American Horror Story 3×09 ‘Head’: Do you think we’re stupid or something?

Source: FX

You know, I’ve watched The American Experience‘s Eyes on the Prize a couple times now, but I don’t think I ever once laughed. Maybe once or twice, during a particularly ironic Bull Connor clip or something. But then, PBS didn’t choose to inter-cut footage from the civil rights movement with images of a white dude unloading several clips of ammunition into a salon (traditionally black entrepreneurship — strike 1) full of black (strike 2) women (strike 3). Nor, I suppose, did they ever try to marry the line about preferring the grave to slavery from Oh, Freedom! with a dying girl shooting their assailant.

Well, Horror Story, I never knew that that’s what that song was about. That is to say, I didn’t know that because that pretty much isn’t what that song is about.

Privilege is a tricky thing, mostly because no one feels particularly privileged, and most of us aren’t about to Prince and the Pauper about all the time because we have better things to do with our lives. I don’t particularly want to get bogged down in a talk about privilege here, when talking about this show, which has morphed into a weird three-way battle of all black ladies v. 5 blonde white ladies (give or take a token) v. all men. But it’s kind of hard to avoid that comparison at this point, just because of the execution.

Source: FX

Source: FX

Leaving aside that the desire to “start a conversation on race in America” (a desire that ignores the fact that we’ve been having one for some time) is vanishingly meaningless at best and cruel at worst, AHS seems to have run into an even bigger problem: they don’t know what they’re talking about. That last scene, which eliminated all the comedy and goodwill of earlier Sidibe-Bates scenes, can only be described as the simulacra of understanding; Murphy, et al. are discussing race because they are including all the hallmarks of televised and filmed race relations in the show. But there’s no understanding of this, of the history and the subtle nuances of race and race in history, because Horror Story‘s understanding doesn’t go any deeper than what LaLaurie is watching.

This is beyond all sizzle, no steak: this is including race because it is a Serious Issue without ever trying to understand how others feel or understand or experience it. We’re meant to feel with LaLaurie as she makes that breakthrough while watching civil rights protestors get hosed. But is that the message at the heart of it? Are we supposed to identify with a 100%, doesn’t even try to cover it up racist as she starts to identify and pity (not sympathize with, pity) the sufferings of black people. Apparently, yes. Because we are through the looking glass here, we are meant to WAKE UP TO THE REALITIES OF OVERT RACIAL HATRED, as if that’s the issue in this day and age, and not, idk, structural racism or insidious and hidden prejudice.

We’re supposed to identify with a breakthrough only attained at the moment when it is meaningless, when our one link to that world is dying in defense of her and hers, airing a few days after the death of a man who was for many years of victim of western society’s concern trolling history of condemning black revolutionaries.

Source: FX

Source: FX

This episode wasn’t all dumb racial politics, and gave some real meat to Frances Conroy, Patti LuPone (who sings!), and a surprising Mike Christofer. Christofer’s appearance, as the head of a corporation of male witch-hunters, is perhaps the part that unnerves me the most. While the reveal that these men represent the real threat is a beautiful way of opening up the world of Coven, it speaks to a larger problem: since the only way to get out of this situation with some dignity is to point at men fanning the flames of women-on-women crime as the reason for this entire half season, then why wait this long? Why develop it this far?

There’s probably a lot to be said and argued about when it comes to the ways powerful groups keep the less powerful fighting amongst themselves to head off any threat those powerless masses might hold, but if that’s where Horror Story is going they’ve done too good a job. And AHS has not, as yet, been good enough after the mid-season finale to even give them the benefit of that doubt.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m as excited for the coming team-up as anyone, because hey, it should be AMAZING. But this season has closed too many episodes with promised team-ups. When there isn’t any steak, you gotta have a lot of sizzle, and so far we have only the promise of sizzle.

Source: FX

Source: FX

Stray Thoughts:

  • I love getting more Anglea Bassett, but I’d like to actually get something out of these moments that aren’t just “ain’t she a badass?” and aren’t through the eyes of others.
  • Some of these younger-version-of-the-cast actresses look legit creepy.
  • And honestly, expanding a universe should wait until you have a handle on the one you already have. Glorious messes are only fun if you can tell what’s going on.
  • I like that they use the name “Delphi” like it’s not already a corporation.
  • Man, I don’t know why I’m even surprised by this melon-baller to the eye stuff.
  • …Was the goal here to make Sarah Paulson where as many silly contact lenses as humanly possible?
  • Can Madison feel yet? I forget.
  • “No bitch, she’s clairvoyant.”
  • Taissa Farmiga’s get-up is starting to look like the cross between a southern baptist gospel choir leader and a pilgrim.
  • Roots, Mandingo, The Color Purple, BAPS, why not Do the Right Thing?
  • ARE YOU REALLY ENDING THIS SCENE BY HAVING KATHY BATES SING DIXIE?
  • I think what I like most about Lily Rabe is that she doesn’t pretend or try to operate on the tangled-alliances level of this show.
  • I’m getting concerned about Evan Peters, you guys.
  • I do kinda like the Lost-esque introduce-a-new-enemy-with-some-flashbacks style.
John M.

works for a legal newspaper in Baltimore and lives within three blocks of Tilghman Middle, the alley where Omar and Brother Mouzone have their showdown, and Pearson’s Florists. He enjoys putting his liberal arts degree to good use by watching a lot of TV and reading a lot of internet. He occasionally blogs (about Dawson’s Creek) on tumblr.

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  • Eric Pharand

    I quit.