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Shock Value

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As that example demonstrates, the show is defiantly absurd (episodes swing from scenes that spook you to ones that make you laugh for the wrong reasons, another horror tradition), but that coarseness only adds to its appeal. The camera dives into every scene like a bird that’s crashed through a window. McDermott is hilariously pompous and way too naked. Lange (who owns this show) delivers lines like “You think I want to stay in this world of death and rot and regret?” with absolute conviction. The show wires together dozens of stories but leaves the ends frayed: A father murders his family, twin bullies are lured to their deaths, the ghostly wife of an abortionist has designs on Vivien’s fetus. There’s a demon in the basement, and a boy planning a school massacre. Flashbacks mash together so sloppily that a sequence in which McDermott’s pregnant lover gets bludgeoned to death, then buried under a gazebo, is practically an afterthought.

In one of the show’s most startling scenes, a newly pregnant Vivien goes on that “murder house tour” of L.A. The tour director drives to the sites of famous scandals, arriving at a house where a doctor once sewed bat-winged pigs in the basement, or something like that. As the guide finishes up his spiel, Vivien looks down and sees a splash of bright red in the crotch of her white pants. She jumps out, and when the guide calls after her, she screams back, “It’s my house!”—and runs toward the door. I laughed and gasped. The show may be ridiculous, but the humiliation and panic feel real. And there’s something to be said for surprise.

American Horror Story
Wednesdays at 10 p.m. FX.


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