American Horror Story has come a long way since its latex-bodysuit early days. Co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk established the genre anthology series with the 2011 FX premiere of Murder House, an edgy take on the classic haunted-house horror trope.
Since then, the show has run the gamut from Nazis and aliens wreaking havoc in Asylum to the cultural chaos inspired by the 2016 presidential election in Cult. Through it all, Murphy and Falchuk have built a small-screen television universe, intricately connecting characters and narrative components from one season to the next.
Every season has had its share of story twists, and a tradition eventually formed, with the sixth episode of each season containing a “big reveal.” Episode 6 of AHS: 1984 is also the 100th episode of the series and packs some extra weight behind its narrative punches.
As we wait to see how AHS: 1984 plays out, let’s take a look back at other seasons’ game-changing sixth episodes and see how episode 100 measures up.
(Photo by FX)
Halfway through the first season of American Horror Story it felt like Murphy and company were still finding their groove. That’s not to say that “Piggy, Piggy” doesn’t deliver the goods. On the contrary, there are a number of gut punches in the episode that help to add emotional clarity to the season’s story.
The most important component to this episode is the explanation behind Tate Langdon’s (Evan Peters) death. Violet Harmon (Taissa Farmiga) may be in love with the ghost, but the reveal, which shows Langdon in skull-themed face paint and Columbine-inspired trench coat shooting up his high school, is one of those gut-punches we mentioned.
It’s the first time American Horror Story really goes there in tackling social commentary in its subject matter; in this case, shining a light on America’s issue of gun violence and school shootings. And as difficult as it is to watch, the unflinching sequence adds an unexpected layer to Peters’ brooding blond teenager — and gives TV audiences a nudge into some uncomfortable, but necessary, talks about mental health.
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There are two important components at play in AHS: Asylum’s sixth episode: Dr. Thredson’s (Zachary Quinto) backstory, explaining how he became serial killer Bloody Face and the bombshell that Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) may very well be a WWII Nazi doctor — who’s trying to create superhumans through creepy medical experiments — named Hans Gruper. That second plotline may sound a bit kooky, but it all goes with the territory as season 2 of AHS seemingly throws a whole array of genre tropes at the wall to see what sticks.
The Thredson storyline is the strongest one in “Origins of Monstrosity,” as we not only dig into the doctor’s past, but his present situation plays out in a cringe-filled scenario that finds Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) held captive by the madman. Through her will to survive, and his need for connection, the two form an odd bond as Lana offers to be Oliver’s new mother figure. They consummate this new relationship, which ultimately sets things up for Lana’s escape — including her murder of Bloody Face — putting her in the position to rise as an investigative journalist, only to confront her psychotic child, the result of her union with Oliver, years later, on live TV.
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The thing you should know about the sixth episode of Coven is that, as much as “The Axeman Cometh” is a cool entry in the season, it’s kind of unnecessary. That’s not to say that the episode isn’t at all entertaining or worthwhile. The contrary can be said. Danny Huston makes his debut as the aforementioned Axeman — a character inspired by a real-life serial killer who stalked the streets of New Orleans in 1919.
Here, he’s got the creepy suaveness we’ve come to expect from Murphy’s psychopaths. And his attraction to Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) comes with a hidden disdain the killer has for witches — we get a glimpse into his backstory, which totally includes his death by stabbing inside Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, the modern day location of Fiona’s coven. So yes, he has a chip on his shoulder. And once he’s unleashed back into the world of the living, that rage turns into violent action.
“The Axeman Cometh” is the first half of a two-part story that bridges the gap between the front and back halves of the season. And while the episode mostly acts as a set-up for the Axeman’s storyline to play out, ultimately leaving some story threads dangling, his introduction was a nice palate cleanser to the season and gave Jessica Lange a dastardly romantic interest to play against.
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Let’s cut to the chase: “Bullseye” is the worst sixth episode of any American Horror Story season. Which isn’t saying much, since Freak Show, overall, was a subpar installment of the anthology series. That’s not to say that Murphy and company didn’t accomplish anything here. Casting relative unknowns, a bunch of talented actors with an array of physical abnormalities, helped position Murphy as a champion for on-screen diversity.
Adding a musical carnival vibe to the mix — Jessica Lange and others performing modern-day pop songs under a 1950s circus tent was definitely a choice — helped separate this go-round from every other installment to the series. But the storylines explored here, in one of the country’s last-remaining traveling circus shows, feel under-developed.
This comes through with Stanley’s (Denis O’Hare) continued attempt at procuring Elsa’s (Lange) attractions (while promising her Hollywood fame) and Dandy’s (Finn Wittrock) murderous serial killer graduation to becoming the “Bringer of Death,” thanks to some gruesome inspiration from Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch). On paper, both ideas sound compelling, but it all played out as if each plotline was buckling under the weight of heavy expectations and thinly thought-out ideas.
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Midway through its fifth season, American Horror Story gave its audience a backstory for Lady Gaga’s Countess. But, as cool as it is to get this type of insight into a powerful vampire and to understand why she collects children and blindly murders innocent people, “Room 33” was mostly just dull.
The saving grace through it all was the introduction of the killer baby that the Countess keeps hidden in the Hotel Cortez. In a flashback to 1926, Mrs. Johnson — a.k.a. a pre-vampire Countess — heads to the Murder House to get Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) to perform a basement abortion. Of course, it doesn’t work. And throughout the episode, we’re reminded of that as Bartholemew, the murder baby, is randomly shown, here and there, running around the room like an infant maniac.
The big reveal in American Horror Story: Roanoke is a twist within a twist within a twist. What started as a familiar-feeling haunted house horror story following Shelby and Matt Miller (Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr.), a married couple who moved into a troubled house in Roanoke, Virginia, made a 180-degree turn in its sixth episode. Up until that point, we watched them recall their battle against ghosts, a murderer wearing a pig’s head, and community of crazed cultists — led by their ax-wielding leader Agnes Mary Winstead (Kathy Bates) — in the docu-series, My Roanoke Nightmare.
And then, in “Chapter 6,” the script was flipped as the camera perspective changed, revealing the cast and crew behind the show’s production. Suddenly, the audience was introduced to the actors playing the characters in the series, giving the AHS cast a whole cavalcade of details to work with as they cycled from their on-screen actor personas to the characters their on-screen actor personas were playing.
That isn’t the end of it, either. Producer Sidney (Cheyenne Jackson) decides to make Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell — a reality show-style sequel to the highly successful docu-series — leading AHS: Roanoke to pivot into found-footage territory. The actors, not the characters, return to the real Roanoke house — which gets rigged with a bunch of hidden cameras — only to be traumatized during a three-day period called the Blood Moon, where the veil between the living and the dead disappears, allowing one grisly murder after another to take place.
While the episode continually changed perspective and narrative styles, this overall reveal ended up feeling a bit gimmicky. Still, “Chapter 6” succeeded at disrupting expectations and paved the way for some of the grittiest and goriest episodes of the series.
Another American Horror Story episode, another depiction of a gun-wielding mass-shooter. Six seasons after the school massacre scene in AHS: Murder House, the sequence that transpires in “Mid-Western Assassin” is the one that got the most attention after the episode aired. It was unfortunate timing, given the shooting that transpired in Las Vegas, Nevada, in October 2017. And while edits were made to the episode, FX didn’t delay its airing.
AHS: Cult explores the rise of a manic, threatening leader amid a fractured cultural landscape. The season’s narrative was inspired by the 2016 presidential election. But while there were a few references to Donald Trump’s win — which may have been a bit too soon to process for many — the overall focus here was on humanity’s need for connection and the ramifications that can be born out of isolation and pain, leading to the rise of people like Charles Manson or David Koresh (both played by Evan Peters in the season).
In the episode, Meadow (Leslie Grossman), one of Kai’s (Peters) followers, attempts to murder him during a political rally — per the cult leader’s request, we find out later — as his public persona continues to get national attention. The massacre bookends the episode, showing two different perspectives of the action, giving the audience both the actual truth of what went down, and the spun lies which bolster the rising political star’s celebrity.
Murphy knows how to deliver fan service and his talent for doing so is on full display in the sixth episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse. The fate of the world and all of humanity lay with some heroic witches, setting up “Return to Murder House” to deliver answers to lingering questions, taking viewers back to the season that started it all.
As Michael Langdon (Cody Fern) grew into his antichrist powers, straddling the moral line between good and evil, good witch duo Chablis (Billy Porter) and Coven’s Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) purchase Murder House to investigate Langdon’s past. Yes, the boy grew up within these walls and was raised by Constance Langdon — prompting Jessica Lange’s glorious, albeit brief, return to the series.
Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott reprise their roles as Vivien and Ben Harmon. While they’re definitely ghosts here, we get flashbacks showing Ben giving Langdon therapy, trying to guide him down the right path. Evan Peters brings back brooding teen mass murderer, Tate Langdon, adding even more nostalgia to the mix. And with Sarah Paulson directing the episode, and returning as psychic Billie Dean Howard, the American Horror Story universe expanded in a truly satisfying way.
AHS: 1984, the series’ ninth installment, takes viewers back to the ’80s with a retro horror tale that hits all the gory notes one would expect. The season takes a literal stab at the Friday the 13ths and Sleepaway Camps of the decade, giving a nod to the slasher icons of the genre. When a group of young people gets trapped at Camp Redwood — a camping retreat stained by the monstrous legend of a serial killer named Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch) — they’re killed-off one-by-one, revealing sinister secrets, ulterior motives, and a few evil twists along the way.
“Episode 100” took viewers outside of Camp Redwood and jumped forward in time, showing just how much can change for our core group in five years. In 1989, Camp Counselor Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman) has gotten away with the murders she committed at the camp. (Spoiler: she’s the real monster, not Mr. Jingles.) In turn, the woman is now a wealthy real estate mogul who buys up properties connected to some of America’s most notorious killers — John Wayne Gacy’s house, Charles Manson’s Spahn Ranch, and even Asylum’s Briarcliff Manor are some of the examples given.
Meanwhile, we see Benjamin Richter living a relatively normal life in Alaska with a wife and newborn child, attempting to put his Mr. Jingles life behind him; Brooke (Emma Roberts) is on death row, framed for Margaret’s crimes; Richard Ramirez (Zach Villa) is incarcerated and literally has the powers of Satan on his side; and the ghosts of Montana (Billie Lourd), Xavier (Cody Fern), and Ray (DeRon Horton) are tethered to Camp Redwood — the same way the spirits were stuck in Murder House and Hotel — where passers-by keep getting killed.
There’s a double-sided message in “Episode 100” as it seems that Murphy and Falchuk — who co-wrote the episode — are exploiting America’s fascination with true crime, while turning that focus on themselves as well. On one hand, you have Margaret profiting off a collection of serial killers’ legacies only to add to her riches. On the other, there’s Murphy acknowledging his habit of paying a glamorized tribute to real-life murderers like Gacy (Carroll Lynch), Aileen Wuornos (Lily Rabe), and Ramirez (previously played by Anthony Ruivivar).
At what point does pop culture attention directed at these criminals’ bloody misdeeds become glorification? It’s an interesting moral quandary that resonates throughout society today. With just three episodes to go this season, the bloody events of “Episode 100” will hopefully set up the final set of dominoes to fall, to push things right along to a satisfying climax.
American Horror Story: 1984 airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.