American Horror Story S8E2: The Morning After

by thethreepennyguignol

If there was one word I had to use to describe this season so far, it would be “cavernous”. And that’s not just a reference to the enormous mansion where most of the action of these last two episodes has taken place (kudos to the gorgeous cinematography for conveying that dizzying sense of space, especially in this week’s outing), but because there still feels like a lot of dead space in this story.

Which isn’t to say that this episode, The Morning After, doesn’t have a few echoes in that emptiness – and thus stands up better than last week’s dodgy-as-heck premier. The Morning After starts from a solid premise: Michael Langdon, from the mysterious Cooperative, has arrived to judge who is worthy of being rescued from the dwindling supplies of the original mansion, and conducts interviews and investigations into various members of the group, over the course of the episode.

And hey, it’s always good to see great character actors getting great character moments. Evan Peters is the arguable center of this episode, with a complicated story that revolves around his resentment towards his grandmother for trying to de-politicize his homosexuality and turn him into a housetrained gay she can show off to her friends.

Peters seems to be having a lot more fun than last week, revelling in some classic Ryan Murphy nonsense – screeching “Larry Kramer!” as he is whipped in punishment, sipping bisque through a gas mask to upset his grandmother, having smokin’ hot gay BDSM sex with possibly, maybe himself from season one – and there’s no doubt that his exceptional talent is a big part of grounding this story in something close to relatability, despite its evident batshittery. And, let’s be honest here, Peters and Cody Fern (as Langdon) have some fierce fucking chemistry, which helps douse things in the firehose of barely-contained sexual tension that Ryan Murphy seems to prefer for his shows. Hey, I’m on heavy psych medication right now and even felt something watching those scenes. Credit where credit’s due. Also, this plot is now known as The Hunger Gays, and I will accept no compromise on this.

Sarah Paulson, too, shares a great scene with Michael, as he exposes her scoliosis-ridden body and informs her that she will not be rescued from the house. This plot is a lot less fun but just as compelling, as Paulson delivers her soft-spoken intensity and pride to Langdon’s literal and metaphorical exposure of her: she, too, shares great chemistry with Fern, who seems to be generally having a whale of a time stalking around being the most evil being in the universe as translated via Anne Rice. Elsewhere, Kathy Bates is still killing it, sapphically murdering snakes with a big knife and spewing pus after a gunshot wound and generally only intensifying my powerful crush on her matte-lipped demi-demon self.

But the rest of the show feels curiously empty in comparison. The two young adults saved from the apocalypse because of their apparently-magical blood (or whatever) continue to lack chemistry, talent, or a decent enough plot to paper over those cracks – even as they investigate into the lies of the world around them, they feel inessential and pretty damn boring. Joan Collins is better this week, but this is still a performance that leaves me pretty cold: it’s so overblown, but the writing doesn’t have the nuance to ground it in anything else. Adina Potter and Jeffery Bowyer-Chapman are still just sort of hanging around, hoping for the best and idly accusing their companions of cannibalism, while Billie Lourde may as well literally not be in this season at all for all we’ve had of her, which is a shame because I really liked her pointedly deadpan performance in Cult.

And the thing is, we’ve still got a lot of the main cast still to turn up: Emma Roberts and Cheyenne Jackson (almost comically underserved in his tenure on the show so far) have yet to make an appearance, and a bunch of guests stars from previous seasons are also making a return at some point too. Which leaves this whole opening act feeling more like a prologue than the true start to a story – like the show is hurrying to bash through some set-up to get to the self-congratulatory parade of previous characters, which is sort of what I’m expecting the cameos from older seasons to play as (Jessica Lange should still win an Emmy for her cameo, though, and I’ll stand by that no matter what).

Maybe that’s cynical, or maybe I’ve just been watching this show too long to believe it’s going to deliver on anything truly meaty. I liked Cult a lot, I really did, but even at it’s best, it was powerfully flawed – and that seems to be the best we can ask for from American Horror Story these days. Yes, it still scatters through enough gorgeous style, talented actors, and fun characters to keep me coming back for more, but season eight is already starting to feel worryingly empty in comparison to other seasons of AHS. Could that change? Sure, and I hope it does. But will it?

And that’s where we leave off for this week! If you want to read some of my other recaps, I’m also looking at the first Harry Potter book chapter by chapter right now, and recently finished reviewing Sharp Objects episode by episode. If you enjoyed this recap and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon! You can also find more of my writing on my film site, No But Listen.

(header image courtesy of Variety)