AHS 1984 was a season for the books. Never one to do the same thing twice, Ryan Murphy took major creative risks in his ode to all things 80’s. While the decision-making made for exciting developments for the series, it also brought about a few missteps along the way (read about my season theories I wrote after Episode 1 here). Follow along below to deep dive into the rad and bad moments of Season 9.
10. Rad – Bobby Richter
Finn Wittrock’s portrayal of an adult Bobby Richter took on the role of the audience, asking all the pointed questions we had as the story of Camp Redwood drew to a conclusion. In hindsight, it would have been more interesting to see adult Bobby at the beginning of Episode 1, leaving the audience to guess his identity through the duration of the season, but he was added to the cast after episodes had already begun airing.
The highlight of Bobby was how the writers used him as a vehicle to connect our cast of characters. There was a lot to do in a little amount of time, and his existence made it all possible. Also, when he, Brooke (Emma Roberts), and Donna (Angelica Ross) were all sitting together gave me ‘final three’ Scream vibes. I didn’t know I needed that, but I needed that.
9. Bad – Lack of Xavier
For someone who had such a prominent role at the beginning of the season, Xavier’s importance seemed to taper off in Episode 9. The trouble with his character started long before then, though. The moment he chased Donna through the woods, the structure of his ideals began to cave in. Xavier was fairly moral until… he wasn’t.
American Horror Story Apocalypse was the Cody Fern show. Although every actor isn’t able to be front and center each season, it was strange to see talent that could do so much recede into the background. Why couldn’t there have been a follow-up about Xavier becoming a famous adult film star only after he died? That would have been an oddly satisfying way to tie up his arc. He would get his moment as a “famous face” after all.
8. Rad – Emma Roberts Playing Nice
Emma Roberts is kind of controversial in the AHS community. Some people are die-hard fans while other viewers cross their fingers in hopes of not hearing her name attached to each season. I’ve always liked her, and with every year it only feels like her acting chops are getting better and better.
It was shocking to learn that Emma was going to be the protagonist of AHS 1984. This role is such a stark difference than the one-liner-spewing bratty-gal that we’re used to. To be fair, no one plays a baddie better than Roberts. But you know what? She did it. And she did it with flying colors. It was like Nickelodeon’s Unfabulous all over again, except vastly different. Brooke wasn’t a colorful character (like Addie Singer), but Emma Roberts crafted her with true legitimacy. The finale showed Roberts’ ability to take on a topically foreign-feeling role and totally make it her own.
The writers could have made Brooke a little more interesting, but that is not a reflection of Emma. When she miraculously ended up alive I immediately anticipated that she’d see Donna and Bobby out of her home, walk into a secret room and begin conversing with Satan, revealing that she gave into him that night at Camp Redwood. And that would have been so cool. After years of humanity wrongly accusing her, she broke and leaned into the darkness. I prefer this take on her character, but I get why she was kept on the side of angels, too.
7. Bad – Dylan McDermott’s Character
Dylan McDermott’s long-awaited return to American Horror Story finally happened. Too bad it was wasted on a character with very little dimensionality. Bruce was a serial killer who came in Act III out of thin air. I kept waiting for his greater ties to the storyline; who was he working for? Why was he after Brooke and Donna? His existence was merely more bad luck for the Redwood-bound duo. Another serial killer. Cool.
What’s stranger is that Bruce ends up teaming up with Ramirez (Zack Villa) after confessing he wants to outdo the Night Stalker’s body count. This would be fine except the Night Stalker’s whole mission is to be remembered and not fade away in the 80’s. Kind of strange behavior to team up with someone seeking to dethrone you? The writers played it from an admiration angle, still felt half-fledged. It pains me to say, thumb-less McDermott was not a necessary addition. In the finale he acts as a stand-in before being knifed and rolled down a hill. An irrelevant ending for an irrelevant character.
6. Rad – Margaret Booth Wants to be the “Final Girl”
Leslie Grossman is super talented comedienne through and through. Her first two AHS roles (Meadow Wilton and Coco St. Pierre-Vanderbilt) showcase her chops, but they also kind of tonally mirror each other. I was hoping this season would be her departure from the norm and I surely got what I asked for. Margaret Booth was the standout of the season, bar none. Watching Margaret go from sole survivor to manipulative sociopath was captivating. In the flash-forward, her ties to both Briarcliff and the Roanoke property really cemented her firmly in the scope of the AHS universe.
In the finale, Margaret insists that she is always the final girl. It’s a nice touch that brings her motive full circle. In her youth, she outlived the rest of the campers as the killer. Even as a ghost, she feels as if it’s her right to uphold the same title. I wish she lived. In a lot of ways Margaret is the character foil to Lana Winters (American Horror Story Asylum). Unlike Lana, who was the victim of her circumstance, Margaret was the catalyst of her own “tragic story”. They both found fame and fortune in the macabre, but remain opposite of each other in every other capacity. Can you imagine what a Winters versus Booth showdown could have looked like?
5. Bad – Redwood Food & Music Fest
After teasing it for multiple episodes, some of us (all of us) were really expecting to see this festival bloodbath play out. To say I feel robbed of it is putting it gingerly. Viewers were eagerly waiting for the killers to attack the festival-goers, for Brooke/Donna to make their move against Margaret, and for Jingles (John Caroll Lynch) to settle his score with Ramirez. Granted, these things did happen, but against boring, secluded backdrops.
From a Hollywood perspective, I tried to rack my brain to think of why this plot point may have been nixed—the set was built. Did they run out of money? This event should have been highlighted since it was what brought so many characters back to Redwood. And to hear the onslaught of rumors that Evan Peters would make a surprise appearance as Billy Idol only twisted the knife in what could have been the best sequence of the season.
4. Rad – Ray’s Redemption
There were flashier characters, but Ray (DeRon Horton) might have been the most thought-out of the bunch. From trying to cover up a murder in college, to running away from Camp Redwood when his friends were in need, the theme of cowardice is the thread that binds his means of conflict resolution. Ray’s storyline all comes to a head in the finale, when he vows to save Brooke from dying on the camp’s grounds. In a heroic effort, he decides to stay when the going gets tough and get Brooke to the property line by any means necessary.
The moonlit sky blends with the billowing fog as Ray holds Brooke’s nearly lifeless body under the Camp Redwood sign. It’s my favorite shot of the entire season. Although she collapses, leaving the audience questioning if she made it or not, Ray’s character gets a glimmer of redemption. His affection for her pushes his personal limits and shows us all what kind of man he really is.
3. Bad – Donna’s Thesis (or Lack Thereof)
One of the weakest plot points of the season was Donna’s thesis that caused her to release Mr. Jingles. After learning about her father’s twisted urges, she set to discover whether serial killers are born or made. Donna’s end goal to dissect the power of nature vs. nurture was admittedly interesting, but only in the beginning.
The journey causes her to partake in horrendous actions, only to later switch sides and waiver to the side of good. In the midst of her character transition she kind of just sets the thesis aside and walked away from it. When Brooke wants to kill Stacy (Stefanie Black) from the National Enquirer, Donna begs her to reconsider. Maybe the audience is supposed to realize that Donna has cracked the code and suspects that killers are made? There’s no good answer. Donna brought Jingles to Redwood, watched as he killed people, did nothing, and realized she was wrong. Who cares about sinister familial traits or the catalyst that set everything into motion? The end? The End.
2. Rad – Montana’s Final Dialogue
It may seem like a small sequence, but it’s important. Billie Lourd’s Montana sends Bobby Richter (Finn Wittrock) off after they contain a murderous Margaret Booth. She urges him to go forth and escape Camp Redwood, but before he leaves, she utters the most definitive words of the season…
“Get out of here, and never come back. But don’t forget us, tell our ghost stories to your children and we’ll live on forever. The 80’s will never die.”
Stories are what keeps people alive. Goodbyes are what make camp special. The hair, the music, the memories and friends shared, nostalgia defines us, it defines the 80’s. Our memories live on through how we pay homage to them, and how we pass them along to others. Montana’s message was one for us all, it’s the heart of AHS 1984.
1. Bad – Continuity Issues
And now, the glaring smudge over the season that I cannot seem to get past (there’s hope, we’ll circle back to that later). There are a few really harsh continuity errors in AHS 1984. They all surround Richard Ramirez, which in itself bothers me because I feel like he got almost as much shine as Jingles, and the Ramirez felt kind of additive from the get-go?
We first see the Night Stalker in American Horror Story Hotel. Ramirez is a yearly attendee of James March’s Devil’s Night Soiree, which means he’s deceased. If Hotel takes place in 2014, this makes sense. The real-life Night Stalker died in 2013. In AHS 1984 the Night Stalker’s reign of terror is controlled by the circle of spirits who keep a watchful eye on him. Each time he is brought back through the forces of Satan, they re-kill him. Never allowing Ramirez to reach his goal of murdering Bobby Richter. I guess that’s fine, but if he can’t die, how is he supposed to be a ghost?
Ryan Murphy has gone on record and said this season is set in an “alternate universe” which is why Richard Ramirez evades his lethal injection and the real-life band Kajagoogoo meets their bloody fate at Redwood. Not speaking for every fan, but that really takes away from the core of the show. I suppose witches did not come out of hiding in real-life, reality shows where people get slaughtered are still illegal, so in a way, this universe has always been a self-contained, other “thing”. But the fact that Ramirez met an entirely alternate fate just does not feel like our standard American Horror Story. Murphy will twist a character’s persona or show us the “real story of what happened” but the bullet points in which the historical figure led their lives doesn’t deter that much.
Earlier I said there was still hope for this season to make sense, and I stand by that—but it comes at a heavy price. Halfway through the production of AHS 1984, the rumor that this season would actually be revealed to be a horror movie had blanketed Twitter. For example, the entire time we’re watching Brooke, we’re actually watching an actress (more than likely Madison Montgomery), playing Brooke. In episode 10 the smokescreen would be peeled away, we’d see that Camp Redwood is a set and that would be the giant Season 9 twist. Who knows if the rumor was even real? We’ll never know. Interestingly enough, the season was cut by one episode. Very suspect.
In a future season, if a character references 1984 as a horror movie, the continuity issues are immediately resolved. Maybe that’s what Ryan meant when he said “alternate universe”? However, that remedy comes at the price of wiping away any and all connectivity 1984 has to the pre-existing AHS shared universe. It may leave viewers feeling cheated, like they’ve emotionally invested in the Redwood Campers without any real payoff. I think it’s the lesser of two evils. Make them actors; I couldn’t care less. Just fix the timeline.
There is a lot of evidence that supports that 1984 is a film. From the character supers that roll across the screen in episode one, to the silly gore and over-the-top death gags, it’s playful in all the ways an 80’s horror movie would be. Satan’s powers looked very different than they did in Apocalypse. Brooke wouldn’t be in a co-ed prison. Donna wouldn’t have been able to orchestrate posing as the executioner. The list goes on and on. Here’s to hoping.
Did you favorite or least favorite moments from AHS 1984 make the list? If not, let us know what yours was in a comment below.
AHS 1984 is available on FXNOW, Amazon Prime and iTunes.