To mark the recent return of American Horror Story for its ninth season, entitled 1984, I have put together a quick list of some of my favourite episodes from previous seasons. Contains spoilers for seasons 1-8.
Season 1 (Murder House) Episode 9: Spooky Little Girl
American Horror Story is often at its strongest when the series incorporates real people and events into its fictional narrative. “Spooky Little Girl” features one of Los Angeles’s most famous murder victims, Elizabeth Short (Mena Suvari). Nicknamed the ‘Black Dahlia’ by the press, Short was a young woman who was found murdered and mutilated in January 1947. The case remains unsolved and has been a source of fascination for writers, filmmakers and true crime fans ever since. In AHS, the fictionalised Short falls victim to the titular ‘murder house’, dying accidentally at the hands of a previous owner. In a key piece of foreshadowing for the Violet reveal in the following episode, Short’s ghost has lingered on in the house, unaware that she has been dead for decades. This episode also sets up a plotline that will become central to season eight. Medium Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson) informs Constance (Jessica Lange) that a child conceived between a human and a ghost would be the Antichrist and its birth would usher in the Apocalypse.
Episode highlight: After Ben (Dylan McDermott) finally starts to believe that Vivian (Connie Britton) was raped by the mysterious Rubber Man, Moira appears to him in her true elderly form. It is a startling moment that forces Ben to confront his failings as a husband. Props to Moira O’Hara (Alexandra Breckenridge/ Frances Conroy) for that spooky reveal, and for delivering one of the best pieces of dialogue in the whole series: “Congratulations, Dr Harmon. You’re finally beginning to see things as they are.”
Season 2 (Asylum) Episode 10: The Name Game
Set predominately in the 1960s, in a fictional mental institution called Briarcliff Manor, Asylum is arguably AHS’s darkest season. Although season two contains its fair share of supernatural elements, much of the real horror is derived from human actions. At its heart, Asylum is a story about the abuse of power. Throughout the season we see how characters are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse, both inside and outside of Briarcliff. In episode ten, we see Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), the former overseer of Briarcliff, being declared insane and imprisoned. After being subjected to electroshock therapy, she if left severely mentally impaired and unable to remember her name. In one of the series most bizarre and iconic scenes, Sister Jude fantasizes about performing the Shirley Ellis pop song “The Name Game”, accompanied by the other patients.
Episode highlight: It has to be Jessica Lange’s musical number, a simultaneously funny and tragic scene.
Season 3 (Coven) Episode 10: The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks
I chose this season three episode for one obvious reason: Stevie Nicks. Cleverly playing on an old rumour that the Fleetwood Mac singer was a sorceress, Coven makes swamp-witch Misty’s fascination with Nicks a recurring theme throughout the season. The surprise cameo by Stevie in episode ten is a delightfully absurd addition to one of AHS’s campier seasons.
Episode highlight: Stevie performing “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You?” for Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange).
Season 4 (Freak Show) Episode 10: Orphans
Despite some great additions to the cast and an interesting setting, Freak Show is arguably one of the weaker seasons of AHS. However, episode ten does mark a high point in the season. In “Orphans” we see the first real crossover between different seasons of AHS. Pepper (Naomi Grossman), a character who had already appeared in season two, is a key supporting character throughout Freak Show. In episode ten, we learn how Pepper’s storylines in both seasons connect. After the death of her partner Salty, Elsa (Jessica Lange) helps microcephalic Pepper reconnect with her estranged sister Rita. Pepper is later framed for the murder of her disabled infant nephew Lucas and is confined to Briarcliff Manor insane asylum. “Orphans” is one of the more tragic and disturbing episodes of AHS, and acts as a sort of prequel to Asylum, a season preoccupied with how easily ‘undesirable’ members of society can be cast away.
Episode highlight: A welcome reappearance by Asylum’s Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) in her pre-possessed state.
Season 5 (Hotel) Episode 12: Be Our Guest
While many seasons of AHS start strong and then falter towards the end, the opposite is true for season five. After a somewhat lacklustre beginning to the season, Hotel ends with one of the strongest, and silliest, season finales of AHS. In “Be Our Guest”, we see the human and supernatural inhabitants of the Hotel Cortez taking control of the hotel and finding new purpose in their existence. The episode contains several great character moments and callbacks to earlier in the season. From the melancholic ghost Sally discovering Twitter, to the reappearance of medium Billie Dean Howard from season one, and couple Tristan and Liz Taylor being reunited, “Be Our Guest” is arguably the closest thing to a happy ending that AHS has given us.
Episode highlight: Liz Taylor’s (Denis O’Hare) death scene. Somehow turns a character’s death at the hands of a room full of ghosts into one of the most heartwarming moments in the series.
Season 6 (Roanoke) Episode 6: Chapter Six
In the early episodes of season six, AHS seemed to be giving us a fairly straightforward family-moves-into-a-haunted-house ghost story. “Chapter Six” provides one of the most surprising and hilarious plot twists of any season of AHS. The first five episodes of Roanoke take the form of a paranormal docudrama, with the story being told through a combination of dramatic re-enactments and interviews with the ‘real’ people involved. “Chapter Six” takes place after My Roanoke Nightmare has aired, and become a massive commercial hit. A wonderfully ludicrous turn of events sees the ‘actors’ and their real-life counterpoints return to the Roanoke house for a follow-up special.
Episode highlight: ‘Actors’ Audrey (Sarah Paulson) and Rory’s (Evan Peters) entire relationship. Depicted as a couple who met while filming My Roanoke Nightmare, their relationship is a delightful send-up of Hollywood romances. Their absurd, pretentious wedding video is a particularly high point in the episode.
Season 7 (Cult) Episode 9: Drink the Kool-Aid
One of the more controversial seasons of AHS, Cult explores the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Season seven follows wannabe-cult leader Kai (Evan Peters), a mentally unstable young man who uses fear and paranoia to control others. In “Drink the Kool-Aid” Kai uses stories about real-life cult leaders to foster a sense of solidarity and unflinching loyalty from his followers.
Episode highlight: Kai’s fantasy retelling of the Jonestown massacre which features Evan Peters as both Jim Jones and Jesus. In Kai’s version of events Jones and his followers were resurrected after the mass suicide/killing and were immediately greeted by an approving Jesus. Kai becomes infuriated when his version of events is contradicted by Ozzy.
Season 8 (Apocalypse) Episode 6: Return to Murder House
Acting as a follow-up to both Murder House and Coven, AHS Apocalypse tells the story of the battle between the witches and the Antichrist Michael Langdon. Season eight contains many callbacks to previous seasons, but the greatest has to be the storyline in episode six which sees Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) and Behold Chablis (Billy Porter) return to the infamous ‘murder house’ from season one. Along with explaining Michael’s journey towards becoming the Antichrist, “Return to Murder House” also provides an opportunity for the audience to reconnect with characters like the Harmons, Tate, Moira and Constance.
Episode highlight: It obviously has to be Jessica Lange’s reappearance as the chain-smoking, conniving, bad-ass Constance Langdon.
Credit for cover photo to metro.co.uk.
Other photos to denofgeek.com, glamour.com, gruesomemagazine.com, hollywoodreporter.com, huffpost.com, metro.co.uk, nme.com.