The Horror Honeys: American Horror Story: Check Your Sanity at the Door

American Horror Story: Check Your Sanity at the Door

A Guest Honey Retrospective by Lisa Fremont

American Horror Story (2011-2014)

American Horror Story has been such a breath of fresh air for American television. We are so accustomed to television seasons with over 20 episodes, that I was relieved to find out that this show would be shorter, self contained stories. The majority of the great BBC shows are only 6 or 7 episodes; I adore this because it forces the writers to use every minute to it's fullest. Americans always need to do everything bigger, so, Ryan Murphy went with 12 episodes for AHS. The first season, also known as Murder House, seemed to do the best job of utilizing its shorter season. Centred around the Harmon family, Ben, Vivien and their daughter Violet have moved to L.A. in a misguided attempt to rebuild their broken relationships. The house that they move into is gorgeous, but it also happens to be one of the stops on a true crime bus tour. This house is full of ghosts and they have an uncanny ability to freely interact with the living.

Dylan McDermott delivered a powerful performance as the "put upon" husband with an intense narcissistic need to provide for his family while outwardly appearing like a good guy. Connie Britton is stellar, as usual, and Jessica Lange always brings the goods. The most compelling part of Murder House was the idea that ghosts could interact and affect the lives of the living; even to the point of conceiving a child with one of them.

Evan Peters was wonderfully heartbreaking as Tate Langdon, a school shooter who, in his spirit life, must contend with being forever tormented by the ghosts of the people he killed. The idea of making a school shooter a sympathetic character was gutsy, but it worked. In fact, almost all of the characters were despicable, selfish people, yet they managed to garner your understanding and sympathy. The complex relationship that developed between character and viewer made this the most successful of the three AHS seasons. I also found this to be the only season that legitimately creeped me out at times. Murder House was so successful on so many levels, that the places where it failed, were really nothing to complain about.

So, imagine my disappointment when Asylum came along. Bursting at the seams with fantastic actors and a really solid storyline about an asylum run by a crazed nun and a former Nazi doctor, it should have been an excellent season. I'm talking Luther excellent, but what we got was The Following excellent; tons of cool characters and ideas that just ran around not knowing what to do with themselves. Asylum asked us to swallow so much ridiculous stuff at one time, that it was nearly impossible to invest in any of the characters. Frankly, I wanted all of them to die. They all deserved it and they were all annoying me. I only watched this entire season out of a self imposed punishment for an unknown trespass. Perhaps this was my penance for watching the entire season of Real Housewives of D.C.? Actually, the more I think about it, at least I understood all of the "narratives" going on on Real Housewives.

This season simply had far too many story lines weaving through it. Had it been contained to the asylum and dealt solely with Sister Jude, Sister Mary Eunice, Monsignor Howard, Dr. Arden and Dr. Thredson, it would have been outstanding. But Mr. Murphy just had to add a few other stories that were thinly, very thinly, veiled allegories about tolerance. He just can't seem to resist taking on the responsibility of educating a nation against bigotry. I admire this chutzpah, but I also find it exasperating. I'm watching a show about Nazi doctors, nuns possessed by Satan, and a serial killer with some serious sexual problems and a taste for colostrum. This is not the place to deliver an after school special type of message about tolerance and acceptance. Especially in the guise of an alien abduction story. What the what?! 

I don't know what it is about Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, but they always manage to get me to tune in to anything they do. So, despite my lack of love for Asylum, I couldn't wait to watch Coven. I'd like to preface the following thoughts on Coven with the reminder that I did, indeed, enjoy my time watching this season. However, I do think a lot of this had to do with the fact that I watched it while live tweeting and the love for this show was deliciously infectious and greatly improved the viewing experience.

Season Three - AHS: Coven came straight out of the gate with an exceptionally strong female cast and female based story line. It really was very exhilarating and thought provoking. Jessica Lange was killing it as Fiona, Angela Bassett was a force to be reckoned with as Marie Laveau and Kathy Bates... well, she's Kathy Bates. That woman commands the screen and screams class even when she's stepping naked into a hot tub with Jack Nicholson or breaking James Caan's ankles with a sledgehammer.

If you've never had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans, well, you practically have if you watched Coven. The sinister back stories of Madame Delphine LaLaurie and Marie Laveau were exceptionally well written and presented with a really beautiful historical accuracy. Everything was so very promising at the start of the season and then it all went very Real Housewives. Please don't misunderstand: I adore the Real Housewives. Every city except Miami and New Jersey. I have absolutely no shame in this love and I will scream it from the rooftops and I'm always available to chat about it.

The season opened with a group of intelligent, independent women who were forging their own path in life. What we were left with in the finale was a few sad, leftover women who had succumbed to (mostly) fitting into the broad societal idea of where a woman's place is. Yes, you are allowed to have some power, but only a little. You just keep that power within your Wiccan society, alright girl?

I absolutely refuse to believe that Fiona would sleep with the Axe Man in an effort to secure her ultimate survival and Supreme status. Fiona doesn't need a man to get anything accomplished; especially the ghost of a serial killer. Sure, he was super helpful when it came to Fiona and Marie taking control of the Witch Hunters, but they could have done it without him as well. 

Misty Day started out very strong with her ability to resurrect. Ultimately, she was just a namby pamby hippie who was taken out by frog dissection. Really? Queenie, the Living Voodoo Doll, seemed like a real fierce bitch and then she all but sent a hand written invitation to Marie Laveau's Minotaur to rape her. Zoe was always too frail for my taste and the push/pull between her and Madison when it came to Kyle was so incredibly stereotypical of females that it was, in a word, boring. Cordelia is, clearly, an intelligent woman, yet she is easily controlled by her overbearing and intimidating mother and has absolutely no idea that her husband is a witch hunter? Bitch, please. 

Oh, and Nan? Don't even get me started on Nan; talk about wasting an actresses' talents. Every single woman in this series started out as a woman to be reckoned with and then they all slowly devolved into a catty reality show with better fashion and set dressing. The only characters who remained true to themselves the entire time were Myrtle Snow and Spalding. Myrtle was disposed of in an unoriginal and anti climatic scene, (BALENCIAGA!), while Spalding wasn't even given any closure. I suppose him and that cute little baby are having endless tea parties with creepy dolls and corpses? Mazel Tov, Spalding, I truly wish you nothing but joy and happiness. Te Amo Spalding, Te Amo.

Despite my words, I did enjoy every delicious, soapy moment of this season. I just continually felt disappointed in how the female characters were so quickly reduced to hollow caricatures of their original form. I live tweeted this show for Horror-Writers and I truly, truly enjoyed all of the wonderful interaction and devotion to the show. I was always puzzled that no one else was having the same complaints as myself. Was it just me? Was I being too critical and sensitive? Was I looking too deep into a serialized drama about witches?

I always try to be very open minded about things because you never know when something is going to surprise and delight you, but this was all so very obviously preachy about human beings learning to accept one another. It would be absolutely wonderful to live in a world where there is no bigotry towards any race, religion or sexual orientation. In my wildest dreams, I hope to know this society before I pass, but  I simply don't believe it is prime time television or Ryan Murphy's place to try to drive this into everyone's consciousness. I know, then who's place is it? I don't know. If we are meant to learn these life lessons from American Horror Story and Glee, well, I'm disappointed in all of us.

I love American Horror Story and I will always be loyal to Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, but I crave the day that men can write a story with strong women who stay strong until the end. A strong woman isn't a bitch, she isn't a nag and she isn't an anomaly. A strong woman is a natural product of life and the world and, just once, I would like to see one succeed.

The new season of AHS begins October 15, 2014!