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American Horror Story would like to remind you there are ghosts in the Bible

Photo: Kurt Iswarienko (FX)
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Two episodes into this season of American Horror Story, and we’re already doing the time warp...again. Which means it’s time for two major flashbacks, with one much more successful than the other. Brooke gets marginally more interesting with a look into her appropriately blood-soaked past. Her would-be husband shooting his groomsmen, Brooke’s dad, then himself means she definitely isn’t going to be saving that terrifyingly ’80s wedding dress for her children. But more importantly for the show and the rules of slasher flicks, the fact that the man she was “saving herself” for shot himself before the honeymoon means Brooke might have held onto to her virginity and will thus be spared from Mr. Jingles’ spikes—because the crazed killer has diversified his weapons cache and is now dealing in spikes.

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The less effective flashback belongs to Richard, who is this season’s head-scratcher. The satanist is really very quick to be seduced by a Christian camp leader with Farrah Fawcett hair. To explain to his new potential victim turned therapist why he kills, he runs through his childhood, which is full of genuinely bad things to happen to a child, but without any through-line to Satanism, or mass murder, or how he went from a sickly kid to a supermodel who’s very, very bad at stabbing a moving target. Richard and Margaret’s exchange is strange in an already strange world. Margaret’s God monologue is great, but it does feel like it’s less the character saying, “Do you want to know the other great thing about God?....you can also use him to explain why you did something,” and more like the writers saying it while winking and gesturing to a certain true crime clip that proves their point. Making him promise not to murder anyone as he takes on the new position of camp protector is a good call for Margaret, but it is suspect that she feels so comfortable putting a serial killer on the payroll (that being more an expression, of course, they didn’t actually discuss his hourly fee).

What this season continues to do well is hit the predictable slasher film tropes, which, in an increasingly complicated storyline, come as moments of comforting familiarity. The synth sounds are so nostalgic they’re no longer truly spooky, and even though most of the characters are still empty archetypes, when they’re finally together and on the same page about the danger they’re in, all but standing back to back with weapons in hand, it feels like the story is really coming together.

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The revelation that Xavier is being blackmailed by the gay porn director that got him off the streets and made him into a star wasn’t that exciting even before “Daddy” gets impaled, but the idea he could find a replacement for himself with Trevor was confusing. Did he think he could easily convince Trevor to trade his aspirations of work out home videos to porn? That the director would surely find blackmail on Trevor and would think, fair is fair, and drop his pursuit of Xavier entirely?

Beyond the mystery of how the showrunners are going to keep the action to a single night (because while being stranded without cell phones in the forest with multiple serial killers is scary all hours of the day in real life, sunrise would take away some of the edge on screen), this episode seemed to hint that Margaret’s miraculous survival might have a sinister side. When the not-quite-dead camper remembers seeing her bloody face, she’s completely upright and wide-eyed in a way someone who had their ear cut off and had suffered other various slashes probably wouldn’t be. This episode took pains to paint her as a little off, beyond the unwelcome proselytizing at her obviously pro-sin staff. Insisting she can handle Mr. Jingles on her own because she owns the world’s tiniest shotgun is a little shortsighted, but it was her reaction to the psych ward director, immediately accusing her of snooping in her room, that makes it seem like Margaret might need “God and trauma” to explain away more than a camp with a dangerously low staff-to-camper ratio.

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Next week at least one new character shows up at a remote, previously abandoned summer camp, things shift towards American Ninja Warrior with the introduction of a deadly obstacle course, and a lot of people stand completely still and scream in the face of fast-approaching danger. It’s like they’ve never seen an ’80s horror film!

Stray observations

  • “Jump (For My Love)” might technically be an ’80s song, but sixteen years after being used for the iconic Love Actually scene, it kind of evokes 2003 more than 1983.
  • Montana’s trek to fat camp was played for laughs, but being shipped off at six to, as she explained it “nom and vom” would be traumatic.
  • In case you forgot Trevor is well endowed, this episode really went the extra mile to remind you. A man died because he was marveling at it.
  • There might not be a Marie Kondo in 1984, but I don’t think you need the philosophy of sparking joy to know that you should pawn the engagement ring from the man who killed your father in front of you on your not-quite-wedding day. Turn that reminder of the worst day of your life into a brand new VCR, or something.
  • How did Rita escape Mr. Jingles with what amounts to a pretty superficial wound? Forget leading the charge for the escape, she should be sitting her fellow staffers down to teach them whatever self-defense moves she used.
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