a review by the Crow.
The Lady in White
SPOILER LEVELS at CONSIDERABLE
I’ve complained in recent weeks how American Horror Story: 1984 has fallen far short of any expectations I might have had. Even though I had no real expectations, the series has been quite subpar. Benjamin Richter/”Mr Jingles” has been the only reason I gave the last few episodes a watch, and his story continues to shine head and shoulders above the rest of the plot. However, all of that changes in this week’s episode: The Lady in White. Or does it?
A large portion of the story revolves around Richter — or as I should say, the Richters. We open with a flashback to a family of three: a single mother (Lily Rabe) and her two boys. They are currently at a familiar location: a summer camp known as Camp Gold Star, where the mother has found work as the camp cook. We quickly find out that the mother strongly favours one of her sons over the other. It’s difficult not to feel for the older son, as he’s the most relatable person on the show so far (for everyone else has been a caricature), but of course, this leads to tragedy. The younger son, Bobby, is killed, due to negligence by both his brothers and a couple of camp counsellors, and the mother suffers an immediate mental breakdown. Everything about this sequence screams Friday the 13th, which — if you recall — I mentioned in my review for the very first episode. While a very well-made sequence, showcasing the best acting in the series so far by Lily Rabe, the most important thing to take away from this is the older son’s name: Benjamin. It turns out, my favourite character’s backstory is much more complex than I could have imagined.
With all that said, the backstory also ties into another malevolent force which resides at the camp: the Lady in White — a spirit so dangerous that even the ghosts of our so-called main characters want little to do with her. Full disclosure: spurred on by Bobby’s death, Richter’s mother embarked on a killing spree, twenty years prior to Margaret’s killings. And yes, at some point, Camp Gold Star was renamed Camp Redwood.
How this incident hasn’t been mentioned up until now is suspect, and while it’s the best story the series has told so far, I find it frustrating that not even a lick of it was foreshadowed during the earlier episodes. How — also — was the 1950 massacre forgotten? After all, there have been three massacres at the same camp.
This plants Richter as the main character of the series, with his mother being the Lady in White. Their relationship is somewhat explored when Richter returns to the camp in the “present day”, and there is a lot of hatred and some (partial) forgiveness flung about between them. The central battle seems to be boiling down to the forces of Satan — personified by Richard Ramirez — versus the ghosts affected by the “blood curse” which seems to stem from the Lady in White. The ghosts want out, and they’re desperate to escape the Lady in White, but they find themselves on the same side as her. Her hatred for them is simply a primal hatred for counsellors, and it’s clear that the spirit of Bobby is going to be functional in at least her emancipation, despite her interest in Ramirez’s “rebirth”.
In the end, Richter arms himself with a heavy suit of plot armour, ready to take on Satan’s little minion (RIP Kajagoogoo). He really has lost everything. I don’t know if American Horror Story is known for happy endings, but he deserves one. Whether or not his son will factor into the story, but it’s a viable option if the business at Camp Redwood is settled and the series intends to throw another spanner into the works.
Or is Richter so well protected? The Lady in White seems nothing but manipulative. She’s got everything she wanted from Richter, after all.
And just to mention it before I move on to more important things: Trevor reunites with Montana and it might be safe to say he’ll have a role to play in whatever comes next.
Brooke and Donna get a subplot, with Brooke recovering from the almost-lethal injection she was given in the last episode and learning to trust Donna. They run afoul of a random hitch-hiker (Dylan McDermott) who intends to murder them. Brooke finds a new power in herself, and seems to have completed a lamb-wolf transition. The scenes to do with her are fun, if a little throwaway. The entire road-trip sequence serves to establish her as a bad-ass and little else. In the promo for the next episode, she’s marked out as “the final girl”. Whether or not this will bear out, it’s hard to say, but I can’t see her as a protagonist. She hasn’t earned her stripes as one. So far, all she’s done is exist.
One episode in which she does something proactive isn’t enough for me to like her.
At the end of the day, this is the best episode yet. Lily Rabe turns in a good performance, the story is told well — despite some heavy exposition. While the out-of-left-field appearance of the hugely significant plot point relating to Richter’s family is annoying and speaks to poor planning, it’s better than the mess we’ve had to deal with so far. There are none of the odd editing choices I’ve been mentioning in these reviews.
If recut, with scenes from the previous episodes, The Lady in White could easily have been made out to be a television movie which would have made the rest of the series look far better by comparison. As a matter of fact, this episode makes the rest of the series look poor because of all the chances they missed at delivering a concise story.
I’ll tune in next week to follow up on Richter, because we have already been told his second confrontation with Ramirez is coming. The rest of the characters might as well not exist, since I have no real reason to care about them any longer, but I’d still like to know how their arcs resolve.
And now, for the final question: where is Jonas? And if it was Jingles who killed him on the road all those years ago, why? We know Jingles was no murderer then. What the hell is going on with that subplot? I find it frustrating how the characters who’re best suited to explaining the ins and outs of ghost-hood (along with the other 1970s counsellors) are being kept out of the frame. And of what of the 1950s counsellors, then? I slightly doubt we’ll be visiting them, given the time we have left with this series, and it seems a shame to have left so much out. Poor planning overall, but a great episode nonetheless.
There’s always a needle that gets lost in a haystack.
— Crow out.
THE CROW: 7/10
Here’s the official poster: