This season of American Horror Story runs off fear. Fear of clowns. Fear of immigrants. Fear of harm. Fear of terrorism. While this is to be expected of a horror show, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” reveals how it is utilizing fear in a different way.
Instead of using the audience’s fears to create the scares, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” uses the fears of the characters to radicalize them, turning them into the very people Kai wants to recruit. Thus, staying true to its main idea and seasonal namesake. Plus, American Horror Story: Fear seems incredibly redundant.
This season does not seem like it will have many subplots, which is good. In their place will be threads that connect everything back to Kai and his ultimate plan of radicalizing everyone (assuming that is his ultimate plan). This is a much better use of the time that usually goes alongside the main plot in American Horror Story. It creates not only a more in-depth world, but a more in-depth villain than those of the past. While murdering psychopaths and aliens are fun, they are not the most complex or deep. Using these connections also leads to a “no one can be trusted” scenario with the viewer -beyond just the in-show characters- which creatively plays back into Kai’s very hands.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” opens with Ally hallucinating, seeing a clown in her bed. This translates into their son, Oz, having night terrors about clowns. The opening scenes show how Ally’s paranoid and phobias are beginning to affect the whole family and get the audience anxious and excited.
Next we cut to a news station reporting on the savage beating of an innocent man. From the shown footage, we already know that this is the beating of Kai that was recorded in episode one. However, we learn it was not Winter who was recording him, but a couple who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. This framing of the beating as done by “illegals” already shows how Kai will be manipulating people to fuel their fear and paranoia. This platform given to him by the media allows him to announce he will be running for state council to fill in Mr. Chang’s spot!
There are no accidents with Kai. Everything is planned down to the letter. His assault of the migrant workers and their subsequent defense of themselves draws parallels with how Kai sees the world. This is a tactic and a parallel that is shown later in the episode. Reacting is only all right if it fuels Kai’s ideas and meets with how he sees the world. To Kai, his logic is sound and he will take whatever means to get it.
Ally’s character continues to be an unrelatable caricature in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. She is shown as shallow in her beliefs with reaction to in-fighting among her employees (“We can’t fire an immigrant in this climate”). Ally is not alone in her shallow caricature though. Every character, except for those who are the villains, are extreme caricatures as opposed to real figures. Who else names their kid Ozymandias?
This caricature of the liberal characters is possibly Ryan Murphy trying to get the viewer to sympathize with Kai and Kai’s position. By making them so unrealistic that they seem ridiculous, he is showing a ‘both sides’ argument in a completely failing light. So far the weakest point of this season is its characters, who due to this ham-fisted attempt, fall completely flat of their intended goal.
Even new characters introduced in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” are not free of this, such as Meadow and her husband Harrison. Earlier in the episode they are shown to be the people who filmed Kai’s attack who coincidentally moved into the Chang’s old house (there are no coincidences this season). Ally is especially unnerved by the fact they moved in so soon after the apparent murder-suicide of her neighbors. Harrison is especially open about why, and even Ally and Ivy are taken aback by their personalities. They are overly forward and cheerful, sharing a little too much information (which Harrison remarks is everything these days with social media).
Harrison and Meadow’s characters are particularly odd. Meadow has a fear of the sun brought on by having had skin cancer. Harrison is extremely forceful in everything he says. While not caricatures per say, the awkwardness of these characters is painful to watch. Viewers can sympathize with Ally and Ivy’s unease, especially when it is revealed that Harrison is gay. This reveal makes Meadow’s tokenization of Ally and Ivy even more awkward. Their behavior is meant to make the viewer suspicious of them, seemingly in case they missed the fact that they filmed Kai’s assault. While there are still subtleties in the season, the transition from subtle to extremely ham-fisted, shows that Ryan Murphy may not believe in his viewer base or his own ability to play within these subtleties.
Ally’s paranoia continues to grow. She does not like the new neighbors and is especially fixated on the barrels in their house. Ivy tries to reassure her, but Ally continues to say she does not like nor trust Meadow and Harrison. Ivy gets a message saying the alarm tripped at work and starts to get ready to go, only for Oz (once again, who the hell names their kid Ozymandias?) to complain and Ally goes in her place instead. This small gesture can be seen to hurt Ally as well as fuel her paranoia. You can almost see the thoughts that her son doesn’t like her swirling around in her head. The fear is palpable and even seen in Ally’s eyes and body language. It’s a small moment that shows how Ally’s paranoia of those around her is beginning to impact how she sees even her family.
When she arrives, Ally discovers there was a murder at the restaurant. During questioning, the cops instantly suspect Pedro since he was last seen arguing with the murdered man. While Ivy quickly defends the suspected immigrant cook, Ally is freer to give the police the information, much to Ivy’s shock and dismay. Ally is falling to Kai’s trap. She even goes to Harrison and Meadow about her fear, who in turn give her a handgun. Ally is becoming more scared and more paranoid, abandoning her ideas and beliefs because of it. She is slowly becoming radicalized indirectly (or not so indirectly) by Kai.
The fact that Ally acquired a gun is learned in a scene between Ally and her therapist. She slams the gun on the table and when the therapist declares having a weapon in the house isn’t a good idea, Ally proclaims that her old liberal self would agree but times have changed. She is scared. Scared for herself, scared for her family. There is a need to protect her family and this is how, through barring the windows and doors and acquiring a weapon just in case. Ally feels cornered and attacked.
Soon after the therapist leaves, Kai knocks on Ally’s door. Their exchange is the best scene in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. It shows the manipulative tactics used by people in the alt-right as well as cult groups use. Every answer from Kai twists Ally’s beliefs and words and uses them to gaslight her about her own beliefs. He makes her a hypocrite for protecting herself from him and for feeling afraid of him (as opposed to those she should really be afraid of).
They exchange a back and forth about Kai purposefully throwing his latte on them and about Kai’s assault. “Where do you get your information from?” Ally asks of Kai when he begins telling her that immigrants are 40% of all crimes committed, causing violent crimes like rape and murder, and other obviously fake and egregious statements. “Facebook” is Kai’s slightly mumbled response. This is the most realistic, and humorous, exchange. It is something many have experienced when dealing with people whose news source is right wing reactionary propaganda.
Feeling humiliated, Kai begins to get aggressive with Ally, calling her a hypocrite for having the metal door between them and a knife behind her back. He begins to ask to be let in to use the phone, to simply speak with her, he just wants a small moment of her time. If she truly wanted to build bridges between people, why was she so afraid of him? This type of twisted and false logic is used every day for those who preach tolerance and yet do not tolerate differences in opinions such as racism, transphobia, Islamophobia, etc.
This whole scene solidifies Kai as the most developed and complex character in the show. He is a real to life manipulator and abuser. He uses classical tactics such as gas lighting to get the results he wants, or to at least plant the seeds of doubt in those around him. With Winter living in the house with Ally as a nanny, Kai has access to the personal information that would allow him to know exactly how to get to Ally. This access explains his use of clowns to terrorize the neighborhood, commit murders, and so forth.
Why Kai has targeted Ally and her family has yet to be explained. Since “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is only episode two, this is something that will hopefully be explained later on in the season. Why Ally? Why her family? What made them seem like easy targets for Kai to prey on?
Unfortunately, the end of the episode is obvious and left me wanting them to hurry up and get to the point to end it. It is extremely anticlimactic and poorly executed. The town loses power and Harrison comes over saying it was a terrorist attack potentially. The whole conversation he is staring at Winter which only solidifies Harrison and Meadow’s connection with Kai and his plot. Winter leaves Ally and Oz alone in the house when Ally runs into a clown in the house. These people further panic Ally who grabs her gun and tells Oz they are going to make a break for it. Ivy, instead of going herself from the restaurant to the house, sends Pedro. You can figure out what happens even without seeing “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”.
So far, the season has not veered off into any wild subplots which overly complicate things. The only complicated mechanic is Kai’s working plan, which you get glimpses of the gears in every episode. While most of the characters are less than likable, the overall plot and idea of the season is strong. Hopefully Ryan Murphy has learned he can make a solid show without unnecessary plot points and additional subplots that only convoluted the seasons previously.
Have you seen “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”? Why do you think Kai has targeted Ally and her family? Share your thoughts!.
Author: Lucian Clark
Lucian is the owner/creator of queer horror website, GenderTerror. They also hold a BA in Psychology from Post University. Favorites video games, rats, and cosplaying. They can be found most of the time writing fanfiction or yelling excitedly on Twitter.
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