Reading Your ‘Aura’: Episode 2 of ‘American Horror Stories’ Season 2

Season 2, episode 2 of “American Horror Stories” is a parable for facing your past and owning up to your mistakes, no matter how large.

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The promotional poster for “Aura”. (Hulu/American Horror Stories)

Blythe Bouza, Senior Staff Writer

Episode 2, “Aura,” in the new season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s “American Horror Stories,” centers itself around the following quote: “The world is split between the ones who plan their lives and the ones who serve those that plan their lives.”

The conflict between free will and destiny creates the “horror” of this installment–and it all begins with a simple doorbell.

Couple Jaslyn and Bryce Taylor (Gabourey Sidibe and Max Greenfield) have just moved into their new home, and although they’re safely tucked away in a gated community chock-full of security guards and avid neighborhood watch members, Jaslyn still feels uneasy thanks to a home invasion she experienced over 20 years ago. 

Cue the Aura–the market’s newest, most innovative, smart door camera. 

I’m sure you can see where this story is going; home invasion and harassment aren’t exactly new territory in the world of horror movies and shows. While Aura might not be the most viscerally scary idea concocted by Murphy and Falchuk, it feels rooted in reality—one that could be our own. How many people do you know that have a Ring, Nest or even a Blink video doorbell?. It’s not hard to imagine Jaslyn and Bryce as our own neighbors. Overall, “Aura” turns out to be a surprisingly satisfying and solid episode despite some logical reaches.

Beginning as a warning against all of this new technology we allow into our homes, “Aura”  almost plays out more like an episode of “Black Mirror” than “American Horror Stories.” However the appearance of Mr. Hendricks (Joel Swetow) screaming through the video camera with his gaunt face and stringy Mr. Filch-esque hair reminds us that we’re supposed to be frightened more than pensively chilled. 

Mr. Hendricks keeps appearing at Jaslyn’s door, becoming the crucial cog in this episode’s machine given Jaslyn’s past traumatic experience. The show’s depiction of the invasion from her youth is cheesy at best, poorly executed at worst, with the invaders wearing cliche animal masks that seemed like they were pulled straight out of “The Purge” or any other home invasion film in history. If the creators wanted to make Jaslyn’s paranoia a pillar of this episode, I would have liked more context on what happened to her as a child.

Image depicting a man on an Aura doorbell camera.
Image depicting Mr. Hendricks on Jaslyn’s doorbell camera. (Hulu/American Horror Stories) (Hulu)

The entire plot of “Aura ” feels focused on Jaslyn attempting to convince everyone that her story and Mr. Hendricks are real. A la cliche home invasion films, the app won’t record the security footage like its supposed to, the police don’t believe her and the neighbor’s security cameras don’t reveal any man on her porch shaking her doorknob. Even her husband–a slightly condescending and arrogant workaholic who is reminiscent of a darker version of Greenfield’s iconic “New Girl” role as Schmidt–doesn’t believe her.

Eventually, the story painstakingly moves away from this trope and morphs into something more invigorating and exciting. 

We are introduced to the origin of Mr. Hendricks, a lonely janitor who had an unsettling hyperfixation on Jaslyn in her high school days. I originally thought it would be her 20-year-old nightmare come true, but I was proven wrong. Unlike some horror characters, Swetow’s portrayal of Hendricks never comes across as one you can laugh off. His sadness, loneliness and longing evoke feelings of pity and empathy. This approach is helpful for when Jaslyn has to face her past and atone for her sins against Hendricks. 

Throughout the episode, otherworldly figures also appear on the Aura cameras. The reasoning for these visions is a major stretch, but I’ll let it slide for the sake of moving the plot along.

Through the theme of forgiveness, reparation and even a little bit of karma, we’re brought back to what it takes to plan out one’s life and what lengths some people will go to avoid serving another. 

Overall, “Aura” offers fun thematic and tonal shifts compared to its predecessors. Instead of focusing on the extremes of the supernatural, it mixes them into everyday life for a more modern and relatable take. With the occasional need for the suspension of disbelief aside, “Aura” is one of the stronger “American Horror Stories” episodes, and I look forward to seeing what’s next.