American Horror Story: Double Feature – Red Tide & Death Valley | Thoughts
I’m writing mostly to criticise how the show has turned out, in terms of mood and atmosphere and tropes. Truthfully, I quit watching AHR after Freak Show, somewhere around the start of Hotel because I felt that whatever mood embodied in the previous seasons was missing after this point. It’s like, the showrunners found that the concept worked, and they got a bit more wiggle room and leeway to do what they want, but when they ran with it, what came out was different from the beginning, but not really in a good or sustainable way. On a side note, it often feels like this: a show starts out well, then the show hits its speak where its energy is almost fully explored and at its height, and once the show is green-lit past that peak, that’s when it goes to hell. That original something is gone, and it feels like what goes next after that is jut… an imitation or a parody of the original (which seems fitting considering latest AHR seasons feel a bit more like a parody of real world events than anything else). Since then, I recently watched Apocalypse, started and quit 1984, and finished Double Feature, mostly for misguided personal reasons.
I can’t say I feel very enthralled by the newest regulars (I’m one of those people who felt like Jessica Lange had become the show’s beating heart, and when she left, something also left with her), like Leslie Grossman or Billie Lourd. They actually both fit the show perfectly, but in the sense that the show has become really mainstream, and they both have that “post-millennial” vibe. It’s to the point I can almost imagine both of them coming to my house and trying to kill me in a very stereotypical Hollywood cliche for daring to breathe a word of criticism against this vibe.
The show has come to lack depth, a lot. I don’t know how if it can still be considered horror. Earlier seasons felt more subtle in the type of horror the series portrayed, and it had more of an impact because of it. There were some unexplained supernatural elements, which felt very subtle, like dotting an i, and the fact that these elements remained unexplained added some mystique and didn’t break out of the genre because of it. It also felt like the show had a very profound quality and moral signature to it. I remember Asylum, or Freak Show, being one of my favorite seasons because of how it delved into the human psyche.
By now, the show has grown… slightly more grotesque. They’ve gone from subtle, anxiety inducing horror, to in your face gruesome stuff. It kind of killed my interest for the show, because by now, I’m just expecting to see content there almost purely for its shock value, rather than for any other intrinsic value. Within half an hour of Red Tide‘s pilot, we’ve already seen a dozen close-ups of a dozen corpses and other stuff that feel present mostly because it’s in your face, and, shocking. It’s become predictable, in a way that’s very desensitizing to these grotesque elements, because they re-appear every other episode.
Most scenes are very “white people in a horror setting” like. It’s a conscious stereotype. I noticed it keeps recurring more and more in AHR, like in 1984, but in a more transparent, conscious way: We have a group of white Americans driving to a remote location — the remote part being another creepy factor of isolation and lack of possibilities to reach for help when needed — and who, on the way, encounter an alarming amount of signs telling them their destination is unsafe. I guess people have been trained to ignore their gut instincts to a life-endangering level? Although this trope feels more like a conscious stereotype, I guess it isn’t called American Horror Story for nothing if it didn’t feature a few dense “white people” screeching and dying.
The only person who listens to her gut instincts and notices these signs is the child, or the more innocent one. Even when they’ve arrived at their destination, the signs keep mounting for all main character – Harry and Doris separately, yet neither one of them act on their impulse to just, flee the damn place. They follow along their original reasoning, even if it doesn’t make sense – and that’s 20 minutes in, when they’ve received plenty of direct, threatening signals.
In earlier seasons, like with Haunted House, the “white people being dense and ignoring their instincts” trope felt more of an accident (which is ironic considering the story literally involves a white couple purchasing a haunted house). By now, I feel like this trope is more of a conscious choice from the writers, who just enjoy playing on that stereotype. I feel like, white people fucking things up is a good summary of some (I said, some) of the season’s tropes.
Death Valley inspired a whole post about aliens themselves and how we perceive them, and how this season was the quintessence of every possible stereotype on aliens, so I encourage you to read that instead.
Theta’s line “My humanity is my greatest shame” is puzzling to me. If your humanity is your greatest shame and you despise the human race, then wasn’t it a mistake for the aliens to merge with humans? Are all hybrids going to grow feeling this way? Or will this be normalized in the end because you can’t just go about your life carrying that kind of cosmic shame as your race’s genesis? Also, wouldn’t it have been faster for the aliens to try and adapt to earth’s environment as themselves, rather than to just, mix with humans, especially if they’re so superior to humans? Aren’t they just lowering themselves doing it? It’s a common trend to hate on humans, but I have so many questions from these inconsistencies.
The ending of both parts felt underwhelming. I was also thrown off balance a bit when I got into Death Valley‘s pilot and realized this part had no connection to the previous one. Red Tide ended on an too open, unexplained and rushed note, for the series to directly jump into aliens. Presumably, the apocalypse starts and talentless zombies invade the Earth, and only the talented are left, creating away in peace in a very Hollywood horror movie way. Which begs the question, who are they going to impress with their genius if every mundane, boring human is too busy being a mindless flesh eater and they only have each other, the height of Venusian posh society? I guess that’s what the series was aiming for, but it still felt too open-ended. Same with Death Valley, again, presumably, past the ending we head into the apocalypse, which almost feels like Apocalypse and Double Feature should have come one before the other.
The death toll in each part also feels pointless. Henry, Belle Noir and whomever was that other guy played by Evans Peter, all died too easily. It’s like they were scratched off the map in one go, even though they were the main characters for most of the season. It wasn’t even sad, it was just, “okay, they’re dead”. Killing off characters too easily makes it feel like they’re disposable and so not worth getting invested into emotionally. The same goes with the cast of Death Valley, completely unknown teenagers whose actors didn’t make much of an impression, all killed off in grotesque ways pretty swiftly after we barely got time to get to know them in depth. American Horror Story has come to feel like a roller-coaster of ridiculous and absurd stuff, that you watch with junk food to dumb yourself down when you want to temporarily escape your life (which is, ironically, exactly why I watched Double Feature in the first place).
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