As a society, we’ve come to rely on rules to protect us and rights to give us a sense of power. If there’s a disturbance coming from the home next to our own, we know that there are authorities who we can alert. And if our government takes an action that we find undesirable, we can petition against it. Perhaps the biggest psychic trauma, then, experienced by many people in this country after Trump’s election to the presidency—a trauma that’s the focus of American Horror Story: Cult—is the realization that those rules and rights don’t feel as sacrosanct as we thought they were.
Alison Pill (#1–10 of 6)
For better and worse, the horror on American Horror Story: Cult is all text and no subtext. Take the title of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” which isn’t some abstract nod to our needing to face the fears lurking in the darkness of our lives, but a reference to the blackout that leaves Ally (Sarah Paulson) in a panic. The show isn’t content to simply talk about the red-meat hate speech of the right; it literally hangs it out in the open after Roger (Zack Ward), a bigoted sous-chef, is found affixed to a hook in the Butchery’s kitchen freezer.
After years of trying to conjure up a universal boogeymen with which to tap into the primal fears of Americans, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have landed almost effortlessly on target. “Election Night,” the first episode of American Horror Story: Cult, knows exactly how to trigger us; in fact, that’s the modus operandi of the show’s central antagonist, Kai Anderson (Evan Peters). This anarchist’s most terrifying moment isn’t when he rubs blended orange Cheetos all over his face in a send-up of Glenn Beck’s mocking of Donald Trump, or the thought of him donning a three-faced clown mask to terrorize his fellow Americans, but when he calmly walks into a local city council meeting, clad in a suit, to suggest that government allow fear to reign. “Haven’t you been watching what’s been going on in the world?” he asks.
“I like to see a person’s eyes when I talk to ’em,” bellows Capt. Keller (Matthew Modine) to the bespectacled Annie Sullivan (Alison Pill) in act one of William Gibson’s ultimate weepie The Miracle Worker. Well, Captain, I like to see a person’s eyes—or at least face—when I watch them on stage, just one of many misbegotten aspects of this 50th-anniversary staging, now done in the round (the configuration of Circle in the Square’s last tenant, The Norman Conquests has been left intact), which means you get to see a lot of emoting occipital bones. Director Kate Whoriskey (who marvelously staged last year’s awards juggernaut Ruined) utilizes the entirety of the playing area, but aggravatingly—sometimes at key moments—you don’t feel a kinship with the players because they feel so far removed from you. How Ironic that a play about a woman trying to teach expressive qualities to someone differently-abled shields the viewer from truly experiencing expression.
At the end of last week’s review, I noticed a tag identifying me as a psychology student. While technically correct, I wanted to clarify my point of view a bit beyond that of an aspiring Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne). For most of my adult life, I’ve bounced from therapist to therapist, the success of my therapy being less a direct result of the quality of professional I was seeing, and more manifesting as a direct corollary of how much I was willing to work in therapy.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That seems to be what the individuals running HBO’s series In Treatment are telling us with the first batch of episodes of its sophomore season. Back in the therapist’s chair as Dr. Paul Weston is Gabriel Byrne, whose portrayal of Weston manages to make the character the best and the worst therapist of all time.
Season Two opens on the heels of much upheaval in Paul’s life. He’s relocated to Brooklyn after divorcing his wife and has restarted his practice in his apartment. The premiere begins with an off-hours knock on the door by Alex Prince Sr. (Glynn Turman), informing Paul that the Navy has found no mechanical malfunction with regards to his son’s death and subsequently serving him with papers for a lawsuit.