It’s that time of year again, friends! The weather is turning more crisp, stores all across the land are setting up their premature Halloween displays, and American Horror Story returning for a sixth season.
AHS is a show I’ve watched from the beginning, 70% of the time as a hate watch, but it has had its moments! So in honor of the show’s season 6 premiere on September 14th, I want to go through each season and talk about what slayed me, what made my eyes glaze over, and what made me stroke out with rage. Get a snack friends, cause this post is going to be a long one. Also LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD! Proceed with caution.
Season 1: Murder House
Season 1 takes place in a haunted house. You have all your greatest hits in this season: cheating husband and emotionally injured wife start over in a new house with their teenage daughter and that house is HHHAAAUUUUNNNTTTEEED. I found the premise itself to be hopelessly boring, even with the unique-ish elements (illicit abortion doctor in the basement was pretty rad, if not a little questionable). After the first few episodes, I checked out. The plot was like the drawings my third grade son brings home from school; trying so hard to represent a concrete idea but but all over the place. The plot got convoluted real quick and I was not feeling the romance between the teen daughter and her ghost boyfriend. This season also underutilized Jessica Lange by 500%. All in all, the few cool moments in the season were drowned out by the fact that I was bored most of the time. I was also more than a little uncomfortable with the sexual violence specifically aimed at the token queer characters (a theme that, unbeknownst to me at the time, is very present in most AHS seasons). Like, can you not, Ryan Murphy?
I give it a 1/5
Season 2: Asylum
I know it’s a really unpopular opinion within the AHS circle, but I enjoyed season 2 a little more than 1. The plot was really hard to watch, and of course problematic at (many) times but it wasn’t boring. The plot line of Asylum follows a reporter who comes to investigate Briarcliff, a Catholic mental hospital, in the 1960’s and ends up becoming a patient there against her will. There’s a lot of mistreatment going down, some Nazism thrown in the mix, a serial killer shoehorned in there (because duh) and, for some inexplicable reason, alien abductions? I wasn’t crazy about the last concept, but I was captivated by all the evil shit these doctors were doing and I watched the entire season mostly to watch them get their just desserts (which didn’t really happen to every person it should have). The women faced much more severe consequences than the men which I wasn’t crazy about. I sure as shit was not on board with a sexually active woman being raped (by a man who is disgusted by her “whorishness”, no less) having her legs amputated and tortured to death. I get the idea that Murphy didn’t intend for the audience to see Shelley as a slut afflicted with the disease of slutiness, but he did literally nothing to point out Dr. Arden’s complete hypocrisy or develop Shelley as a three-dimensional character. Also we have more queers getting killed/tortured/sexually abused/straight up raped. Again, Ryan Murphy, CAN WE NOT DO THAT THING?
Season 3: Coven
And then, after two mediocre seasons we were gifted with the gem that is Coven. I think we can all agree Coven was a masterpiece, a hilarious display of female empowerment that was whip smart and hit every mark. The plot was rock solid; tense where it needed to be, never going off the rails, and razor sharp. It also had not one but TWO women of color in lead roles (I don’t care if Wikipedia lists Gabourey Sidibe and Angela Bassett as “supporting characters.” Fuck you, Wikipedia). Gabourey Sidibe is a hilarious, snarky, talented dream come true. Angela Bassett is a goddess who BROUGHT IT so hard. Of course this season has its flaws; while we have approximately zero queer people being murdered/tortured (yay!), we also have no queer characters period. But don’t worry folks, because we still get to see people from a marginalized group brutally tortured and killed, except instead of queer people it’s black people! Problematic elements aside, this season is damn near perfection. Case in point: Jamie Brewer, an incredibly talented actress with Down Syndrome, is on the show without a huge point being made about her Down Syndrome, which is basically unheard of. I could honestly talk about this season all day, so I’ll just say go watch it. Right now. Even if you’re not an AHS fan, this season can easily stand on it’s own. It’s on Netflix.
Season 4: Freak Show
Freak Show is another season that was not very popular but it was, despite having more of the same horrific violence against women we’ve seen in past seasons (I am looking at you, Asylum) I thought it was okay, although it’s hard to watch Angela Basset go from queen of the goddamn universe to a mediocre side character; same goes for Gabourey Sidibe. I really liked the “serial killer” in this season, more than in any other season only because it was so different and weird. Also I really appreciated the backstory they did for Pepper, a character from Asylum. Cool as it may have been, I thought the writers really missed the opportunity to call out the misogyny and ableism that contributed to Pepper’s story; Pepper ended up where she did because of the actions of an abusive and sadistic man, actions that no one questioned because he was a man and because Pepper is a woman with a disability. Come to think of it, the same could be said of many of the female characters throughout the series (Shelley also was admitted to Briarcliff at the request of her cheating husband in Asylum). I loved the Dandy subplot and how it wrapped up, though I did literally scream at the T.V. when Amazon Eve, a woman who gave the Strong Man an ass beating of a lifetime, was overpowered and killed by tiny Dandy. I guess the writers just can’t resist an opportunity to have a man overpowering and murdering a woman, even if that woman supposedly has super human strength. Oh and also another queer person suffers a horrific fate. Because of course they do.
Season 5: Hotel
I am going to be 100% honest here, I didn’t make it past the first few episodes. After the violent and completely unnecessary rape of a heroine addict, I was kind of done. I get that Ryan Murphy wants to be edgy and shit, but seriously? Do we really need to see a man getting raped by a drill bit? Does that scene contribute anything to show as a whole? Or is it just another opportunity to add shock value to a show that’s had one amazing season and four mediocre ones? I think we all know the answer to those questions, friends. Gaga of course was amazing but even she couldn’t save this season for me. Not even Even Peterson as an H.H. Holmes stand-in could make me finish this season, and that’s saying A LOT. Angela Bassett was probably equally amazing but I didn’t stick around to find out.
All in all, AHS is far from a show I’d consider a favorite. Like so many shows before it, I started watching because it sounded like a great concept but quickly realized it’s just not that great and hugely problematic. And even with the problematic elements, I probably still could have gotten some enjoyment out of it if it weren’t also for the lazy writing and the mass amounts of boredom I had to endure. The fact is, as a horror fan, I have had to come to terms with the fact that a lot of things I love are problematic AF. But it’s also my responsibility as a horror fan to call out those problems so that the genre I love can continue to get better and not have to rely on lazy and gratuitous shock value that contributes to oppression.
It’s actually a small miracle I continued watching long enough to be present for Coven, easily one of the greatest pieces of television of all time, and certainly the best season of the series. However, the blatant and somewhat unchallenged misogyny and queerphobia are getting to be too much for me. I can’t watch anymore women having their legs cut off for the sin of being sexual while the men that maim them go basically unpunished (which happened in not one, but two separate seasons). I don’t want to sit through more queer people getting stabbed, strangled, raped, or being thrown in acid. Aside from being actively harmful to women and queer people, it’s just plain lazy.
I want to see diverse casts. I want rich, tense story lines and three dimensional characters. I want whip smart dialogue and a plot that stays interesting without becoming haphazard. I also like my horror with some social awareness and challenges to intersectional forms of oppression and I am pretty sure AHS is not the show to deliver on any of these things, 4 times out of 5.
That being said, I’ll probably watch the first few episodes of the new season on the off chance that the strike gold, Coven style. And because all of the intros are creepy and I love them.