This post might seem a little random, as the first season of American Horror Story premiered in 2011, but I only just got into it a week ago thanks to a recommendation from a coworker. After finishing the first two seasons, I truly understand the meaning of “binge-watching”—after three episodes of Season One, dubbed by fans as Murder House, I was hooked, and watched both seasons as though they were long movies. Much longer than Ben Hur, my previous greatest feat. My head is full of thoughts on American Horror Story that I need to get some out—seven of them, to be exact.
- American Horror Story is different from any other horror movie or ghostbuster show you’ve seen. I remember trying to tune into a random episode back when it premiered in 2011, but I gave up pretty quickly because I didn’t understand it—because it was so different from everything else labelled “horror.” The show isn’t like an average movie that tries to make you jump with unexplained events such as books flying off shelves, creepy whispers/voices/moans/throaty noises (ahem, Grudge), or bloody messages written on walls occur. Okay, well all of those things do happen in American Horror Story, but the show is very candid about it, which sets it apart from other scary movies. It reveals its ghosts right away, and lets on pretty quickly that the dead people are dead (though there may be one or two exceptions that will surprise you…). The ghosts interact freely with the living family that recently moved in: befriending them, getting on their bad side, and making demands of them. At first, the family (Ben, Vivien, and their daughter Violet) thinks that the ghosts are neighbors, employees, and people who seriously need to get their own lives. But the living soon begin to catch on to who’s dead, and, upon this realization, continue to coexist with them, pretty much undisturbed by the truth. It’s definitely a bizarre concept, but I think it allows for much more depth. In too many horror stories, a ghost’s character is hidden behind its actions, and the only sort of character development that takes place is when the audience learns of the circumstances surrounding its death. But in American Horror Story, we learn so much more. This show gives ghosts their own personalities.
2. Tate, the teenage ghost played by Evan Peters, is a Hamlet figure. Here’s what makes me think so:
His father was murdered
He has a rather promiscuous mother (far more so than Gertrude)
He may not be an only child, but he is alone in the sense that of Constance’s four children, he is the only one who escaped physical deformity.
His mother even described him as a “model of physical perfection,” but don’t let appearances fool you. Like Hamlet, Tate has a lot going on inside his head. He’s a pensive young man—I especially appreciated when he corrected Hayden for attributing “Ode to a Nightingale” to the wrong poet. “That’s Keats,” he corrected her sourly. As Hamlet stabbed Polonius on an impulse, Tate also violently acts out from time to time; however, he is not necessarily trying to avenge his father. The reason behind Tate’s violence is more often than not to please the female spirits and living inhabitants of Murder House (especially Nora Montgomery, who became more of a mother figure for him than Constance ever was). Besides female influence, Tate’s acting out is simply a result of his harsh upbringing and mental instability. However, like Hamlet, Tate has some very redeeming qualities: thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and, despite his crimes, a certain nobility that makes him admirable. As my co worker described him, “he’s someone you hate to love.”
A big question that drives both Tate and Hamlet’s stories is whether or not they are really insane, and, in Tate’s case, if he has the capacity to remorse. By the finale, I think there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that he does, but I am also biased: I fell victim to American Horror Story’s trap, and I’m sure its creators would be giddy to know so. I was romanced by Tate—not just in a naive teenage girl way, but in the human way. I think I was more romanced by the belief that people can change—It’s something that I want to believe for everyone, no matter the atrocity of their past sins. And that belief very much applies to Tate.
Like Hamlet, Tate loves deeply and indefinitely. Even though Violet asserts that she can’t forgive him for his past crimes, Tate makes the following claim in his final line: “I’ll wait forever if I have to.” His enduring love for her reminded me of Hamlet’s reaction to Ophelia’s death, and the heartbreaking realization that he was doomed to forever love a woman that was beyond his reach.
3. Taissa Farmiga, who plays VIolet, is Vera Farmiga’s much-younger sister. Vera is the oldest of seven children, and Taissa is the youngest. Once I discovered their relationship, I had a why the heck didn’t I see this before?! moment—the sisters resemble each other so strongly! Of course, my knowledge of this sisterhood only increased my liking for American Horror Story. Vera stars as Norma Bates in Bates Motel, one of my all time favorite shows.
4. One could make a strong argument that American Horror Story is pro-life. The show never actually takes a categorical stance, but it does present unborn children as living, which is a great place to start. Violet’s mom, Vivien, becomes pregnant with twins who are frequently referred to as “the life growing inside her.” Threats to kill them are made by the Murder House’s ghosts before they are even born, and you can’t kill something if it’s not alive. The original owners of the house, Dr. Charles and Nora Montgomery, ran a side business of “helping girls who are in trouble.” Which is really just a big euphemism for aborting the babies of aspiring Hollywood starlets (the show is set in L.A.). They know what they’re doing is wrong, but ignore their guilty consciences in the face of financial trouble. They’re forced to pay for what they’ve been doing, however, when one of their patient’s boyfriends discovers that Charles killed his unborn son, and seeks revenge on the couple by stealing their son, Thaddeus. In a flashback, police return the cut up pieces of baby Thaddeus to Charles, who, in his madness, stitches the pieces together to bring his son back to life. How is that possible? Nora demanded the same thing of her husband. It turns out, Charles used one of the beating hearts of an infant he’d aborted, which reminded me instantly of the recent news that Planned Parenthood is selling organs and tissues of the children they abort. [Sidenote: It’s pretty sad that society can make use of parts of babies’ bodies, but not their lives.] Anyway, the Infantata, as the sewn-up Thaddeus comes to be known, is a hideous, violent, Frankenstein-like creature that remains in the basement of Murder House.
5. This one is more of a fun fact: American Beauty Star Mena Suvari appears in two episodes as the ghost of wannabe actress Elizabeth Short. Since her acting career began, Mena was in three movies with the word “American” in their titles (American Beauty, American Pie, and American Pie 2). These films earned her the title of Entertainment Weekly’s “Most Patriotic Artist” in 2000, and a People Weekly article titled “All-American Girl” in 1999. Over a decade after American Pie 2, Mena added American Horror Story to her film resume, along with American Reunion in 2012.
6. Each season has its own storyline, which meant letting go of the Murder House characters I had come to love. This was difficult, especially given that Taissa Farmiga didn’t return in the second season. However, I like that American Horror Story likes to switch things up, especially since its creators are so talented and it is truly wonderful to indulge in each new storyline they think up. New stories also allow the cast to show off their acting in a diversity of roles, and after two seasons, I am blown away by the talent I’ve seen. I particularly admire Jessica Lange, who portrays Constance in Murder House and Sister Jude in Asylum. I particularly admired Jessica’s rise to stardom from her hometown of Cloquet, Minnesota. She received a scholarship to study art at the University of Minnesota (where I go!), but instead went to Paris to pursue acting and modelling. Season Two also shows Evan Peters’s versatility. As I watched him play Tate in Season One, I remember thinking at times that his character was practically the same as Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past: a sharp teenage boy who says what he thinks and delights in outsmarting others. But in Season Two, we see a whole different person in the character of Kit Walker, a cautious, deeply caring young man who is devoted to his new wife.
7. Finally, if Season One freaked you out at all, beware of Season Two. As a seventh grader, I watched a Supernatural episode that was set in an asylum, and have been deathly afraid of the things ever since. While I expected to be cowering in terror as I watched the scenes unfold before me, the feelings this season produced would better fall under the category of deeply disturbing. The good news is, I can now watch Silence of the Lambs—probably the entire Hannibal series— untroubled, because it pales in comparison to Asylum. As I watched it, I was reminded not only of Silence of the Lambs, but also Shutter Island, Shawshank Redemption, and Doubt. The combined intrigue of these four great films can be found in Asylum. No wonder I liked it. And if you’re like me, you will too. In fact, you won’t be able to take your eyes away.