TV Minus the TV: American Horror Story Ep. 2 – “Chutes and Ladders”
Welcome to TV Minus the TV, a column full of thoughts about TV shows watched on laptops published on the internet for you to read on your phone.
Learning that Ryan Murphy is responsible for both Glee and American Horror Story is kind of like finding out the kindly man who runs the sock-hops at the neighborhood five-and-dime secretly has a BDSM sex dungeon in his basement.
Glee was so thoroughly defined by its squeaky-clean image, all brights lights and hugs and high-gloss primary colors, that even the slightest affiliation with AHS feels slightly scandalizing. Starting from the coloring-book promotional photos, Glee took place in a shiny happy world where any darkness could be scrubbed away by the end of the hour with nary more than a song and a smile so tightly wide it looks like it could crack its wearer’s face open. American Horror Story, on the other hand, exists in a realm forged from pure darkness, where Glasgow smiles do indeed rip their wearer’s faces in two where one lip meets the other.
And yet, for their many superficial differences, both shows contain dead giveaways that they sprang forth from the same malformed mind. It’s not just Murphy’s yen for pseudo-witty banter that sounds like a high school senior’s most painfully sincere effort to drag Heathers, kicking and screaming, into the age of social media. For someone who takes such apparent pleasure in the sadistic torture of nubile young flesh, Murphy’s got a surprisingly resolute commitment to fighting the myriad social ills of this world. Smack dab in the middle of the many, many things Murphy would like AHS to be sags a lumpy message program on a moral crusade in a Hell of its own creation.
Ryan Murphy’s graceless sermonizing felt exponentially more at-home in the million-hour afterschool special that was Glee. It made sense within the universe of the show for characters to halt the action of a scene for a minute-long diatribe on the horrors of cyberbullying or the dangers of teen drinking or the vital importance of eating your vegetables or whatever the hell he might’ve been on about that week. It certainly didn’t make for good television; Murphy’s writing is insulting to the point of obviousness, not content merely to beat audiences over the head with his message, instead going so far as to bludgeon them to death with it. But at least it fit within the deranged internal logic of the show itself. It was not good television, but it was right.
The same could not be said of American Horror Story: Where Reason Goes To Die.
We first got a taste of this bizarre incongruity two weeks ago when Murphy’s Scream Queens put a temporary hold on its barrage of mean-spiritedness and post-Mean Girls bantering to place a completely out-of-place smackdown on a catcalling frat boy. (Bear witness to this unholy mess.) Things got even more specific and twice as strange this week on AHS, as the torrent of blood and searing pain took a brief pause so Murphy could take the soapbox against the scourge of… anti-vaxxers.
It’s somewhat impressive that Murphy and Co. could assemble such a intricately convoluted plot for an entire season of television in two episodes (though with the extended run times, it’s really more like three-and-a-quarter). They’ve shoehorned enough superfluous flashbacks and extraneous backstory to fill a franchise’s worth of slasher films, and we’re only just out of the gate. One of their bouquet of plot strands centers on Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley), who’s investigating a string of murders modeled after the ten biblical commandments because Ryan Murphy’s got his fingers crossed that everyone old enough to have seen Seven is dead by now. But he’s married to Alex (Chloë Sevigny), who’s got her own thing going on this week.
She finds out that a fellow mother (Mädchen Amick of Twin Peaks fame) has refrained from vaccinating her child, who has come down with a nasty case of the measles. What happens next is a conversation between two straw men of Murphy’s own devising, wherein one is clearly demarcated as Right and the other as Wrong. The mother trots out the same dum-dum anti-vax talking points, citing Jenny McCarthy’s in-depth studies that shots preventing disease will almost definitely make your sweet innocent child autistic. Then, with a self-righteousness seldom found outside the work of Aaron Sorkin, Alex lays into her with the white-hot fury of a lesser god: how dare she endanger the lives of other children, what kind of moron would you have to be to follow the advice of a lower-tier celebrity over hard science, we all know the drill. It’s a pitifully easy argument to win, and not just because Murphy’s got his hands up both of these sock puppets’ b-holes. Murphy’s fighting the most beatable enemy, one that’s already been defeated for the most part.
But the most confounding, infuriating aspect is how little Murphy has done to earn this little side-trip down Piousness Lane. Are we really supposed to believe that amidst his symphony of senseless violence and salacious death, Murphy wants to take a little intermission to emphasize the sanctity of human life? And for the children, no less? I have no way of knowing this for sure, but I’ve got a strong feeling that if any actual human child was exposed to a prolonged dosage of American Horror Story, that child would die.
Who could possibly buy into Ryan Murphy, Moral Watchdog when coke-snorting vampire Lady Gaga lurks just around the corner?
It’s hypocrisy at its worst; you can advocate for child vaccination and you can condone destructive behaviors such as recreational cocaine use and vampirism, but you can’t do both at the same time.
In conclusion, a vampire model/actor played by human mannequin Finn Wittrock yelled, “I don’t give a shit! I’m coming out in a Lars Von Trier movie next year!” and for a moment, I felt my soul leaving my body.
Like what you read? Share it.
(That helps us.)
Love what you read? Patronize Charles Bramesco.
That helps us and the writer.
What is Patronizing? Learn more here.