SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Cape Fear” and “Pale,” the two episodes that aired as the “American Horror Story: Double Feature” premiere on Aug. 25.
It has been nearly two years since the last season of “American Horror Story,” which took everyone on a journey through 1980s slasher movie tropes with “1984.” The new season is also starting with a film reference in “Double Feature,” but based on what the creators have said about the theme, it simply means there are two stories this season.
The first is subtitled “Red Tide” and it will encompass the first six episodes of the season; the second is “Death Valley” and it will be featured in the last four episodes. Presumably, because this is “AHS,” the two halves will be connected somehow — and they do share some cast members, including Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Angelica Ross and Leslie Grossman. But HOW things will connect will not be explained for quite some time. After all, it’s only the first two episodes. So let’s jump in to “Cape Fear” and “Pale,” shall we?
The former, which was filmed in very muted tones, kicked off with the Gardner family — dad Harry (Finn Wittrock), pregnant mom Doris (Rabe), and daughter Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) — arriving in the seaside town of Providence, Mass. Alma had been counting roadkill, of which there appeared to be an abundance. A mangled deer they happened upon definitely looked like it had been feasted on rather than hit by a car, and as the family drove away, something off-screen snatched the deer out of frame.
Caretaker Martha (Robin Weigert) welcomed the Gardners to their new home, which was, well, “drab” seems kind. Harry told Martha that he’s a screenwriter working on a TV pilot and Doris was charged with redecorating the house in exchange for three months’ free rent.
As Harry walked to the market to stock up on food, he noticed the houses all had red lights coming on outside as the sun went down. Then he ran into “Tuberculosis” Karen (Paulson) at the grocery store, who started screaming at him to get out of town before “they” munch on his bones. Although the grocery store clerk passed her off as a “nutter,” given what we know about this franchise, she will likely turn out to be one of the few tapped into whatever is really going on in this town.
Not too deterred, he and the family proceeded to settle in (via a montage), but there were already definite shades of “all work and no play make Harry a dull boy” happening, as he couldn’t get started writing and Alma frantically practiced her violin, intercut with a poor little fox getting snatched up on the beach. (The opening titles this season also seem to pay homage to “The Shining,” with blood dripping intercut with typewriter images.) When Harry finally snapped just a little and told Alma she had to practice somewhere else, she joked that she and Doris should get daddy “noise-canceling headphones.” Look for Chekhov’s noise-canceling headphones to prevent him from hearing his daughter in trouble later.
Doris and Alma went for a stroll to get out of the house and happened by a cemetery where a very creepy man began chasing them. He was pale, tall, and had pointy teeth and followed them all the way home, banging on the windows and leering at the family. The Gardners called the police and Chief Burelson (Adina Porter) pooh-poohed them, saying he was probably just trying to scare them. But Burelson was new to town, having only moved there last year from Oakland, so jury’s still out on if she knows more than she’s letting on.
In the course of talking to the chief, it came up that a family was murdered in a nearby town. Harry looked up the details — their throats were torn out in an “animalistic” massacre, according to the newspaper article he found. Meanwhile, the creepy guy and two of his friends threw rocks at Alma’s bedroom window and leered menacingly at her when she looked out.
The next day, Harry went for a run to sweat out some of the alcohol he had the night before — Harry might have a drinking problem — and came upon two bodies with their intestines ripped out on the beach. The “medical examiner” posited that it was a great white shark. At least he didn’t suggest a “boating accident,” so we’re a step up from “Jaws.”
Back at the house, Doris started throwing up and craving red meat. Ruh roh. She rightly observed that she’s a bit far along for “morning sickness,” and with all the cannibalistic nods happening so far, clearly this crazy-ass town has infected her with something.
Harry kept their dinner reservation while Doris stayed home, and he immediately got hit on by Mickey (Macaulay Culkin), the local gay barfly. But the floor show was Evan Peters and Frances Conroy singing “Islands in the Stream,” which was definitely the highlight of the episode — and maybe an all-time “AHS” highlight. As Harry enjoyed the performance, Doris went to bed — and outside her window, the creepy man and his minions writhed grotesquely in the street.
Back at the bar, Austin (Peters) and Belle (Conroy) struck up a conversation with Harry. They’re both writers — Austin writes plays and Belle writes really high-quality romance novels. But TB Karen arrived, had another fit and told Harry to stay away from them.
Back at home, one of the creepy men got in through a window, and Harry had to fight him off. He actually beat him to death with a fireplace stand. The local EMTs and police came and cleaned it up like it was nothing, and Harry vowed that they were leaving in the morning. Honestly, why would you not be in the car that second?!
Meanwhile, Belle took Mickey home for a romp and before he left, she wanted to suck his blood. He balked because “[she] almost killed [him] last time,” but she said he wouldn’t get any money if he didn’t let her feed. She revealed her pointy teeth and started in on his arm.
Outside the bar, TB Karen got a phone call telling her she had three hours to do something. She begged not to have to do it, but the phone voice was insistent. Cut to TB Karen bringing a baby to Belle Noir in a bag. Jesus. Also, where did she just go get a baby from? Provincetown doesn’t even have a hospital. Hmmm.
The next morning before the Gardners could leave, Austin called Harry and summoned him to his fancy, ostentatious modern mansion. Austin dangled some black pills in front of him, telling him they’d help him unleash his inner writer, but Harry left. However, back at the house, Harry talked to his agent, Ursula (Leslie Grossman), who basically ordered him to stay and get his pilot written. Here’s a weird plot hole, though — as long as he turns in a pilot, why does it matter if he does it from Provincetown or somewhere else?!
But Harry took Ursula’s orders to heart and started popping the pills he found in his pocket as Alma watched from the stairway.
In the second episode of the premiere, the drugs kicked in, and Harry needed to write immediately. So, they were staying. But when he finished his pilot in four hours and Alma told her mom she saw him take something, Doris questioned him and he snapped at both her and Alma. Whatever those pills were turned him into a disgusting nightmare of a man and Doris should have grabbed her daughter and ran out of that town.
Instead, she stayed and he apologized later, blah blah blah, we are definitely veering into Jack Torrance territory. Also, the taste of turkey turned his stomach, so clearly he was well on his way to becoming a vampire cannibal.
By the next morning, Harry had finished a second episode of his new show. Doris called him out on being an “asshole” and having no appetite, so he went to the market for a snack, only to come upon a creepy pale dude feasting on a squirrel. Suddenly, he was surrounded by them like a pack of wild dogs, but they scented something in him from those pills that made them back off.
At the market, Harry was salivating over the raw beef, so he bought a ton of it, went home, squeezed the blood into a pitcher and then drank it. Then he pureed the beef into liquid and drank that too. Ewwwwww.
Meanwhile, his daughter was hypothesizing that if she took one of daddy’s magic pills, she could successfully play the Paganini piece she was trying to master. Oh no.
In the morning, Doris was chopping vegetables while they argued about when they could leave P-town, and when she cut herself, Harry sucked on her wound until he was hurting her, which stunned them both.
So, Harry went to see Austin to demand to know what was in the pills. Turned out that the drugs were manufactured by someone local. If a run-of-the-mill person takes one, they become a pale creepy guy like the “Gentlemen” wannabes that are walking around town. But people with talent need it to keep creating — they just also need to keep feeding on fresh blood.
Harry was naturally freaked out about this and told Doris they would leave the next day. But then he heard from his agent that Netflix wanted to make a deal with him about his show and suddenly he couldn’t write anything anymore, so back to Austin he went for some more pills.
As he drove to Austin’s house, the “House” theme song played in the background. The actual song is “Teardrop” by Massive Attack, but that’s a great reference for TV fans since Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) was addicted to painkillers and constantly being an asshole as he dealt with his pain management and addiction.
Anyway, Austin and Belle Noir were happy to oblige him. Harry insisted he only needed one more, but Belle made a pointed commentary about fame of any kind by telling him, “There’s nothing more addictive than success. You taste it now and you’re never going to be able to live without it.” Then they took him “out to eat.”
Austin and Belle informed him that they feed about once a week when they come up to the cape in the winter to churn out some creative genius, then they take the summers off. They also said they don’t feed on doctors or important people who will be missed. They feed on people who are drags on society. But that doesn’t exactly align with the fact that Belle made TB Karen bring her a baby.
They also confirmed which side Chief Burelson is on — the old chief looked the other way, but the new “nosy bitch” is suspicious, so they don’t feed in Provincetown.
Meanwhile, Mickey and TB Karen were shacking up getting high and debating Bruce’s motives in “Jaws” — the “Jaws 2” crack was the second “American Horror Story” episode to make such a reference inside a week because the “American Horror Stories” finale took a shot at “Jaws 2” as well. #Justice4Jaws2.
But anyway, when Mickey went to take one of the pills, Karen yelled at him about them. He said they make people “rich and famous,” to which she replied that they “make people blood-suckers.” So, that’s the theme of “Red Tide,” it would seem.
He also showed her that he found a bunch of her paintings in the dumpster by the community center and said she should take a pill and create her art, saying that anything is better than the squalor they live in.
Elsewhere, Belle, Austin and Harry showed up at a hotel room. They know how to spot tweakers on Craigslist because they try to sell stuff that’s clearly not theirs. Belle slit the kid’s throat and they all fed on him. In the car, Harry felt slightly repulsed at what they just did — but not enough to stop.
The next morning, Harry went to a shop in town where he met Dr. Feldman (Billie Lourd), a tattoo artist and dentist who got so good at giving tattoos due to the pills that she gave up “being a tooth jockey.” While Dr. Feldman took molds of Harry’s teeth for caps after she sharpened his real teeth to fangs, Alma was at home struggling with Paganini. She decided that taking one of daddy’s pills would surely help. Sure enough, a little while later, she played Paganini flawlessly — before collapsing on the floor.
When her mom asked her to stop for a bit, Alma snapped at her about not understanding greatness and said that she doesn’t want to leave Provincetown. She then spat that she would still be great even if she was raised by some other “ordinary woman,” and Doris sent Alma to her room and cried.
At episode’s end, Harry was running along the beach when he came upon a gay drifter and promptly killed him and fed. Back at home, when Doris couldn’t find Alma, he accused her of being irrational and hysterical, and she said she and Alma were leaving town without him. Doris took off to look for Alma and found her snacking on an animal in the cemetery.
It’s a lot to unpack, but that’s not surprising for a double episode, nor for a milestone 10th season.
“American Horror Story: Double Feature” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on FX.