American Horror Story S9E6: Episode 100

by thethreepennyguignol

Murder sells.

If there’s a central conceit that underpins this episode of American Horror Story (and, to be honest, Rob Zombie’s latest movie 3 From Hell which shares a lot of central themes with this outing), and perhaps even the show as a whole, it’s this one. Which makes it an appropriate place to start this week, given that we’re at the hundredth episode of AHS, and this outing has a distinctly reflective feel to it.

As American Horror Story has gone on, it’s invested more and more in the fictional and non-fictional extreme violence and murder and spike-rape-death (someone asked me recently if I was going to ever drop talking about this, and the answer is, no, not until this show stops getting nominated for Emmys), and it’s soared to an immensely popular, Twitter-trending, awards-baiting pop cultural position off the back of that. That this episode should investigate this, somewhat unsavoury, fact makes it one of the best of the season so far – and hell, even just for the nineties powershoulders alone, this forty minutes might be the most entertaining thing the show has done since Evan Peters was chatting to his own brother’s corpse.

The most explicit prod at the murder-sells premise comes in the form of Margaret (a never-better power-bitch Leslie Grossman) as she goes on to build a real estate empire off the rebranding of violent murder sites as quirky pop-culture tourist destinations; it’s not a subtle deconstruction of the idea, but it is probably the most fun the show has in prodding at its own success. Seeing Leslie Grossman shriek down the enormous brick-phone about how she’s going to kill more people than John Wayne Gacy and posing on the steps of her hideous trash apartment for her featurette on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is utterly and completely perfect. Throw in a bedraggled Matthew Morrison as her trophy husband (I’m so into this version of Morrison as a blackly comic supporting character), and this is at last the treat that I deserve after slogging through all of last season. 

Somehow, the Richard Ramirez plot takes a minor uptick after the bullshit we’ve been dealing with so far. After Ramirez’ capture and arrest (after he’s sold down the river by John Carroll Lynch, the squish-faced dad of my dreams), he begins to reflect on his place as a pop cultural trivia item, as the eighties turn into the nineties and he becomes nothing but a memory for most people. This is the best Zach Villa has been in the role, perhaps because the show embraces the inherent patheticness and preoccupation with the idea of his own badassery, and it gives him a little more to do than sneer – perhaps because he’s working a lot of the time with a now-incarcerated Brooke (Emma Roberts, who is back on fine bitch form and in her element here) and the change in their dynamic since her arrest is pretty interesting.

Back at Camp Redwood, Montana and company (including Cody Fern, who is now her love interest and will never, ever look natural making out with a woman to me) are continuing their post-life killing spree; or at least, some of them are, as a hapless Ray tries to save Brooke from execution even as his last hopes of doing so are murdered in front of him. It’s clear set-up, but it’s fun to see Cody Fern and especially Billie Lourde strutting around all evil and sexy-like, bemoaning the state of nineties fashion and spattering blood over everything in a twenty-foot radius.

But perhaps the most impactful version of this murder-sells notion comes in the form of John Carroll Lynch and his life post-Ramirez. He moves to Alaska, marries an ex-prostitute with whom he is apparently open about his past crimes, and raises his infant son with her while working at the local video rental store. Here, he’s faced with people trying to acquire violent movies, slashers, gorenorgraphy, ostensible snuff movies, the reminders of the way his own past has been glamorized and packaged and sold off. Lynch, who I recently watched in the excellent No-End House which I can’t reccommend enough, can bring such a tenderness and warmth to even the broadest of his performance, and his soft-spoken attempts to stop people indulging in this violence as entertainment is by far the most elegant and powerful way the show handles this aspect of the story. Even if it could certainly be counted amongst those movies that Lynch doesn’t want people to see.

All round, this is just a really solid episode. Written by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, it offers some reasonably cogent reflection on the show as a whole while also moving the story of this season forward in a pretty interesting way. Plus, more than anything, it embraces a sense of fun that doesn’t undercut the serious stuff – a balance that the show has so frequently managed to fuck up these last few years. I have little confidence that this run will continue, but let’s enjoy it while we can, shall we?

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(header image via 411Mania)