Wednesday, October 22, 2014

All Monsters Are Human: How 'American Horror Story' Creates Villains As Personas Many Can Inhabit

There’s a theory making its way around sites such as Reddit and Tumblr regarding the eventual fate of Twisty the Clown. Despite the character’s omnipresence in a majority of the marketing leading up to the premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show, fans are starting to wonder if he won’t even make it past the first handful of episodes. At first it might seem like a shocking turn of events to have the much-publicized Big Bad bite the dust early on, but if this happens then it’s just a testament to one of American Horror Story’s ongoing tropes: characters as concepts that can be inhabited by several people.

It’s an idea that goes all the way back to season one’s Murder House theme. Rubber Man was in much of the pre-air advertising campaign and the mystery of his identity became a driving plot of the season’s first half. Even when it was revealed that Tate had been the murderous version of Rubber Man, we are shown several iterations of characters wearing that suit/identity. Rubber Man became a concept beyond just a single character and this trend would go on in the next installment of the show, Asylum.

This concept might just have hit its apex during Asylum as Bloody Face was more than just Oliver Thredson—a reveal that wasn’t terribly surprising if you knew what to look for—it was also the idea an idea of the sins of the father finding their way to the son. Oliver’s son Lana would take up the Bloody Face mantle but before the audience was let in on this, we were given a delicious assortment of punk kids wearing fake Bloody Face masks and terrorizing the desolate remains of Briarcliff Manor. It gave the show a chance to toy with the concept of a certain character being inhabited by several people over a span of decades. A deeper look into how evil is born and how it languishes through the act of history repeating the mistakes no one learned from. This advance of the trope was so much more layered than a hand-me-down gimp suit finding various purposes.

With Freak Show there’s a villain that by the end of the year will be the kind of over-arching concept and so more than one character can inhabit the persona. Twisty the Clown is introduced early in the premiere episode of Freak Show with a splashy entrance. His constant lurking punctuated with seemingly random acts of violence established this grim figure as the new headliner of our nightmares. But along came Dandy Mott, a character that fits so many of Ryan Murphy’s favorite tropes. He’s aesthetically pleasing, sadistic, unhinged, and pampered to the point of being completely disconnected from morality.

 A pretty boy with ugliness inside of him that gets the chance to connect with after he makes Twisty’s acquaintance and that’s where things get interesting. Here we have a character that actually made our veritable Big Bad turn tail and run away like the cliché horror movie victim—all that was missing was for Twisty to break his ankle while fleeing. It wasn’t enough to keep Dandy at bay and now it seems as though young Mr. Mott will be taking himself on as Twisty’s unexpected (and unwanted) apprentice of sorts. Promos for tonight’s episode show him dressing up in his own clown outfit as he tries his hand at furthering the lifetime mental scars of both of Twisty’s current captives.


But for someone with a temperament like Dandy Mott’s, enough is never enough and so it seems that down the line he will grow frustrated with Twisty’s game and seek to take over. The most damning evidence, other than the fact that John Carroll Lynch is only a guest star while Finn Wittrock is a supporting lead this season, can be found in the latest crop of promo pictures from episode 4.04. In several of them, Dandy can be found wearing Twisty’s half-mask. After getting that glance at Twisty’s brutal lower jaw situation it would be very hard to believe that he willingly lent it to a protégé. It would however, be likely that Dandy struck out at Twisty in one of his boredom tantrums and is now enjoying displaying a trophy he can wear proudly. A far cry indeed from the badly hidden animal remains of his prior kills. And similar to the rubber man suit and skin mask before it, Twisty’s grin is more than just a piece of a costume it’s a symbol.

The first Twisty might not last but his inspiration will live on in another and take it from someone that has a slight bit of coulrophobia—everything about Dandy Mott’s opening act in episode two was a thrillingly horrific example of how all monsters are human on American Horror Story but true evil can live on as personas inhabitable by anyone.

Monday, October 13, 2014

'The Originals' 2.02 "Alive and Kicking" Review

This week The Originals wastes no time letting the Mikaelson family know about each other’s existence… for the most part anyway.  

The only person who has every piece of the puzzle right now is Kol, who is quite the wildcard.  This episode really showed that Kol isn’t fond of really anyone in his family, even his mother.  You could probably argue that he especially dislikes his mother as it’s implied he was into witchcraft before he was made vampire, an act which would have taken all that away. He and Finn’s true identities will probably remain a secret for a while longer due to their connections with Cami and Davina respectively. Kol also had some nice flashbacks this episode where we got the best of both worlds by getting the original Kol (Nathaniel Buzolic) back for those. They felt a bit shoehorned in however, around what has already been shown in the previous season. Some day I’d like to see someone take all of the Original family-centric flashbacks from here and The Vampire Diaries and try to watch them in chronological order.

Although the flashbacks in this episode appeared at first to be mostly about Kol, the events in the scenes actually showed what shaped Elijah’s and Marcel’s relationship.  In season one they really didn’t like each other and we now know that was for the most part a put-on by Elijah.   Elijah was mentoring Marcel and their bond pushed Klaus away which triggered him to undagger the very unstable Kol.  In the end I really loved how they continue to emphasize that, to Klaus, Marcel is as much a part of the family as any of them. It really is a shame Elijah pushed Marcel away back then for Klaus’ own good, and I hope that this season brings a positive change toward their relationship. Perhaps there’s a glimmer of that influence still in the way that Marcel’s vampire methods are more reasonable and well thought out than Klaus.

Seeing Elijah sacrifice one relationship for the well-being of his brother in the past reinforced his current decision to do his damnedest to push Hayley away. At this point in her hybrid struggle she needs someone like Klaus who doesn’t put her on a pedestal. Also, surprisingly enough Klaus isn’t ordering her around, instead he’s having her make her own decisions for her pack.  So I’m eager to see how their relationship develops over the season, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a romantic way.

Friday, October 10, 2014

'American Horror Story: Freak Show' 4.01: "Monsters Among Us" Review

Ever since American Horror Story certified itself as an anthology series as opposed to something with a single continuity, there have been a few possible themes fans have been eager to see Ryan Murphy and co. tackle with their specific flair.  Anyone that’s even stepped foot into the fandom at large knows that the ideas of exploring the Salem witch trials as well as some sort of circus/carnival setting are the two that were the most thought of for future iterations. Last year gave us Coven which covered witches if not exactly much Salem. Or horror truthfully. Don’t worry though, there’s a series on another network that’s doing a hell of a job with that story. That left us with the concept of a twisted circus or perhaps even a freak show.  The fourth season premiere, “Monsters Among Us”, spent a super-sized ninety minutes introducing us to the newest landscape for new and veteran AHS performers alike to explore as this season follows a sideshow troupe on its last legs in 1950’s small town Florida.

Elsa Mars is a (Jessica Lange) a German expat holding onto dreams of stardom despite the fact that her current surroundings are far from traditionally glamorous. Her traveling cabinet of curiosities is on the cusp of being evicted from their lease and the days where townsfolk would line up to catch a glimpse of any sort of oddity have passed them by leaving in their wake a sense of true uncertainty regarding the future of both Elsa and her makeshift family of performers. The future of the show lies on the shoulders of a potential act that might prove to be its savior—a pair of super-conjoined twins.

This episode gave us time with each of the three ‘core’ AHS veterans: Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Evan Peters. All three actors have appeared on every iteration so far of the series and at this point truly need to be challenged and pushed that much more to prevent any sort of stagnation with their characters. One of my major complaints about Coven was the entire trajectory, or lack thereof, for Lange’s character Fiona Goode. She just wasn’t terribly interesting ultimately. Sure, she had a hell of a wardrobe but her lack of any kind of true weakness left Lange with so very little to do but flaunt designer dresses and chain-smoke. That might have made Ryan Murphy happy but just experiencing one episode with Lange’s performance of Elsa Mars makes it clear that she’s a lot more excited with the material this year.

Why wouldn’t she be, especially when Elsa is a chance to play a character that gets to
experience true vulnerability—I’m just in love with everything about her choices following that rousing performance of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars’. Following a season with the infuriatingly indefatigable Fiona Goode any chance to see Lange get to do some first-rate broken heart reaction shots provides a refreshing reminder of why she stole season one out from under the Harmon family. I kept waiting for her arrogant catty rejoinder toward Frances Conroy’s latest character when Elsa’s singing was insulted…and it never came. That’s something which immediately makes Elsa Mars a unique character for Jessica to breathe life into for the rest of the season, and that’s before the big reveal at the end of the episode. Boy, American Horror Story sure does have its favorite tropes to explore, but choosing to give the fairly untouchable Lange something like this to work with excites me greatly for what other unwritten boundaries the show will cross this year.

Paulson and Peters also suffered from the creative stagnation of their Coven characters (Cordelia is really only memorable as being the eventual Supreme and the less that’s said about Kyle’s utterly wasted story potential, the better).  But this is what makes American Horror Story more of a rewarding experience than not year in and year out. Didn’t like last year? Well it’s all going to change next time so stay tuned. This year, Evan’s playing Jimmy Darling the young man with the so-called ‘lobster claw’ affliction that leaves his fingers fused together and perfect for giving frigid fifties housewives proper orgasms. I just want to know which writer in the room thought that because his prosthetic is rather phallic looking that they had to go there with it. Peters is game as always however, and this facet of Jimmy promises his most sexually explicit season yet. Remember in Asylum when gifs of his bare ass were everywhere? I have a feeling we’ll get scenes coming our way this year that will adorn many a dashboard in the same way. What I’m intrigued by is Jimmy’s apparent quickness to anger and the kinds of bad decisions that come from that trait as evidenced in the premiere when a cop came sniffing around the lot for the twins. Can’t wait to see how things go down when his father shows up next week to challenge his status as the top dog of the troupe.

Sarah has the flashiest role this year since she’s getting to play two very different girls sharing the majority of one body. Bette and Dot’s circumstances before they left to join the freak show are a main focus of the episode and give us a great introduction to the very important distinctions between the sisters. It’s so much more gray then simply a good twin and a bad as Dot is dour, judgmental, and a cynic. Her sister Bette is wide-eyed, ambitious, and prone to tantrums. After a bloody incident involving their mother and a thwarted chance to go to the movies, Elsa introduces herself to the girls and coaxes them to come join the show. The sheltered duo are going to be part of a new world filled with equal parts acceptance and revulsion as they find a new family with the troupe all while being thrust into a spotlight as a commodity for the general public to gaze upon. The very existence of this character as a concept almost seems like the natural conclusion to the question, ‘what does Sarah Paulson have to do to get an Emmy for AHS, grow another head?’ But this is exactly the sort of challenge someone as talented and versatile as Sarah Paulson deserves and I have no doubt she’s going to create an iconic performance that can stand head to head to head with her own Lana Winters.

It would have been disingenuous to have a freak show theme and merely dress up the usual
suspects in all manner of prosthetic. Thankfully, there have been several performers cast this year that run the spectrum of talents and body types and they’re getting the chance to participate in a narrative that showcases the struggle of the outcast in a changing world—a theme that has been touched upon in every season so far to a degree. Before the premiere aired, a series of videos appeared on the American Horror Story Facebook account that featured each of these new additions in an empathetic, sincere, and humanizing way that is so necessary to keep the audience from thinking of these actors as just various freaks used as set dressing this season. As fun as it is to see the big name actors with these new challenging roles, personally I’m eager to see the various stories each of these performers will get to be part of. Even if their fate is as abysmal as so many of the differently-bodied that came before them. We’ve seen where someone like Pepper winds up and asylums like Briarcliff are shitty sure, but just in case a looming unhappy ending isn’t enough dread for the audience there’s a supremely terrifying clown that stabs people in broad daylight.

Coulrophobia (fear of clowns) is one of those phobias that’s almost too easy to draw upon for the sake of scaring the audience. There’ve been countless depraved and maniacal evil clowns throughout pop culture so AHS had their work cut out to try and break through with a creation that could make people that didn’t already have said phobia get a severe one. What’s clever about Twisty isn’t just his outer appearance—in itself a disturbing visage—full credit here has to go immediately to his masked portrayor, John Carroll Lynch. Here’s an actor that knows not only how to use his hulking physique to great effect but knows how to fill the silences in such an unnerving way. He snorts and snarls more beast than man and his movements are so sudden and swift they leave victims little time for recourse. Plus choosing to first show Twisty’s particular ‘act’ on a bright sunny day really screws with the expectation of something looking like that only living in the shadows. The light of day won’t save you from this killer clown. Hopefully his backstory won’t take away from the character’s mystique as being able to inspire such unease is an asset a horror show needs to be able to call on without it being lessened as the series goes on. Twisty has to remain a true threat. 

Just as the suspension of disbelief is essential for the performers in a sideshow to set a tone and create illusion and wonder, Murphy and his talented team have created a gauzily-lit dreamscape filled with portrayals of the outwardly strange and impossible feats.  Despite the fact that a great deal of special effects go into the presentation of Paulson as a duo, about halfway through the episode I thought of Bette and Dot as fully-realized characters and not Sarah talking to herself with a fake head strapped to her shoulder.  That’s because this season is going to be strongly character-based and that’s when American Horror Story is at its very best. Even if the plot goes a bit sideways or if too many things get thrown against the wall just to see what sticks, having strong well-defined characters keeps this show a afloat. The slower rollout of character introductions and small handful of reveals hopefully mean that the storytelling can remain at least a little restrained. Just for the first part of the season. Then hopefully things go into overdrive but by then we care so greatly about these characters and what happens to them that it will harrow our very souls to stay on this journey with them. After such a strong premiere I’m eager for an encore of this freak show. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Originals 2.01 "Rebirth" Review

After a summer that felt like endless waiting, The Originals came back for its sophomore season tonight and it did anything but disappoint.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Visit to 'Game of Thrones': The Exhibition

With PAX, Dragon Con, and Fan Expo occurring the same weekend (and all three being far out of reach) it only made sense to attend the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) in Vancouver, BC to finally glimpse the globe-trotting Game of Thrones Exhibition.
Brienne and Jaime's costumes
Starting in New York City earlier this year, the exhibit has stopped in eight cities across the world before finally ending its current run in Vancouver--the only stop in all of Northwest America. The exhibit has been packed since day one, causing the PNE to implement time-assigned tickets. Even with this system in place, the queue still lasted over two hours. The line was similar to that of a convention line, but the experience at the end made enduring the cold and rainy weather worth the wait.
Arya and the Hound 
The exhibit was lined with blown-up photos of the series and its characters, from the Red Wedding to the masses of the Unsullied. Amidst the exhibit there were costumes and props used throughout the series. Although most of these items were from earlier seasons, there was an occasional prop or costume from season four. One such prop was Oberyn Martell’s robes as well as 'Widow’s Wail', the sword given to Joffrey as a wedding present from Tywin Lannister.
Grey Wind 
The most gruesome prop was Grey Wind’s severed head (pictured above), the same head that ended up attached to Robb Stark’s corpse after the brutal massacre of the Red Wedding.
To the fallen
Placed near the exit of the exhibit was the ‘In Memoriam’ wall. Though not updated to include season four’s casualities, pictures of characters from season one onwards decorated the wall and a video screen scrolled through numerous others that have not survived.
Ascending the Wall via Oculus Rift
The biggest crowd pleasers were the Iron Throne and the ‘Ascend the Wall’ experience. Each attendee could take a picture posing on the Iron Throne (without even having to draw a sword!). The real fun was being able to ascend The Wall using the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift. Locked into a cage, with the display and headphones on, the experience began with a slight thumping underneath to match the shakiness of the ascending cage. Every turn of the head gave a new view of the staggering heights, often producing shouts of fear. With the ascent lasting only a minute, the experience ended at the top of the Wall. You look far into the North as approaching flaming arrows from the Wildlings down below fly past, before one finally hits its mark and you tumble off the Wall for a final time. An experience unlike any other, it was an event that demands to be repeated.
Some of the weapon props including Joffrey's crossbow
With the high popularity of the exhibit it only makes sense that HBO will soon be sending it around the globe again and perhaps even updating their current collection. As of September 1, 2014 the exhibit has ended its run in Vancouver. You can visit the official HBO site here
Daenerys costumes with one of her dragons

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Arrow, Flash, and Constantine -- OH MY!

Let me tell you lovely people something, if you weren't already aware: this fall is going to be AWESOME.

Do I really need to say more? ... Probably not, but I will, anyway!

The only thing that would make me more excited about this year's upcoming TV season would be the hope of crossover between the three shows. Unfortunately, I'll only get that with Arrow and The Flash, as Constantine will be airing on NBC. The last time I trusted them with a "capes and tights" sort of show was Heroes, and that didn't end like I hoped. Maybe this time, NBC will do a damn sight better!

This is just the tip of the iceberg, too. I've heard rumblings for months now about The CW network looking at a potential Hourman series, which would just be further fuel for the fire that is the onslaught of DC Comics' TV shows. I'll leave Gotham for Keysha to talk about, because it was strongly implied that stealing that show from her would be a serious hazard for my health.

Which of these three are you most excited about?