“Aura” meshes a cautionary tale about technology with some unconvincing characters and played-out tropes.
This recap of American Horror Stories season 2, episode 2, “Aura”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Oh, so we’re doing this? It was only a matter of time I suppose.
The titular Aura is the American Horror Stories equivalent of a Ring doorbell. They cost $200, which is a bargain since a knock on the door these days usually means someone coming to cut your throat — at least according to the old man in the store where Jaslyn (Gabourey Sidibe) is scanning the box. What kind of a price do you put on your own safety and peace of mind? $200 is a bargain.
American Horror Stories season 2, episode 2 recap
This is what “Aura” wants you to think, anyway, which is probably why it opens with the product being described in rather grandiose terms in a television infomercial. This is how these things are sold, after all. They trick you into believing you need them until you’re too paranoid to realize you don’t. But Jaslyn seems to have more reason to be worried than most. She and her husband have just moved to a gated community where she feels safer since she’s still nursing some trauma and anxiety stemming from an incident two decades prior. A flashback seems to imply it was a home invasion, but the episode doles out the details reluctantly a bit at a time.
Jaslyn runs an online store selling homemade jewelry. Her husband, Bryce (a determinedly insufferable Max Greenfield), is one of those quintessential control-freak horror husbands who mansplains home security to his wife, doesn’t take her feelings remotely seriously, and is more concerned with firing people at work who accuse him of being OCD (he just wants things done correctly!) It should come as no surprise that, when Bryce leaves for work, a lonely Jaslyn is startled through the doorbell camera by a man who looks like Jimmy Saville got left in the washing machine. He knows Jaslyn’s name, and he wants her attention.
Of course, when Jaslyn calls the police, the guy disappears. The Aura app doesn’t record anything, even though it’s supposed to, and the camera a neighbor had installed over the garage. which has a full view of Jaslyn’s front door. didn’t spot the man either. What happened is written off as stress, a bad dream, and the lingering effects of what Jaslyn experienced as a kid. Even when it seems like “Aura” is going to take a slightly fresh turn by having Bryce literally see the creepy dude on the app the next time he shows up, he instead calls the neighbor, Hwan, who says he can’t see anything on his cameras, so Bryce just immediately writes the whole thing off as a prank. He thinks some hacker has broken into their WiFi and is tormenting Jas, and he’s bizarrely unconcerned about that. He even advises Jas to look up other Aura pranks on YouTube so she can see it happens all the time. That’s terrible advice!
So, naturally, Jaslyn finds a “prank” that apparently wasn’t a prank and has a lot of similarities to what she’s experiencing. She also begins to put some pieces together about her past, recalling a creepy janitor from high school named Mr. Hendricks who she was once jokingly nice to. He took that a bit seriously and started sending her love notes until he was apparently institutionalized. And in the flashback, we see he definitely has a clear resemblance to the guy from the doorstep.
So, despite not being able to find any information about Mr. Hendricks, Jaslyn is nonetheless able to figure out his sister’s home address. There, she learns that Dayle has been living in the house since he lost his high school job, but that he recently disappeared. He’s also very into computers, which Bryce takes to mean that he’s definitely the one hacking into the WiFi, despite not having remotely believed Jaslyn’s claims that the guy on the step was him in the first place. When Jaslyn returns home, Dayle is back, and, crucially, she lets him in.
Having been granted access, Dayle apologizes to Jaslyn for making her feel uncomfortable at school, she apologizes for her and her friends making fun of him, they decide to forgive each other and his eyes start bleeding and he turns to dust. On the local news the next day, his dead body is dragged out of a river. The implication is that Jas has helped him move on. So, when a young woman turns up on their doorstep the next day, similarly asking for entry, we’re to imagine that this is another person who has suffered and is in need of closure.
This is why it’s immediately suspicious when Bryce jumps all over this after hearing the woman’s voice and the mention of Grace Park, where Jas later learns the woman, Mary Jeane Burkett, was the victim of a hit-and-run. He throws the Aura in the trash and is adamant that it’s all a prank, but Jaslyn has figured out what we’ve already figured out — that the ghost of Mary Jeane is coming to their home for a reason, and since she doesn’t know Jas, it must be something to do with Bryce. When Jas confronts him he eventually reveals that Mary Jeane was his fiance and that the night she died was also the night he broke off their relationship. When Jas lets Mary Jeane in, though, Bryce is forced to reveal that Mary Jeane was pregnant with his child, and since he couldn’t allow that to interfere with his “plan”, he took the hit-and-run as an opportunity to stand on her throat and break her neck. (This was foreshadowed earlier by Bryce rather casually poisoning a raccoon that knocked over their bins. Never trust someone who’s mean to animals!)
It’s silly how quickly Jaslyn turns on Bryce, and equally silly how blase he is about deciding to kill Jas with a fireplace poker now that she’s privy to his secret. Nothing about this is reminiscent of how real human beings might think and behave, but it scarcely matters since the ghost of Mary Jeane, cradling the ghost of her child, manages to… I think telekinetically squeeze Bryce to death? Luckily he turns to ash like Dayle Hendricks did, so Jaslyn doesn’t have to deal with any awkward questions about it.
Then again, three months later, when Jas has moved into a new apartment block in which Aura doorbells are installed as standard, she does have to deal with a knock at the door. I wonder who that could be?
You can stream American Horror Stories season 2, episode 2, “Aura”, exclusively on FX on Hulu.