It’s not a good sign when the best part of any television episode is the slave torture scene, but hey, this is American Horror Story we’re talking about here. The third season opener of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s conflated amalgam of pulp fiction tropes did have some contenders though, including a good ol’ gang rape scene and not one but TWO murder-by-vagina scenes. AHS has so far been unique in the way it combines similar horror/sci-fi concepts into one inter-related setting; such as the Murder House of the first season, which gave us numerous creative murders, infidelity, psychopathy, home invasions, and Rosemary’s Baby-ism all wrapped up in a ‘haunted house’ scenario; or the second season which ran the gamut from insanity to serial killers to aliens to genetic mutants to angels and demons, all contributing to a cold-war-era fright fest. So it’s no surprise that when the show reared its horned head to New Orleans, we’d be in for Voodoo queens, torture houses, angsty teenage witches (wait a sec…), reincarnation (huh?), and… hold up, was that a Minotaur? Where are we again?
Following the initial first glimpse of sheer unforgiving terror, the show plunges head first into a storyline eerily reminiscent of a young adult fantasy novel. And while I agree that the world desperately needs another one of those, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the choice. At first I was into it. When Taissa Farmiga started her fast-talking sardonic narration, I thought, ‘There’s AHS doing what it does best, playing with genre.’ But then it kept going. And going. And she gets sent to a special school. And going. And there’s some more stereotypical teenage characters. And going. And there’s a star-crossed romance. And going. Aaaaaaand… I don’t care. Just like that, what was once a severely adult-themed exhibition of terror is now placating to the most idiotic, annoying demographic out there. Coupled with its unabashed references to social media, the show’s main storyline seems to be steering it away from its classic-yet-modern style and towards blatant teen-targeting trash. I stopped reading the Harry Potter books when I was 15, and I didn’t spend the last near-decade of my life actively avoiding the Twilight craze just to have it infused into a show I once thought defied the formula of cable TV. Especially with the teen-trendy Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals now set in the Crescent City, I was expecting AHS to provide a dark and demented ringer against which to pit that deplorable heap of softcore vampire porn, but to no avail.
AHS’s attempt at young adult (in other words, children’s) fiction came complete with a rigid set of rules that the imaginary world has to play by, where witches only get one power each, except one in a generation, the “Supreme,” who has all of them… ooooooooooh….. I’m intrigued. Oh wait, no. I don’t care. And in case you didn’t catch what each girl’s power was by them actually acting them out, there was a lovely dinner scene where each of them explained their powers. I think I did an actual physical facepalm when Precious shouted out, “I’m a human Voodoo doll!” Thanks Precious, I totally didn’t understand it from the perfectly clear demonstration of it literally two seconds before. There was even an altered-history background that explained how all the witches from Salem sneaked down to the bayous to avoid persecution, which despite the gang rape, slave torture, and aneurysm-inducing vagina, was probably the most offensive part of the show. One of the most heinous acts committed against women in history reduced to an arbitrary and unnecessary backdrop for a story that totally didn’t need one. For a show that’s shaping up to be a powerful showcase of female character drama to paint the Salem witch trials as anything other than a fear- and superstition-driven act of pure misogyny is more than a tad ironic to me, but what do I know.
Despite my qualms with the tone of the main plot line, I’ll hold out hope. After all, this is American Horror Story, and you never know what might come into play in later episodes. The show’s alternative plot line pits real-life 19th century psychopathic socialite Madame Lalaurie against also-real-life famed Voodoo Queen Marie Leveau in what will inevitably be a racially tense rivalry surrounding the torture and murder of the latter’s converted man-beast lover. Despite its deviation from the usual unilateralism of the show’s motifs, the twisted image of the perverted Minotaur at the end of the opening is a disturbing use of symbolism, and given its use in the show’s teasers, we can only hope it will come into play later. And though the two probably never interacted in real life, the play on the big easy’s haunted history is enthralling enough to keep me seated through the droll of the teen fic storyline (and Precious trying to act). All in all I’m in it for the long haul, and I can only hope the show’s creators will pull more from the depths of the classic horror genres they’ve introduced than from the shallow end of the pool of literature that’s clogging the arteries of popular culture today.