Wednesday, January 18, 2012

That’s All She Wrote – Summarizing Season 1 of AHS

Ah, Murder House. We hardly knew ye. With the end of Season 1, we find ourselves with something of a rarity in modern television – a complete story. Not wanting to leave it all behind too quickly, I offer a few thoughts and ruminations on the Little Season That Could (Seriously Prove It Could Out-Crazy Everything You Thought).

Classic family fun!

First, let’s start with the big revelation that while American Horror Story will indeed be back for a season two, the creators have revealed that not only will the next season feature a new story, but also a new family and a new location, one that is supposedly heavily hinted at in the final episodes. (My money is on Virginia as a new location. Constance seemed to love it there.) Confounding it all even more, apparently some of the actors we’ve seen through season one will return playing new parts. Just proving once again that with this show, the crazy doesn’t have to end with the brain-eating pregnancy.

I’m actually in favor of this move. With the season leaving the Harmons all dead, but finally happy, I can’t say that I was too excited about seeing them becoming some kind of ghostly avengers throughout season 2. Plus, keeping the cast while changing the story, effectively making them into something like a rep company, is certainly innovative.

But enough of this insider, Industry talk. Now that we’ve seen an entire story from this show, it’s fair to ask what was this whole thing really about? There are a couple of very firmly established themes – the most obvious being childbirth and motherhood. Every single female character, with the possible exception of Addie, has some kind of direct exposure to motherhood, whether that’s the literal pregnancies of characters like Hayden and Vivien or the more ephemeral ruminations on being a mother that were slyly given to Moira and even Violet, once she realized that as a ghost, she would never grow old and have a child herself. The show has no qualms about needling at the fear of motherhood, something that a lot of people actually have. The creators of the show even specifically mentioned Rosemary’s Baby, the ultimate motherhood-as-horror tale, as an inspiration when writing the storyline.

GAH! BABY! KILL IT WITH FIRE! Oh hey wait...

Another theme that comes across more subtly, if anything about this show could be called subtle, is the theme of relocation and, by extension, how California is a land of transplants. All of our significant characters began their lives on the Eastern seaboard before moving to Los Angeles. The Harmons relocate from Boston after Ben’s affair, only to be followed by Hayden who does the same. Constance makes numerous references to having grown up in Virginia, a proper southern belle. Even Norah Montgomery (Lady Macbeth, as I’ve been calling her) is a member of Philadelphia society before being uprooted and brought to the wasteland of culture that is 1920s southern California. Unfortunately, this theme isn’t really developed much insomuch as it serves to draw a significant point about the most major theme of the show, home ownership and how owning someone else’s house means you may be literally keeping a part of them and their emotional baggage with you.

It makes sense that in 2011, a show called American Horror Story would be about the very real, very common and very normal fear of being trapped in a house that you can’t get out of, not because of a demonic force that doesn’t want you to leave, but because your own finances are working against you. Early on in the recaps I made a crack about how the scariest thing about this show was the Los Angeles housing market, but it points to how much we in modern America have come to fear the things that are supposed to make us feel safe – owning a home, having a child, raising a family. Effective horror stories have always been about making the safe feel scary; that’s why so many of them from the 80s and 90s were set in suburbia, rather than in the dark forests. We’ve become too discriminating in how we view horror and we have too many smart ways of getting out of sticky problems in our heads. We all know to avoid the bear in the woods or the shark in the water. It’s much creepier when the thing we have to avoid is the place where we’re supposed to feel comfortable.

A completely un-ironic view of the longevity of the American dream.

So while AHS certainly was never a show that pulled its punches, I do think it has been effective in that it picked up on the zeitgeist to help us see what scares us the most right now. For that reason alone, I’m looking forward to seeing what Season 2 scares up for us.

1 comment:

Maggie Cats said...

Great post! I also cannot wait for Season long as Jessica Lange is in it. I was so pleased she won the golden globe...and looked TOTALLY CRAZY accepting it. Atta girl.