This American Horror Story 1984 review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story 1984 Episode 5
American Horror Story is no stranger to playing with the format of a television series. In Roanoke, they went from a reenactment of true events to a reality television series about the reenactment crew and the real characters sharing a haunted house together. It was a pretty bold move and resulted in one of my favorite seasons of the show thus far, because it did something a little different without losing sight of what people expect and want from American Horror Story. However bold as going meta was at the time, it wasn’t as bold as what happens in “Red Dawn,” the halfway point of season 9.
Simply put, the story of Camp Redwood comes to an end in bloody, spectacular fashion.
I’m fairly certain that Camp Redwood as a location isn’t done, and that 1984 won’t simply stop halfway through a season and pivot to being a prestige drama or something. There are still more kills to be had, and a whole collective of new vengeful ghosts to join the other ghosts at Camp Redwood, but from the outside, the story of one single night of murder and mayhem at the camp seems to be done with.
Certainly, Brooke’s portion of the camp plot seems to be finished, given what happens at the end of the episode. Perhaps American Horror Story will turn into something more resembling American Crime Story as a result of Brooke’s arrest? Or the show will follow The Night Stalker and Mr. Jingles as they journey towards Los Angeles with more killing on their mind?
Either way, one night of killing at Camp Redwood is over. The episode clicks off a lot of boxes, and works hard to wrap things up as best it can with the various character plots that have been running throughout. Brooke goes from feeling like she’s seeing things to actually seeing things in the form of Ray’s ghost, dismissing her final girl credibility in the process. Rita/Donna/Dee Dee’s fascination with serial killer is explained in a surprisingly heartfelt cold open in which she discovers a terrible secret about a close relative. Xavier, Montana, and Chet are all resolved by the end of things, too.
Credit to Dan Dworkin’s script, Redwood is tied neatly in a bow and left for police to discover by the end of things. Rita’s confrontation with her father setting her up for a life of fascination is handled with surprising sweetness and depth, considering the tableau on the bed while Dee-Dee and her father talk about whether or not he ever loved her. Everything happening around/to Brooke works well, too. Ray gets a slight redemption arc for himself and Montana officially loses her cool in without mussing up her self-described “rad hair” while Margaret gets a ready-made scapegoat for her crimes, yet again.
The beats land when they need to land, without losing teeth during the comedy portion. Angelica Ross again does a wonderful job in her dramatic scenes, both confronting her father and confronting the truth about herself via Richard Ramirez’s magical resurrection. Billy Lourd, as per usual, is a real treat as Montana; her villain explanation speech to Brooke doesn’t play out like the traditional Bond moment as much as it feels like Montana psyching herself up to kill another person.
Xavier doesn’t need much to get himself into that mood, he just needs a look in the mirror and a reminder of the beautiful face he’s lost, and Cody Fern is off to the races, crushing quips (his comment about now only having a future in radio because of his burns was great) and tossing out wild-eyed stares with a knife in his hand.
No, none of it is particularly smart, but this isn’t a smart season and this doesn’t tend to be a smart show. It’s a slasher movie, and slasher movies tend to be dumb, bloody, venal thrillers that appeal to the baser instincts. In that sense, Gwyneth Horder-Payton nails the tone and pacing of her Camp Redwood finale episode. There’s more blood, screaming, and cat-fights in this episode than there have been all season, and while most of the turns aren’t surprising, they’re all well-executed. The shot of dawn breaking over the camp in and of itself is a beautiful one, and it leads in very well to a bus full of children being forever scarred by the sight of Brooke stabbing Montana to death and then some right in the middle of camp. (I laughed, quite a bit, at everything Xavier said while trying to kill Rita).
American Horror Story devolves into mostly people running around with weapons, screaming at one another and trying to kill one another, yet at no time does it feel difficult to follow. Camp Redwood has a physical presence, and that helps make the action feel cohesive. Even when the characters split off into smaller groups or pairs, it feels easier to track them, to figure out the routes they took to get to certain places and just how they cross paths (or don’t) with the others around them. It also helps to inform just how characters, when necessary, avoid one another during their travels through the camp’s wooded confines.
Given the presence of multiple ghosts on the property, and the “next week on” sneak preview, Camp Redwood isn’t quite done yet, even if Brooke seems done. Five episodes is a lot of time in which to spin off a second story, particularly with established characters. What they do with that time remains to be seen; whatever it might be, I have no doubt it’ll be wildly entertaining and lots of people will die as a result.