TV Review: AMERICAN HORROR STORY 1.06 “Piggy Piggy”
"Piggy Piggy" is a fairly standard episode of American Horror Story, which is to say: crazy buckets while still somehow pretty boring. The episode opens on a school shooting by dead-since-1994 Tate, and while I believe attempts were made to represent this fictional Columbine sensitively, I don't think that it was. A casual disinterest in emotional profundity--the same that runs through every show Ryan Murphy has ever written--left the scene hollow and affected. Hollow and affected isn't a great way to approach any story, but when addressing a scene as monumentally devastating as a school massacre, it's a real problem. I think the scene would have perhaps been better served by showing it from one student's perspective. Bouncing around from student to student leaves the audience unable to connect to any of the victims in a scene so short.
I also think American Horror Story suffers from an inability to create legitimate atmospheric tension. The horrific scenes are gross and often startling, but almost never atmospherically scary. Likewise, the school shooting scene would have been better served by creating a truly dreadful atmosphere rather than employing shaky cam antics.
That said, I think the performances on this show are uniformly engaging. Evan Peters as Tate offers a dark vulnerability that takes his character well beyond the whole goth teen shtick. Had the shooting scene been written from his perspective, in fact, or shown him at all instead of merely his boots, I don't think the scene could have failed to stick--he's just that good. Taissa Farmiga is also really interesting as Violet, playing it both tough and soft. Connie Britton, Frances Conroy and Dylan McDermott are always solid, and I absolutely love Jessica Lange's Norma Desmond take on Constance. "Unhinged vamp" just suits her so deliciously. And Jamie Brewer has been terrific as Adelaide, whom I hope and expect to see again soon. She gives a great performance and I felt her absence this week.
The guest stars are always good, too. The two Halloween episodes featured Zachary Quinto as this neurotic, crafts-obsessed queen, and he was really wonderful. Both Halloween eps, and Quinto's performance in particular, brought forth a fun, dark humor that the show needs badly. American Horror Story seems to aspire at times to deliver naughty camp, and I'd love it if the show went all the way with that. It doesn't, however. Instead, it embraces the maudlin side of melodrama far too often and drags the narrative down to soapy tedium.
This week's guest stars were the lovely Sarah Paulson as a medium named Billie and Eric Stonestreet as one of Ben's patients. Paulson was funny as a haughty society bitch who became a medium after finding a "bloody Mexican ghost" cleaning her toilet. Constance found Billie through Craigslist, and Billie proudly informs Violet that she's just come from a meeting with Lifetime about making a show. She was a hoot, and I hope she returns.
Eric Stonestreet, who is delightful as Cam on Modern Family, plays an intensely paranoid patient of Ben's who is obsessed with urban legends, particularly with the tale of the Piggy Man, a sort of cross between Bloody Mary and H. H. Holmes. Ben hilariously tries to convince his patient, "You're in my house. You're safe." You know, the murder house. Where all the ghosts are. And I mean ALL the ghosts.
The biggest problem with American Horror Story is its utter dismissal of logic. Not real world logic, obviously. This is a ghost story, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't follow its own logic. Who can see these ghosts? Everyone? Where are the ghosts able to manifest--only in the house, or out in the world? Can they interact with anyone, or only with those who are living in the house? This week, Violet got the real story on Tate by researching him on the Internet. Now that it's become distinctly plausible that literally everyone connected with the house is dead, why don't the Harmons just start Googling their asses off? Get the back story on Moira, on Constance, on all of Ben's patients, on the realtor, on the outrageously gorgeous security officer, on Larry, on everyone? Because they are almost definitely all dead. How is Larry in any way connected to Hayden? Why was he worried she'd be mad at him last week? What does he want with a thousand dollars? How did the security guard see Hayden? How did he take her out of the house? Where do the one-off ghosts go after each episode? Are they exorcised by the sheer act of closing credits rolling? And most importantly, WHY DOES EVERYONE WEAR A GIMP SUIT?!
I suspect that most of these questions will never be answered. American Horror Story isn't concerned with story logic. The writers just want to throw every single scary thing they can think of at the screen to see what sticks. Brain eating (wtf?), gimp suits, demon babies, school shootings, poison cupcakes, home invasions, scary faces, pregnant mistresses, burn victims, mad scientists, redheaded twins and power bottoms. The opening credits perfectly encapsulate the show's entire thesis: flashes of scary faces and fetuses in jars that mean nothing at all. The writers don't seem to realize that, unless you're a total weinie, fetuses in jars and gimp suits aren't scary in and of themselves. They need narrative context in order to be frightening, and American Horror Story doesn't care for shit about narrative context.
So let's see where this show takes us, shall we? I'm curious because Ryan Murphy shows always grow increasingly over-the-top until they are eventually unbearable, but American Horror Story is already so batshit over-the-top, I can't imagine where it can go. Other than to Vivien's hooved, nation-plaguing, mini-beast fetus. I'm sort of excited to meet that one.