American Horror Story S8E4: Could It Be…Satan?

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, last week, I wondered how on earth this show was going to move forward after it flipped the board so utterly in the last episode. And this week, I have my answer: they’re not. They’re going to go back, instead. And I think – I think – it’s the better choice.

This week delves into the backstory of Michael Langdon, as the show tracks his adolescence and acceptance into Hogwarts a magic school for boys thanks to his immense displays of dark power – including turning an unsuspecting butcher into a colander for insulting his adoptive mother and breaking the limbs of a cop interrogating him. Did I mention the adoptive mother is played by Kathy Bates (who it turns out he modelled current robot Kathy Bates upon), hailing Satan and boasting about murdering all of her husbands over dinner? This makes little sense (what happened to Constance Langdon, his namesake and original guardian?) but since it gives Kathy Bates more of a chance to be the Satanic butch of my dreams, I’ll live with it.

And honestly, that’s probably how I feel about most of this episode: I think it’s indulgent and self-congratulatory, but since a lot of what they’re congratulating themselves on happens to be stuff I enjoy, they slide by on good faith. Cody Fern – in all-black, floppy-blonde-haired costume bearing more than a passing resemblance to Evan Peters’ Tate from season one, his father (Jesus, this is already all so fucking convoluted) – as a young Michael does solidly navigating the viewer through the new world of Warlocks, even if he’s clearly so much better at fully-fledged Antichrist Langdon in comparison; anything else feels like half-measures, no matter what nuance the show tries to find in this aspect of his performance.

The best parts of the episode revolve around his descent into various Hells to retrieve witches trapped there that Cordelia (a returning Sarah Paulson, in her role as Supreme from season three, feeling more weighty than she has all season) was unable to rescue herself. The second of which features Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), trapped in her personal hell of customer service, while she’s all sass and asking for a dicking and reminding everyone who felt no urge ever to watch Coven again (raises hand) who she actually is, which is fun enough.

But the first hell comes in the form of the Hotel Cortez (season five), where Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe, great as ever) has been trapped playing card games with the psychotic ghost of James March (a new but old Evan Peters – bloody hell, is this season just built to defy my ability to write a coherent review? Because it’s starting to feel that way), until Langdon manages to break her out. And honestly, this sequence is all about the Peters for me: March is probably his most out-there performance on the show and one of his most unsettling, and seeing serial killer March visibly quiver in the presence of Michael almost does more to convince me of Langdon’s fearfulness than anything Cody Fern has done so far.

Elsewhere, Frances Conroy gets to sweep around in an enormous wig and groan about missing reservations at fancy restaurants as Myrtle, which I am not sad about at all: I still think about her describing Autumn as smelling like an “Olympian’s ejaculate” at least once a week, so I’m glad to have this soaring Conroy performance back in the building. Taissa Farmiga is slightly better than I remembered, though maybe that’s because she’s not raping someone to death with her deadly vagina (did I mention that Coven is garbage? It is), and Cheyenne Jackson gets to rock up and smoke and be handsome and exhausted and concerned, which is all fine by me and he does the job well enough. Adina Porter gets a line about just wanting to watch the chaos unfold unscathed which was my biggest laugh of the episode –  that woman can make anything sound like superb writing so I’m just happy to have her around for another season. Jon Jon Briones, who put in one of the single best performances of the year in American Crime Story back in the Spring, also makes a cameo – can we please have him as main cast in something, please? Come on, Ryan Murphy, I know you have a juicy role somewhere up your illustrious sleeves.

There’s a greatest-hits feel to this episode – sure, maybe I’d prefer to skip by a few songs (Emma Roberts as Madison is already starting to wear out her welcome, and honestly I really still don’t know if this is a good Cody Fern performance or not), but there’s plenty here that I’m happy to come across again. Peters and Conroy get to return to their biggest and most fun performances of the show to date – Sarah Paulson gets to turn her talent to a character more concrete.

This was probably the most enjoyable episode of this season so far for me, to be honest with you. Looking back has never been a problem for this show – especially as it has become increasingly wrapped up in its own backstory and interlocking seasons. And that’s fun for an episode , maybe two, given that this story didn’t feel totally complete by the time the credits rolled. But what I’m interested to see is what they hell they can do for the rest of this season moving forward, given the backwards-facing and internalised direction the show seems to be heading in.

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! And if you’re in a horror mood, go check out Halloween season on my film site, No But Listen.

(header image courtesy of Bold Move)