I'll be honest, I thought that "The Origins of Monstrosity" was a bit of a let-down after both parts of "I Am Anne Frank." I don't know what I was expecting - well, no, that's not true...
I was expecting a much more protracted captivity for Lana, though the show's propensity this season for sudden reversals makes me think I might still get my wish. Still, I thought making Harlow's monkey experiments a central factor in Bloody Face's story was a nice touch - it's a nice riff on the idea of a serial killer with mommy issues (Norman Bates what what), and it's another in the litany of American horrors, a Cold War nightmare of remorseless cruelty cloaked in institutional legitimacy. But otherwise, I dunno. The first season of this show was at its best when it was completely berserk, but this season works best, I think, when it juxtaposes the awful with the mundane - the worst parts of "I Am Anne Frank" weren't the serial killer or the mad doctor, they were the shit that actually used to happen back then - aversion therapy, lobotomies for recalcitrant housewives. "Dark Cousin" and "Unholy Night" added a couple of nice fillips, but then, but then...
....then came "The Coat Hanger."
I mean, you know what they mean by that, like, right off the bat. This is the mid-60s. At-home and back-alley abortions are another mid-60s American nightmare. When they open on her taking buns out of the over, they got a golf clap from me. Nicely done. When they close on her part of the episode with her performing an honest-to-fucking-goodness coat hanger abortion on herself without flinching? My fucking jaw dropped and I could not speak. This show is not letting anyone look away from anything - it really is coming into its own as being as much a treatise on American culture (the American nightmare, at least) as a balls-out exercise in the sort of envelope-pushing Ryan Murphy was doing on nip/tuck (and Glee, yeah, I said it) before this.
(And come to think of it, it's an extension of the themes of maternal and childbirth horror that anchored a lot of the first season. Right under everyone's nose, this show is jabbing one of our culture's biggest sacred cows right in the eyes, over and over again.)
The great movie critic Joe Bob Briggs once praised The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for being a movie where "anybody can die at any time", and I think American Horror Story has firmly established itself as the modern inheritor of that sort of gonzo horror storytelling - watching a TV show, even one on basic cable, you think to yourself "they're not going to go there - they'll hint at it, but they won't, you know, commit to it." American Horror Story keeps committing to it, keeps going there. I don't know how long they can keep this up, but right now, this show is exactly the sort of shot in the arm that horror, television, and horror television needs.
(Which means some studio exec is going to greenlight, like, eighteen shitty, offensive carbon copies that will ape the show without capturing what makes it good, but for right now, wheeeeeeee!)