‘American Horror Story’: Hide and seek

American Horror Story
“Chapter 2”
September 21, 2016

Last we left “Shelby,” she had chased Kathy Bates into the haunted teeth woods where was menaced by the breathing ground, Blair Witch dolls, and some poor schmo who was missing most of his scalp.

And then her flashlight turns on this:

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Well, that’s a whole new look for Gaga.

“Shelby” runs off again finding a tree to hide behind so as to spy on Kathy Bates and her torch buddies.

Kathy Bates, working a whole new accent this season, chants: “I am the queen of every hive. I am the fire on every hill. I am the shield over every head. I am the spear of battle. I am both the tree and the lightning that strikes it,” before strapping a pig’s head onto our scalped friend, nailing a pig tail to his back, tying him to a spit and roasting him over a fire like they were at a damn luau. All of which seems like a harsh sentence for deserting the colony and stealing some rations, but then again times were tough back in colonial Roanoke.

In her shock and horror, “Shelby” snaps a twig which, from hundreds of feet away and over a roaring fire and a homicidal mob, somehow catches Kathy Bates’ attention. “SEIZE HER!” Kathy Bates screams. Fortunately for “Shelby,” she manages to run back into the present and nearly get her fool self hit by a car.

So after “Shelby” woke up in the hospital, she apparently told the cops about the human sacrifice and the pig man and Lady Gaga, but they were all, “OK. Sure. ” (stage whispers) “SHE’S HIGH.” But she wasn’t high! They ran tests on her and everything!

“Matt” is like, “You know what? On second thought, maybe we should sell our isolated farm house that is being terrorized by the cast of Deliverance and human teeth … for some reason … and move back to Los Angeles.” But “Shelby,” who clearly sustained some sort of head injury during her ordeal, is the one to declare that they have too much invested in the home and they aren’t going to be chased away by ignorant rednecks. WHAT, WAIT, NO? YOU CAN’T JUST DO THAT WITH THE CHARACTER? RYAN MURPHY? ARE YOU THE ONE ON DRUGS?

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So now that we are all in agreement that there’s something crazy going on in these woods  — at the very least there are some very angry hillbillies with a bone to pick, what, “Matt” “Shelby” and “Sister” ask themselves, can they do to make this situation worse? OH I KNOW, LET’S ADD A KID.

“Sister’s” ex-husband drops their daughter “Flora” off for her custodial visit, and shit gets real creepy real fast.

“Sister” leaves “Flora” alone with a set of jacks for a few minutes to make her a quick snack, but when she returns,”Flora” is nowhere to be found. Not that I blame “Flora,” jacks are crazy boring. “Sister” eventually finds “Flora” talking to the basement stairs and saying alarming things like “she’s going to hurt us,” and “if I give you my doll, will you stay?” In an interview, Sister is all, “you know how kids of divorce are.” I ALSO KNOW THAT YOU GOT LOCKED INSIDE THAT CREEPY-ASS BASEMENT BY SOME CRAZY BLAIR-WITCH-DOLL-MAKING HILL PEOPLE, AND YOU’RE GONNA ACT LIKE THIS IS NOT BIG DEAL? Nope. No! No. No ma’am. No.

“Sister” asks “Flora” about her basement friend and “Flora” claims that her name is Priscilla, she’s going to make “Flora” a bonnet if “Flora” helps her “make it stop,” adding that Priscilla is “tired of all the blood.” You know, totally normal things normal imaginary friends say.

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And that’s when someone throws a bonnet attached to a rock through a window, because sure. That’s also just normal and not at all a reason to call “Flora’s” father and have him come pick her up and take her someplace without vengeful rednecks and basement ghosts. IMMEDIATELY.

Instead, not only does everybody stay put, but later that night when “Matt” and “Shelby” start hearing pig noises from outside, “Shelby” grabs a flashlight to investigate. BECAUSE IT WORKED OUT SO WELL FOR HER LAST TIME. Running through the teeth woods, running through the teeth woods, running through the teeth woods. And eventually “Matt” and “Shelby” find a giant Blair Witch doll, but now with a bonus pig’s head attached to it. And on fire.

This time they are able to lead the cops to the remains of this pigman fire, and the police are like, “Ugh, fine, we’ll call the rednecks, gah.”

Back home, “Matt” and “Shelby” climb into bed, just to have the phone ring. Which is the most annoying! So annoying! But even more annoying: that thing when you answer the phone and some strange woman is whispering that “they’re hurting me” and then when you look down you realize the phone’s not even plugged in and that the strange woman seems to be talking from somewhere inside the house.

“Matt” wanders down the hall where he finds two nurses — the same two women who passed “Shelby” in the hall previously — giving a bedridden old woman, Margaret, grief for not taking her medicine. Then they shoot her in the face. Laughing hysterically, they spray paint an “M” on the wall: M is for Margaret. Needless to say, they have work to do on their bedside manner.

“Matt” goes screaming into the night and grabs the cop standing guard outside, but when they return, there is no evidence of the nurses or Margaret or spray paint or brain splatter. Nothing. So everyone just assumes “Matt” was dreaming or his head injury is acting up or he was smoking the marijuana like a cigarette and they all go back to bed.

The next day, “Ex-Husband” arrives to pick up “Flora,” but she’s run off again. Her parents eventually find her in a crawl space, talking to her imaginary friend. “Flora” explains that she was offering her friend her doll as a trade: “Flora” gives her the doll; Imaginary Friend doesn’t kill them all, saving her for last.

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Needless to say, “Ex-Husband” is alarmed at “Flora’s” active imagination and removes her from the house toot suite. This sends “Sister” on a bender — an “Imma drink all the vodka and throw kitchen knives into the ceiling” kind of bender.

“Matt” puts Drunky to bed, where she is later woken up by the nurses — which we are shown but that she describes as a “presence.” When she stumbles around looking for whatever woke her up, she finds instead a bunch of pigs’ tails nailed to the wall, and a glimpse of PigMan behind her in the mirror. “Oink.”

Meanwhile, “Matt” and “Shelby” notice a little girl standing out in their backyard staring back at the house like a total creep, so obviously they go investigate. Once outside, the little girl is long gone, but they do find a terrifying basement which they explore because there is just no limit to the number of bad decisions these two are willing to make.

Inside the cellar they find a videotape labeled “EXPOSITION.” On it, a “Professor Elias Cunningham” explains that he has taken to living in the cellar after being terrorized in the main house. You know, instead of checking into a hotel or chilling at a friend’s house or sleeping in his office. It seems “Professor” moved into the house to investigate the true crime story of sister nurses Bridget and Miranda who had previously used the house in the 80s as a nursing home/murder factory. According to the “Professor,” Sister Nurses killed a number of their patients, but only those whose names started with a letter in the word “MURDER,” which they spray-painted on the wall. In blow for those of us who are completionists, Sister Nurses disappeared without a trace before they were finished with their project, missing only the letter “R.”  However, their little art project on the wall was not so easily erased and no matter how many times people tried to paint over it, the word “MURDE” would always bleed back through.

Which explains that busy wallpaper in the dining room, which “Matt” just easily peels away like a sticker, revealing that yep! the word is under there. And even my 11-year-old shakes his head and says, “That’s not how wallpaper works.” No it’s not, son.

As for “Professor,” on the video he announces that he is going to go back inside the house to investigate one last time. He goes all night-vision mode, but unlike Ghost Adventures, he actually catches something on camera: Colonial Kathy Bates lurking behind him before the video cuts out.

And that’s when someone throws a cleaver into the front door. *THUNK*

This finally convinces “Matt” and “Shelby” to return to the bank to demand their money back, but the bank is all, “LOL, NO TAKE BACKS.”

As for “Sister,” having seen a Pig Ghost in the mirror, her next thought was, “You know who should be here? My daughter, whom I do not have custody of this weekend, she should be here in this crazy-ass house.” And so “Sister” goes and kidnaps “Flora” and brings her back to “Matt” and “Shelby”‘s who are all like, “AW HELL NO.” After sending “Flora” off to go play while the grown-ups talk, “Shelby” immediately calls “Ex-Husband” to let him know where “Flora” is and to convince him to not call the cops even though he really should call the cops.

But when the adults go looking for “Flora,” she once again is nowhere to be found. The only trace of her is her sweatshirt which has, somehow, managed to find its way to the top of one very tall pine tree. Huh.

Next week on American Horror Story: Roanoke:

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So let’s start with PigMan because as it turns out he might connect us to the first season of American Horror Story, “Murder House.” If you’ll recall, in that season Dylan McDermott was sad psychiatrist, Ben, who was very bad at his job and who cried when he masturbated. In one episode, “Piggy Piggy,” Ben treats a patient played by Eric Stonestreet. From my blog post at the time:

Ben’s doomed patient of the episode is Cam who is terrified of urban legends even though that was a totally stupid movie. To be fair, Bloody Mary is really scary! I still won’t be in a bathroom with the lights off for any sort of length of time because TOO SCARY. Cam explains that his brothers used to torment him with the stories, and now as an adult, he’s so terrified of them that he can’t have meaningful relationships, sleep at night, or even glance in a mirror to deal with personal hygiene issues, thanks to Piggy Man.

Piggy Man? asks Ben. The story goes that back in 1893 Chicago: a hog butcher did this weird gross thing where he’d wear a mask made from one of the pigs he’d slaughtered to go wander around amongst his pigs and snort at them. I don’t know. Anyway, the story goes that Piggy Man slipped in the pen one night, and the pigs tore him apart, they never found a bit of him. BUT THEN, soon after, his former customers started turning up dead; gutted and skinned in their bathtubs. And so now, if you stand in front of your bathroom mirror and repeat “Hey, piggy pig pig pig,” Piggy Man will return to kill you or something. (And while no part of this really makes any sense: why did Piggy Man come back to kill his customers? Why did he dress up like a pig in the first place? Why would you summon him? Why bathrooms?, I suppose most urban legends don’t make a whole lot of sense when you look at them too closely.)

There are some obvious differences between our two monsters: Cam’s Piggy Man was from 1893 Chicago and wasn’t murdered by Colonial Kathy Bates. But I do find the whole bathroom mirror element fascinating, as the only time any of our characters have personally seen PigMan was when “Sister” catches a glimpse of him in the hallway mirror. Otherwise, the only other time we’ve seen PigMan was in the video.

Mirrors are a very commonly used symbol representing truth or vanity or duality. But in horror, mirrors more often represent a gate or a passageway between two dimensions, a means for evil to slip into our world from some alternate reality. Piggy Man, being a long dead 19th century butcher, can only come and kill you if you summon him through a mirror, allowing him entry into your world. As for PigMan and how he operates, we just don’t know yet. But it is curious that we see PigMan in the mirror, and then later in the video, Kathy Bates materializes behind “Professor” in the same mirror.

But about that video. I was struck upon rewatching the episode by the layering of reality that is being built in this season. We have “real” people telling their story through actors who are deliberately led to two different videos that tell yet another story. “Shelby” and “Sister” are led to and locked inside of the basement, where they watch the first video and have their first look at PigMan. Then “Matt” and “Shelby” are led to the cellar where they find the second video which sets up the story of the nurses and establishes that there is something terribly wrong with the house.

I guess what I am getting at is, what if none of this is actually supernatural? What if “Matt” and “Shelby” really are being hoaxed by someone? When I was writing the part about the “Professor” hanging out in the cellar instead of JUST LEAVING ALREADY, it hit me that someone really wants the residents of this house to see those videos. Someone wants them to piece together this narrative themselves and be freaked out. But why? Could it be that “Professor” and Colonial Kathy Bates are working in tandem to try to make “Matt” and “Shelby” come to the conclusion that the house is haunted?

And so far, what have we seen that can’t be explained away by a dedicated group of actors and a lot of props? The teeth raining on the house, the Blair Witch dolls and all the knives being flung around could all be just people messing with them. The ground “breathing” is an actual thing that actually happens. “Matt’s” vision of the nurses could have been a dream — the nurses committed those murders in 1988, when “Matt” would have been kid growing up in the area; he might have heard some version of the story and locked it away in his subconscious. “Flora’s” imaginary friend might be just that — or someone might have been talking to her from that basement and feeding her those creepy lines. As for her disappearance, she might be hiding again, or she could have been taken by the same people who are harassing them. “Shelby’s” vision in the woods could have been just a performance. And “Sister’s” vision of PigMan happened when she was drunk — and, more importantly — after she had seen that video featuring PigMan. All of our major characters have deliberately been given suggestions that the house is haunted, and now they’re running with that story … whether it is true or not.

The point is, we are ALL being told a story — the question is, what is that story?  Are we watching a fake reality show about a haunted house? Are we watching a fake reality show about a fake haunted house? Or are we being led to believe that we are watching a story about a fake reality show about a haunted house, fake or otherwise, when in reality we are watching something completely different which will be revealed to us later? We, like “Matt,” “Shelby” and “Sister,” are being shown a series of videos and we, like they, have to decide if what we are being shown is “real” or if this is all an elaborate trick by the storytellers to distract us from the truth.

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American Horror Story airs on FX Wednesdays at 9/10 p.m.

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