I cannot stand horror movies. I flinch at every jump scare and end up watching most of it through my fingers. And yet, over the past five years, I have found myself shamelessly entranced by “American Horror Story” (AHS). From its debut season “Murder House” to the fan-favorite “Coven” to the most recent “Double Feature,” I have seen it all. “AHS” became famous due to its commitment to each season’s terrifying theme, the range of its cast members and some of the craziest plot twists and endings known to man.
On September 8, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk wrapped up season two of their spinoff “American Horror Stories,” an anthology with each episode featuring new cast members and new stories. Season one made its debut last summer to an overall positive reception, as fans were delighted to see the introduction of fresh talent, some of whom entered the main cast of “AHS” in season 10.
Season two of “American Horror Stories” had its highs and lows, kicking off with episode one, “Dollhouse,” bringing us the story of Mr. Van Wirt (Denis O’Hare, “True Blood”), a man with an unhealthy obsession with dolls, his victims and his son, Otis (Houston Jax Towe, “Animal Kingdom”). What made “Dollhouse” the standout of the season, however, was its ending. Devoted “AHS” fans will notice that the women with whom Otis leaves at the end of the episode are witches, and as we find in an incredibly satisfying moment, Otis is none other than a young Spalding, the mute butler in American Horror Story’s “Coven,” who was also played by Denis O’Hare. As a sweeter touch, we see a young girl with large glasses and crimped red hair run out of the famous Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, introducing herself as Myrtle Snow and claiming that one day, she’ll run the academy. “AHS” fans know how that one turned out. “Coven” featured some of the series’ most beloved characters, and the little reveal at the end served as a great way to keep fans connected to the main body of the story while also ensuring that “Dollhouse” was a great episode in its own right, unmarred by fan service.
While “American Horror Stories” does feature fresh talent, viewers do see some familiar faces scattered across the episodes. Episode two, “Aura,” stars Max Greenfield (“New Girl”) as Bryce and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”) as his wife Jaslyn, the latter of whom is well known for her role as Queenie in American Horror Story’s “Coven”, “Hotel” and “Apocalypse.” The couple buys an Aura device, akin to the modern-day Ring home security system and quickly begins experiencing supernatural hauntings through it. Episode three, “Drive,” stars Disney icon Bella Thorne (“The Babysitter”) playing a party girl who’s just trying to have a good time and “AHS” alum Nico Greetham (“Love, Victor”), who may or may not be a part of the creepy nightlife that follows her home. All four actors showcased their range in their respective episodes as the plots twisted and turned and ultimately landed on their heads. Both “Aura” and “Drive” showcase the classic “AHS” formula with great success:
- Introduce the extremely normal main characters
- Oh no! Some disturbing stuff is happening to our very normal characters
- Guess what! Our super normal characters are, in fact, not so normal!
Despite the potential for distraction with some popular faces, these two episodes felt like classic “AHS.” The second season, “Asylum,” is the series’ highest-rated season because it introduced fans to the anthology style of the series, showing us how familiar faces that we may have loved last season just might become this season’s villain. The show did just that with “Aura” and “Drive,” proving that story writing and good acting are more important than the names we see on screen.
Other notable episodes from this season were “Bloody Mary” and “Necro.” Both took well-known horror concepts and added a characteristic “AHS” spin by either subverting a classic facet of an urban tale or upping the weirdness factor, making for a successful chill-inducing two episodes.
Of the eight total episodes in the anthology, “Dollhouse” and “Drive” took the gold in my eyes. I’m a sucker for a good callback, as evidenced by my utter obsession with the first episode of “House of the Dragon” — the prequel to “Game of Thrones” — which serves as a stellar example of how to get a fanbase interested in new characters while maintaining the integrity of the main story. “Dollhouse” kept viewers engaged in the new story unfolding with the help of the main character and victim of Mr. Van Wirt, Coby (Kristine Froseth, “Prey”). Froseth delivers a convincing performance as the rebellious newcomer who is determined to escape this new hell. With the display of Coby’s telekinetic “powers,” viewers understand that there’s something more going on worth sticking around for, which proved fruitful with the clever “Coven” callback at the end. When it comes to “AHS,” more witches are always a good thing, and “Dollhouse” proves that “AHS” still operates with its audience in mind.
After watching “Drive,” I uttered a sentence I never thought would exit my mouth: “Bella Thorne was great in this.” At the start, Thorne seems to be playing just another careless party girl, reckless in her behavior and determined to have a good time despite the costs. As the story unfolds, however, it becomes clear that Thorne’s performance is layered and nuanced, and the seemingly ditsy party girl is in fact the club rat from hell. It’s the perfect “AHS” combo: morally gray main characters, death threats and axes to the head.
The second season of “American Horror Stories” had its fair share of gems, and it almost makes up for the fact that we don’t have much information about season eleven of “American Horror Story.” While the episodes were drastically different from each other, there was no trouble getting into the plot. And while several episodes delivered the sense of endless dread characteristic of “AHS,” it was evident that a few others lost their way. Murphy and Falchuk showed us that the perfect balance of plot, acting and callbacks to fan-favorite episodes of “American Horror Story” makes for a successful spinoff of a beloved show.
Daily Arts Writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.