American Horror Stories: “Dollhouse” Review

After a lukewarm received first season, the American Horror Story spinoff series, American Horror Stories (emphasis on the plural) is back with a second season.  And its premiere episode “Dollhouse” is a refreshing step up from pretty much everything we got last year.  Let’s dig into why that is.

Spoilers Ahead: You’ve Been Warned

Twisted Game
A young woman named Coby (Kristine Froseth) goes for a job interview to be secretary to a famous doll maker in the 1960’s deep South.  Mr. Van Wirt (Denis O’Hare) is eccentric to say the least.  After the interview seems to have failed, Coby wakes up in the creepiest dollhouse ever made, where Van Wirt tells her that he’s given her the “great honor” of entering a pageant.

Not your typical job interview…

She and other young women (all while dressed as dolls) must compete in etiquette-based tests as Van Wirt is looking for a new wife and a mother to his young son.  One by one, the woman are brutally eliminated when they come in last, and what makes it even more disturbing is how nonchalant Van Wirt is about it all.  They’re not even humans to him, and he just sees it as discarding a doll.

Eventually the women make an escape attempt, but Coby goes back for Van Wirt’s son to rescue him from his psychotic father.  Unbeknownst to her, this was all part of the final challenge and she winds up winning, for being the only one who cared for him.  The young boy was always impressed with her ability to move things with her mind, and that detail comes back in a final twist that spares her a torturous existence as Van Wirt’s wife.

He also wants them to live as “perfect dolls”.

Character Driven
One of the biggest issues with both American Horror Story and Stories is when they go for style over substance, gimmick over story.  But where this episode really shines is in how simple it is.  You go in thinking that it’s going to just be some cursed doll Chucky/Annabelle knockoff, but it’s really about a group of desperate women trying to survive this demented game.

It focuses first and foremost on the characters, and you begin to understand why some think they should all work together, and others.  This series always thrived when we cared about characters first and the horror/supernatural elements came second, and that’s very much the approach they took here.

Denis O’Hare really shines as well. He’s honestly the most underrated returning actor on AHS!

Connection to AHS
One of the main criticism of the last season was that it relied too heavily on Murder House.  After all, 3 of its 8 episodes were based around it, and even AHS itself revisited that house so many times that it honestly feels like there’s nothing left to do with it.

In a refreshing movie, “Dollhouse” turns out to be something of a prequel to AHS: Coven, a season that created a vast mythology that has largely been untapped to this point.  And unlike the previous episodes that just felt like retreads of earlier seasons, this one’s connection to Coven is a fun detail at the end, rather than the entire plot.  So it allowed the episode to be its own entity for the majority of its runtime.

If “Dollhouse” is any indication of what this season has in store, then we’re in for a much better season of American Horror Stories this year!

AHS 999
New episodes of American Horror Stories are streaming every Thursday on Hulu!

What did you think of this episode?  What do you hope to see next week?  Let us know in the comments!

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