Each week Joe (@bstolemyremote) and Terry (@gaylydreadful) discuss the most recent episode of FX’s American Horror Story, alternating between our respective sites — gaylydreadful.com and queerhorrormovies.com.
Missed our recap of the first episode? Click here.
Episode 9.02 “Mr. Jingles”: Darkness descends upon the camp. Although it’s lights out, evil knows no curfew.
Oh Terry, I’m already regretting our decision to cover AHS this season!
After only one episode, the wheels are already coming off 1984 as “Mr. Jingles” proves to be a rushed, ineptly plotted mess (Tim Minear – I expected much, MUCH more from you, sir).
I sensed trouble from the opening pre-title scene as Dr. Karen Hopple (Orla Brady) from the Red Meadows Asylum arrives at Camp Redwood to chat with Margaret Woods (Leslie Grossman). I love Grossman as much as the next gay, but what the hell is going on with her acting choices in this scene?!
I get that an inherent premise of slasher texts is to create a bunch of red herrings, but there is so much overacting in this exchange. Hopple acts like a normal person and Margaret acts like she’s being inconvenienced that a stranger has arrived in the middle of the night warning of imminent death. It doesn’t make any sense and immediately disavows any of the work done in the premiere to ground these characters, this setting and this plot in reality. This is firmly Ryan Murphy coo-coo bananas territory; schlock for the sake of schlock.
Unfortunately it doesn’t get much better from there. Hopple is unceremoniously killed, the Night Stalker (Zach Villa) actually does turn out to be real and he kinda/sorta gets adopted by Margaret, who isn’t the least bit surprised or scared when he turns up in her cabin to talk about Satan and MURDERING people. Like…WTF?!
Obviously we can comment on the gratuitous (and incredibly welcome) partial nudity of the boys in the shower, or how Montana (Billie Lourd) describes fat camp as learning how to “nom and vom”, or thank Jesus that Rita (Angelica Ross) wasn’t killed in the infirmary, but I feel like I should end my first section by addressing the ghost in the room: Jonas (Lou Taylor Pucci).
So last week’s we speculated that AHS: 1984 takes place in some kind of simulation where the camp doesn’t exist and now we have some kind of confirmation that there is a supernatural component at work. Whether the camp is the site of a time loop, or the people who die there are stuck in purgatory there (shades of Murder House) is unclear, but there is obviously more going on to the story than meets the eye.
I’ll confess that I’m unsure if that’s enough to justify all of the other ridiculous shenanigans, though it’s the one element that really piqued my interest in this otherwise lacklustre episode. I dunno, Terry, am I just griping about an episode that is clearly still working at setting this season up…or was it kind of a disaster? Were you surprised to learn that Xavier (Cody Fern) isn’t gay, but merely gay for pay? And which of the two cabins will get broken into first after this week’s cliffhanger?
Oh man, Joe. I’m really disappointed in hearing your analysis of this episode…not because I disagree but because I *don’t* disagree. I was hoping we’d be on the opposite ends of a discussion for once. But, to quote Jack Donaghy, “Good God, Lemon!” Halfway through the episode, I wrote in my notes “typically AHS waits until the mid-season to go so freaking off the rails insane.” And here we are, in episode two, and already the writers feel like they are throwing noodles against the wall to see what sticks.
The moment I wanted to throw my hands up in the air was Brooke (Emma Roberts)’s over-the-top flashback/memory/lie (?) about her past. We see her at her wedding ceremony, but the groom doesn’t look happy. He looks even less happy when he accuses her of not only not saving herself for marriage, but also cheating on him. He then pulls out a gun, offs the best man, her father (Steven Culp) and then himself.
All while Billy Idol sings “White Wedding.”
I don’t know what to think about this. Part of me is hoping against hope that Brooke’s naïve, virginal girl act is a façade and we get to see Emma Roberts go full bitch mode. Maybe she’s actively playing against type…but she’s boring.
Piggybacking off your discussion about Jonas, you mention time loops. Margaret calls him a ghost. It sounds suspect to me, but let’s consider that Jonas is a ghost and not some glitch in the
Matri simulation (“You’re not supposed to be here” is his favorite line). Or that he’s not some Happy Death Day rip-off where he’s just in some time loop, destined to die over and over again. If we take it literally, as Margaret says, and he is a ghost, then I could see the entire cast dying only to haunt the place Murder House-style (as you mentioned) for a future group of people. Or maybe the kids will arrive and the counsellors will be ghosts.
Again I’m spitballing and trying to give the show more credit than it probably deserves. I just don’t know how they’re going to keep the pacing up for another 8 episodes. This feels like the finale of a slasher movie, except more people have made it to the climax than usual. On one hand, this is par for the course with this show, but the fact it’s happening so quickly reminds me of the pacing of Roanoke (a season I actually really liked). And Roanoke’s season was split in two different stories and formats (Docu-Series vs. Found Footage). I’m still holding onto my simulation theory, but even if I’m wrong I gotta think that we’re either going to have a vastly different second half of the season or we’re going to get a different timeline.
As for Xavier…oof. Outside of it giving us a reason to ogle Gus Kenworthy’s nice ass or give more Trevor (Matthew Morrison) innuendos like “an act of God,” this whole side plot just seems pointless and lacking any form of nuance. Yes, I know. Nuance and AHS rarely mix. But really? So far the only LGBTQ content is a lecherous porn producer and the unwanted kiss attempt from Montana. I think the Infirmary will be broken into. But I also think the other one is merely a ruse to create a cliffhanger.
Why? Well, why not.
But over to you, Joe. What do you think about the villain(s) so far this season? Mr. Jingles jingle-jangling across camp doesn’t really hold a candle to some of the more creative monsters from previous seasons, but I’m curious what you think. And speaking of villains, are you as concerned about the cringey way the writers seemingly want to portray The Night Stalker as a hero and repurpose a very real and disgusting killer as some sort of avenging angel?
As with all things AHS, my concern is that this may be the first time that some members of the audience hear about The Night Stalker/Richard Ramirez, which means that the cavalier way that the show is handling his particular storyline borders on obnoxious. Far be it for me to suggest that Murphy and Brad Falchuk have a responsibility to help educate viewers (though we have seen them do it on Pose), but this particular interpretation smacks of bad taste at the very least. Perhaps they’ll pull the rug out with some kind of nice twist, but for now, I’m not impressed with that particular killer.
As for Mr. Jingles…you’re absolutely right that he feels like a subpar slasher villain. This is the kind of lazy characterization that I would expect from a direct-to-video sequel (I’m thinking fourth or maybe even fifth entry in a tired franchise, here, Terry). There’s just nothing compelling about him as a character and his modus operandi is nothing that horror fans haven’t seen a million times.
Overall, I was underwhelmed by the first episode, but at least there was potential. Here, it just feels like the same old issues that I have with AHS. And you’re right, usually we don’t get to this level of ennui until much later in the season. Will things change next week when we learn more about Jingles? Maybe. Or perhaps some twist with Jonas will prove worth the wait? Who can say? But two episodes in, I’m definitely not picking up what AHS is putting down.
One other big reason for that is because I don’t feel like the kills are well done. While porn kingpin Blake (Todd Stashwick)’s death – pipe through the back of the head – is arguably the best of the season thus far, it doesn’t have any kind of oomph or kick. There’s a glossy veneer on AHS, like everything is being shot on a pristine soundstage with brand new equipment, that doesn’t ring true, which is particularly problematic in a season set in the 1980s. It’s all too polished: the blood, the sound effects and the ease with which the violence is inflicted. I’ve never stabbed someone in the head, but one imagines it would take a ton of brute force to get through a skull, but here it’s as easy as a warm knife going through butter. It’s a small complaint, but nothing on AHS ever looks like it hurts, which just makes the show feel like a half-assed effort.
Terry, what are your thoughts on the way the series executes its kills? Aside from the tired use of “White Wedding” (so.on.the.nose), do you have any other thoughts on the music (I double checked and all of these singles had, in fact, been released before 1984)? And finally, whose back arch do you think that was in the shower? <slurp>
I don’t know whose arch that was, Joe, but the shampoo down the crack made me quiver. Too much? Too thirsty? Eh. It was a shower full of good-looking dudes, checking each other out. I’m here for it.
The kills this season have been pretty boring. The biggest problem facing this season is that Ryan Murphy already did Scream Queens, which I dug (well, the first season, at least). But more importantly, we’re now three seasons deep into Slasher (available on Netflix), which has set the bar for outrageous and outrageously gory kills. And while that show lacks the over-the-top humor and ridiculousness that AHS has become known for, it does manage to make a slasher television series work. So, 1984 already has its work cut out for it on a purely technical level.
As for the music…I don’t know if I’ve admitted this or not, but I am not a fan of 80s-era music. Even bands (NIN) and artists (Janet Jackson) that I absolutely adore, I’d take their 90s albums in a heartbeat. I even had to look up who sang “White Wedding” for this recap because I just don’t know…and I couldn’t tell you another song Billy Idol sings. 80s music is a blindspot for me…but it’s one I don’t mind having.
Enough about me. I sincerely hope that this season has more up-its-sleeve to make-up for the off-kilter and bad WTFery we’ve witnessed so far.
There’s always episode 3!
Next Week: We get more backstory on Mr Jingles and someone – Chet? – falls in a pit full of spikes. Oh, and we’re back over at gaylydreadful.com!