This American Horror Story review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story 1984 Episode 9
Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, and while it’s taken decades, it seems that the ghosts trapped in Camp Redwood have come to a sort-of understanding, putting aside past differences over petty things like who killed who with what object. The gang trapped at a crumbling summer camp for eternity have unified behind one simple premise: killing Richard Ramirez over and over and over again to keep him from killing Bobby Richter. Surely there are other things, like sex, to bring them all together, but mostly it seems like the ghosts are united by making sure one good thing comes out of the whole debacle. Everyone, no matter how long they’ve been dead, needs something to live for.
That reason to live also provides “Final Girl” the way to wrap the story up and bring the ghosts of the ’80s into the modern era. To no one’s surprise, this leads to a lot of comedy initially, as the now fully-grown Bobby Richter (Finn Wittrock, making his season debut) travels back to Camp Redwood to track down his father Mr. Jingles in an attempt to figure out just who the mysterious benefactor is that’s been sending him money all of his life. As viewers know, it’s not Mr. Jingles, but his meeting with Montana and Trevor allows Bobby the opportunity to learn about who his father truly was and to connect the brutal serial killer of legend to the kind-hearted video store employee he heard about growing up from his late aunt.
Bobby’s appearance allows Trevor and Montana the chance to explain just what happened at Camp Redwood, and it also gives everyone else tangentially related to Bobby the chance to show up and step up to either protect him or try to kill him. The episode is broken up pretty evenly between flashback sequences of just what happened to trap everyone at Camp Redwood and the ghosts’ attempt to stop Margaret from hatching her evil plan and Bobby being chased around by either Richard Ramirez or Margaret Booth. That means that Jingles, Montana, Trevor, Xavier, and the rest are either trying to stop Richard Ramirez or Margaret or trying to get Bobby to leave the confines of the camp and go somewhere, anywhere safer than Redwood.
Bobby leaves the camp to track down a lead given to him by Montana at Redwood Asylum, and that puts him in touch with the Camp Redwood medical director turned head of the mental hospital, Donna/Rita, who then helps Bobby undertake his biggest task: figuring out who his mysterious benefactor is. As it turns out, nobody who seems to die is really dead, unless I guess we see their ghost looking down at their decapitated body. For some of them, like Margaret and the Richter family, they have good reasons to be scarce. Others seem to just show up when they’re needed or when they feel the need to, which seems to fit what is known of ghostly behavior in pop culture.
John J. Gray has a little fun with the ghosts this week, having them pop in and out of scenes, and appear in the middle of scenes just off-screen, and by having them move in between Bobby and harm as they chase down an escaped Ramirez—who gets away while Bertie and Chet are snogging on the couch in the chamber they keep him constantly being murdered in. Having someone show up and randomly cut a throat or stab a brain or something will probably never get old, even when it’s expected. He displays a similar steady hand with his performers, wringing out a lot of comedy from Montana and Trevor getting a crash-course in 30 years of history and extracting a lot of pathos from Bobby and his father (and grandmother and uncle) all getting to meet finally. Credit to Finn Wittrock, who’s not given a lot to do in the episode, but when he’s called on for the father-son scenes, it’s very touching, and his relationships feel honest with the well-meaning ghosts.
One of the things that stuck out in Crystal Liu’s script, particularly when the ghosts are protecting Bobby, is their dedication to someone they hadn’t met and the son of someone who most of them didn’t especially like (because he killed them and his mother terrorized them). The killing and hate had to stop, and Montana stops it by making sure that if no one else gets a reprieve, an innocent baby in Alaska gets to live a normal life. For all the carnage and chaos that led the ghosts to their fate, they can stop the killing, stop the bloodshed, and do their part to make the world a better place while getting sweet, creative revenge on Richard Ramirez for his myriad crimes against human decency.
Moments of sweetness aside, 1984 is a dark comedy at its heart, and like the best ’80s slashers, there’s no shortage of dramatic practical gore effects and dismemberments. Witness the first time the ghosts fall on Richard Ramirez to hack him to death, or when the ghosts catch up to Margaret and dismember her before throwing her pieces into a wood chipper. Margaret and Ramirez, more than Jingles, represent true evil, and while the ghosts had their fun and used murder as a distraction in the past, that’s changed in the wake of Margaret’s actions on the camp’s final day in 1989.
With true evil on the premises to keep them busy, who needs TV or a smartphone? All the ghosts wanted, and all anyone wants, is a reason to keep on going, to not sink into malaise and longing. Keeping the devil’s personal blade man trapped, watching over Bobby, working to undo the mistakes of the past and build towards a better future? Donna/Rita, Brooke, and Bobby, and all the restless spirits that haunt Camp Redwood get to have that now. A bloody, nihilistic show about a bloody, nihilistic decade still ends with a little positivity and love.
The best revenge is a life well lived, and if you’re already dead, shattering a serial killer’s ankles with a sledgehammer and then chopping him into cubes with a chainsaw is pretty good, too.