American Horror Story Ep. 1.08, “Rubber Man”: No Constance, no problem

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American Horror Story Review, Season 1, Episode 8, “Rubber Man”
Written by Ryan Murphy
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Airs Wednesdays at 10:00 pm ET on FX

Last week’s “Open House” wasn’t an episode as much as a poor transition to the excellent “Rubber Man,” an episode that thoroughly delivers on several levels. This week, viewers receive answers to several mysteries and learn more about characters’ motivations. After eight episodes, the story finally makes sense while also building momentum for the season one finale.

The big reveal comes at the very beginning. Though it’s not disappointing, it’s not much a surprise. The Rubber Man’s identity is not priority, but it’s still satisfying to confirm suspicions. It was a smart move to get this out of the way so the episode could move on without becoming the distraction to the mystery.

Like many episodes, the story jumps between several characters and subplots. Yet, the transitions are effortless and barely noticeable. This impressive weaving of storylines gives relevance to every moment to culminate in a rewarding viewing experience for the show’s loyalists.

The editing is very sharp in “Rubber Man.” The usually clunky and irrelevant flashbacks easily flow into the main story. Director Miguel Arteta employs visual continuity to transition viewers through the multiple timelines. The best example is right before an early flashback when Vivien rubs her head and says she feels like she’s “going crazy.” At this point, the scene cuts to Chad, the now-deceased interior decorator, rubbing his head and saying the same line.

From here, the story deepens with Chad and his lover, Patrick. The flashback serves as the origin of the rubber man suit, but transcends this bit of mythology to deal with the couple’s failing relationship. It is very moving and builds on a subplot from the Halloween episodes. Most importantly, it’s relevant to the main story. As the flashback wraps up, Arteta again uses visual continuity to transition viewers back to the present. It’s quick, but it’s also one of the best demonstrations of this show’s story telling so far.

These visual matches work very well on a technical level, but also contain metaphorical significance. History repeats itself in this house. This is a theme often used in the grizzly horror scenes. However, viewers now see how emotional beats such as heartbreak and desperation also replay through generations. Perhaps with the Harmons, it will all come to an end.

After the flashback, Hayden takes over to drive the majority of this episode’s events. In her first monologue, Hayden answers many questions regarding the ghost mythology as she enlightens Nora, the house’s oldest spirit, to their tragic reality. This crucial monologue could have easily been an expository dump of badly written lines, but Ryan Murphy and Miguel Arteta spend time on it. They coax out a wonderful montage of scenes that illustrate the mythology, dictated by Hayden’s voice over. The complex crosscutting never abandons the viewer in confusion, but carefully guides through the surreal atmosphere.

Without Jessica Lange, the show’s greatest actor, the rest of the cast is able to showcase its talents. Most notable is Zachary Quinto who returns as Chad. Quinto’s first appearance was good, but restrictive to the one-dimensional persona of his character. This time, writers treat Chad with the respect of a main player. So even though he does not have much screen time, the moments he does have demand attention and are bolstered by Quinto’s heartfelt performance.

Kate Mara as Hayden is very annoying, but that is the point. Hayden is selfishly catty, and Mara executes this part very well. Her girl-next-door aura lends an air of self-awareness to a show that often takes itself too seriously. Along with Arteta’s direction, Hayden brings order to the show’s chaos. If she sticks around, she’ll likely serve as the writers’ mouthpiece, saying everything that can’t be said directly to the audience.

Connie Britton also breaks from her character’s monotonous rut to show some true emotion. Many times before Britton takes Vivien’s troubles in stride and you wish she would just get mad. This week she does, and it’s great.

“Rubber Man,” again proves the show has the potential to be one of the greatest on television. It also proves the show needn’t depend on Jessica Lange for stellar acting. If American Horror Story has a long run, this episode will be considered one of its finest moments.

Ryan Clagg

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