American Horror Story: Death and Rage

Well, we can check watching a cheerleader piss herself in terror off of the list of things we haven't seen on network TV. Let's see what's next... oh, a ninja breakdancing on the roof of a double-decker bus! Get on it, Hollywood.

Whatever ambiguity might have been left by the conclusion of last week's Halloween episodes as to whether or not Tate (Evan Peters) was the gunman who mowed down a herd of kids we've taken to referring to as the Zombie Breakfast Club is now gone. It's official, Tate is a dead man, and like every other dead person in this series, he's apparently corporeal enough to get all touchy-feely with.

The opening of the episode showing the brutally tense hunt by Tate for his victims in the school's library is masterfully done. Granted, we already know that none of these kids is going to make it out alive since we've already seen them walking around with air-conditioning vents where most teenagers keep their acne and sneers, but the lingering mystery of whether or not Tate was the murderer kept the mystery going just long enough to lend a razor's edge to a gruesome stalking.

Later, we get to watch Tate's suicide by cop, and even though that scene is also really good, it pisses us off because it means Stephen King's Rage is probably going to remain out of print for another decade.

Background: King, as Richard Bachman, wrote a novel called Rage about a teenage malcontent who murders his math teacher one day and then holds his class hostage while subjecting them to various psychological torments. Eventually, he releases his hostages, except for one traumatized and catatonic big man on campus, and is gunned down when he pretends to reach for his pistol. He does survive, and is later remanded to a mental institution.

The novel has been found in the possession of at least four school shooters, and has since been taken out of print at the request of King himself, who worries about the effect it may have on disturbed minds. We do too, but it is a really good book and we wish the rest of us who aren't disturbed would get a chance to read it again.

The revelation that Tate is a spree killer sends Violet (Taissa Farmiga) over the edge and she attempts to overdose on sleeping pills. Tate, of all people, saves her, but he is still unaware of his status of dead as a doornail. The interaction between these two characters alone could make for a brilliant series, sort of a My So-Called Life meets Twin Peaks kind of thing. Both Farmiga and Peters bring an honesty and a sadness to their parts, and of all the things going on in the Murder House, it is their ability to resonate in the hearts of viewers that is the show's biggest draw.

Meanwhile, Ben (Dylan McDermott) continues to treat his psychiatric patients in the house despite having been thrown out for his infidelity. His latest client is a man obsessed with the concept of urban legends, specifically the bathroom mirror games that terrified all of us as children. He's gotten to the point where his fear is so overpowering he can't form any kind of meaningful relationship with another person and has blacked out all mirrors in his house.

Now, Bloody Mary, Candyman and the show's original creation, the Piggy Man, are not real. No matter how many times you say a name into a mirror in a dark room, no spectral murderer will appear to knife-hug you. However, there is some perfectly understandable science behind these legends. It's called the Troxler effect. Your brain isn't wired to keep registering non-changing information over and over again. Can you feel the chair you're sitting on? No. The sensation goes away after a while because it would drive you nuts to continue receiving every little sensation.

So, when you look into a mirror, especially in bad light, and just stare for a few minutes, your brain is going to start moving things around, and sometimes it forms horrific pictures. Psychologist Giovanni Caputo did a study to test this out, and found that without any ghost story prompting, more than half saw things like deformities in their own faces, dead people and monsters. Add in a good scare build-up and you've got yourself an urban lesson, but no murder.

Unless of course an armed burglar sensitive about his weight is hiding in your bathroom and takes offense to you calling out "Here piggy!" and shoots you in the head. Slow applause, American Horror Story, no one saw that twist coming.

All in all, we're glad the Powers That Be have asked us to join the millions tuning into this brilliant horror experiment. We still don't think they can keep upping the ante week in and week out before jumping a shark who, surprise, is dead, but until they do, let's leave the light on because no matter how freaky this thing gets, we're not going to miss a minute of it.

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