So, this season of American Horror Story is shaping up to be pretty average. There’s not really any polite way to say it but the acting has gone way downhill, and I’m not really sure why. That cast has been so star studded over the years it could be Neil Diamond’s goddamn track suit. (Ho ho! Topical.) And the premise is fine: A hotel run by weird vampire people. Sure. There’s nothing wrong with that idea per se. It doesn’t really grab me (and in fact I get the distinct impression that Ryan Murphy was stoned out of his mind listening to the radio when “Hotel California” came on and he had a lightbulb moment) but the premise isn’t bad.
So it’s gotta be the direction. There’s only so many times I can see Mr. Police Officer Man running down a hotel hallway yelling “Holden!” at the top of his lungs before it starts to look a little ham-fisted.
American Horror Story: Boarding School
As with any season of AHS we need roles for most of the returning cast. Most notably Sarah Paulson (Lana Banana from s.2) Kathy Bates, (It’s Kathy Bates, guys) Evan Peters (The blonde dude) and Lily Rabe (Sister Mary-Eunice from s.2). We’re gonna dig into our potential cast a little heavier than that, though.
According to Wikipedia (and already I’ve done more research for this than I was anticipating) each season of American Horror Story has a central theme. Murder House was about infidelity, Asylum was about sanity, Coven was about oppression, etc. Boarding School is about desperation, and the lengths that people will go to in order to maintain the status quo in the face of potentially negative change.
The year is 2016. The series opens on Taissa Farmiga (The brunette girl. Violet from s.1) in a dimly lit industrial looking boiler room. She’s crying and upset, sitting in an occult-y circle drawn in chalk and surrounded by candles. She gets to be the bad guy this season because she hasn’t yet (more on that later) and I think it would be fun. So we see Taissa crying and crying and whatever in this circle and the camera reveals to us things like Latin writing, bundles of herbs, and a discarded book that’s open to a particular page. It’s clear that she’s doing some sort of ritual. As the audience figures this out Taissa stabs herself in the neck and drags the knife across her throat, bleeds all over the goddamn place and falls over dead. Cue opening credits.
Next we see Lily Rabe behind a desk flipping through some papers or playing Solitaire or whatever it is that people do when they’re behind a desk when she gets a page that the auditor has arrived. In walks Kathy Bates. It turns out that the school that Lily Rabe runs is hemorrhaging money and the owners (It’s a private school) have decided that she needs to get her ducks in a row or face the closure of the school. Lily, the newly selected principal of the school, was always good at educating children but it seems that her new position is a bit overwhelming and full of administrative duties that she’s not prepared to handle. She’s in way over her head and she’s panicking, and Kathy Bates is basically here to fuck her out of a job. Kathy informs Lily that she’s here for a couple days to assess the school and ultimately give a verdict to the unseen owners about whether to keep it running or bulldoze the whole thing.
Sarah Paulson is a well-meaning teacher who’s basically only at the boarding school because in this economy teaching positions are rare and coveted and she couldn’t get a job anywhere else. Still, she wants to help the children in her care succeed, both because she genuinely wants to and because if she can keep the admin staff happy for a couple years she can start applying for more favorable jobs in the near future. Ballin’. Sarah’s an English teacher and we establish early on that a number of the students use her as a surrogate mother figure while they’re away from their actual parents. Sarah really likes this.
At some point, Sarah begins teaching her class and at the back in the corner we see Taissa smiling and happy and very much alive, wearing a small scarf to cover her horrible gaping neck wound.
In flashback we see that Taissa has always been ostracized because, let’s face it, she’s weird. She’s into the occult, wears a lot of black, doesn’t have many friends, doesn’t talk very much. Classic outcast. However, she comes from a fairly prestigious upbringing, the yuppy-ish country club kind of folk. Taissa’s parents basically conclude that she’s not happy in her current situation (and honestly, the neighbors are starting to talk) so they pack her shit and ship her off to boarding school.
However, in spite of her apparent death at the start of the series, here she is looking thrilled to be learning about Shakespeare or whatever. So already we’ve got a dead girl coming back to life. Spooky.
During this time, Kathy and Lily wander the school and we get to see how crappy certain parts of the institution are. They don’t have the money to make repairs or to modernize the building, which was built some time ago. On the surface the whole place is gorgeous and immaculate, but behind basically any door marked “Staff Only” we see that the place is a hole. More importantly, Kathy sees that the place is a hole. Lily is growing increasingly anxious as her attempts to hide the shitty parts of the school continuously fail.
Through a few more flashbacks we see that Taissa’s time at boarding school has sucked. People have been bullying her since day one and neither her parents nor the administration really care. Her parents basically got her out of the house to stop having to deal with this exact thing, and the administration, I dunno, let’s say they just don’t give a shit. It’s a school, that’s honestly pretty believable. This scene serves mostly to put tangible faces on her bullies.
The first episode ends with Kathy Bates and Lily Rabe down in the basement of the school with Kathy saying that she frankly can’t believe that the school survived this long when it’s so clear that they should burn the whole place to the ground. Lily begs her to reconsider, saying that with just a little more time she’ll be able to fix everything and get the whole place back to its former glory (Oh yeah, it was formerly glorious). Kathy is like “Fuck that noise” and turns around to leave when Lily grabs a fire extinguisher and whap’s her over the head with it. Kathy is screaming but they’re in the basement so there isn’t really anybody around and Lily just wails on her until she shuts up.
Episode 2 opens on busted-ass Kathy Bates waking up in the basement to find that she’s been chained to a pipe by the ankle. There’s a plate of food and a glass of water there, as well as a bucket, for, y’know, the things that one has to do with a bucket when they’re chained to something. Kathy immediately starts screaming, or moaning, given that her face is all fucked up from making out with the heavy end of a fire extinguisher at the end of the previous episode.
Enter Lily Rabe. She’s shushing Kathy and trying to calm her down, saying that this is only a temporary thing until she gets some time to figure out what her plan is. And she promises that she’ll let Kathy go as soon as Lily’s got all her ducks in a row. Kathy is alternating between crying for help and screaming obscenities through this entire thing.
Kids have begun skipping Sarah Paulson’s class and she’s confused because, y’know, it’s a boarding school. Where are they going to go? So she starts to do a little digging. The people that are going missing are all people who have bullied Taissa in the past. Seeing that this is basically the only link between them, Sarah starts to get suspicious.
Sarah and Lily also have their first real interactions with each other in this episode, after Lily tells Sarah to stop investigating the school. They’ve both got enough on their hands as is and if anything else comes up it will mean the end of both of their careers. Sarah absentmindedly inquires as to whatever happened to Kathy Bates and Lily dismisses it.
Sarah continues to investigate and decides that she needs to talk to Taissa. However, right before there’s an opportunity for confrontation, Taissa informs Sarah that she’s found something related to the disappearances. She leads Sarah down to the boiler room from the previous episode where we see a handful of dead cats and birds and whatever, and the missing girls, mutilated. It’s become clear (not that it wasn’t clear before) that Taissa has been murdering people. She’s able to struggle Sarah into restraints and places her in a tub, or a basin, or whatever, of water. Taissa mentions that for all the time she’s spent here in the boiler room she hasn’t had a chance yet to boil anybody. The camera pulls back out of the room as we hear Sarah begin to scream. End episode 2.
In episode 3 we see Taissa preparing a meal, or more accurately, a pile of meat. She does this for a while before going to the boiler room and feeding this hideously scarred, gurgling, monster of a woman, Sarah Paulson. We also see that some of the dead girls are now missing limbs.
By now it’s been enough time that Kathy Bates really should have been back, and so Evan Peters arrives at the school to look for her. Lily meets him at the door and claims that nobody matching Kathy’s description has showed up at the school. However he is, of course, welcome to look for her. This is interspersed with shots of Kathy screaming/crying, and ravenously, almost ferally, eating the meals that Lily has been bringing her.
Alright, I’ll leave it at that for now (Because we’re 1800 words deep), but I feel like I’m on a roll. I think next Thursday I’ll continue with this. FX: Don’t steal my idea until I’m done! Actually, don’t steal my idea at all. Buy it from me, and then contract me to write episode scripts. I could use the job.
Scott Watmough has many strong opinions about many things that he knows very little about. They're usually about video games.