American Horror Story, Season 2

American Horror Story, “Dark Cousin” responses.
Talking television.
Nov. 29 2012 1:26 PM

American Horror Story, Season 2

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Has AHS lost focus, or just gotten more amazing?

James Cromwell as Dr. Arthur Arden in 'American Horror Story: Asylum.'
James Cromwell as Dr. Arthur Arden in 'American Horror Story: Asylum.'

Photo by Michael Becker/FX.

Last night’s episode apparently drew strong—and mixed—reactions. Somehow, Joey DeAngelis of HuffPo found the frantic mix of cruelty and revelation to be an uneventful “lull,” while other recappers and commenters found all the swerving action difficult to follow. In another convincing take, the New York Daily News’s Eric Hinton argued that, without a stable, grounding set of protagonists like last season’s Harmon family, the show has lost focus. Last night, Abby and I basically agreed that the show had gone a little overboard (which is saying a lot), especially in its violence towards women, but I think both of us are still willing to stick with Murphy to the end of this wild ride.

Speaking of women, a number of commenters took issue with our finding fault with AHS in terms of feminism. One thing I should clarify (in response to Dave), is that I wasn’t suggesting that no one else in Briarcliff has ever experienced any violence. That’s obviously false. But I do stand by my sense that Lana and Shelly have been given up to abjection far more often—and subject to far more lurid scopophilia—than any of the male characters. I should say that this doesn’t automatically disqualify the show for me (I’m not that dogmatic about anything), but I just think the sources of our dark pleasure are worth paying attention to, especially here.

One point of praise that almost everyone around the web agrees with is the awesomeness of Frances Conroy as the Angel of Death. A hat tip goes to Jeff Jensen of EW for finding out the origin and meaning of the divine creature’s unpronounceable name: “She called herself ‘Shachath.’ In ancient Aramaic, the word means ‘destroy’ or ‘spoil’ or ‘go to ruin.’” Maybe so, but her otherworldly mourner’s beauty and quietly quizzical expression were the opposite of ruinous for me, even if commenter Calone1 maintains that she “looked more like a Victoria’s Secret Model for Chicos, [with] a murder wingboner.”

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In a very revealing interview with EW’s Tim Stack, Ryan Murphy assured fans that Conroy will be flitting around Briarcliff for a while, so I expect we’ll see more sparks flying between she and Sister Devil Eunice sometime soon. Murphy also dropped the tantalizing teaser that the “most f****ed up Christmas episode of all time” is coming up, in which Sister Mary Eunice and the Devil debate how best to trim the Christmas tree. Apparently, Lana will also finally get a chance to fight back, so maybe my feminist anxiety will be assuaged. (For many more goodies, check out the full interview.) I, for one, can’t wait to deck the long, dimly lit halls of Briarcliff with a little help from heaven and even more from hell.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.