American Horror Story – Season 7, Episode 3: “Neighbors from the Hell”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 7, Episode 3: “Neighbors from the Hell”
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Written by James Wong

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “11/9” – click here
Pic 1We begin with a woman named Rosie (Laura Allen) talking about her fears to Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), discussing her phobias. Her husband Mark (Ron Melendez) supports her. She was locked in a cupboard as a child by an abusive father. Her father is dead now, giving closure. Now she’s “finally free” after a process of desensitisation, breaking down her phobia of coffins, and ultimately of death. All better, right?
At home, Mark has a surprise for Rosie. When he steps out of the room, the clowns arrive. They’ve set up two coffins, one for the husband, the other for the wife. Inside they go. Those deepest fears realised, horribly. Similar to how Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) is targeted due to her phobias. And now we see a symbol being left at the crime scenes, a crude happy face design.
So, is the doc in on it? Or, is one of the clowns gaining access to his confidential files? Ahh therein lies the mystery. Bring it on, baby.
Pic 1AOf course there’s Ally, who shot Pedro Morales (Jorge-Luis Pallo) on her doorstep, not realising it was him. She feels terrible. Ivy (Alison Pill) and Detective Jack Samuels (Colton Haynes) both assure it was “selfdefence.” The cop reinforces it by referencing the Stand Your Ground law in their state. Beginning to see him as a bit of an ominous character, too. We’ll see where it all goes. But now, Ally’s mental state is the most worrisome thing happening, as we’re left to suss out who’s in on the terror. The detective? The doctor? The wife? All of them?
Now were seeing the collective rage and suspicion of this community has a focus, and its a woman whose critics are calling a lesbian George Zimmerman.”
Oh, damn: we get my man Dermot Mulroney as a news anchor, and MY GIRL, Adina Porter showing up as reporter for Channel 7, Beverly Hope! She’s working on the story about the shooting. Tons of people stand outside chanting “No justice, no peace” in front of the Butchery on Main. And who else shows up? Kai Anderson (Evan Peters). There to assure she did “nothing wrong.” Although you can be sure he’s not doing it out of anything other than his hatred, his xenophobia, his utter racism. Scary to see him on her side.
Back at home, Harrison and Meadow Wilton (Billy Eichner/Leslie Grossman) show up with sombreros on, chastising her for using a gun for the wrong purpose, to murder, so they say. “Youre no progressive,” says Harrison. These two are a great, confused mix of modern liberals and libertarians mashed together, which I find appropriately hilarious. One of my favourite scenes so far. Ally literally has nowhere else to go, she’s surrounded by the far-right, the far-left.
Even better? There’s a weird tanker truck driving down the street at night, underlit by green neon. Maybe the next evolution of the ice cream truck for the clown gang? Either way, a subtly unsettling image.
Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 1.24.44 AMNext morning it gets worse, when Ally and Ivy wake up to a ton of dead birds all over the lawn. The couple calls the city about the truck they saw, naturally Ally’s a bit crazier about the situation. Then Winter Anderson (Billie Lourd) walks back in. Ivy’s willing to give her another chance, convincing her wife that it’s best for Oz (Cooper Dodson) to have her around. She also says there’s a man waiting, she let him in.
They find the guy in the living room, naked, jerking off. Someone posted an ad that lesbians were looking for a “stud.” He gets mad, thinking they’re lying. But Ivy runs him out before anything worse happens. They believe the Wiltons likely posted the ad. Ally talks to Dr. Vincent, as usual, he offers to help with getting the ad taken down, so on. If the Wiltons are the culprits, it’s harassment.
Ally willingly goes down to speak with the protesters, believing she understands where they’re coming from, that she is one of them. They crowd her car, she honks the horn. Suddenly, Kai emerges: “Enough.” One word is all it takes and they disperse. He comes to Ally as someone who cares, someone who can help. Much like the beginning of how a cult leader sways people into servitude. Or how a sociopath lulls someone into complacency before an attack.
We’re seeing more of the Wiltons, such as the fact Dt. Samuels is close friends with the couple. They’ve sent a guinea pig over to Oz, because he needs “some diversity” because he’s “drowning in white privilege and oestrogen” in their home. All this before Ally sees the creepy truck again, falling in the street as it nearly runs her over.
And Meadow, she’s playing the pinky game with Kai. She isn’t serious enough, though. So he smacks her around, speaking of “revolution.” The cult leader in him is strong. He tells her: “You want to matter? Then you make the world wrong.” This is the war cry of the delusional, those who aren’t disenfranchised but believe they are. Do not take responsibility: it’s someone else’s fault.
Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 1.41.18 AMThat night, the Mayfair-Richards family find the smiley face left on their front door, the guinea pig in the microwave, exploding in a spurt of blood. So Ally walks right into the house across the street, punching Harrison in the nose and screaming at the couple. Although it appears they don’t know anything about it, or so they act.
In the meantime, those smiley faces are everywhere on their property. Marked for more terror. That truck is still around. Someone in a suit gets out of it this time, spraying Ally’s lawn, and this sends her into hysterics. When she pulls off their mask, it’s a smiley face underneath. She passes out, then they spray some more.
Harrison is across the table from Kai this time, revealing his first gay experience, similar things. Moreover, he admits he wishes Meadow was dead. His darkest thoughts and desires laid bare for the cult leader to see, to use.
Ally and Ivy get talking to Dt. Samuels, unaware he’s in bed, literally, with the Wiltons; mostly Harrison, surely. He also tells the couple the smiley face is genuine, the mark of the killer(s). Upstairs, Oz has clicked on a link and found something nasty: a video of Winter, next to the tub with her hand in the water while Ally’s lying back relaxing. A further wedge between the couple. Ivy sees it as cheating, a betrayal. This sends her off with their boy, bitter and filled with rage.
Across the street is a commotion. Harrison shows up in the driveway, covered in blood and screaming. Inside the Wilton house Oz finds a large smiley face on the wall.
Nothing, no one is safe.
Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 1.45.06 AMAn intense episode. Really dug the premise from the start, and now it’s starting to get even better. Lots of creepiness, lots of unexpected moments. Good horror! Nothing supernatural this season, which is working out because the disturbing factor feels even higher than ever.
“11/9” is next week.


Mr. Mercedes – Episode 1: “Pilot”

AT&T’s Mr. Mercedes
Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Jack Bender
Written by David E. Kelley

* For a recap & review of Episode 2, “On Your Mark” – click here
Pic 1We start in 2009, in Ohio. Extremely early in the morning at a City Jobs Fair. People are lined up outside through a roped walkway. Everyone waits patiently, some introducing themselves to one another. Others aren’t entirely happy to be there, not into the socialising. Regardless, everyone there’s starved for work, from the older folk to a young mother with her baby and every sort in between.
Suddenly, a Mercedes pulls up. Lights beaming onto the crowd. The driver slides on a clown mask, breathing heavy. Then he drives directly through the people, barrelling forward at top speed. People scream, running away fast as they can.
But some don’t escape. The driver ploughs over them, including the young mom and her child, a man helping her. Tons and tons of bodies lie bloody, crunched, smashed to bits in his wreckage. Holy christ, what a brutal sequence! When the smoke clears, Detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) turns up on the scene to survey the carnage and begin an investigation along with fellow lawman Pete Dixon (Scott Lawrence). The senselessness isn’t immediately evident. Pete thinks the driver “lost control” of his vehicle. Hodges knows better.
Pic 1AWe jump ahead, two years later. Looks as if Dt. Hodges is a bit rough around the edges, lying in his own wreckage now. Mostly consisting of beer cans, cigarettes, and peanuts. Bit of a mess, in more ways than one. He’s got a lot of time to himself these days. Him and his friend Fred, the tortoise in the backyard. Seems they’re sort of at the same pace. He still has dinner with Pete, keeping in touch after his retirement.
One thing’s clear, though – Bill’s got unfinished business. Like many cops who’ve retired with unsolved cases. He doesn’t even feel like himself. While Pete and a local waitress named Sheila (Tuesday Beebe) try keeping him on track, as does nosy neighbour Ida Silver (the incomparable Holland Taylor), there’ll always be something not right with him. He just slides further into the bottle.
Bill: “Ever notice everythings upside down on a spoon?”
Sheila: “Maybe thats how life is, hon. Spoons just got it figured out.”
Perfectly with The Ramones playing “Pet Sematary” on the radio, we’re introduced to Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway). He works at a store dealing in electronics, computers, all that sort of thing. He’s got a regular life, he and co-worker dealing with shitty customers and a corporate cut-out boss. And his boss, oh, man: a piece of work! He’s basically jealous of Brady’s talent with computers, cutting him down a peg at any corner possible.
We see that Ida’s nosy because she’s looking for a companion, at least a sexual one. But underneath all that – she’s a proud lady, after all – there’s a genuine concern about Bill. She doesn’t want to see him waste away, she’s seen it before. She doesn’t want him to have “retreated from the living” just because of retirement. So, despite her sort of snooty attitude at first, she’s genuinely worried the man doesn’t have any purpose. And without purpose, without telos, what IS a man?
Pic 2Well, there’s still a purpose. Deep down there somewhere.
Particularly after he gets an e-mail addressed from Mr. M. Subject line: Long Time. We see a clown mask briefly. Then the screen switches to a smiley face, speaking to him with an electronically disguised voice. Taunting about his retirement, his weight gain, and the fact he never solved his case. Up come a bunch of pictures of the victims driven down outside the City Jobs Fair. He even tells the former detective he wore a condom that night, for fear he’d ejaculate and leave evidence. The whole video is wildly disturbing, and totally terrifying.
So if there wasn’t purpose before, if he didn’t consciously care about it already, now Bill is paying attention. Now, he has something he must do. If not, he’ll likely suffer the rest of retirement in a haze of insanity.
We also cut back to Brady, his mother Deborah (Kelly Lynch) worrying he’s working too many hours. That he’s “all work and no play” – sound familiar, Stephen King fans? Similar to another fella named Jack. She worries more about him, that he’s never had a girlfriend, that he’s withdrawn, even if he’s a smart guy. Oh, and it turns out mommy has other things on her mind. Things no mother ought to be doing with her son, y’know, like incest. Yikes. Although Brady leaves before things go too far. Instead he spends time alone stroking one out rather than go all the way. Man, that’s unsettling.
If you didn’t know already, Brady is Mr. Mercedes.
Pic 3Pic 3AThe fun will-they won’t-they between Ida and Bill continues. She’s not happy she showed him a nude on her phone and he wouldn’t look at it. She insists he looks. He does, if not a bit reluctantly. I hope they continue this relationship, on any level, because Gleeson and Taylor together’s like some kind of sweet magic.
When Bill clicks a link on his computer with a smiley face, it goes to a short few clips of Mr. Mercedes driving through the people in the crowd that day, the clown mask, his distorted laughter. A fucking evil thing to witness.
Bill: “Now personally I think closure is overfuckingrated, but the nightmares, the panic attacks I could do without.”
So he’s poking around more, asking Pete questions about the case. His friend doesn’t want him to obsess anymore, like he did at the end of his career. Later, he ends up at the electronics store where Brady works. He’s looking for a surveillance camera, though he doesn’t come in contact with the young man. A slick moment of near chance.
Afterwards he heads to a towing lot. A place he’s evidently been quite a few times. There lies the bloody, beat up Mercedes kept in storage. Just seeing it leaves the retired cop in agony, imagining all the people being run over in those seconds of brutality. He sits in the driver’s seat, as if imagining himself driving.
Pic 5At home he gets the camera installed with help from a neighbour kid who does stuff around the house for him regularly, including with the latest e-mail business. And who else is rolling around the neighbourhood? It’s Brady. One of his other jobs is as a Mr. Friendly’s ice cream truck driver, serving up scoops for the kids, and fucking with Hodges, tossing a tennis ball with a smiley face into the yard for him to find.
Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 5.15.26 PMMan, oh, man! I did not expect the first episode to be so damn good. Much as I love King, I’m always sceptical going into a film or television adaptation of his work. Which is a bonus when it’s actually fucking great. So much to love here, and not least is the use of punk rock in the soundtrack. Love it!
“On Your Mark” is next week, so stay tuned. We’re going to get deeper into this creepy little world of Mr. King’s together.