Mother Knows Best

As part of his four part review on season five of American Horror Story, Connor Taylor has analysed episode three and how this individual story links to fear.  Connor is a third year English and Creative Writing student.

We are all well and truly on the train with American Horror Story and with episode three been and gone, we are left with a sour taste in our mouth and a fresh cold sweat on our skin. It has to be said that there was something incredibly unnerving about this ‘mother’ of an episode we recently received. The episode starred an important interaction between the twisted mother Iris (Kathy Bates) and her distant and drop dead something son, Donovan (Matt Bomer).

Following my first contribution of this four part article, speaking of the fear of abandonment, we will consider another fear which can hopefully give some closure to that gnawing unsettled panic, which troubles the mind from one week to the next.
But what could possibly be behind the fear or anxiety, of a rough patch between a mother and her son?


“The fear of eternally and unendingly being single… Forever.”

Everyone in their life – at least it seems so – wonders if they will die alone. If you don’t, you at least will, now. We are beings of a recognisable community and even those who enjoy their own solitude do not wish to leave the world in a state of unbridled loneliness. It is indeed a depressing topic but there is some small comfort in which yet again, AHS subverts against you in a destructive masochistic, sweet, sort of way. Family is a crux on which we as mindless creatures so heavily depend.
Delightfully twisted in her ignorance, the mother Iris, tries desperately to rekindle a relationship with her child even after the years that are most important to maternal development, have withered away. Of course we could speak about the sadness of abandonment or the dissipation of feelings towards our parents, but the fear of being single – or freshly single – is something which will remain with us for a troublesome period of time. This fear is not experienced by everyone. Even if everyone feels it from time to time, it only remains with a majority: some people actually enjoy their ‘alone time’.
Mother issues are certainly rife in this season and of course we could spend an eternity writing about Donovan’s mother issues and the significant element of Gothic within that estranged gentleman. However we’ll consider Iris, a lost soul whose whiny dialogue sounds as if it has poured vehemently from the pages of a screaming classic Gothic novel.
Take, “I don’t know who I am if I’m not your mother” for example. Of course there was plenty more to talk about but to keep it as free from spoilers as I can I will mainly summarise. We hear how Iris left Donovan’s father, how he was good for nothing and how she was almost tyrannical in her mothering, yet so neglectful with her care.

There is something oddly unsettling in the powerlessness of her speech and how beneath all the turmoil in it, it sprouts seemingly from her jaded feelings. She talks of her husband as if there existed nothing but bitterness, but clearly she had taken enough time either in herself or with him to passively alienate her son. Now grown and sad, she clambers to the only other person she can writhe any emotion out of to sustain her broken psyche. Of course it is all too late. Her descent into madness seems ripped from the tales of an empty castle or a solemn ghost.
The AHS writers have worked hard crafting an almost perfect modern Gothic mother and try desperately among the self-pity and loathing of her lines, to work wonders within the female character form. It’s easy to write the main protagonist as strong and valiant but there must be more than one shifted type of emotion and “consequently the Gothic mode — and in particular the concept of self as monster — is associated with narratives of female experience” (Stein, 1983 p123-137) thus, the need and potential in Iris’ tale arises.
She doesn’t want to die alone…
Even near the end when she tries to end her life she turned to someone else to do it; perhaps not because she is too afraid of death (she works in a hotel made for murdering and from the first episode she certainly seems to at least know how to work some death traps) but because she wants to be in the presence of another. Even if it is Sally (Sarah Paulson) who she hates – and killed. Overall, I do not like Iris. I believe, in a sense, she comes across neglectful but I myself have never been in a position where I had to fend tooth and nail for my children or against a husband. She did, however, appear to ruin her son’s diet and cause a disgusting accident in school because of it, as well as seemingly ruling and confining his life.
The writers of the show make me hate, yet sympathise, her character all at once and it is very confusing for me.
Episode three was about development and character, and it most certainly gave this season of AHS a kick in the right direction; being one of the good ones. I, in particular, can’t wait to see more of the show and work at looking into – at least lightly – the things that go beneath the surface of an accustomed reality.

About spectralvisions

Spectral Visions is an annual Gothic conference hosted by the University of Sunderland. It explores the dark, the decadent and the terrifying aspects of Gothic literature and language. This blog is a student-run initiative, where Visionaries showcase their creative talents and learning in short stories, poems and essays on the Gothic. You can follow us on Twitter at @spectralvisi0ns or like us on Facebook at
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1 Response to Mother Knows Best

  1. Barry Hall says:

    Great post, Connor. I’m really enjoying American Horror Story. I’d be quite happy watching the cast just wander ’round the fantastic hotel backed by Siouxsie and the Banshees!


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