Last week, American Horror Story: 1984 proved to be one of the best season premieres in the series’ long history. It worked perfectly as the first act setup to what is quickly becoming an amalgamation of all our beloved 80’s slashers. But can the second episode keep this creepy momentum going? Let’s take a closer look at Episode 2, “Mr. Jingles”!
Legitimately Tense Television
In keeping true with our myriad of homages to classic slashers, the episode opens with our introduction to Dr. Karen Hopple, a psychiatrist who treated Mr. Jingles at the asylum, and serves as our ripoff (or should we say tribute) to Dr. Samuel Loomis from Halloween.
From there, the action continues on the very same night after we saw Brooke revisited by the Night Stalker himself. The infamous Richard Ramirez continues his attack, while our main characters fight for their lives.
The entire episode takes place roughly in “real time”, and it’s a brilliant hour-long tension build. If this were in a 90 minute film, this would certainly serve as the second act. For a series that always struggled with creating real suspense, American Horror Story demonstrates that when it comes to slashers, it really knows what it’s doing.
Gone is the rampant overuse of Dutch Angles and the overall style over substance vibe. To the series credit however, it always had a witty sense of humor that it blended with the horror. And perhaps it’s because of this that the tone of the series lends itself so perfectly to the slasher subgenre.
We Need to Talk About Those Scenes
So far, it’s quite clear that Brooke is much more shy and timid than the rest of her fellow camp counselors, and this episode attempts to explain why. In the usual extremely over the top American Horror Story fashion, we see that he previous summer she was about to get married when her fiancé (who suspected her of cheating) killed several people and himself just as they were exchanging vows.
It goes from 0 to 60 in an instant, and while it does explain her backstory, it brings back memories of older seasons of the series that had absolutely no idea how to be subtle. Perhaps asking for subtlety in a slasher is futile, but this scene really felt like it was from a different season.
Maybe we’re being too harsh on this scene, but it just felt like the one moment we were laughing at the the episode for being ridiculous, rather than for being funny and witty.
Another scene which will inevitably draw criticism, but is underserving of such, is the quiet, almost intimate moment between Richard Ramirez and Margaret. He flat out tells her he’s killed people and that he’s a Satanist, but rather than fear him, Margaret’s sanctimony drives her to see this as an opportunity to “save” him.
In a strange way, it fits perfectly with her character, who would be that overconfident in her abilities to convert by coercion. Oddly enough, she’s far more kind to him than she’s been to any of the camp counselors.
But if you think about it, it really does make sense. Either she sees him as a victim who needs saving via religion, or perhaps there’s a sinister streak hiding just beneath the surface of her psyche.
Given how creepy and judgmental Maragaret can be, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to discover she is in fact the killer. Then again, she’s the person we’d least suspect and that’s too obvious. If we go by that logic, the killer is probably Montana, the person we most medium suspect (as Dwight Schrute would say).
Overall, the only true letdown of “Mr. Jingles” is that we don’t actually get to see a whole lot of the titular villain. Perhaps it would have been more fitting to give this title to an episode that explains his past, but we’re still very early on. The episode’s greatest strength was keeping the adrenaline going the entire time, and setting up for an awesome climax with the killer.
That said, we’re only on Episode 2, so it begs the question of what the series will do from here. Hopefully the season doesn’t lose momentum or drag on, but only time will tell!