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Review: ‘American Horror Stories: Dollhouse’ Season Premiere

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Ready for something else to scare the pants off of you, besides the sky-high gas prices? Fx on Hulu has something special for you this hot summer season. The spin-off of Ryan Murphy’s wildly successful series American Horror Story, launched its second season earlier this week – American Horror Stories: Dollhouse.

Still connected to the flagship series through a shared universe, American Horror Stories tells a new story every episode, providing small bits of horror to fans around the world. The premiere episode titled “Dollhouse” mixes three of my worst fears into a one-hour show: creepy old men, even creepier children, and dolls.

Manny Coto is back to write this episode, having written four of the seven in the first season, bringing the excitement and the chills. So how did season two premiere compare to season one? Let’s explore what the American Horror Stories: Dollhouse had to offer AHS fans.

[Warning: Spoilers from American Horror Stories: Dollhouse premiere are below!]

Looking for a wife and a simpler life in American Horror Stories: Dollhouse

Set in 1961, the season premiere follows Coby (Kristine Froseth), a woman looking for work at Van Wirt’s (Denis O’Hare) dollmaking company. Initially dismissing Coby, Van Wirt has her kidnapped and escorted to a house on his property. The house is a perfect replication of an old-school dollhouse, however on a much larger scale. In the house, Coby finds four other women, Aurelia (Abby Corrigan), Harlene (Simone Recasner), Faye (Maryssa Menedez), and Bonnie (Emily Morales-Cabrera). 

These four were also kidnapped and dressed like lifesize dolls, including porcelain masks they are forced to wear. Coby learns quickly that Van Wirt is holding some intense game of homemaker, in hopes of finding the perfect mother for his son Otis (Houston Towe). Van Wirt tests the girls on place settings for dinner parties and ironing shirts, eliminating the girl who fails the most each time.

American Horror Stories: Dollhouse Denis O'Hare
Denis O’Hare as Van Wirt in American Horror Stories: Dollhouse

There’s a desperation within the group of girls, as survival instincts take over. Aurelia becomes crazed with her desire to live and at one point decides to take matters into her own hands to ensure that. However, Coby has a different plan and powers to back it up. 

Escaping from the Dollhouse

Coby exhibits pretty early in the story some form of basic magical powers, which she uses to win over Otis. He begins as a very angry child but warms to Coby as she shows him her ability to move objects with her mind. She uses it to make a toy fire truck chase Otis around the Dollhouse. The two develop a close bond, with Otis exhibiting love for Coby and her powers. She promises to be his mother if he pleads with his father for the girls to be released from imprisonment. 

That plan fails miserably, resulting in another of the girls’ deaths, pushing Coby to develop another plan, a trick allowing them to escape from the dollhouse once and for all. Once escaped, the two other girls still alive leave Coby, who ventures into the main house, searching for Otis to take with her. His fear of upsetting his father and desire to keep Coby as his mother leads Otis to betray her a second time.

A magical connection to American Horror Story: Coven

Trapped in a perfect doll body, Coby seems resigned to living her new life of porcelain and servitude. However, a last-minute surprise appearance from two women in long black cloaks signaled a change for Coby’s future. Telling her that she has powers and therefore a witch, the two cloaked ladies broke her doll shell, allowing her and Otis to join them at Miss Robichaux’s Academy.

Fans of AHS: Coven could easily recognize the name and the house that the academy was in, seeing that it was the main setting of the third season. While the original series never mentioned Coby and her abilities, Otis grew into someone connecting this episode with Coven. Forgoing his birth name, Otis becomes known as Spalding, who eventually becomes an aged caretaker of Miss Robichaux’s Academy, seen in Coven and is also played by Denis O’Hare.

American Horror Story: Coven Denis O'Hare
Denis O’Hare as Spaulding from American Horror Story: Coven

Having this small connection between this episode and a fan favorite season from American Horror Story was such a highlight of the series. I wonder in a similar fashion to American Horror Stories’ first season, if a connective theme of this season will be continuous callbacks to a singular season for the original series. The first season of the spin-off kept returning to Murder House, the setting from the main series’ first season. I think we may see a few more returns to Miss Robichaux’s Academy and some fan-favorite characters before the season is done.

What worked well in American Horror Stories: Dollhouse

“Dollhouse” was a great episode to start off the new season. The entire story was self-contained in the way that it didn’t need any larger connections to be enjoyable. The ideal of a creepy toymaker forcing people to live as human dolls is scary enough to give me nightmares. However, the small connective tissue provided at the end of my favorite season of AHS was like icing on the cake. 

As a veteran of the shared universe, Denis O’Hare shines as the villain of this story. In every role, I have seen him in he just becomes the character. Appearing in almost every season of the original series, you never feel like he has repeated a character or beat unless he is supposed to. Van Wirt has such a calm demeanor, however exuding scary energy in every scene.

American Horror Stories: Dollhouse Kristine Froseth
Kristine Froseth as Coby/Coby the Clown in American Horror Stories: Dollhouse

Kristine Froseth was also exceptional as Coby, stealing almost every scene that she is in. I was so happy with how her story ended, which was relatively happy. Something that most people don’t get in American Horror Story. She put a lot of heart into this role, allowing the audience to feel every feeling she is experiencing. This is her first foray into AHS, but I hope we see more of her before the universe reaches its conclusion.

Overall impressions of “Dollhouse”

If this episode is a gauge of the caliber of this season, I think it’s safe to say that fans are in for a treat. There wasn’t a moment during the 45-minute episode that I found myself annoyed, confused, or unhappy with what I was viewing. I’m always ecstatic to return to the witches of American Horror Story and their coven, regardless of the time period. I think this episode also opens the door for a greater exploration of Miss Robichaux’s Academy, especially during the 1960s.

What did you think of the American Horror Story: Dollhouse premiere? Were you happy with it like I was, or disappointed with what we were given? Let us know over on Twitter!

American Horror Story: Dollhouse is currently streaming on Hulu .

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 365 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson