Fact vs. Fiction
Like last episode, “Chapter 3’s” talking heads segments feel monotonous, as once again each character just turns every emotional subtext into literal text. The interviews are also used to skip perfunctory plot beats, as characters zip from one location or day to the next to fit in all of this episode’s business. “Chapter 3” is a very busy episode, yet it still manages to be completely dull, which is sad to say about an episode that features feral children, hypnotism sex, and outrageous old-timey (Irish?) accents. Yet here we are.
The one interview moment that stands out is when the producers of “My Roanoke Nightmare” reveal to Real Lee that they know about her first daughter, Emily, who was also abducted (presumably not by ghosts). Real Lee demands the cameras be shut off and we get a brief shot of the wider documentary set, as well as a glimpse of one of the producers. But it’s just a tiny hiccup before Lee starts recounting her story again. It’s a crack in the facade of the docu-series format, but it’s still well within the parameters of the format, so it’s not enough to sustain intrigue. If there’s going to be anything more to this storytelling choice, it can’t get here soon enough.
You’ve Seen This Before
The first section of the episode is given over to the search for Flora, which is boring because everyone at home knows she was kidnapped by ghosts. Mason suspects Lee of taking her, which Lee gets mad about, but since she kidnapped her literally last episode with hardly any provocation, Lee doesn’t really have a moral leg to stand on.
Once the physical search is exhausted, in walks Leslie Jordan as a friendly, diminutive, Southern psychic, who may as well be wearing a sign saying, “I’m basically Zelda Rubinstein from ‘Poltergeist’” around his neck. And here I thought “Stranger Things” would be the only TV show to crib from Tobe Hooper’s classic film this year. Jordan’s a charming actor and he’s trying hard, but it’s like watching a decent remake: you just keep wondering why you’re not watching the original instead. Pro tip: “Poltergeist” is shorter than the first three episodes of this “AHS” season combined, and is a million times better.
Bring On The Bonkers
Honestly what’s been most frustrating about this season so far is how dull it’s been. As my wife mentioned last week, “American Horror Story” can be many things (creepy, gross, hilarious), but dull shouldn’t be one of them. We learn the secret origin of Kathy Bates’s ghost lady, known as The Butcher, who got run out of the Roanoke colony on a rail, only to make a deal with Lady Gaga and return with a murderous vengeance. This sort of tale should be “American Horror Story’s” bread and butter, but it’s really just an info dump with little tension. “American Horror Story” is at its best when it’s pushing the limits, so when the most out-there aspect of your villain’s origin story is the actors’ dialect choices, something’s gone wrong.
This season has been lacking in the shocks department, so when Shelby wanders into the woods and finds an eviscerated pig, two masturbating hillbillies, and her husband raw-dogging Lady Gaga with a blank look on his face, well, at least that’s a decent jolt. (His fogged-up glasses are a hilarious touch.) Of course, “the witchy lady hypnotized us into having sex” was a big plot point from “True Blood” Season 2, so even that moment doesn’t land as well as it should.
Lee Is The Worst, But So Is Shelby
Did I mention that Mason dies this episode? His charred corpse is found on the edge of the property, and no one really seems to care. His death is mostly used to further the wedge between Lee and Shelby, who has concerns about some security camera footage of Lee leaving the house during the exact period of Mason’s murder, which is honestly pretty suspicious! And while Lee gets in Shelby’s face about her accusations, she doesn’t provide an alibi. Still, Shelby does nothing, since that’s when Cricket shows up to kick off his part of the story.
Of course, that’s before Shelby finds out that Matt and Lee have conspired to burn down the house in exchange for The Butcher’s help in getting Flora back. This is a horrible betrayal to Shelby, who you’ll remember was completely willing to move out in Episode 1, before having one of Mr. Burns’s trademark changes of heart last episode. Now her shitty haunted house is worth more than her niece’s life, apparently.
Not only that, but when she confronts Matt about his sex with Lady Gaga, she treats it like a run-of-the-mill affair, and not like she just saw her husband bang someone who is obviously a witch. I half-expected her to tearily ask if Matt was into having hillbillies watch him have sex in the woods. “Matt, why didn’t you tell me?! We could have explored this together!” No such luck. What’s more, she rats out Lee to the police to, again, protect her nightmare house that she couldn’t stand one and a half episodes ago. If I were Matt, I’d see if I could move into Lady Gaga’s chicken leg house until this all blows over.