“Mr. Jingles” upped the body count and played with some tropes in another fun episode.
This recap of American Horror Story: 1984 Episode 2, “Mr. Jingles”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The fundamental pleasure of the slasher is, if we’re being honest, seeing stupid people be violently killed. And American Horror Story: 1984 Episode 2 understands that. As well as lovingly embracing its obvious influences, it’s also subtly playing with well-worn tropes. None of the black characters are dead yet, for instance. But, unusually, lots of other characters are, even though there’s a sense that they were introduced specifically for that purpose. We’re getting the gore — lots of fun, on-brand practical effects, no less — and we’re getting the pleasure of seeing the idiotic and/or the despicable being despatched, but we’re actually being allowed to get to know our core cast of characters.
In fact, those minor players introduced to be messily killed off can pull double-duty as useful sources of character development, as with Blake (Todd Stashwick) in “Mr. Jingles”. Through him, we learn that Xavier (Cody Fern) was a heroin addict who was manipulatively cleaned up and lured into gay p**n. American Horror Story: 1984 Episode 2 also devoted time to a flashback explaining that Brooke (Emma Roberts) was traumatized by an incident in which her husband-to-be, convinced of her infidelity, flipped out at the altar on their wedding day, killing his best man, Brooke’s father and himself. This is shared with Montana (Billy Lourd), who promptly gives her an ill-timed smooch. Her sexual proclivities clearly aren’t reserved for men.
Being given chance to learn more about these characters helps the suspense scenes to land with more impact. And there are a lot of those since there are two serial killers loose in Camp Redwood. The titular Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch) is obviously one of them. The other is Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez (Zach Villa), who has followed Brooke there. In a bizarre but captivating scene, the latter has an impromptu therapy session with Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman), who might not be entirely who she seems either.
It’s good fun, this. American Horror Story: 1984 Episode 2 gets a lot of mileage out of the idea that Brooke — given her trauma — might be imagining at least some of the goings-on, but given this series’s history, it’s not difficult to imagine that everything isn’t quite what it seems. But it’s the show’s balance that shines. The merger of the 80s horror aesthetic with the embracing or subversion of its tropes wherever appropriate cultivates a lot of familiarity but also unpredictability. You know more or less what’s going to happen, but never quite how, and some notable skill behind the camera ensures that it’s always fun to find out. I hope it remains so as the season progresses.