This American Horror Story: Double Feature review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story Season 10 Episode 3
One of my favorite things about American Horror Story has been the fact that if something isn’t particularly working for me, be it a character or a setting, I know that in a few episodes, it’ll be gone. Such is the nature of the seasonal anthology; if something isn’t working for you, check out for ten episodes and when you come back next season, it’ll be something completely different in tone, setting, and content, even if there’ll be members of the cast crossing over and possibly a few references to witches or cults. By putting two ideas together in one short season, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and the rest of the AHS: Double Feature team is taking their anthology idea to a logical extent. There’s a bit about vampires, and a bit about aliens, and go to the bathroom now because Ryan Murphy is not stopping until the trip is complete.
In a way, it’s an interesting way to make the most of ideas that don’t lend themselves to an eight or 10 episode season arc. Think of it like when a comic book is delayed or doesn’t have enough pages to fill a full issue and a second story is added onto the back to fill in the gap. Such is the case with Double Feature, because it seems as though AHS is blowing through Red Tide as quickly as Macaulay Culkin’s Mickey the hustler could blow through a bag of meth.
It seems as though only last week Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) was dropping her first dose of The Muse and playing violin until she dropped, and now she and her father have a literal blood pact arranged. As in, Harry (Finn Wittrock) goes out to get blood and Alma tries not to eat any more rabbits in broad daylight and wander around suspiciously covered in the red stuff. The addiction for Harry’s little girl is getting bad, and children aren’t known for their ability to delay gratification and control their impulses. But, Harry, for all his faults, is a devoted father who was creative enough to get a TV job even before he started taking creativity pills, so he’s willing to think up new ways to slake both his and his daughter’s growing thirst. (Except she never says she’s thirsty, she just says she’s hungry, which feels like a missed opportunity.)
It’s pretty clear from the moment that Harry fishes pills out of the trash, only to be caught by his daughter and come to an agreement about their use, that things are spiraling out of control for Harry pretty quickly. The complication of his agent Ursula (Leslie Grossman) showing up to intrude on his idyll only adds to his problems, as her presence in the town offends Austin (Evan Peters) and Belle (Frances Conroy) while giving Mickey a glimpse of a way out of his life as a hustler and a desire to do anything to move into a place with heat and a working toilet.
Ursula rolling into town has become a catalyst for a lot of upheaval. Harry has to try and hide Alma’s addiction—as well as his own—from her. She gets Mickey to do a lot of her dirty work, including introducing her to the Chemist (Angelica Ross) and upending her careful arrangement with Belle and Austin. The same Belle and Austin who resent the intrusion of New York life into their quiet, blood-soaked respite from the world. The same Belle and Austin who have work to produce and deadlines to meet, and way too many people snooping around their off-season hunting lodge.
In short, it’s a set-up for a lot of drama in a hurry, with multiple characters playing off one another and amplifying the stakes, if you’ll pardon the vampire pun. Brad Falchuk has served up another great episode, with plenty of pithy lines from Ursula that Leslie Grossman knocks out of the park and some equally pithy rejoinders from the always game Frances Conroy’s Belle. Ursula’s introduction is an immediate game-changer, and just her presence upends every character we’ve met so far, with Falchuk’s script making it clear that her abrasive, inquisitive nature is going to upend a lot of apple carts while seducing people like Mickey into doing her dirty work thanks to her promised revolutionary, and much more profitable, change in how the Chemist does business.
The actors get a little bit of stuff to work with, but most of the storytelling is carried by the visuals of Loni Peristere. Those sweeping shots of cars traveling towards the tip of Massachusetts will always be evocative of loneliness and desolation, and Peristere does great work making good use of red porch lights and the general emptiness of Provincetown in the off-season. Every frame seems absolutely filled with empty space, even if there are other people in it, with both the shots of the bar—emphasizing just how empty it is with nobody in town—and the shots of the beach being especially desolate. Peristere and DP Andrew Mitchell do a wonderful job of just having lots of empty space, in the foreground or the background, which goes a long way towards explaining just how Harry and Mickey can kill hustlers on the beach and get away with it. There’s no one in town except for a few busybodies and lots of Nosferatu, so who is going to notice or care if a guy gets his throat cut on the beach aside from the cops?
And if something happens to that pesky, prying police chief (Adina Porter)? Well, she wasn’t a local, anyway. Just another tourist, basically, getting into trouble with the other leaf-peepers and snowbirds. Just another vampire sucking the life out of a small New England town.