Monday, November 29, 2021

‘Double Feature,’ Double Column: Let’s talk ‘American Horror Story’ Season 10

October 6, 2021
<p>&quot;American Horror Story: Double Feature.&quot; Design by Madison Echlin. </p>

"American Horror Story: Double Feature." Design by Madison Echlin.

Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

In honor of the tenth season of "American Horror Story" being aptly subtitled "Double Feature" — it features two seasons, "Red Tide" and "Death Valley" in one — city editor Griffin Wiles and cops and courts reporter Wajeeha Kamal decided to sound-off on the new season in a good, old-fashioned double column.

From the performances of Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe to the (questionable?) casting of Kaia Gerber, read our thoughts on the new season — with as few spoilers as possible.

Griffin

I have watched every season of “American Horror Story” as it aired since the third season, “Coven,” premiered in 2013. Should I have been watching that season as a 12-year-old? Probably not. But, it reeled me in, and now I’ve both enjoyed and suffered through (for lack of better term) every season since. 

So, when it was announced that the show’s tenth season, “Double Feature,” would be split into two different storylines — “Red Tide” and “Death Valley” — I was definitely intrigued. The first six episodes would take place “by the sea,” and the final four would take place “by the sand,” respectively. 

The entirety of “Red Tide” has aired, and it certainly kicked the season off with a bang — or, should I say, bite

It focuses on a screenplay writer who moves his family to Provincetown, Massachusetts, for a winter, in hopes of getting some inspiration for his upcoming projects. Upon meeting some rather established celebrity icons (including an erotic novel author portrayed by Frances Conroy), that scriptwriter, portrayed by “AHS” veteran Finn Wittrock, is introduced to a little black pill that could either emphasize the talent that one has or, if you don’t have talent, turn you into a “pale person” — a bloodsucking, vampiric creature who terrorizes the town and its residents. 

It seems out-there, even for a Ryan Murphy production. There are, of course, catches to taking the black pill, even if you do have talent, and Wittrock’s character has to deal with those — and the other PTown residents — throughout the first six episodes of the season. It’s fun, it’s shocking and it’s kind of camp. I liked it. 

The first episode of the “Death Valley” portion of the season premiered last Wednesday, and based on what I know thus far, it centers around aliens. There seems to be two storylines going on in it already — one taking place in the 50s, shot in black and white, and one taking place in the present day, in color. 

In the black-and-white scenes, the existence of aliens is brought to the attention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower after they touch down in New Mexico. In the present-day scenes, four college students go on a camping trip that goes incredibly awry. How they connect? I don’t really know yet. I know Murphy has some tricks up his sleeve, though, so I’ll watch in eager anticipation to see where it goes. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the seven episodes that have aired thus far, but this season does seem to mark a departure of sorts from the nine that aired prior to it. 

The cast of “Double Feature” features only a few heavy-hitters who have been around since the show's conception — Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe and Frances Conroy being those long-established vets who appear in the main credits for “Red Tide.”

The rest of the cast is rounded out by relative newcomers to the series. Leslie Grossman, who appeared in two early Ryan Murphy productions, “Popular” and “Nip/Tuck,” returned for her fourth consecutive “AHS” season. Angelica Ross, from “Pose,” returned for her second. Wittrock debuted in the fourth season, “Freak Show,” but hadn’t been in such a pivotal, main role since that season seven years ago. 

It feels like Murphy is at the point in his career where he is creating content with the people he likes to create content with. He is working with actors who he has established relationships with, and who he likely knows can deliver on whatever character he concocts for them. Sometimes, it feels like typecasting (Grossman has played some iteration of the same character in all three Murphy shows she’s been in, and in every “AHS” season in which she appears, but she still does a bang-up job in every role, so I’m not complaining).

So, that’s why the “Death Valley” main cast having more absolute newcomers than returners seems a little… off. Paulson, Rabe, Grossman and Ross’ names appear in the title sequence, but the rest is rounded out by a group of newcomers to the filmography of Ryan Murphy. 

Well, almost all of them. One new “AHS” addition, Kaia Gerber, appeared in two episodes of the spin-off anthology series “American Horror Stories,” where each episode had a different, contained storyline. 

And I’ll be blunt — Gerber did not perform to the likes of Paulson and Rabe in her acting debut. She was panned online for not knowing how to act, to which I agreed. So, when I saw her name in the opening title sequence of “Death Valley,” I feared that the season would be derailed by lackluster acting that plagued “Stories.” 

However, I was pleasantly surprised upon watching the first episode that she wasn’t bad. In fact, I think she was fine. You won’t see her name on Emmy contender lists, but that doesn’t discredit the fact that there is a noticeable growth from her small list of acting credits. Should she receive another role in a future season, I’m excited to see where she’ll take it.

Part of me feels like the show is getting back to its roots in terms of writing and content, but part of me also feels like it’s getting watered down. In the first three seasons, for example, some things happened almost for pure shock value (the Rubber Man, Shelley’s entire storyline in “Asylum,” Bloody Face, Queenie and the Minotaur, Spalding and his dolls, you name it). But, that’s what put the “horror” in “American Horror Story.” It was scary, you were on the edge of your seat and you had no idea what the hell would happen next. It made for good television. 

Now, the series feels like it has taken the “horror” out of the title and replaced it with… I’m not sure what. It’s neither bland nor boring, but it just doesn’t take the storyline to the levels of the early seasons. It registers as a screwed-up soap-opera-but-make-it-camp more than anything. 

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The characterization also feels weaker, and it’s harder to really connect with the new crop of characters that pop up. I mean, who didn’t have a polarized reaction to Emma Roberts’ Madison Montgomery in season three? Who wasn’t rooting for Tate and Violet in “Murder House?” 

Sure, “Double Feature” has some characters that I like, but there’s nothing really iconic going on. I was invested as it aired, but I feel like I’ll forget about it when season 11 rolls around next year. I don’t want to call it a filler season, but the writers had an entire pandemic to hone in on and fine-tune the idea to make it as perfect as it could be when it came time to film, but the season still feels rushed. 

I’m not hating. Like I’ve said, I like the season. It’s a nice reprieve from the preceding seasons like “Roanoke,” “Cult” and “1984” that felt entirely disconnected from the early seasons. However, “Double Feature” does not match the heights of peak “AHS.” 

I’m invested and intrigued as to where the final three episodes will go. I have seen cast members such as Grossman and Ross praise “Death Valley” and say that it will connect to other seasons (another area in which the show has seemed to be lacking in recent years), so I’m holding out hope that it can redeem itself. 

And, if it doesn’t, I’m still going to watch season 11. And season 12. And season 13. And however many other seasons this freak show (get it?) is renewed for. 

That being said, Ryan Murphy — I’ve got my eye on you. We’ve got three episodes left this season, so let’s make them count… please.

Wajeeha

Ryan Murphy... oh... Ryan Murphy. You should know where this is going. No, not "Glee." Today, I'm talking about "American Horror Story's" tenth season, "Double Feature," split into two parts: "Red Tide" and "Death Valley." And boy, do I have some thoughts (like always).

To preface, I began watching "AHS" a few years ago, and I didn't watch it in order. I started with "Cult" and it continues to be (in my opinion) an underrated season... and my favorite! I also enjoyed "Coven" and "Asylum." "Murder House" makes me angry. Ryan, let it go... I beg of you. Every other season, especially the spin-off, doesn't have to revolve around this season. I am sick of it.

Also, I haven't seen "Freak Show" or "Hotel." I tried watching "Freak Show." I couldn't do it. I'm sorry "Freak Show" stans.

If I'm honest, I had no expectations for "Red Tide." After watching "1984," I surrendered hope. I did enjoy "Apocalypse" and "Roanoke." So, the common theme is Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters. I really enjoy Evan Peters.

I had even less hope (if that's possible) for the new season after watching the spin-off "American Horror Stories." What a creative name! And what a horrible show (spoiler alert: Kaia Gerber)! Actually, it was so horrendously awful, and I recommend you don't watch it. Watch "Goosebumps" instead.

Now, let's get into the juice of it all: The new season.

Side-note: I will be taking a character-critical approach to this review. I enjoy character-driven stories. "AHS" typically does an OK balance of plot and character development.

Lily Rabe gave an amazing performance. Wow. I've always felt she was an underestimated actress in the seasons she was in. "Red Tide" showed us what Rabe was capable of. Something, we, the audience already knew, but never got to actually see. Now, we have and it is satisfying and definitely award-winning.

Also, every single season Adina Porter has been in, her character has been wasted. It is a shame. Ryan, I dare you to do something with Porter. Does she kill her roles every single time though? Obviously. But stop making her a supporting character who dies in the first few episodes.

I thoroughly enjoyed Finn Wittrock's performance, as well. His scenes with Ryan Kiera Armstrong's character, Alma (the bane to my existence), were wonderful and frustrated me, including the treatment of Rabe's character, Doris. But I think that was the purpose. They certainly succeeded.

Sarah Paulson (Tuberculosis Karen) and Macaulay Culkin (Mickey) were the heart of this season. Their tragic endings solidified the fifth episode into being the best episode this season. They provided the emotional gravity "AHS" lacks at times. For instance, compare their storyline to the Richard Ramirez plot in "1984." See the difference now? Perhaps, they aren't comparable, but I want you to see the difference in storytelling between the two seasons. It's very clear.

"Red Tide" aside, I don't understand why "AHS" likes to take very real, terrible people like Ramirez or Delphine LaLaurie and turn them into quintessential parts of the season, whether it's through redemption or odd-romanticization/martyr-type figures.

Going back to "Red Tide," I hated Alma. But Armstrong did what she came here to do, which is precisely that. I hope Armstrong comes back, as she is incredibly talented.

Evan Peters' Austin and Frances Conroy's Belle Noir were great. However, the season finale didn't do their characters justice. More could have been done with them. They were marketed as central characters, but they weren't. In fact, they didn't have much screen time after *maybe* the second or third episode. Overall, they didn't serve their purpose. Phenomenal performances like always, though.

Leslie Grossman's Ursula was bland, to say the least. Every season, she plays the same character — villain-ish, comedic relief. I want to see something different. Alas, it didn't cut it for me. I will say this, Grossman does a great job every time she plays... the same exact character.

Unfortunately, I think both character and plot development suffered in this season's finale. Everyone dies. OK, that's fine. Yet, the characters with, perhaps, the least amount of importance (besides Alma) lived. There was no gravity to any characters' death, it's just death for the sake of death.

Yes, "AHS" is all shock. But, when the entire plot is centered around a group of characters, and all those characters die, it truly has no impact on their stories and the overall story. In fact, it seems like you just wasted your time watching.

The deaths did not carry the finale further in terms of storytelling. The quality in writing and dialogue faltered, too. I notice character deaths are usually a trade-off in advancing the overall plot or development of a certain character. I think it was possible to do both this season, but alas.

The finale was also rushed. It was noticeable. To sum it up, "Red Tide" was visually pleasing and the cinematography is some of the series' best work. I give it 7.5/10 pills.

I've seen the first episode of "Death Valley." It was rough. I enjoyed seeing Rabe and Paulson, their characters are intriguing. I'm excited to see what's next for them. Neal McDonough's back must be broken from carrying the first episode. I know him from the Arrowverse (yikes...) and I've always given him credit where it's due. His portrayal of Dwight D. Eisenhower was entertaining in all the right ways, perfection.

Kaia Gerber on the other hand — not a pleasure to watch. That's where the first episode failed. The core-four teenagers did not deliver a convincing performance. Gerber speaks like a brick. It wasn't appealing. Was it an improvement from the spin-off? Sure. But her line delivery was subpar, she's clearly not an actress. I would much rather see a fresh-faced actress play all her roles.

I will continue watching "Death Valley." Maybe, we'll revisit it when it's done airing. For now... I'm gonna go take my pills.

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