Thursday, November 29, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum--Episode 7

2.7: Dark Cousin

--I think a few people might worry that the show jumped the shark with this episode. Don’t worry, guys; if there’s one show that’s immune to shark-jumping, it’s American Horror Story, because their storytelling strategy is to seduce and have sex with the shark on a bed of flaming bacon. The Angel of Death? Well, why not? There are plenty of forces beyond our understanding at work here, from aliens to the (apparent) Devil himself. Are they all just different manifestations of the same intangible cosmic Whatever? Maybe. But I thought it fitting that we should get a glimpse of the mysteries beyond, as well as a kinder, more tender interpretation. Anyway, I’m too busy mourning the death of one of my favorite characters to worry about shark-jumping. Sniff.

--Death is a gentle-faced woman all in black. Death has red lipstick, a cool hat, leather gloves, and fearsome black wings that pop open as she does her work. Death is played by Frances Conroy, who was the ghostly housemaid in Season One. And Death She was summoned to Briarcliff to take a sad, demented prisoner named Miles, but she’s always out there, everywhere. Evil Eunice was frightened by her appearance, even though Death didn’t seem all that interested in dueling with her fallen cousin. Interesting to note that even the Devil fears some things. There’s a hierarchy at work here. If you take the Biblical version at face value, then the thing currently occupying Eunice’s body is a fallen angel itself. If you take Neil Gaiman’s Sandman at face value (which I totally prefer), Death is the anthropomorphic manifestation of something that’s been around for as long as the Universe itself, and will be the last thing to exit when it all comes to an end. Am I getting too big-picture here? Probably. But I like these themes, and Conroy was elegant in her role, implying much while remaining a true enigma.

--Death was there for Sister Jude, who’s not ready to die just yet; nope, she’s got more painful soul-searching to do, and one huge wrong to right. She knows it’s Evil Eunice who’s the real monster. Evil Eunice knows she knows. But the law ain’t exactly on Jude’s side, and she had to flee Goodwin’s death scene. A chat with Death in a diner revealed that Jude’s been brushing against those dark wings for a long time, ever since her husband gave her syphilis, left her barren, blamed her for it all, and tossed her aside (welcome back, heavy-handed misogyny!). Jude decided she had to finally confess to her hit-and-run of that little girl, Missy, so she went to Missy’s parents...only to discover that Missy survived the crash and is now a nurse. Awkward turtle! Yeah, but did you see the look on Missy’s dad’s face? He figured out that Jude was the driver of the car that almost killed his daughter, but he stayed silent. Forgiveness? Let’s hope so, because SISTER Motherfucking Jude needs to slap that habit back on and go exorcise the FUCK out of a certain possessed bitch.

--Death was there for Lana, and though it was surely tempting, she said no. For now. Tormented and raped by Thredson (lending more strength to the popular theory that Lana will be the mother of 2012 Bloody Face), Lana actually managed to beat up the bastard and escape when he lost patience with her. Wow, that was sooner than I thought! Sadly, Lana jumped into a car driven by William Mapother, aka, Ethan from Lost (AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!), here playing a fucked-up asshole who was about thirty seconds away from blowing his own brains out, and did, after ranting about how evil women are (we sure didn’t miss you, heavy-handed misogyny!). And where did Lana wake up? Fucking BRIARCLIFF. For fuck’s sake. If there’s an Angel of Shitty Luck, she must be following Lana everywhere with a giant spiked hammer. Anyway, now Evil Eunice knows for sure that Thredson is Bloody Face, and it’s unclear what she’s gonna do with this info. Ah, well, her Evil Master Plan is nothing if not flexible.

--Finally, Death was there for Grace. NOOOOOOOO, not Grace! I’m in mourning. But it kinda makes sense. Grace is the type of Dickensian character to die tragically. After her horrible vaginal ordeal at the three-pronged hands of the aliens (they must be heavy-handed misogynists too!), she was nursed back to health by Dr. Arden, who apparently gets really pissy when people accuse him of inhuman surgery that he didn’t do. Kit, meanwhile, went on the lam (you’d think they’d guard the supposed Bloody Face a little better), broke back into Briarcliff (guess the forest monsters had the day off), and tried to save Grace. If you haven’t guessed by all the parentheses, I found all this a wee bit contrived. Likewise, the sudden appearance of Spivey in psychotic monster form was...sudden. But what it all led up to was Grace taking a bullet for Kit, then smiling in relief as that gentle-faced, black-winged lady with the red lipstick appeared a final time to spirit her spirit away forever. RIP, Grace. It wouldn’t have worked out between you and Kit anyway -- after all, Kit’s wife is still alive on a UFO somewhere, and if Kit and Alma don’t get some kind of happy ending, I will be angry.

--Interesting ep, all in all. I doubt we’ll see the Angel of Death again, unless she reappears at the very end to kiss Sister Jude, who’s probably ready to pass on by now. But first, like I said, she has work to do. And (teaser alert) it’s almost Christmas. Silent Night, Holy Night, NUNFIGHT!

Friday, November 23, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum--Episode 6

2.6: The Origins of Monstrosity

--It’s interesting...I really enjoyed this ep, yet I feel like it didn’t quite achieve its goals. As the title suggests, it was all about the backstories of its various bad guys, but while we learned a lot of info, the waters got muddied when it came to the actual why. Why are some people evil? What little brainworm causes dark deeds, and why can some seeming innocents (like Sister Eunice or Monsignor Howard) be so easily corrupted? Yeah, we got factual reasons (Eunice being sexually ridiculed in her former life; Howard’s misplaced nobility), but I’m not sure AHS is quite profound enough to go deeper. Evil happens, is the basic message here. Evil is a formless je ne sais quoi that you can never quite escape, and some people make the perfect vessels. I’d like a little more unpacking of the concept, but I may not find it here. That said, fun ep!

--I’m impressed by the present-day subplot. Each ep devotes mere minutes to it (or leaves it out entirely), yet it’s turning into a truly engaging mini-movie with twists and turns galore. It’d be kinda interesting to edit together all the present-day scenes by themselves and see how they held up. Anyway, a sinister voice on the phone summons the cops to Briarcliff, where they find the Bloody Face posers hanging lifeless from that cool central stairway. So much for them. They also found Leo’s body (looks like the dude’s finally, FINALLY dead), but Teresa’s was missing. Because she ain’t dead; she’s strapped down in yet another torture room, at the mercy of Bloody Face, 2012 Edition. Yeeeeeehaw! Okay, so we only got a glimpse of 2012 BF, but...did “his” arms look rather feminine, or was it just me? The voice on the phone could’ve been electronically altered (there’s a report that it’s Dylan McDermott, who is confirmed to return this season, but I’m not sure I buy that). I still love my pet theory that 2012 BF is Sister Eunice, but now we have a new suspect. Who?

--Why, the subject of this week’s One-Shot Subplot, that most beloved of horror archetypes, the Creepy Little Girl! Meet Evil Jenny (Nikki Hahn), a solemn-faced moppet who kills her pals with scissors, and who is obviously inspired by Rhoda Penmark, and also possibly by Wednesday Addams. Evil Jenny’s creeped-out mother tried to abandon her at Briarcliff, the worst possible place to stick a prepubescent sociopath, and sure enough, Evil Jenny’s little nose led her to Evil Eunice, who sent the girl further down the path of evilhood with a truly awesome-to-watch relish. By the episode’s end, Evil Jenny had slaughtered her entire family, and is now a candidate for modern-day Bloody Face. All this was great, but still didn’t quite shed enough light on the origin of evil. So, some people are inherently rotten, is that it? But Evil Jenny’s the only inherently evil character we’ve seen; even Arden thinks he’s doing good. It’s alarming to think people like her exist in real life (and they do), but are we just supposed to shrug and chalk it up as one of those Great Mysteries? Oh, well.

--Back to Arden thinking he’s doing good...his sort-of origin story was pretty sweet. The sad, drawn-out tale of Shelly the Nymphomaniac has finally come to a close. Who was there to give her last rites and euthanize her? Monsignor Howard and his weird accent, of course! And now we know the truth: Arden/Gruper worked in Briarcliff back when it was a tuberculosis ward, and Howard kept him on upon learning of his “noble” experiments. Using a lovely cocktail of syphilis and TB, Arden’s attempting to create superpeople who can weather not only disease, but nuclear war. Great! Too bad they eat human flesh and look like someone deep-fat fried them. Howard’s understandably pissed to see what Arden’s doing to his victims, but Arden cheerfully promises to drag Howard down with him if he’s exposed. Jesus Horrorshow Christ, Howard, grow a fucking spine. God’s on your side, remember?

--Awww, poor Sister Jude came this close to spilling the beans on Arden, but was foiled by Evil Eunice, who just can’t wait for Jude to be gone so she can do far more than prance around in stolen red undies. Arden arm-twisted Howard into giving Sister Jude the sack. Sister Jude managed to lift fingerprints off Arden. But then Evil Eunice found out about the hired Nazi-hunter, Goodwin, and murdered the shit out of him. Oh, but even the Devil can’t see everything coming: Goodwin stayed alive long enough to reveal to Jude that his killer was a nun. Ooohh, does Sister Jude get to play detective now? I sure hope so! I’ve gone from hating that bitch’s guts to really wanting her to kick some ass. But since I’m also perversely rooting for Evil Eunice, things are getting conflicted.

--One more sort-of origin story: Thredson/Bloody Face. He’s basically reverted to a combination of Norman Bates and Eli Roth’s character from Inglourious Basterds. It’s Mommy Issues, yay! Specifically, the fact that Thredson never had a mommy and is now projecting some sort of psychosexual motherhood onto dead women of a particular age. Only he can’t get his mental rocks off unless he skins them alive. Ooookay, we’ll go with that. He really wants Lana to be the Mama Bates to his Norman, and Lana’s smart enough to play along and humor him. She even talked him out of killing her at the last second, which struck me as slightly contrived. Zach Quinto’s doing a good job of selling the new Thredson (and making him distinctly different from his first serial killer role, Sylar from Heroes), but Thredson’s blended gazpacho of psychosis is a bit too cinematic and derivative for my taste. I still love the scenes between those two; such chemistry! Even if this episode didn’t really dive into the origins of monstrosity, it still gave plenty of bang for my buck. Is it okay to say this season keeps getting better?

--I miss Grace and the aliens. Bring them back! Also, “Grace and the Aliens” would be a good name for a pretentious indie band.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum--Episode 5

2.5: I Am Anne Frank, pt. 2

--Yeah. Just gonna gloat for a few minutes here. Because, in fact, I called it. Called it ages ago. Bloody Face is exactly who I said he’d be. I am so fucking brilliant that I just want to buy myself an ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles. And if anyone wants to congratulate me on my brilliance, I will happily accept your accolades. Happily. Anyone?

--Okay, okay, I’m blowing this out of proportion. I’m sure plenty of other people guessed Bloody Face’s identity. It’s like last season when Taissa Farmiga didn’t realize she was dead for several episodes. Some things are just sooooo foreshadowed in every way. C’mon, it’s always the nicest-seeming dude who has the most to hide! And they’re always filming Thredson from demonic angles! And he totally does the Sylar voice half the time! So maybe it wasn’t really out of the blue, but because this show is what it is, there were still a few additional twists I didn’t see coming. Will I unpack them? I sure will.

--This week continued to focus on human evil, with an emphasis on the rotten things men do to women. This was best (worst?) displayed in the conclusion of the sad tale of “Anne Frank.” Only she’s not Anne Frank, is she? Nope, her husband arrived at Briarcliff and spilled the beans: Anne’s real name is Charlotte and she’s got massive post-partum. Trapped in the stifling, colorless existence of a housewife and mother (depicted in queasily-tinted home video footage; I love how this show does flashbacks), Charlotte found a bit too much solace in the tale of the little girl murdered by Nazis. Perhaps, to her, it became the perfect metaphor for the squashing of femininity by the all-mighty phallus of authority. When Anne/Charlotte went home to her well-meaning but smug husband and generic baby, her dementia only grew worse...and Dr. Arden was all too happy to tap an orbitoclast into her eyeball and turn her into the perfect Stepford Wife every man craves! So Anne’s gone...not dead, but gone. And her secrets die with her. Notice that it was never definitively proven that she wasn’t really Anne Frank. And a photo on her wall revealed young Dr. Arden -- sorry, Dr. Gruper -- standing right behind Hitler at a rally. Thus dies freedom; thus does the terrible cycle continue.

--During her tragic monologue, Sister Jude had a line about how God always answers our prayers, but never in the way we expect. That line hung over the episode, I think. People got what they wanted, but always with that ghastly twist. Sister Jude herself completed her downward spiral, as she went and hired a Nazi-hunter to expose Arden, only to discover that her entire claim fell apart without Anne Frank. Arden, the ultimate smug male authority figure, shut Sister Jude down with a little help from Evil Eunice, and by the episode’s end, Judy had tossed aside her wimple and re-embraced booze, tobacco, and having depressing sex with random strangers she meets in bars. Yes, dammit, I do feel bad for her. In a twisted way, I do want her back at Briarcliff, terrorizing inmates and being a huge bitch. Why does this show jerk me around so much?

--Shelly’s subplot continues to crawl forward (lol, see what I did there?). Arden tasked Evil Eunice with disposing of the hapless amputee, but because it’s Evil Eunice, she decided to dump Shelly next to an elementary school so she could make some Dicks and Janes shit their pants. I do wonder what Evil Eunice’s ultimate scheme is. Is she blowing the lid on Arden? Maybe she’s trying to get rid of all her superiors -- Sister Jude, Arden, the Monsignor -- and reign supreme over Briarcliff. And then what a naughty, naughty girl she shall be! Is it wrong that I kinda want to see that?

--This week’s twist-I-in-no-way-saw-coming: Grace takes a trip to Alienville! Holy shit! The poor girl was alone and waiting to be sterilized, but before that could happen, they came for her. Nope, not the orderlies, the ALIENS. HEEEEERE THEY COME TO SAVE THE DAAAYYY! Or something. Grace got a repeat of Kit’s unpleasant prodding and probing in a bare, white-lit nether-space, but at least there was this lovely pregnant lady standing over her the whole time, saying, “Don’t be afraid. My name is Alma.” HOLY SHIT! Next day, Grace was dazed and bloody (bloody from the aliens, or the sterilization?), but she did manage to scream out this rather important bit of news to Kit as Kit was being dragged away to fry for the Bloody Face murders. Well, this should definitely start an interesting new chapter in both Grace’s and Kit’s stories -- but Kit has to avoid execution first. Why would the good Dr. Thredson betray him?

--OH, RIGHT. Because this whole time, Thredson was setting Kit up to be the fall guy. Poor, poor Lana walked right out of Briarcliff with Thredson, and right into mortal peril. Honestly, any sane person would take one look at Thredson’s sinister bachelor pad and guess the truth, even before they saw that the lampshades had nipples. That scene built and built and built and built in the best slasher movie fashion, and there was that sublimely awful moment when both of them looked at each other and silently acknowledged what was finally out in the open. Thredson dropped Lana through a trapdoor and she awoke in the Saw franchise: chained down in a tiled abattoir next to the frosty corpse of her lover with Thredson looming over her in full-on Bloody Face getup. Yep. Called it. Although...I predicted Thredson would be unmasked but I also kinda thought he’d be fucking caught. Now things ain’t looking good for Lana, but if Thredson’s a good little serial killer, he’ll toy with his prey before skinning it, and that should give our dogged reporter time to escape. Whether she escapes with all her body parts intact...that’s another story.

-Oh, my, this show has gotten juicy. I love never quite knowing what happens next. The first act of Asylum has drawn to a close. Act II is gonna be all the way to fucking Mars. Maybe literally.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Top 10 TV Shows

Here’s something you might find shocking: I hate television. Seriously. I didn’t grow up with that shit in the house and I see no reason why kids these days should be allowed to even watch. TV is, without a doubt, largely responsible for American’s steady decline in brains and increase in cholesterol levels. Don’t try to tell me I’m wrong, not when ninety percent of all TV shows are shrieking contests between vile, self-inflated “stars” whom we all want to drop into mincing machines. Or vapid popularity contests bolstering the myth that anyone can be famous. Oh, wait...thanks to TV, anyone can be famous, as evidenced by the fact that Jeff Dunham exists. Yeah, TV is a pile of festering sludge and I hate it.

That said, there are some really great TV shows out there. Hey, even a well-used toilet produces an occasional diamond amidst the floaters. (Or it does in my house; I always assumed that was normal.) I don’t watch television but I do seek out shows that catch my eye, and sometimes, I am rewarded. Here are my faves.

(Disclaimer: Dang-Blasted hates TV. Never forget this.)

10. Robot Chicken
I remember being in 5th or 6th grade when South Park came into being, and utterly obsessing over this cartoon that featured adult humor and that our parents didn’t want us to see. Since then, we’ve witnessed the rise of the grown-up TV cartoon (by “grown-up,” of course, I mean “primarily aimed at college fratboys”) and I confess to a couple faves. Robot Chicken has pretty much nailed the formula for lowbrow laughs; they know how to surprise us with hit-and-run gags and unlikely pop culture pairings, and since they’re making the show for their own generation, they’re fully aware of which facets of childhood we’d most like to see ruined. The Smurfs star in a parody of Se7en? Sign me up! I had trouble choosing between this and Family Guy, but the latter lost points for its regular forays into pointlessly cruel humor. Robot Chicken is only cruel when it honestly makes the gag funnier, and there’s not enough of that in TV cartoon comedy, so kudos. Also, they get an A for sheer effort. Stop motion ain’t easy!

9. The Adventures of Pete & Pete
As a tyke, I would watch Nickelodeon all day at my grandparents’ house (thinking all the while on how much I hated television, of course). Some of those shows stuck with me, none more than the ones that gained new meaning as I grew up. The Adventures of Pete & Pete is an absolute buried treasure of children’s programming. Its kooky, bizarre, stylized version of suburban life in the ’90s is dead-on. You see, from the point of view of a child or teen, the world is kind of like that. Mundane things like math tests, romantic prospects, and sibling rivalries take on the weight of an epic quest and the gravitas of a religious text. This show basically wrote its own mythology, and it’s beautiful. Just watch Mike Maronna (as Big Pete) intone the narration, his eyes locked onto the camera like laser beams. Didn’t matter what he was talking about; to him, it was always, at that moment, the Most Important Information In Human History. Every adolescent has felt that way, and it takes a retroactive viewing of Pete & Pete to make us realize that someone knew. And they made it into a show, bless them.

8. The Muppet Show
You may notice that all of these early entries (the next one, too) are comedies that rely heavily on out-of-nowhere humor. Guess my comedic preferences are pretty obvious, huh? I truly adore the Muppets, and although I was too unborn to appreciate their show back when it first aired, I can safely say that it’s utterly timeless. What you see when you watch The Muppet Show is a lot of people having a lot of fun, doing something they love so much that time and effort are no objects. Actually, you don’t ever really see Jim Henson and his merry band, because they disappear so well into the beloved fuzzy forms of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Rowlf, Scooter, Sam the Eagle, the Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth and his Electric Mayhem, and all the other dozens of characters they invented to entertain us. There’s so much for viewers of all ages to laugh at and I’m quite sure that the Muppets have achieved immortality by now. Introduce this show to a child sometime. If they’re going to watch, let them watch something joyous.

7. Metalocalypse
This show is disgusting. Tasteless. Degenerate. And watching it gives me many Earl-Grey-out-the-nostrils moments. Metalocalypse proves that gross-out humor works just fine when it’s played with a wink-winky satirical slant. It charts the adventures of Dethklok, the world’s most popular heavy metal band (despite the fact that they’re pretty fucking terrible), and provides a spot-on running parody of celebrity culture, as the delusional band members live out the American dream of ultimate excess and decadence, yet routinely fall prey to their own crippling insecurities. News flash: When you can literally have anything you want, it doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. You could read this show as a sobering look at how irrelevant our lives really are when you strip away material wealth...or you could just ignore all that and enjoy it because it’s rip-roaringly funny in the most NSFW of ways.

6. Mythbusters
A lot of shows are good for half-watching while you do something else. I could half-watch Mythbusters all day. It’s another example of people doing something they love, and it’s hard not to be jealous -- and hard not to appreciate the sheer amount of effort and resources (do they even have a budget cap?) put into each investigation, whether they’re trying to murder a motorist with a flying soda can (Busted!), scaring elephants with mice (Confirmed!), or seeing if a deep-sea diver can be sucked into his own helmet (Confirmed, in the grossest way possible). The contrast between Adam Savage’s cackling mania and Jamie Hyneman’s deadpan grouchiness is perfect; they’re the little angel and devil on everyone’s shoulder when we’re tempted to try something crazy just to see what’ll happen. The Mythbusters crew risk their necks and cause excessive explosions so we don’t have to, and I thank them for it. If I didn’t hate TV so much, I might think I was actually learning something!

5. American Horror Story
C’mon, I’m recapping this show right now. Would I do that if I hadn’t fallen in love with its particular brand of batshit? I’ve written a lot of stuff about AHS lately so I won’t go on for too long, but I honestly consider it a delightful love letter to the horror genre. Yeah, it goes over the top on a weekly basis, but like Metalocalypse, it’s tacky and grotesque in a very self-aware kind of way, and its cast is biting into their larger-than-life roles with relish. I’m intrigued by the contrast between the slower-paced haunts of Season One and the jagged roller-coaster ride of Season Two. Makes me wonder what they’ll do next! Occult terrors? Monster hunting? Evil kitchen appliances? Whatever ghastly object they pull out of their toybox next, I’ll be there. Hopefully, so will Jessica Lange.

4. Gargoyles
It can’t quite be emphasized how much ass this show kicks. It’s the sort of show people bring up when they grumble about how much better children’s programming used to be. Seriously, Gargoyles -- in which a clan of Scottish beasties (with American accents) are magically turned to stone, then awaken in modern-day Manhattan -- is dark, epic, thematically rich, and character-driven in a way that most cartoons can only dream of. Yeah, it was on the Disney channel and so included a bunch of wholesome moral messages, but wholesome moral messages are a lot easier to swallow when delivered by badass winged monsters. Didn’t hurt that they had such sexy voice talent as Keith David, Marina Sirtis, and Jonathan Frakes. Or that series creator Greg Weisman snuck a gay character past the censors (helloooo, Lexington!). Both the show and its spinoff comic ended too quickly, but they left an indelible impression; how many kiddie toons can boast their own fan convention? Yes, quality entertainment can be found in the most unlikely places.

3. Azumanga Daioh
Why do I love this weird anime about Japanese schoolgirls? Kinda hard to say. Part of it’s the aforementioned spontaneous humor, but I think it has more to do with plain old good vibes. It’s just a show about a batch of teenage girl stock types -- the space case, the prodigy, the ADHD victim, the hot introvert, etc. -- and the trials and tribulations of secondary school. It’s very wacky and random in that fluid anime way where the characters’ emotions alter their physical appearance to an absurd degree. It features, among other things, a creepy/goofy pedophile, a lovestruck budding lesbian, and flying pigtails. It seems dumb and probably is on many levels, but...watching it makes me feel really good. I adore, just adore, the characters. I root for them. I laugh at them, but in a sympathetic way. For all its weird shit, this show is incredibly faithful in its depiction of innocent adolescence. It’s more real than anything you’ll see in the cesspool of “reality TV.” And it makes me laugh my ass off. Two for two!

2. Fringe
I am amazed at how much Fringe has done with a tired premise. It began life as a seemingly blatant X-Files ripoff -- FBI agents investigate strange phenomena, case-of-the-week, yawn -- but those who stuck with it were rewarded, because everything changed when it became clear that its bizarre incidents and human mutations were caused, not by aliens or government spooks or the paranormal, but by an entire parallel universe bumping up against our own. Since then, Fringe has bent our minds into all kinds of strange configurations, as reality has shifted, the actors have gotten to play alternate versions of their characters, and each season has brought new surprises. It seems like too brainy a show to survive, but its fans (me included) have helped keep it going for five awesome seasons, the last of which is airing right now. This show DESERVED to go out with a bang, and happy endings of this sort are rare in the merciless world of TV ratings. I adore every gooey, freaky, shape-shifty, time-warpy second of it. And somebody should be arrested for never giving John Noble an Emmy for his work as brain-damaged scientist Walter Bishop; the man redefines not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

1. Lost
I just...couldn’t...put any other show at number one. I followed Lost through its entire run and the degree to which I got invested in it was frankly embarrassing. Is it a perfect show? Of course not. Its overly convoluted mythology alienated a ton of fans, especially when it ended. (Metaphysics instead of answers! You’re welcome!) But I forgive the show its trespasses, because for me, the journey really did matter more than the destination. You can call that a cop-out if you like. Lost succeeded when all its imitators failed because it was intensely character-driven, because its collection of dysfunctional souls stranded on a mysterious island became, over those six seasons, among the most rich and fascinating characters out there, each with his or her own personal journey. Yeah, there were polar bears and time travel, smoke monsters and 1970s-era comic book science and some bibble-babble about the Nature of Good and Evil, but what mattered most was that we cared for our heroes. We desperately wanted them to come out okay. Or I did. I may have cried a bit at the end. But don’t tell anyone.

Because, like I keep saying, television sucks and I hate it. These shows are just flukes. I swear.

Ooooh, Homeland looks really good...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum--Episode 4

2.4: I Am Anne Frank, pt. 1

--We make our own demons, my friends. We create our own horror stories and then live in them. Sometimes we mean well. Sometimes we see someone who seems unnatural to us and want to help them in the only way we know. Sometimes we honestly think the human race will sicken and die if certain types of person are allowed to exist. Sometimes we’re pious, sometimes we’re guilty, sometimes we have no choice but to go down a terrible path. This week on American Horror Story, there were no aliens, no Bloody Face, no forest-dwelling monsters. Even Evil Eunice had most of the episode off. Nope, this week, it was all about human evil. And was it ever compelling!

--So, as teased last week, Anne Frank has arrived at Briarcliff. Or someone who claims she’s Anne Frank and is damned convincing. Played by the fiery Franka Potente, “Anne” sports a death camp tattoo and a martyr complex; according to her, it’s better to remain anonymous and let herself be remembered as the young girl who died because of Nazi evil. Which begs the question of why Anne got herself tossed into Briarcliff in the first place. Is she crazy? Does she believe her own story? She certainly seemed horrified and furious at the sight of Dr. Arden, who (according to Schindler’s List-style black and white flashbacks) was once an SS officer at Auschwitz, prone to experimenting on inmates. That sure does line up with everything we know about Arden. He’s guilty of something, that much is plain, and -- twist time! -- Monsignor Howard knows about it, and is covering for him. I knew Howard’s boring facade couldn’t last!

--Oh, Grace. Poor, poor fallen-from-grace Grace. She’s always been a mystery, but, as Kitt can attest, it’s hard to look into those doe eyes, hard to listen to that cute French accent, and imagine her to be a killer. But she is. She is because she had to be. At first, she lied, claimed she was framed for the brutal axe murder of her father and stepmother. All part of some evil scheme to steal the family farm. All someone else’s fault. But no -- Grace was the one swinging the axe. Because her father molested her and her stepmother looked the other way. She didn’t think she had any other choice. And Kit, after doing the nasty with her in the bakery (some old lady’s gonna get a loaf of bread with a comely ass-print on it) and sitting through Thredson’s compassionate-passive-aggressive act, began to think that maybe he’s guilty too. Maybe, as I theorized back at the beginning, his mind can’t accept what he has done, so it has concocted a convenient smoke screen of aliens and anal probes. Maybe Kit’s a monster too. Maybe. So many maybes.

--And, wonder of wonders, Sister Jude was almost one of the good guys this week! Of course, her eyes squinched in interest when “Anne Frank” ID’d Arden as a war criminal. Sister Jude was ever so quick to believe every nasty, vicious, damning thing about Arden -- but that in turn led to her questioning her own faith. Confronting the Monsignor didn’t help. Nor did a visit with her mother superior. Nope, it was Kit whom Sister Jude needed. Scared and confused, he came to her to confess to the murders he’s more and more sure he committed. For the first time, Sister Jude saw Kit as a kindred soul, torn apart by guilt. She actually found compassion for him. (Hopefully enough to reverse her earlier decision to have Kit and Grace sterilized. ’Cause that would suck.) The two bonded, sort of, and it’s all the more painful because we know Kit’s innocent. Isn’t...isn’t he?

--But I’d say the most fucked-up stuff happened to Lana this week. Didn’t see that coming. Desperate to escape, she took Thredson up on his offer to try and “cure” her of lesbianism so she could be let go. This led to a scene that made me, as a fellow gay, squirmy as all hell: her aversion therapy. She had to look at sexy pictures of women, including her lover, while Thredson injected her with a drug to make her ill. Then, in that maddeningly placid tone, he had her masturbate while groping a blank-faced male model. Her misery and disgust made me want to grab her puke-bucket and contribute some of my own bile, and hopefully, any decent person watching that scene feels the same way. It’s real-world horror at its finest, especially since we know this was how people really thought back then. They thought this shit was good for you -- or, at least, better than the crime of loving within your own gender. Hopefully we don’t forget the bullshit of the past. Oh, well, at least Thredson is determined to get Lana out of Briarcliff one way or the other. Oh, wait, that’s a terrible thing, because I’m more certain than ever that Thredson is Bloody Face and he’s reeling Lana in for the kill. Oh, what, he just happened to swipe a cheesecake photo of Wendy, just in case he’d need it later? Fuckin’ creep.

--Everything just seemed so wrong this week. In a good way, I guess. I’m glad the show took a break from its usual shenanigans to deliver a more sober look at the things that really scare us, thing number one being our own damn selves. But, of course, this is still American Horror Story, and the “part one” in the ep’s title promised a good cliffhanger. Sure enough, we ended with a vengeful Anne Frank(???) holding Dr. Arden at gunpoint and opening one of his doors to find Shelly, legless and halfway through monsterification, begging for death. What happens next? Something awful, I’m sure. More awful than what these characters have already done, or been forced to do? I doubt it. Some evils are peerless.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum--Episode 3

2.3: Nor’easter

--Holy balls on toast. I think this is my favorite ep yet, just for its barrage of unpredictable plot turns. You want twists? asks the show. We’ll give you neck-snappers! Sister Jude meets an alien! Shelly loses weight...the bad way! Leo and Teresa fall prey to the Cult of Bloody Face! Dr. Arden does terrible things to a statue! And here’s some dark comedy while we’re at it, courtesy of Shitfaced Sister Jude! Watching this ep was rather like being in the powerful lighting storm that wreaked havoc on Briarcliff; no wonder it’s the episode title. Me, I would have titled it, “Episode 2.3: BBBRRRRLLLALAAAHRRRHHGGWHUT?”

--So the modern-day lovebirds appear to have finally met their maker, thanks to...wait, WHAT? Yeah, throwing a lot of my theories right out the window, it turns out that lurking in the ruins of Briarcliff were at least three dudes in Bloody Face masks, one of whom gunned down Leo and Teresa as they tried to flee. Halloween prank gone too far, or legitimate cult? And how can the first Bloody Face (I’ll assume he/she is the ringleader) still be up and walking after Teresa stabbed him/her to shit? I kinda have a theory that it was a trick weapon, a collapsing ice pick. After all, Leo sure seemed feisty after being stabbed multiple times with it. Inevitable alternate theory: Ringleader Bloody Face is a supernatural entity and his/her masked minions may not realize. (My current prediction is that it’s an older Sister Eunice, maybe still possessed.) At any rate, this seems to mark the end for Leo and Teresa, but totally not the end of the modern-day shenanigans. I didn’t see this coming at all, and it’s great.

--My current favorite character is, of course, Evil Eunice. Love her. Yeah, no more ambiguity: she’s about as possessed as possessed can be, and it’s turned her into a creepy/hilarious sociopath who retains some of her innocent little flower schtick while fucking with everyone’s heads, hearts, and libidos. She seems bent on setting Sister Jude against Dr. Arden and vice versa, and since the two of them are already quick to pounce on each other, it’s a pathetically easy task. She also appears to be tormenting Sister Jude with her past hit-and-run, although part of that could be Jude’s own guilt, magnified by supernatural energy. Her anguish led to the comedy I mentioned earlier, as she got utterly hammered on communion wine and went all tripolar, segueing between drunken bitchiness, weepy guilt, and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic while the inmates and orderlies looked on in bewilderment. And, what’s this? Alone in the halls, she ran headlong into something that looks a daaaaamn lot like one of Kit’s alien captors. Why is there a spidery extraterrestrial chillin’ in Briarcliff? Maybe he came for the bread.

--I am more and more certain that Dr. Thredson is Bloody Face. I formulated this theory last week and it has strengthened. Part of it is Zach Quinto’s performance. Let’s face it, the guy does creepy ambiguity very well, and Thredson’s kindly doctor facade has cracks. Other clues: That angry message from his mother, delivered via the possessed kid in the last ep. The fact that he casually strolled into Wendy’s home, supposedly to check up on her at Lana’s request. His own repression (I mean, look at the guy). My theory is that he’s going to be revealed as the killer and, ironically, thrown into Briarcliff as an insane patient. Hee hee hee. I guess I don’t mind Quinto being typecast after all.

--I’m still not a fan of Shelly, but I did feel sorry for her this time around. We learned that some of her over-the-top delivery is intended to hide her true feelings. When our team of good guys made another breakout attempt, Shelly came too, but nobly distracted an orderly with her Magic Slut Powers so the others could keep on. Sadly, this led her into the clutches of Arden, who’s being really jerked around by his hormones at the moment, and who decided to force himself on the nympho. It was a shocking scene, as Shelly, deprived of control over her own sexuality, dissolved into terror and tears. Then it turned funny, as she learned that Arden’s manparts leave something to be desired. Then it got shocking again, as he knocked her out and took her to his private surgery. Yes, even in its last seconds, the ep was surprising us; I totally thought he was gonna kill Shelly, but instead, he CUT HER FUCKING LEGS OFF. Oh, dear, this is just the beginning of her woes, isn’t it?

--Finally, we have seen the creatures in the forest and they look like zombies, or maybe just upset people with a really bad case of acne. They were enough to force Kit, Grace, and Lana back into the asylum, once again thwarting their escape attempt. At least they didn’t get caught, although Pepper the microcephalic girl seems to be missing. Maybe she’s Bloody Face! That’d be tasteless enough to fit. Nah, still going with Thredson.

--Loved the ep. Can’t wait till next time, when Anne Frank shows up and Dr. Arden is exposed as a Nazi war criminal. Hah, spoiler alert. What a delightful show this is.

--PS: I think my favorite line was when Sister Jude said, “Don’t be afraid of the dark,” because her accent made it sound like, “Don’t be afraid of the doc,” and that was totally deliberate on the writers’ part. I would say we should be very afraid of the doc. Perhaps both the docs.