking Al Swerengen as Santa Claus. Possessions, aliens, exploration of the antiquated views on interracial marriage and homosexuality, a guy that makes lampshades out of skin, and Franke Potente as Anne Frank. All this on top of the unsettling common therapy practices of old institutions. It’s set inside the framework of Adam Levine and his fiancé getting partially naked in the modern-day now-abandoned institution. And Evan Peters plays an “I didn’t do it” patient/killer that for some reason dresses like a greaser in his backstory. But really, this season is all about the kickass female characters, from Sister Jude to Pepper.
Amanda’s 3rd Favorite Season
“Okay, we went a little far with…well, everything last season. We’re going to try to stick to the theme, okay? So it’s just witch school in New Orleans. Plus we’ve got Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates!”
Sarah Paulson plays the daughter of Jessica Lange, and S3 is finding the next “Supreme” in the generation following Lange’s (because Lange is the Supreme of wherever she is). There’s a lot of split-time going on, with Kathy Bates of the past doing stuff-of-nightmares as Rich White Lady, in the present under the spell of Marie Laveau (played across all times by Angela Bassett). Lange tries to keep a new Supreme from rising, Stevie Knicks shows up to do an acoustic piano version of ‘Landslide’, Evan Peters stumbles around with his shirt off as a sexy Frankenstein’s monster, and the only truly good, beautiful character (Misty Day, played by Lily Rabe) is dealt a fate that’s downright disturbing, even in a season where Kathy Bates’ head is in a box and Marie Laveau’s lover gets the Robb Stark treatment. A lot of the voodoo stuff is wrong, but hey, it’s AHS. And we do get some burnings at the stake.
Amanda’s LEAST FAVORITE Season
“You can’t just steal Francis from PeeWee’s Big Adventure. Fine, just make him hot. Do we need more songs? Let’s do more songs. I don’t know.”
Fuck Season Four. The whole thing. For one, circuses/sideshows MOVE AROUND. That’s why they have trailers. Then there’s everything else. The jumping off point seems strong: Vic Mackie is the Strong Man, Sarah Paulson has two heads, Evan Peters has lobster hands that make me blush to even think about, and Jessica Lange opens the season with a tear-jerking Dietrich-esque performance of “Life on Mars.” But it’s all confusion and bullshit from there. As a tease, to prove they could be doing better if they wanted to, a phenomenal Story of Pepper (the Pinhead, a crossover character from S2) episode is dropped in mid-season, then they go back to random Scooby Doo fumbling. I bailed before it ended.
Amanda’s 4th Favorite Season
“Okay, you guys, Jessica is gone. And everything we messed up last season we’re just going to have to make up for with sex, nudity, and glamorous shit. Hotel California stuff. And who built the murder hotel in Chicago? Let’s do that!”
The most recent season of AHS knew it had to lay everything on thick: no Jessica Lange, S4 was shit, nothing had been scary for a while. But instead of going full-on The Shining, S5 goes full-on Sex. The clothes, costumes, sets, and every (okay, except one) bloody scene is dazzling and gorgeous. Likable characters—the villainous being the most likable of all—dreamy dialogue-free gory interludes, orgies, Evan Peters’ scenes in black and white as a character based on serial killer H.H. Holmes. Lady Gaga is a sort-of vampire, the kid that filmed everything in American Beauty does some Son of Sam type investigation, creepy blond children wander around, Finn Wittrock shows up as two hot characters, Sarah Paulson is a 1990s fever dream, plus Denis O’Hare, Kathy Bates, Chloe Sevigny and Angela Bassett help out. Characters from S1 and S3 show up. It’s bloody, it’s meandering, it’s beautiful. There are a lot of subversively wholesome sub-plots about acceptance, family, loss and nostalgia, but that stuff never types out well. All in all, it’s an indicator that just maybe S4 was a fluke failure, instead of a new norm.
S6: Who Knows?
So, here we are. A bunch of trailers that aren’t connected and make no sense, but are nonetheless pretty cool and may lead to a free car. A returning cast of people that could mostly, probably, get other jobs, so they must see something they like. Maybe it’s a new start and a fresh wardrobe every year. Wouldn’t everyone like that?
On tenterhooks is not how we wait for the new season of AHS. More like with cautious optimism, and speculation about the new characters that the returning cast will play. Characters? Yes, this is an awkward segue into the next AHS column, which will be all about Best AHS Characters and The AHS Characters of Evan Peters, along with all the news and tidbits that can be found about Season 6’s theme, cast and plot.
After that, don’t miss the AHS S6 Weekly Episode Reviews!