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Reflecting on ‘Roanoke’

I recognize I’m terribly late on this write-up, but near the end of this season I was terribly distracted by Channel Zero, Westworld, The OA, and most recently, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. But considering the news dropping for Season 7, better late than never, right?

Season six of Ryan Murphy’s on-going horror escapade was easily the most divisive: Between the show-within-a-show framing and found footage over-saturation, this is probably the most unique season to date. But does that make it good?

Usually I’d start with the opening theme, but controversially, there wasn’t one for Season 6. Fortunately I found this fan-video, which might be better than the actual season itself:

Let’s get down to it
When approaching this season, there’s a lot to wrap one’s head around – namely the meta-quality of “My Roanoke Nightmare.” Initially I was against this method of story-telling, because as much as I love cheesy ghost story shows, it is common knowledge that reenacting is seldom relied upon. So for “Roanoke Nightmare” to not only consist of 90% reenactment, but to have such a crazy fandom after the fact, that’s fairly hard to believe. All you can really do is accept that this branch of television is widely accepted in this universe (the “Murphyverse,” if you will).

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And yet they managed to make reality tv drama interesting.

Once it’s understood that there are many-a-layers, it’s easy to roll with the punches on this one. That doesn’t mean there still aren’t any inconsistencies. (I still don’t know what the teeth are all about.) But, it does hit on all of the previous AHS tropes: Mommy Issues, Monster, and Something Incredibly Uncomfortable (my vote goes to the Polks, followed by first-person immolation). Not to mention, this is the first season to reference all of the previous seasons (well, the Hotel one was kinda loose, but I’ll let it slide).

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My favorite part of this season was when we as viewers finally saw the ghosts as they were meant to be seen – and they are hella spooky. Initially, it is a cheap trick to rely so much on the popularity of found-footage, but to use this technique to alter the viewing experience as such was a fantastic  exploit of the medium.

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Love you.

My second-favorite part, what I like to call the redemption of Kathy Bates. Her character, Agnes Mary Winstead, was genuinely uncomfortable to witness. I felt like her contribution to this season was a way to show younger, or unfamiliar, viewers her prowess.

Speaking of younger viewers, when Dominic Banks goes on his soliloquy about being a reality villain, is Real World still relevant?  Does anyone under 20 know who Puck is? Either way, the second act is my favorite part of this season, hands down.

Where it drops the ball
Personally, I really didn’t care for the third act. As glad as I was to see Lana Banana again, I wasn’t terribly interested in Lee Harris’ fate.

The trouble is, I’m not sure where the show would have gone afterwards.

Perhaps the larger issue is that the more interesting part of this season wasn’t so much the main characters, but the ghosts themselves – like if Murder House didn’t have Jessica Lange to ground it.

In all, AHS: Roanoke was a great deviation from the rest of the series, albeit a tad half-baked.

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Goddamn Chens

Welcome to the Cortez

Holy guacamole. What. Did. I. Just. Watch.

Well, let me tell you – if you haven’t watched the latest season of American Horror Story, go away for now. I also wrote about the other seasons here. Meanwhile, I’ll be here jotting down my thoughts and musings on this last season.

Now, I find hotels as eerie as the next occasional traveler, so I thought the concept of AHS: Hotel was interesting on a very base level. Add some real-world creepy inspirations? Great! Old Hollywood? Even better! Vampires? Well…they hadn’t really tackled them yet, so okay…

I’ll be frank. This season’s a hot mess. It’s a Jackson Pollock of concepts and casting, marred with copious amounts of sex and bloodshed. Not all of it was terrible – for instance, we were given a new hero, Liz Taylor (Dennis O’Hare).

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In Liz we trust.

Pros
Liz is awesome. She’s an ideal role model for the modern audience – confident, intelligent, and fierce as hell. However, everything was fine until for some reason, they decided to throw in a completely asinine romance angle with the Countess’ (Gaga) flame, Tristan (Finn Wittrock).

Now, I’m not man-hating for the fun of it, but what I’m upset about is that this angle came from absolutely NOWHERE. The only time we get any idea that there was any sort of chemistry is after we see Liz and Tristan in bed together – no buildup, no conversation, not even any eye-contact, for all I know. I suppose the heart wants what the heart wants, I guess. I’m just glad she got the happy(ish) ending she deserved.

Another character I loved? James Patrick March.

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This guy.

Honestly I never gave Evan Peters a second glance until Hotel. Finally, after four seasons of moping, we get someone charismatic, cartoony, and impossible to ignore. Think of James P. March as Gomez Addams and H.H. Holmes on coke.

Hotel was an incredibly divisive season, an odd combination of cartoony and violent – in some cases cartoonishly violent. It seemed as if the creators didn’t know where to draw the line in terms of disturbing content – or which direction this show was going, for that matter. I think the idea was to bridge the gap with the “Ten Commandments” story…or maybe the vampires? Jeezus.

The Ten Commandments
Admittedly, this was a very cool, bold way to start the season. Granted, it is a total Se7en ripoff – that, and hearing the phrase “Ten Commandments” over and over again is clunky and exhausting.

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Almost as exhausting as trying to tell this cast apart.

And when we learn the truth about our protagonist, John (Wes Bentley), I’m not sure if it was more unexpected or annoying. Much like Liz/Tristan, we had no leads of any sort – it just seemed so poorly thrown together. On the other hand, when John accepted his identity, that was a nice change of pace.

There seems to be a string of shrugging off events when things get too weird – for instance, when we are introduced to Countess’ erm, child, it goes on a wacky’s “Baby’s Day Out”-style adventure. As if that wasn’t stupid/annoying enough, there is literally a scene where John’s daughter, Scarlett, is very upset and crying, and then less than a minute later we see her chilling on the couch with some popcorn. What kind of poorly written bullshit is going on here?

Okay okay, that’s a little nit-picky, especially considering some bigger problems…

The Addiction Demon and Hypodermic Sally

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…Who was this? Why was this? What purpose does this serve? Other than disturbing for disturbing’s sake.

Speaking of which, it was never really explained why Sally (Sarah Paulson) was sewing folks into mattresses. It made a nice eyecatch I suppose, but again, ultimately pointless. Like that Human Centipede-esque nonsense later.

On the topic of nonsense, last but not least –

The Vampires
To be fair, they never really call these creatures “vampires” – but for the sake of simplicity, that’s what I’m going with. I honestly enjoyed how this season played with this vampirism disease, especially when combined with other diseases. Though they did hit us over the head with the-ever-so-topical vaccination “debate.”

Upon the announcement that Lady Gaga was to be involved with this season of AHS, I honestly didn’t really care – I guess I was more looking forward to the sheer spectacle she would surely provide – and thusly delivered. I was more annoyed by the irrelevance of her vampire clan and their terrible hair-dos.

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I’m talking about you, Holden.

The Countess represented the glamour as well as the menace that LA has to offer (throughout time, so it seems) – an ideal seductress. Apart from that, we have a concept that’s terribly drawn out and ultimately uninteresting.

In A Nutshell
I’m sorry, I took some time writing this because I often found myself getting ranty and all over the place. Kind of like this season. Simply put, there were way too many ideas going on here at once; near the end, it was painfully obvious that they needed to tie these stories up. Yet, despite my complaints, I still enjoyed this season. It doesn’t hold a candle to Murder House, but at least it’s better than Coven.

 

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“I couldn’t pick my butthole out of a lineup.” – Academy Award-winner, Kathy Bates

 

 

 

Of Freaks and Monsters: American Horror Story

If you didn’t notice, I haven’t posted much in a while. Perhaps it’s due to distraction or laziness, but also because like any red-blooded American twenty-something, I’ve been mooching off of my parents’ various cable subscriptions and marathoning old HBO shows. (Seriously, I think Oz changed my life. I’ll have to write about that one sometime.) …That and I renewed my WOW subscription. Anywhoo, I’ve been fortunate enough to stay active with the newest installment of everyone’s favorite Freudian fanfare, American Horror Story: Freakshow.

I’ve been a fan of this series since the get-go, and yes, I accept it’s flaws as much as I bitch about them with friends and co-workers and anyone else who will listen. If anything, I always follow each season ’til the end, even Coven. So I decided to write a bit about each – the good, the bad, the freaky, and the just plain awful. Spoilers ahoy! (Mostly pertaining to Freak Show!) I’m not gonna give any real plot synopsis, but overall if you haven’t seen it, watch it dammit – all but the latest seasons are on Netflix.

Murder House

American Horror Story: making families shift uncomfortably in their seats since 2011. This was the beginning of something new and exciting, with an opening that dares you not to look away (not at all unlike that of Se7en‘s).

"Bring out the gimp."

“Bring out the gimp.”

Granted, I haven’t seen this since it’s airing (or any of the other seasons), but needless to say, some things just stick with you. Being that this was a season of firsts, Murder House took some serious balls – we’re talking rape, S&M nightmares, school shootings, and straight-up child abuse. And this is on cable.

Love you.

Love you.

Now, it’s one thing to have shock factor, but fortunately we have a pretty gripping story to go along with.

That, and a new generation has fallen for Our Lady of Perpetual Ferocity, Jessica Lange.

I believe it was Entertainment Weekly that described Lange’s portrayal of Constance Langdon as “Southern Comfort with a hint of venom.” Lange would later prove that she can keep this balance consistent throughout the seasons, weighing each outrage with vulnerability.

In retrospect, Murder House was probably the most solid of the seasons, and one of my favorites. Next to Asylum.

Asylum

Though Asylum polarized audiences, I believe this one is my favorite: it has a cohesive plot, exciting characters and just enough weirdness and camp. That, and I think that Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) was probably, arguably, the scariest AHS villain to date (which I will happily defend).

I only have three gripes: lame zombie reveal (though Nazi experiments is a new angle), disappointing deaths of not one, but two amazing characters (granted, they were heavily linked), and the serial killer’s name was “Bloody Face.”

Yeah, I've got nothing.

Yeah, I’ve got nothing.

Some people hated the aliens, but I really didn’t mind them. I was just glad to see something different. Oh, and bravo James Cromwell – in only one scene, you destroyed my childhood memories of the kindly farmer who sang to a pig. Thank you.

MmmmmMcShane. (Insert obligatory naughty Santa pun here.)

MmmmmMcShane.
(Insert obligatory naughty Santa pun here.)

I also have some soft spots for asylums and Ed Gein types – that kind of horror feels, I dunno, nostalgic? Yeah, that’s the best way to describe it. So I guess that’s another perk of following AHS – if you don’t like one kind of scary, another’s just around the corner!

By Asylum, I caught on to some tropes, reoccuring cast members aside:

  • Horrible monster (key villain)
  • Murderous rape-baby
  • Holiday episode
  • Religion
  • Gratuitous sex
  • Butts (because why not?)
  • Mommy issues
  • Something horrible to watch (or potential triggers)
  • A historical figure

Now that I think of it, this series might as well have been called Mommy Issues: Seriously, Call Your Mom. When it came to Asylum, I’m not sure which was more scarring: watching Sarah Paulson’s DIY abortion, or the fact that Lana Winters’ exposé on Briarcliff was practically a recreation of one of the most abhorring and infamous scandals in the history of Staten Island.

Coven

I wanted Coven to be good, sincerely.

It had so many chances to do something well, but it went wrong at every turn:

  • Predominantly female cast?
    Better make them fight all the time about stupid things! At least they look good doing it, right?
  • Delightfully unnerving new monster?
    Better have an amazing actress awkwardly try to bang it and then never talk about it again.
  • Learn they have a certain type of power (like X-Men)?
    Let’s not show how they learn new magic – that’d be too much like Harry Potter.
  • Show how they can do really awesome magics stuff?
    Whoops, gotta kill them off – guess they forgot how to witch.
Make sure your leading character has the personality and mental acuity of a goldfish.

Also make sure your leading character has the personality and mental acuity of a goldfish.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I think Buzzfeed also made a nice list of everything wrong. (Also I stand corrected on one of my tropes – I think the murderous rape-baby stops here.)

Also is it weird that there was more racism in Coven (presumably modern day, mind you) than there was during the 1950s (i.e. Freak Show)? Speaking of which, moving on-

Freak Show

This is my favorite opening. Maybe I just like toy pianos.

Sideshows/freak shows have also always appealed to me. Again, just one of those weird things. Plus this season was filled with ’50’s kitsch and David Bowie – pretty much everything I love right there. Not to mention numerous references to Tod Browning’s Freaks, one of my favorites, but we’ll get to that later. Oh, and awesome job with that Elephant Man theme near the end!

Love it love it love it.

Love it love it love it.

On the whole, I enjoyed this season a lot. Even though there wasn’t really an overarching storyline, I felt that it worked well as a character study/spectacle piece. Though, honestly, I still find it troublesome that there was so much focus on the music videos (at least until it was realized that the show needed to progress).

At first, it made sense: it was Elsa’s show and she’s a singer. That’s obvious. Now the twins come in and they need to be special – they better sing too. And now we’ve got Jimmy all angsty so he’s headlining with Nirvana? I mean, I know they’re pushing for more Evan Peters (especially because he mostly just got drunk and sulked all the time halfway through), but that was really, really pointless.

You tease.

You tease.

Oh and speaking of pointless, what was the point of talking about Stanley’s big wiener if they’re never going to do anything with it? I’m sorry, but I was at least hoping it would be chopped off and put on display at that Morbidity Museum – which would be wonderfully ironic – of course, not that they’d show it, but it’s the principle of the damn thing.

Needless to say, I feel that Stanley’s demise (a là Freaks) was satisfying, but the end of the show was so rushed, they never brought him up again or did anything with him – kind of like how they never mentioned if the Lizard Girl’s dad even survived the tar-and-feathering (or if there were repercussions). I guess someone remembered that we couldn’t just be distracted by jingle keys any longer and the show actually had to be finished.

This brings me to Dandy.

Dandy-Mott

Oh Dandy. Dandy, Dandy, Dandy.

If ever there was a character you could love to hate, it was this kid. I could seriously not look away. This was the epitome of villainy: a spoiled, rich brat who makes Kanye West look humble. He also progressed the most throughout this show, which made his ending so…disappointing. Especially after seeing what they did to Stanley – why not make Dandy’s death ironic, at the very least? The water trap was too easy. Easy and boring. There, I said it.

I really wanted to see them doing more stuff, you know?

I really wanted to see them doing more stuff, you know?

There was still plenty to enjoy: Sarah Paulson does a fantastic job as Bette and Dot Tattler, and they brought back Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett – plus we now have TV debuts of the likes of Mat Fraser, Erika Ervin and Rose Siggins. Like I mentioned before, Freak Show mostly served as a spectacle of characters, which was still fun to watch.

For now, it is still up in the air as to whether or not this was  Jessica Lange’s last season. At first it was believed to be, but since that rumor, creator Ryan Murphy has been begging her to stay. Believing that Freak Show was her last, it makes the last episode, rather her last performance (more Bowie – yay!), to be particularly heartbreaking. Not as heartbreaking as “Orphans” though. That was like…jeeze.

Personally, I hope she stays.

The Fascinating Metamorphosis of Walter White

I know I haven’t been going to the theatre less often lately, but honestly I’ve been too preoccupied catching up on Netflix. As we all know, Breaking Bad has been rocking the small screen ever since its emergence in 2008. Apart from the gripping, well-written story, I believe that the performances on this show are probably the most impressive displays of acting prowess I have seen in a long, long time. In order to discuss the metamorphosis from dead man to death dealer, I will do my best not to spoil key events of the show that are not already known by means of advertisement or whatnot. Granted, I’m still catching up myself (only getting what I can from Netflix) so I may be a little more in the dark than some. Regardless, I will do my best to dissect the psyche that is Walter Hartwell White.

Much like Bruce Willis, Walter White gets cooler with less hair.

Much like Bruce Willis, Walter White gets cooler with less hair.

The Birth of Heisenberg

In the beginning, Walter White is a pathetic little weenie of a man with a bad mustache. Walt is a high school chemistry teacher who also works at a car wash in order to make ends meet for himself, his pregnant wife, Skyler, and their disabled son, Walt, Jr. Just to paint a little picture of his family life, there seems to be a small power struggle between Skyler and the influence of his in-laws, while his own son prefers to be called “Flynn” as opposed to “Junior” – so the discontent with his home-life has been well-established.

Season-1

A true image of desperation.

After months of being afflicted with a pestering cough, Walt visits a doctor and discovers he has inoperable Stage 3A lung cancer. For some reason, Walt doesn’t tell his family about this discovery – not right away at least. I’m not sure if it is mentioned as to why, but I think it’s because he wants to regain a sense of control over his own life as well as the future of his family. Obviously, control is a constant issue with Walt.

Not wanting to leave his family in financial ruin, Walt takes it upon himself to find alternative means of income. Considering he’s a chemistry genius, cooking meth seems like a desperate but ideal outlet – he figures he can cook the stuff and have someone else handle the business end. No big deal right? Get in, get out – an easy business transaction with a huge payoff. Though he’s aware that his brother-in-law, Hank, is a DEA agent, this does not deter him from his easy-money scheme. After contacting former student/drug dealer Jesse Pinkman, their business is soon established, and Walter White is cooking meth so pure, it comes out looking like blue rock candy.

Once Walt’s blue meth hits the market, this causes all sorts of trouble with rival distributors, as well as earning attention from cartel. As these tensions rise, Walt builds a new identity to face these local mobs: Heisenberg. Behind this guise, Walt finds within himself the ability to be intimidating and thus earn respect. Now we’ve created the anti-hero.

The Transformation

Come season two, Walt is caught between being hunted by the cartel while struggling to keep his work a secret from Skyler. Jesse has become less inclined to help Walt due to the jeopardization of his friends/dealers. On top of this drama, his medical bills have become increasingly daunting. He needs to stay in this business, but will need more help in order to protect himself and his family. Walt’s choices not only determine the future of Walt and Jesse’s partnership, but we also witness the cogs in Walt’s brain turn as he determines what is really the “greater good.”

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Business is business.

What we learn from season three is that fear is not only a great motivator, but also an excellent catalyst. In this season Walt becomes under the employ of Gustavo Fring, a fried chicken tycoon with strong ties to the cartel. Giancarlo Esposito plays this character exquisitely: this is a man with two faces, the exceptional and the terrifying. There is very little we know about Gus’ past, but from what we can tell, Gus understands the sacrifice needed to build an empire. It is only when Gus intimidates Walt and Jesse in order to keep them focused, that’s when things go downhill; Walt understands this man’s potential, truly fearing him while simultaneously envying his control. Ultimately, Gus acts as the catalyst for Walt’s full transformation.

It is in season four when the villain emerges from Walt. He believes Gus has driven him to take drastic measures to protect his family. Though it is true that Gus threatened his family, Walt never tries to call his bluff. It is this season that Walt performs actions that are desperate, cruel, and powerful. I’d give examples, but again, I don’t want to spoil things. I will say we also see the dynamic between Walt and Jesse shift even further – Jesse is teased with the idea of partner-hood, but Walt manipulates him to the point of near-insanity. One could discuss the growth and potential for our young accomplice, alas this article is all about Walter White.

"I won."

“I won.”

As we enter season five, everything has been set into overdrive. We know that Walt is building an empire, but in the process has become a total monster. There is no longer the man who simply wants to provide for his family. For all Skyler can tell, he doesn’t care about his family, he wants control. The same message can be read by the audience, though some take this badassery to heart without realizing that the Walter White that we grew to empathize with is dead and gone.

Or is he? I don’t know – like I said, I haven’t seen the newest episodes yet.

Walter White began as an underdog, became an anti-hero, then morphs into a full-on villain. While his actions have been impressive, his intentions have often had bafflingly terrifying implications. It’s great to see the little guy win, but to quote JoBlo “even Tony Montana had his limits.” Additionally, Skyler’s behavior, though having received much flack, is completely justifiable. By all means, I am not saying that I am not a fan of the character – I just find this transformation to be incredible. I can’t wait to see what happens to him and Jesse. I want to know what becomes of Walt’s empire, and the aftermath that will surely reign upon his family.  All I can tell is this is going to be good.

In memory of Gale Boetticher.