Each week Joe (@bstolemyremote) and Terry (@gaylydreadful) discuss the most recent episode of FX’s American Horror Story, alternating between our respective sites – gaylydreadful.com and queerhorrormovies.com.
Episode 9.04 “True Killers”: Mr. Jingles closes in on the one who got away as the counselors rally to escape Camp Redwood.
Well Terry, at this point we’re not even at the halfway point of the season for American Horror Story: 1984 and in a fun* development, more than half of the characters are serial killers or enablers!
Yes, the big “twist” in “True Killers” is not just the explanation of why Montana (Billie Lourd) is working with Richard Ramirez (Zach Villa), the Night Stalker, but also that <insert drumroll> Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman) is the real villain behind the murders that occurred back at Camp Redwood in 1970.
So if you’re keeping track at home, our list of killers and killer-adjacent folks this season includes: Jingles (John Carroll Lynch), Ramirez, Ray (killed his pledge), Angelica Ross’ “Not Nurse Rita”, Montana and now Margaret. That leaves four lead characters out of ten who are “innocent victims” (at least for now, since there’s still six episodes left and this is American Horror Story, so anything can happen).
But let’s back it up a smidge and unpack these two motivations:
If writer Jay Beattie isn’t trolling the gays with this cold open, then my spirit animal isn’t Kylie Minogue. The episode opens with Montana in full she-devil aerobics instructor mode, commanding a troupe of spandex clad gays and rocking out to Billy Idol. Then who should wander into her dance studio but Richard The Night Stalker RamirezRamirez?
After Rod, a particularly precious example of 80s queerity, chastises Montana for not playing Cyndi Lauper (to which she hilariously responds “Suck it hard, Rod!”), Ramirez strings the flamer up Hannibal-style in the change room. Naturally he and Montana promptly consummate their relationship, right then and there.
At least Montana’s motivation is just good old fashioned revenge. As I predicted back in episode 2, Montana is attached to the dead guy – Sam – who bought it at Brooke’s wedding (New prediction: Montana’s suspicions are justified and Brooke totally did pork Sam).
So yeah, Bubble Gum Barbie wants payback on Goody Two-Shoes for Hot Dead Brother. I don’t understand why she wouldn’t be more perturbed at the sight of a gay snow angel with his entrails on the outside, but I know better than to expect anything approaching rational thinking from American Horror Story.
I don’t think I’d have an issue with Margaret’s secret back story, either, if it didn’t feel like maximum killer overload. The fact that chipper, religious Margaret was bullied by her fellow camp counsellors actually tracks. I mean, that terrible blonde wig alone is worth plenty of mockery. I kinda like that she committed the murders, then pinned them on simple, lovesick janitor “Benji” (it actually has a bit of a Happy Birthday To Me vibe). It’s more than I’m exhausted by the idea that every idiot who came to this damn summer camp is turning out to be a murderer. What is this: AHS: Clue?!
But perhaps I’ll stop there to give you an opportunity to chime in, Terry. What’s more surprising: that Margaret is eeeeevil; that both Chef Bertie (Tara Karsian) and Trevor (Matthew Morrison) bought it; or that Xavier (Cody Fern) somehow improbably survived being broiled alive in the oven? And what do you make of the latest supernatural element when the Night Stalker returned from the dead?
Okay, so I don’t want to be that guy that says he called it when he has no proof of calling it, but back in episode one I was kind of talking around the fact that Margaret isn’t exactly what she seemed and that her survival didn’t gel with, well, reality. At the time, I thought maybe she was in cahoots with Jingles, so the fact that she is actually the killer while Jingles was falsely imprisoned was the only part of this episode I found truly interesting.
You touched on Montana’s ploy and it’s…fine. It’s fine. It’s kind of what I expected going into this episode after being genuinely surprised with the reveal last week.
This episode just felt chaotic to me. Chef Bertie was an interesting character that I wanted to know more of…now she’s unceremoniously dispatched after saving Xavier from becoming a toastie. Not that he’s really saved – after all, he won’t be on the cover of TV Guide any time soon. His leading actor career is pretty much done for in a town so focused on beautiful faces. Maybe he’ll become a character actor of some renown if he survives camp.
Speaking of death, RIP Baby Elephant Trunk. You were so underused. Chet (Gus Kenworthy), though, is somehow still clinging on after a shirt-pendectomy allowed a brief ogling of his fuzzy chest and an adrenaline shot to the heart. And Brooke (Emma Roberts) is captured, freed, captured, freed…so she’s pretty much just there.
Which brings us to the supernatural element you mentioned. As this episode coasted by, it felt a bit like a rehash of (better) American Horror Story seasons. We have the unfairly imprisoned Jingles getting elctroshock therapy that was mined much more interestingly in Asylum. And now we have the Satanist angle that feels like the beginnings of a warlock storyline introduced in Apocalypse. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this camp is built on the same spot as the warlock’s haven from last season. What’s next, the Coven ladies descending on the camp?
As you mentioned, we are only four episodes deep and I have no clue where the story is going to go for another six episodes. Or even how it’s going to go for another six episodes. I’m still holding out hope that as we’re nearing the midpoint, the plot will shift focus somehow like it did in Roanoke because…I just don’t know Joe.
But it seems you enjoyed this episode more than I did…which is a funny swap from last week. How did you feel about Richard, the Resurrected? And what about his Freddy vs. Jason fight with Jingles? Where does the story go from here? And why does Chet have a shirt again?
I’ll confess that I, too, hope that we’re in for a Roanoke/Apocalypse-level shift in focus because this premise felt unsustainable back in episode two and even moreso now. This “one night at camp” structure could hypothetically extend for another hour or two, but lord help us if they try to drag it out longer than that.
The supernatural stuff offers our best hope for salvation at this point. We’ve seen the Hiker resurrected a few times, so now that Ramirez is back from the dead (presumably not just because he’s pledged allegiance to Satan <scoff>) there’s every chance that EVERY dead character can come back a la Murder House. That would obviously offer its own share of frustrations, because it cheaply undercuts any of the actual deaths, but since none of these folks have really had a gripping, emotional arc…I’m kind of fine with it?
If anything, I almost wish that 1984 would lean into its camp (not Redwood, the other kind) a little more. There’s certainly been some quips, but overall it feels curiously muted. Considering the time period and the fact that it’s aping arguably the most famous of contemporary horror subgenres, I thought this season would be more ridiculous.
With that said, I did enjoy the FvJ fight and Not Rita vs Montana’s corresponding GLOW-esque tumble down the hill. I didn’t love all of director Jennifer Lynch (!)’s directorial choices (Bertie being stabbed and Xavier being thrown in the oven was confusingly shot in very tight close-up that made it hard to tell what was happening to whom), but this sequence had a kind of madcap scramble to it where anyone and everyone was seemingly in danger. So that was…fine.
As for Chet, I don’t know, Terry. I think the show has greatly overestimated Kenworthy’s thespian potential, so they would be wise to lean on his other…er…assets a little more. Though even as I write this, I should acknowledge that I chuckled a bit when he bolted upright after an appropriate pregnant pause following the adrenaline injection and a thick line of blood ejaculated out of his shoulder wound. I love a good spray, ya know?
I’ll turn it back to you for the wrap-up: do you think the dead characters will return? Will someone else be revealed as a killer? And did you find the visual of a human in an oven an uncomfortable connotation given its association to a certain tragic historical event? (I’ve only ever seen it one other time, in Deep Blue Sea, which is offset because it is a Chef who gets locked in his own oven and that’s by a shark).
Joe, I’ve been staring at my screen, trying to come up with something and came to the following resolution:
Maybe they’re in hell.
Maybe they’re all killers.
Maybe they will all start coming back – a la the Coven season.
It’s hard to tell what’s going on in this season because so much of it feels made up as they go along, mixed with spinning tires.
Like you, I wished they would have gone more into the camp direction. When this season was first announced, I thought it would take a more slow approach. What I was hoping for, to be honest, was Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer series…but with murder. I should have known that that wasn’t what Murphy & Co. would offer up. But I was hoping. I agree that I don’t know how they will carry this format past another hour or so.
Also, I completely forgot about the hiker?!
That oven scene bothered me for a number of reasons. It was filmed so poorly, which surprised me given Lynch’s pedigree. And it made me uncomfortable for the same reasons you hinted at. If the point was to ruin Xavier’s face, a pot of boiling water would have sufficed. Finally, him killing Bertie was just…painful? Like that was a slow ass death. I think I would have rather just bled out than the option Xavier clumsily provided.
I dunno, in an episode filled with madcappery, I feel like the plot is quickly losing steam. How much longer can they drag out the finale of a horror film? I guess we’ll find out next week, Joe.
Next Week: We’re back on gaylydreadful.com with a discussion on an episode that suggests we’ll get more backstory on Not Rita, as well as the moment when Montana reveals her plans for revenge to Brooke. Yay?