American Horror Story, Ep. 1.04, “Halloween, Part 1”: Baby Steps Forward

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American Horror Story Review, Season 1, Episode 4, “Halloween, Part 1”
Written by James Wong
Directed by David Semel
Airs Wednesdays at 10:00pm ET on FX

Four episodes in, it’s clear that American Horror Story won’t be taking its time for the remainder of the season. Every character and every subplot is a spinning plate that the show insists on balancing simultaneously. And seemingly to the belief of the writers, too much time on any one subject is risky, lest the rest of the story arcs fall flat.

This week’s episode is the first of a two-part Halloween special. The Harmons elaborately decorate for the holiday, intending to showcase the house’s charm and attract new buyers. Zachary Quinto guest stars this week as Chad, the house “fluffer” (basically an interior decorator), to help Ben and Vivien prepare for Trick-or-Treat night.

Quinto shines in his guest spot. Though a bit stereotypical (a gay interior decorator) he has a lot of fun with his character. Like Constance, it’s unclear what Chad’s motives are, especially since Quinto summons the perfect amount of creepy without seeming like a real threat. Contrarily, a character like Larry, though interesting to look at, has already laid his cards on the table and won’t be nearly as exciting to watch.

For as entertaining as Quinto is this week, the real reason to watch is Jamie Brewer, who plays Adelaide. She has a quick story arc in this episode that successfully ventures into the emotional territory the show’s been trying to find with Ben and Vivien since the pilot. Considering what happens to her character, the writers now have an interesting opportunity and responsibility to get even more creative with Addie. They’ll likely make room for her in upcoming episodes, seeing as how they’ve managed to keep an average of four subplots progressing thus far.

Much like ABC’s Lost, American Horror Story breeds interest through its multiple storylines and often suffers from poor execution. Fortunately for Lost, its expository style allowed it to ditch a plotline for a week or two, concentrate on one character, and revisit an old subplot a few weeks later. American Horror Story doesn’t have this luxury. Each week, it’s guaranteed that Larry will harass Ben, Old Moira will feel sorry for herself and Tate will overstay his welcome.

The recurrence of these subplots triggers the show’s quick pace. So even though the writers have significantly slowed down the show, they just need to calm down a bit more by concentrating on a few of the characters per episode. Their stories are intriguing, but there’s simply too many of them playing at the same time. This results in a great idea playing out half-heartedly. This is what happened with Adelaide this week. Her story still works very well, but it could have taken place over two episodes and had an even bigger impact. Instead, it ended prematurely in favor of moving on to the slew of other subplots.

Focus proves very beneficial to the show. That’s why the opening flashbacks work so well. They’re the only time the show can concentrate on one story. They’re also a fun way to kick off each episode by establishing the tone and horror subgenre that will feature predominantly in the mythology.

Again, the horror mythology was subdued and used mostly when necessary. Though not very scary this week, the horror managed to provoke suspense. The mysterious “gimp” appeared several times, making each scene interesting mainly through the perplexity of his arrival. The show’s horror is still confusing in general, but seems to be part of the bigger mystery. Oddly enough, this is the only part of the show that seems to take its time developing.

The show still is working to find its stride. However, for every step forward, it seems to fall back a few feet. Many aspects are rewarding (actors, style), but many simply don’t work, like Dylan McDermott crying or the romance between Tate and Violet. These unmotivated moments seem to be thrown in because they’re “expected” of a series. It’s frustrating, because overall the show is enjoyable and this episode has been the best yet.

We’d like to hear your input. How would you improve the show? What parts work for you and what parts fall flat? Leave your comments in the section below.

Ryan Clagg

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