Here’s a type of riddling quandary that would fit perfectly into the Giger-meets-Escher infinite hallways of the Hotel Cortez: How come the better this show gets, the harder it is to talk about it?
Sure, there’s the (relative) ease of “hatecapping” shows with obvious, fantastical flaws, but I’ve never really trucked with the idea that people actually enjoy writing about programs that they hate, seeing as how they dedicate hour after hour every week to watching something they claim to loathe only to tear it to pieces. I believe that hatecapping, as a genre, is usually born out of the same thing that drives intense hate in reality: a former love. You can’t hatecap a show that was always shoddily made (barring, as always, reality programming, which gets its own separate sub-genre in the recap community), because it would be a chore to even muster up the momentum to watch it every week, let alone write a few hundred words about why it sucked. No: true hatecapping is usually born out of a once-great love of a show that has since taken a darker turn. It’s the inspiration you find in reveling in the downfall of quality in the last couple seasons of True Blood. It’s True Detective: Season 2. And, for me personally, it’s been slightly less than half the American Horror Story franchise.
Yes, I hated Asylum for it’s lazy randomness, but I hated last season’s Freak Show–with its paradox demands that we be terrified by the “otherness” of the show’s protagonists, while at the same time rooting for them–even more. And I really worried that Hotel was going to fall into the same trap: after all, Denis O’Hare’s trans character Liz Taylor isn’t Maura from Transparent: she’s held up as part of the creepy “wrongness” of the Hotel. (See the opening credit sequences, where a desiccated, bald corpse wearing a flouncy dress grins and beckons from a chaise lounge.) And while it’s all fine and good to put the woman who embraces her fans as “Little Monsters” and sings about being “Born This Way” in the main role, I was afraid that Lady Gaga’s arrival meant more of this AHS hypocrisy, that “All Monsters Are Human…(But Are Still Supposed to Be Super Scary).”
But somewhat miraculously, I don’t need to hatecap this show anymore. Because it’s true: American Horror Story has finally lived up to its catchphrase. Monsters, at least the Cortez, are human, or used to be. They are motivated by the same things we are: love, hate, loneliness, fear, greed. They aren’t boogeyman who latch onto you in the dark: much like regular people, they come at you with knives, with guns, with endless capitalism at their disposal. Will Drake, one of the few humans left in the joint (up until this week, anyway) was a bigger threat to the ghost of serial killer James March than any dead ghoul. Liz Taylor (the other human still employed by the Cortez) released her rage at the Countess over Tristan’s death in a way that practically raised one of Gaga’s eyebrows.
And, when you take out all the annoying double-agenting that this show has always overused–Donovan is working with the Countess! No, Ramona! No wait, the Countess again!– what you’re left with is the terrifying power of these very human emotions which can’t be fixed with a dash of the supernatural. Ramona turning her father into a vampire, hoping to cure his Alzheimer’s, but instead elongating his suffering. The Countess’ money woes, that still pose such a threat to her, a beautiful succubus. March’s desperate begging (on his knees, no less!) that the Countess not leave him: “Our dinners my sole comfort in this Stygian heap!” Everyone of these characters–and many that we didn’t have time to get to this week–are held at the Cortez not because of anything super-natural, but because of instincts that are far too so. Even the Countess’ opening monologue, which mourned the way that men age differently than women; her own sorrow turning into a battle cry, seemed so deeply, painfully part of the human female experience: “The last 100 years of my immortal life have been a lie; the illusion of control. In fact, I have controlled nothing. […] I will not be roped, I will not be managed.”
That makes this show harder to write about than when it was a gleeful pile of spaghetti monsters, sure. We’re not just shooting Lobster Claws in a barrel anymore. But American Horror Story is a show whose heart has started pumping again, back from the seeming dead, and it’s worth our time to try to unravel its humanity from its silliness.