Saturday, October 06, 2012


Okay, Simon Abrams is ready to roll with his take on American Horror Story episode 5, "Piggy, Piggy." We've ado'd long enough. Let there be no further. Simon?


Hey, Dennis

I'm not so sure that the Piggy Man story has nothing to do with how the Harmons' story, as I understand it, advances in "Piggy Piggy." I think it provides the thematic clothes-line for the episode, to steal a choice phrase from Matt Zoller Seitz. Everyone' thinking about how they can confront their fears, and after a fashion, they all do. What's key however is knowing that just having the bravery to confront your demons (or ghosts or whatever literal-minded manifestation of a cliche Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have opted to use) is not necessarily enough. Murphy and Falchuk and episode writer Jessica Scharzer want us to know that good intentions and a pure heart can't always win the day. So they use this scenario to bring together everything, from Violet's encounters in the basement to Constance's talk with her dead daughter. I can't help but judge the episode's various segments based on that assumption, that all of these characters must do what Tate could not last episode when the Dead Breakfast Club visited him: they must confront and accept their own shortcomings. Admittedly, some characters get off the hook more easily than others. For example, what discovery did Ben have to make? No, seriously, I'm not just asking rhetorically: what do you think he did this episode that suggested he's thinking about his past, Dennis? And why is Moira just there this episode? Is she totally resigned to her lot in the after-life? Doesn't she think kind of stuff?

For that matter, why was eating offal Vivien's task to overcome and why did it feel so inconsequential? Admittedly, the Piggy Man trauma is, as Ben says, not the root problem but rather just a major hump that Derek needs to get over so he can face his real problems. I think that's worth remembering when evaluating how the challenge faced in each subplot serves as preludes to catharsis, or whatever. So in that sense, I get why Vivien has to eat offal. Now separated from Ben, Vivien has to figure out a way to protect her child, a fear that's inexpertly expressed in Vivien's nightmare of the baby's claws pushing against her balloon-sized baby bump. 

But again, in practice, these scenes of Vivien scarfing down sweet meats and raw brain don't have much weight to them. She doesn't really hesitate before scarfing down some pretty gross stuff, and Moira makes no note of Vivien's alacrity. And because this is American Horror Story, that just makes me think that Vivien's hunger is not an issue when it really should be. Vivien almost doesn't hesitate at all when she starts pecking at the offal and the brains, etc. But again: gross. This should be a thing, shouldn't it, how easily Vivien finds it to eat this stuff even if it is for the sake of enriching her unborn child's life? There is that silly scene in the church with the traumatized nurse babbling about how Vivien's baby is unholy. But for that scene to carry any weight, I'd have to A) believe that the nurse in question was more than just a shrieking loon and B) that between the scenes of offal-eating and of brain-picking, Vivien is seriously wondering whether she's doing the right thing by her kid. Also, if protecting her child is just a major obstacle Vivien must deal deal with before overcoming her bigger problems, does that make her rocky marriage with Ben her bigger problems? I think so, as it's ineptly hinted at in the scene where she tells Ben that "she's disappoint[ed in him] as a man." But I wish there was more meat to that recrimination, if you'll excuse the bad pun...

I wouldn't take as much issue with this subplot if it didn't speak to the greater issue I have with "Piggy Piggy:" there's a lot of good thematic bridge-building here (it is a transitional episode, as you said), but rarely in the right proportions. Which is a letdown after "Halloween, Part 2," which I found to be much more well-balanced in its characterizations.

I also wasn't nuts about Constance's talk with Addy. The seance stuff felt both tacky and tacked-on, and apart from some insta-catharsis and some more pseudo-portentous revelations (Tate's dead, ooohh!), it just felt like a necessary encounter that was botched because the show's runners and episode writer just wanted to make their points and move on. They've got six episodes left, and there's a lot more to get to that they'd rather concern themselves with, so having a meaningful talk with Addy just isn't in the cards. I bristled at characteristically lame lines like, "You're a smart girl. How can you be so arrogant as to think that there's only one reality that you can see?!" This coming from a psychic named Billy, whom Constance met on Craigslist I might add, is too thuddingly obnoxious. 

I mean, ok, maybe I should just accept Billy as a flawed macguffin (at least, as she's used in "Piggy, Piggy;" for all I know, she assumes a greater role later on in season one's events). She does give further credence to my theory about how Derek's story is a thematic clothes-line when she says, "And when you're chosen, you either get with the program, or go crazy." Then again, maybe that line is just vague enough to accommodate most thematic readings of the episode. I mean, how exactly was Derek, "chosen?" Did the Harmons' house choose him? 

But how about when Constance is talking, nay, confessing to Addy that, "It wasn't easy being a single parent and you were such a handful." I hate this line because it tells us how to feel without establishing the mood or taking the time to get to that intended effect. So we sympathize with Constance because she's now saying to Addy things like, "Nobody understood how hard it was to take care of you?" Basically? There's no pathos to this scene, in which a major character whines about her problems at no great length and in such patently prosaic terms. 

Hrmph. I did however mostly like the way Violet and Tate's joint subplots temporarily resolve. I'm going to get to what I dislike about Tate's flashback in a moment. But I do like that, in spite of the lame re-emergence of a certain former school bully-turned-prophetic teen pill-popper (yeah, I dislike that, too, man), Violet basically has to see what Tate is. He's a ghost and he's a killer. Her uneasy acceptance of this leads to one of my favorite shots in the show thus far. As forced as it was to see Tate cradling Violet in the shower (water=drama!), I did like the bit where he tries to comfort her by saying, "I have you. I have you. I HAVE YOU." It's one of the rare times when I've found the show's typically irruptive style of jump-cut editing to be effective. Vaseline-slathered close-ups quickly ratchet in closer and closer on Violet: ok, that's impressive.

I didn't however think as highly of the Columbine-esque shoot-out flashback thing that you alluded to in your post. I was actually surprised that this didn't set you on edge, too, Dennis. Also, I think it's funny that you think the writers of this show have a continuity editor. Crom laughs at your Four Winds! Ahem.

Anyway, I didn't care for it, mostly because there was about its fetishized version of the past. The squeak of leather on what I can only assume are freshly polished floor boards and the coy cutting away before any violence can be explicitly shown: I don't buy it. Unless you actually mean to tell me that Murphy and Falchuk are building towards a pseudo-thoughtful statement on how we look at the past (ie: some things we see when we remember, some things we only see when we look at the aftermath in the present), then I really just don't buy it. We've seen these kids' faces mutilated, blood gushing out of one of their jawless mouths, just horrible things. Why can't we see them happen in real time? I don't believe it's a matter of respect but rather of ass-covering. Because the events in question are very similar to what happened at Columbine and Murphy and Falchuk don't want to fully admit to themselves that they've crossed that line. I mean, come on, the scene where one soon-to-be victim pisses herself while she's hiding from Tate and a trickle of urine comes out from under her? That's purely exploitative, I don't care how you frame it. 

That egregious shot of the girl peeing is especially cruel when you consider what happens to poor Derek: he faces his fears and gets killed for no discernible reason other than, "Wrong place, wrong time." It's not even one of the Murder House's ghosts that get him, just some random burglars. Which is that much more ugly when you think that the Harmons have a security guard to prevent this kind of thing from happening. Basically, Derek's death is proof that Murphy and Falchuk have no compunctions about viciously stomping on their characters. And I think the piss take in question is definitely crossing over a very gross line. No blood, nor any explicit violence, but yes to piss? Puh-lease. That's like shielding a kid's eyes only to direct his attention to something even more gross that he wouldn't have otherwise seen, just for the sake of...well, who cares, I don't think there's a defensible use of the wee-wee in question, no way.

But you've said offline that you can't wait for round 2, and I've delayed this post long enough. Your turn again, bud.


Catch up on the American Horror Story conversation between Simon and me by clicking on the following links:








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