Last night’s American Horror Story was without a doubt the best episode of the season so far, as director Michael Uppendahl returned to the series for his first episode of Coven, after having directed last year’s Asylum episodes “I Am Anne Frank: Part I” and “Nor’easter.” Astute viewers have noted the racial tension between the descendants of Salem witches who expatriated to New Orleans (read: white), and the “dark magic” and Voodoo practiced by the Creole and Haitian New Orleanians (read: black) already living there; this episode brings that conflict to the fore in “Fearful Pranks Ensue,” as Coven pulls out all the stops for its Halloween spectacular.
Well, here we are. No one could ever say that American Horror Story’s relationship with motherhood has ever been healthy. From the loving mistreatment of Addie at the hands of Constance in the first season, to the alien babies and rape-baby-cum-serial killer of Asylum, to what we saw on screen tonight, Ryan Murphy may be the new Wes Craven* when it comes to easy Freudian analysis of horror media mommy issues. I dare say that, although nothing will ever recapture the momcest ickiness of Dylan McDermott’s milk drool and spittle after sucking the tit of that prostitute last season, Mare Winningham’s sexual assault of the new and different body of her son certainly came close.
I’ve been collecting B- and C-grade horror flicks on VHS for a long time, so when I got this eleventh-hour assignment, to detail my five most essential Halloween picks, I felt like my editor had handed me a blank check. The horror film is the quintessential distillation of the cultural psyche: it is at once exploratory and exploitative, concerning both what we fear and what we accept on faith, what thrills and terrifies us as well as what makes us feel secure and stable. Sometimes, they are unintentional period pieces, triumphant examples of the cliches of a particular narrative form that are only relevant to the era in which they are made; at other times, the statements of these films transcend the limitations of their production era to become part of the pop-culture consciousness, entering the public mindset through cultural osmosis.
Let’s start tonight’s discussion where the episode does: a swamp of indeterminate location. Here we get the first instance of the evening’s “Glimpse o’ Louisiana Culture” that everyone knows about: Swamp People. For those of you blessed souls who thought you would be able to go to your rest without having to learn what Swamp People was, I’m sorry: it’s a “reality” show about “colorful” backwoods swamp characters who make a living catching alligators and selling them to people who turn the carcasses into meat and boots that tourists will pay through the ass to obtain. Mardi Gras!
Let’s start by talking about one of the major criticisms of American Horror Story’s first two seasons. I didn’t watch the premiere season until after I had finished Asylum (and I found the first season lacking in comparison), and when my queer neighbor Nellie recommended giving the second season a chance after the season premiere, she warned me–“It’s a little… ‘rapey.’” And while that was a presence in he haunted house, most notably with the impregnation of Connie Britton’s character by the Rubber Man, it was much more prevalent in the second season (in one instance, again, culminating in a pregnancy, oddly enough) in a variety of forms, from Bloody Face Sr.’s treatment of poor, poor Clea DuVall’s corpse, to Dr. Arden’s sexual sadism, to Sister Mary Satan’s taking of the Father’s innocence–it’s not a short list.
Mild spoilers ahead.
Tomorrow, The LSU Union Theater will host the Comedy Central on Campus Tour, featuring three rising comedians: Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, and Kevin Barnett.