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If Fear Is the Mind-Killer, Predictability Is the Fear-Killer on American Horror Story

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American Horror Story is trying some interesting things this season. We’re two episodes in, and the story has been almost entirely from the perspective of one woman. Instead of multiple horror movie plots playing out in different time periods, we’re watching one person being driven insane. It’s more of a psychological horror story than we’re used to seeing from this show. Ally is being specifically targeted by Kai and his friends, but some of it is in her head, and we don’t know exactly what.

That does lead to some pretty good scares. Last night’s episode started out with two scary clown scenes that were some of the creepiest moments in the show. First Ally woke up to find the three-faced clown staring at her. She starts screaming “clown,” and suddenly Ivy believes her for some reason. Ivy runs upstairs with a knife, and does a grown-up version of checking the closet and under the bed for monsters. Meanwhile, Ozzie (real name Ozymandias because of course it is) has a night terror where Twisty and another clown chase him through the house. It seems pretty clear that both Ozzie and Ally are imagining these clowns, but that doesn’t explain why they see the same ones. Some of the clowns are real, but the show isn’t letting on which ones yet. They shouldn’t. It’s really the only good suspenseful element that’s working right now.

Sarah Paulson and Alison Pill (Photo via FX)

Kai, as we all figured he would, is using the beating that he incited to stir up fear of immigrants. He’s parlaying those fears into a city council run, to take the seat of the recently-murdered Mr. Chang. We also saw who filmed the beating. It was Billy Eichner! Man, Billy on the Street got real dark in the later seasons. Billy and his wife also immediately move into the house across the street from Ally and Ivy. It’s so soon after last week’s murder that there are still bloodstains on the wall. Also, the new neighbors have big mysterious containers in their garage, and one of them avoids the sunlight. Nice to know that Ryan Murphy also spent the summer watching old episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?.

If it wasn’t already, now it’s completely clear that Kai is targeting Ally specifically. Why? That’s unclear right now. Does he want to indoctrinate her into some kind of clown cult? Is he just trying to turn her into a xenophobic supporter? He starts out by going to her house and employing the Trumpian tactic of spouting made up immigrant crime statistics. As the conversation continues, he taunts her for putting up bars around her house. The conversation then becomes more threatening. Also, it’s no coincidence that the people that filmed Kai’s beating moved into the murder house across the street. Or that they keep bees, playing on Ally’s fear of things with holes in them. They’re working with Kai, making sure Ally is as scared as possible at all times.

Evan Peters (Photo via FX)

Plus, Winter is still here, making sure every minute of Ozzie’s life is terrifying. When Ozzie describes his night terrors, she suggests asking if he’s asleep or not. Before long, we find out that’s so he won’t raise an alarm when he wakes up and sees a clown in his room. He asks it if he’s still asleep, and the clown (who is absolutely real, and is probably Kai in a clown suit) says yes. That allows him to cut the power. Meanwhile, Winter is trying to seduce Ally. For reasons that go unexplained. Watching Kai, Winter and now Harrison and Meadow subtly terrorize Ally is interesting, but at this point, the purpose is unclear. I’ll give it a pass for now because it’s still effectively creepy. So far, this season needs any scares it can get.

The big problem with last night’s episode is how predictable it all was. There were maybe two good scares over the course of the entire episode. The rest of the attempts were undermined by a script that telegraphed them from miles away. Let’s send the mentally unwell person to a dark, empty restaurant where the alarm is going off. Nothing scary could possibly happen here. Hey, at least it was an almost-dead racist chef on a meat hook, rather than another clown. By itself, that scene was just as horrifying and unsettling as it set out to be. Unfortunately, the scene before made it all too clear that we should expect something scary to happen. It didn’t even work as a jump scare because you could predict exactly when she would run into something.

Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman (Photo via FX)

The experience causes Ally to get a gun from her new neighbor Harrison, and then we all knew exactly how the rest of the episode was going to go. Aside from one nice creepy moment with a spectral clown on the stairs, the remaining scenes were completely devoid of tension and suspense. There’s no point in having a Chekhov gun when you can already tell when and how it will be used. Cheyenne Jackson plays the world’s worst therapist, who apparently thinks a a possible paranoid schizophrenic having a gun is in no way a danger to herself or others. Either that, or Ryan Murphy really doesn’t understand the limits of doctor-patient confidentiality. Look, having characters make stupid decisions is almost essential for most horror stories to work. There is a line where they become implausibly stupid, and this season of American Horror Story is right up on that line.

So the power goes out all over town, and Harrison tells Ally that it’s the result of a terrorist attack. He warns of looters and rioters. To hear him tell it, it’s basically The Purge out there. I kind of wish they would have done that. There are worse political horror movies to crib from, and it would have been much more interesting than what actually happened. Of course, The Purge isn’t happening, and Ivy sends her employee Pedro to their house with a box of supplies. You know what happens next. She sees someone in the doorway and shoots them. She’s gone full reactionary murderer. Well, possibly. We don’t know if he’s dead or not. I’d guess he is. This season seems determined to make a post-election story of bigotry and fear all about white people.

(Via FX)

We’re only in the very early episodes of this season, but it’s not off to a super promising start. I do like that it’s going for something more psychological. The clowns that may or may not be real are creepy, and if it were less predictable when they showed up, they’d easily be the most terrifying thing on Tuesday nights. But everything about last night’s episode was telegraphed so clearly, it ruined any sense of suspense the episode might have had. Also, the show needs to start explaining at least parts of Kai and Winter’s plan soon. Why are they singling out this one person? What do they hope to accomplish? Did they really kill a guy in the restaurant freezer so Ivy would have to replace all the meat, thereby ensuring that Ally would be alone in the house when the power went out? Because if that’s the case, surely there was an easier way. We know nothing about Kai’s plan. That doesn’t make it scary, or suspenseful. It just makes it nonsensical. That plus the predictability of this episode, and I don’t have the highest of hopes for this season. I’m really hoping something changes soon. Please American Horror Story, I’m begging you. Scare me already.

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