American Horror Story S9E4: True Killers

by thethreepennyguignol

Look, for the love of fuck, alright? Can we just? Can we just for once? Can we just for once not?


Can we just for once not try to make a notorious and real-life serial killer and rapist and noted misogynist into some sexy object of lusty feminine desire? Can we stop depicting bisexual people as oversexed, immoral psychopaths? Can we stop dragging out esteemable talent like John Carrol Lynch and paste on comically bad dialogue for them to attempt to emote through? Can this show just not be shit in every way it’s possible to be shit for one singular second?

Maybe I’m just in a bad mood today. But this week’s episode, True Killers, just rubbed me all kinds of the wrong way. My biggest problem with this season is probably the inclusion and overt sexualisation of Richard Ramirez; look, Zach Villa, the actor playing him, isn’t entirely the problem here, though his perma-snarl is slightly embarrassing by this point. But why, oh why, oh why, did the show decide that showing him as a sexy bad boy was the way to go? If you must indulge that trope, invent someone to do it with – if you must include Ramirez, don’t spend four episodes underlining how sexy and damaged and in need of the love of a good woman he is. I‘m abjectly fucking tired of the intense interest that pop culture has taken in violent misogynists lately, and American Horror Story has been an atrocious offender of this trope of late.

Okay, I’ve got that out of my system. But that’s not to say that even beyond that this episode has a lot to offer. American Horror Story has always attracted actors of notoriously high quality, but these last few seasons it’s just been aggressively wasting them: Cody Fern is a tremendous dramatic actor, but  feels as out-of-place here in the low-effort camp as he did last season, while John Carroll Lynch just isn’t getting the meat he needs to get into this performance (I recently watched No-End House, which featured him as a villain, and his incredible mix of empathy, tragedy, and terror proves that he knows just how to do this). Emma Roberts gives good bitch but is grossly miscast as the final girl-adjacent here, and somehow Matthew Morrison seems to be the only person tonally suited to this mess of a season so far, which is something of a horror story in and of itself given, you know, his previous work.

Of course, we’re prime time for the twist everyone saw coming: Lesley Grossman was actually the one to commit the killing spree that initially closed the camp, and pinned it all on Benji/Jingles to get away with it. It’s been so strongly telegraphed that it barely even counts as a twist, but it still leaves a lot of cheerfully unanswered questions about why Benji has become an actual serial murderer in the intervening time. Well, I suppose they try to offer an answer to that in a few scenes of him receiving violent electroshock therapy, which, and I don’t want to bang on this drum too much, but as a therapeutic tool really has a much worse name than it needs to have and is very useful for a lot of people, and could probably use American Horror Story not using it as a spooky trope?

Every season, I come in to these recaps thinking I might not be inherently irritated by what I’m going to see. Every season, I am made to look a clown (also speaking of clowns, read our Joker review). This show wants to sexify the image of real serial killers, waste numerous talented performers (and behind-the-scenes staff too – Jennifer Lynch directs this episode, and does really well with it despite the irritating subject matter), and generally just regurgitate boring horror tropes and call it prestige meta-narrative.

If you liked this article and want to see more stuff like it, check out my Game of Thrones snark-caps, my Doctor Who reviews, and my Star Wars movie retrospective on my other blog, No But Listen. As ever, please consider supporting me on Patreon for access to exclusive posts and a chance to choose what I write about!

(header image via TV Fix)