American Horror Story S9E5: Red Dawn

by thethreepennyguignol

The pre-credits scene for this episode, Red Dawn, oozes with the promise of what I really want American Horror Story to be. Dede, pre-show, attempts to catch her philandering father out with one of his hook-ups. In the process, she discovers that he is actually a serial killer, and that she has stumbled across one of his kills mid-slaughter. It’s a violent sequence, yes – I had to watch giblets jiggling out of someone’s split-open torso – but it’s driven by the confrontation between Dede and her father and…it’s just great.

The character conflict, the emotion, the performance by a devastated, terrified Angelica Ross…this is what I’m in this show for. For me, and I know some will disagree, this show is at its most abjectly horrible not when Leslie Grossman is tearing off ears with her bare hands, but when it deals with the traumatising emotional impact of true horror. Season one and season two focused a lot of trauma, and the best of Roanoke had that in hand, too. And for a moment, just a moment, I spotted it again here.

And, in fact, there are a few glimpses of that over the course of this, one of the best episode if not the best of the season so far. Emma Roberts finally gets a little depth, as she reflects on the bullying her one-time fiancee put her through to prove his dominance over her. Ray, having been de-decapitated, in his freshly-risen form, feels fresh and more vulnerable than he did before, and the surprisingly tender sex scene he shares with Roberts is one of the best things either character has had so far – and yeah, surprisingly tender sex scenes aren’t exactly AHS forte, so double points there. Chet (played by, and I just discovered this, an actual Olympian, Gus Kenworthy) and his fear in the face of death actually allows the meathead a little reflection.

But this episode, unfortunately, isn’t really about that. It’s about The Twist. The Twist that we’ve had coming all season – which is, of course, that those who die on the Camp Redwood grounds don’t stay dead, but they do stay right there. On the upside, it means John Carrol Lynch is back; on the downside, everything else.

Richard Ramirez still continues to be, much to my chagrin, everything is starting to feel rather repetitively Murder House, and the show is trying to fit about ninety different vengeful murder plots as people rise from the dead to avenge themselves. Xavier is after Jingles, Jingles is after Leslie Grossman, Angelica Ross is after herself, sort of, Billie Lourd is coming from Emma Roberts….Much as I would like there to be more room for people coming to terms with their past and what it means to their present, we have about fifteen different killers with wildly different motivations (some with no damn motivation at all, really) and a commitment to every single one of them getting in a good zinger before the kills (Billie Lourd’s “what, because I have RAD HAIR!” won the day for me), there just isn’t. I will say that this twist seems to have been born, raised, and killed over the course of just these forty minutes, which is something of a relief, but at the same time…what now?

Next week is the show’s one-hundreth episode, which is why I’m feeling a little nostalgic for what once was. Doubly so since this episode actually had some glimmers of that character-driven horror, even as it managed to cram in some intensely silly gags in the process. I don’t know what the hell the rest of this season could possibly have in store, since the twist seems to have been lived out in its entirety over the course of this episode. But I’m slightly, very slightly, hopeful after this outing, that things might be taking a turn for the better, with more character, less abject stupidity, and at least a few gags that got a laugh out of me. And I’m less-slightly certain that that hope is going to blow up in my face five minutes into the next episode. Ugh.

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(header image via Father Son Holy Gore)