Back in the day when I still used Tumblr regularly, (it was a dark time, we don’t have to talk about it) posts about American Horror Story inundated my dashboard. People glorifying the abusive relationship between Violet and Tate in season 1, people pointing out how abusive the relationship was, people getting excited for the new season. Watching this all go down, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I tried to watch the first episode and decided it wasn’t for me within the first ten minutes.
All the buzz about American Horror Story finally blew over (or maybe I stopped hearing about it because I deleted my Tumblr, who knows), and I decided to give it another shot. Last year, I watched the first episode of season 1 and I was hooked. Oh boy, did I binge. I finally finished watching season 7 last night and, still in the clutches of procrastinating for studying for my final, I decided to definitively rank all the seasons* of the show.
*I haven’t actually seen season eight yet, but I’ve seen Cody Fern as Michael Langdon and that’s good enough for me for now.
Now, I know most people aren’t turning on a horror anthology show to get the gears turning, but season 7 really made me think. Season 7 starts off slowly, introducing you to all the characters and their…reactions…to the results…of the 2016 presidential election. At first, I thought this was in very poor taste. I feel that we should not immortalize the current political climate in something as long-lasting as television–which many people use as an escape from the issues of the real world. Not saying that I expect this series to go down in history, but in ten or twenty years when we’ve moved on, the creators of the show are going to look back at this season and be like “Damn, we really based a whole season on that one election.” Or maybe not. Not the point. Anyway, now that I have finished the season, I completely understand why they did it. No matter what your political views are, the 2016 election was a revolutionary time where someone like the charismatic Kai Anderson — portrayed beautifully by Evan Peters — could rise up and take advantage of people’s weaknesses and desires and gather them into a group of supporters willing to kill themselves and others out of their loyalty to him. By the end of the season, things have gotten wildly out of hand, and Kai Anderson’s “loyal political followers” and allies were fully just members of his cult, forced to listen as he compared himself to and glorified the likes of Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, and Charles Manson. This was the first season of AHS that truly terrified me as I watched a disillusioned man convince himself that his outlandish beliefs were the only truth.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a season of American Horror Story without the ridiculous twist that is absolutely unnecessary, which is common in most of the seasons. The show already pushes the boundaries of reality, and each season, the creators decide, “hey, let’s just add something wild. For giggles”. This time, they incorporated the agenda of radical feminist Valerie Solanas, the woman who gained notoriety for attempting to assassinate Andy Warhol. In one of the final episodes of the season, the show gives its take on her story, which is–to put it simply–a very hot take. They show Valerie organizing a group of militant women and committing a series of murders–I really don’t know how to put this. They said she was the Zodiac Killer, which I felt was a lot to throw at the viewers.
Aside from the whole Zodiac Killer thing, the rest of the season was thought-provoking and terrifying due to its heavy reliance on the psychological horror of a cult leader rising to prominence. It made me stop and really consider what parts of my personality that someone like Kai–or actual, real-life cult leaders–could take advantage of, and since the characters are normal people, living in a modern world, the thought of it happening to you becomes all the more terrifying.
This season is particularly violent, however. You’ve been warned.
2. Murder House
Ah, the season that started it all. It’s been a while since I watched this season, but it also dealt with a lot of current issues…and also there were ghosts. Season 1 follows the story of a family in which the parents, Ben and Vivian, are having marital issues due to Ben’s infidelity, Vivian’s miscarriage, and their resulting inability to have a baby. They decide to drag their angsty, teenage daughter and their tiny dog out to Los Angeles from Boston in hopes that buying a new house will somehow save their marriage. Spoiler alert: it only makes things worse. There, they have to deal with their kooky neighbor and her kids, all of whom repeatedly break into their house, as well as the other people who seem to be breaking in, but all turn out to be the ghosts of the multitudes of people that have died since the house’s construction in the 1920s. Things only get worse when Ben’s former student and mistress shows up at their home, claiming she’s pregnant with Ben’s baby.
Now, I said they dealt with a lot of current issues, but not in a way that really made a statement. Violet, the aforementioned angsty, teenage daughter, struggles with depression and is constantly bullied in school. When she meets Tate, she finds a way to relieve herself by exacting violent revenge on the bullies, which is never a healthy way to deal with your problems. There’s also a school shooting, which, as we all know, has become a huge problem in our country as of late. However, the show doesn’t really address it in a constructive way, it just kind of…happens. And then we all feel really uncomfortable, scared, and sad.
Despite these shortcomings, season 1 was still entertaining and interesting. Unlike seasons to later follow, it kept you guessing as to what was going to happen until the very end of the season. Despite the plot being centered around a house that acts as a soul trap for the spirits of the people who have died there, it was one of the most believable and grounded of the seven seasons of AHS.
Stevie Nicks was in this season. Need I say more?
Season 3 took us to New Orleans, where two witches had created a haven for young, powerful women, who had yet to learn to control their powers. The first of these women that we are introduced to is Zoe Benson, another angsty teenage girl, played by the same (terrible–whoops, did I say that?) actress that played the angsty teenage girl in season 1. Zoe is trying to have sex with her longtime boyfriend, but instead of enjoying carnal pleasures, the result is just some good ol’ carnage. Her boyfriend dies mysteriously of a brain aneurysm (I think), she rightfully freaks the F out, and her mother sends her to Louisiana to learn how to be a good witch.
I honestly think this season is on par with Cult, but I preferred the psychological horror of Cult to the supernatural spooks of Coven. This is Angela Basset’s and Kathy Bates’s first season on the show, and they almost steal it. The two of them–playing voodoo queen Marie Laveau and cruel slaveowner/serial killer Delphine LaLaurie respectively–find themselves locked in an ancient struggle after the new witches dig up Madame LaLaurie’s immortal body. The head of the school, Fiona Goode, makes it her business to also be involved in this beef, and then it’s just a big contest to see who can be the biggest, baddest witch. They’re forced to set aside their differences when the young witches–played by Taissa Farmiga, Emma Roberts, and Gabourey Sidibe–start fighting amongst themselves when they realize a new Supreme is rising to power. (The Supreme is the Biggest, Baddest Witch.) In an effort to keep this article short, Stevie Nicks shows up, reveals herself to also be a witch, and tells them to stop fighting, which of course they do, because Stevie Nicks is an #icon.
Though I’m running out of space, this season is well worth a watch because it’s so, so much more than I can express in this one article.
4. Freak Show
Season 4 was relatively simple. This is also the season where all of the seasons start to overlap–this is the first time there are references to things that have occurred in previous seasons.
A former spy turned freak show attraction named Elsa Mars travels the country to gather a family of society’s rejects in this season. She finds those cast out because of their disfigurations and brings them together to put on a freak show for all who care to see. She claims she’s different from the regular degrading circus sideshow because her freaks are the stars of the show, and they’re also in charge of it rather than being someone else’s property. This season was also pretty melancholy, as macabre collectors and rich, delusional families make several attempts to split Elsa’s show apart and we are forced to watch Elsa deal with losing everything she loves. While the characters might have unsettling appearances, they are just as human as the rest of us, and that makes it all the more heartbreaking to watch as they fight to keep their family together. Also Neil Patrick Harris is there!
I’ll keep this short and sweet. A lot of people liked season 2 for some mysterious reason; I did not. It started with a serial killer (or maybe someone impersonating a serial killer?), then aliens showed up and an innocent man is placed into the abusive care of a corrupt nun in a mental “hospital” for the murder of his wife and several other women (he’s placed in the asylum instead of prison because he claims aliens took his wife). A lesbian reporter turns herself in and allows herself to be committed for her “sexual deviance” in order to get the inside scoop on the corruption happening in the asylum. The rest of the season is a whirlwind: the doctor in the asylum was a Nazi, the patients are all aliens, the innocent man’s wife was alive the whole time because she actually did get snatched by aliens. But also maybe she didn’t? This season was a mess. The creators tried to tackle far too many topics in one season, which resulted in a season so incredibly outlandish that I actually caught myself laughing at one point. The only reason this follows immediately after Freak Show, which I actually liked, is because Hotel and Roanoke were far worse.
I wanted to like this season. I really did. Lady Gaga was so excited to be a part of it, and I wanted to be excited for her, but it was just so…boring. Like Cult, there was a realistic component–season 5 was set in Los Angeles, and many of the characters were dying from drug overdoses or were former stars who had been chewed up and spit out by Hollywood. But there was nothing exciting or scary about it. Instead, the excitement was produced by the vampires that lived in the hotel’s penthouse. Don’t get me wrong, their scenes were beautifully crafted, and the vampires themselves were beautiful, but I personally am tired of vampires. They killed senselessly, with little motivation besides needing to eat, and I found that uninteresting and frankly, kind of gross, as there was constantly blood everywhere, but for no good reason outside of adding a yuck factor. I made it as far as episode five, when the ghost of the man who built the hotel has a party for the ghosts of notorious serial killers, and then I was out. I skipped straight to Roanoke, whispering “sorry” to Lady Gaga, but I just couldn’t do it. I did more than my share of trying to keep up with the multiple different zany plotlines in season 2, and I’m watching this for fun, so I decided to spare myself.
If there was a season I should have skipped, it was this one. The first five episodes are presented as a documentary of a couple, Matt and Shelby Miller, who move to North Carolina and unknowingly purchase a house that was built on the Roanoke settlement. They move after Matt is attacked and Shelby has a miscarriage–sound familiar? The couple is terrorized by the murderous ghosts of the colonists and their hillbilly neighbors, but somehow they make it out alive to tell their story to the media. The media produces a reenactment of the terrors the couple faced during their time in the house, and the two of them get rich, but are driven apart as an effect of the publicity they receive from their story. The decision to present the story in this way raised a lot of questions for me. Mainly: why get more actors to play different actors? Why was Cuba Gooding, Jr. there?
The remainder of the episodes involve the director sending the actors and the “real” couple back to the house during the most dangerous time to live there as a desperate cash grab. The last few episodes were presented as found footage, since only one person survived the horrors of the three days that they were meant to spend in the house–this one person includes the director, producer, cameraman, and literally every other person in the vicinity of the set.
Overall this season was overly visceral and I had to pause it at several moments out of disgust. It was messy and ridiculous in every possible way. `The only part about this season I liked was that the police that showed up at the end didn’t shoot the black woman. That was literally the only moderately tasteful part of this season.
Now, American Horror Story is by no means great television. If I force myself to think critically about it, I start to hate myself for all the time I’ve spent and tears I’ve cried while watching it. Despite my disappointment in some of the seasons, American Horror Story is still entertaining, and just scary enough to give you chills, but not to the point where you can’t finish it. I have high hopes for where the creators will take the series in the future, and I can’t wait to watch season 8 (which is now over. I’m way behind). In the meantime, if you’re looking for a series to binge on Netflix, American Horror Story might be the one for you.