The sleepy haven of Provincetown in Cape Cod is the winter home of some of the greatest creative minds the world has ever known, but what's the secret of their success ... and the price?
Fresh of of their anthology series that took fans back to Murder House, one of the first things said about the new house for "American Horror Story: Double Feature" is that it looks haunted.
Thankfully, "Red Tide" isn't looking to retread that familiar territory. So far as we can tell so far, the house is not haunted. But that doesn't mean it's not a terribly dangerous place to be. In fact, we could say that about the entirety of Provincetown, a real sleepy town in Cape Cod.
Who knew a quaint village in the Northeast could look so absolutely terrifying no matter the weather or time of day. Shots of just the streets of Provincetown are almost as terrifying as the makeup job they did on Sarah Paulson to transform her into "Tuberculosis Karen" for this season.
As much fun as Paulson is in this role, the two-part premiere had even bigger scene stealers in Evan Peters, Frances Conroy and Macaulay Culkin, making his "AHS" premiere. The latter appears to be having an absolute blast, and we've just scratched the surface of where is character is going.
With only two episodes under our belt, we've only scratched the surface of this whole series, but at the same time, we know so much already. It's almost as if this was another chapter of that anthology series. In fact, with that ending, this could have easily been a two-hour film with a dramatic twist ending we all saw coming from the first moment we got a hint about what was going on.
Usually, big reveals are saved until later in the series so we can use up all our WTFs just trying to figure out what's going on. We don't know how many episodes this first half of "Double Feature" is going to be, but they're wasting no time. And that has us wondering just what our WTFs are going to be for as we move along?
Is this going to be another "Asylum," where Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk threw everything and the kitchen sink into a plot so convoluted we were about ready to check ourselves into the asylum trying to follow it.
That's not happening so far, as this episode is about as transparent and clear as can be as to what's going on. There are a few mysteries lingering around the edges, but not too many. So one of our biggest WTFs right now, is WTF do you do with where we are now for the next however many hours.
At the same time, we have to consider ourselves incredibly satisfied with this opening. Finn Witrock is perfectly cast as the driven, struggling writer who's trying so hard to not become Stephen King's Jack Torrance, while Ryan Kiera Armstrong is equally compelling as his daughter.
But it's Lily Rabe who's really grabbing our attention as wife and mother Doris, who may be the most complex and yet "perfectly ordinary" character we've met so far. In a show not known for its subtlety, we have a feeling where that's going.
For this season, we're going to spotlight the biggest WTF moments from each episode to see if they're great twists, lame jump scares or a truly head-scratching "kitchen sink" moment.
The name of this half of the season is "Red Tide," and we love that there is no mention of "Double Feature" in the opening credits, it's "American Horror Story: Red Tide." While there is an obvious bloody connotation with red, one of the first images we get is of red lights on houses in town.
We're told that Provincetown is a very different community in the summer and in the winter. By summer, it has 60,000 residents and is like any other tourist destination. In winter, that number drops to 3,000 and it's not necessarily safe outside at night, or daytime, or any time. But what exactly do the red lights mean?
We got a further clue about them when Conroy's Belle Noir had her light on to welcome Karen to her house with a special delivery, only to shut it off shortly after Karen left. Are the lights indicative of a need in those houses? A need for -- well, we'll get to that soon enough.
While it faded a bit in the second episode, Doris spent a good deal of the first episode obsessing of Lyme disease, looking up symptoms, warning their daughter Alma about it, and even wondering if the man who broke into their house and attacked Witrock's Harry was perhaps suffering from it.
It was an interesting character trait that really had us thinking they were going to go all in on Lyme with her, but we think it's more indicative of her personality type. She looks up lots of things online and becomes an "expert" in those things, like so many people do.
The problem is that maybe she's not quite the expert she thinks she is. Maybe she is, as her daughter accuses her later in the premiere, just an "ordinary" woman. Nothing wrong with that, in particular, but this is also a woman who fancies herself an interior designer.
The whole reason the family has this new home in such a prestigious community for the winter is because the owners saw her work on Instagram (where she won a contest) and have hired her to redecorate the whole house. She used to be a school teacher, so is she really a great decorator?
We've not really seen much, and we learned that she lost her previous job because the client didn't "get it," as she spouted a bunch of other stuff she saw online about what's in and trendy and popular in interior design. Let's just say, this all worries us a whole lot!
We can't think of a more Ryan Murphy way to introduce Macaulay Culkin to the "AHS" universe than to have him aggressively hit on Harry in ways we can't even repeat in this write-up. We'll say his approach was very openly gay, he didn't care that Harry was married "to a woman," and he had a lot of confidence in what he was offering.
It was a glorious introduction. And while we didn't get as much of him in these two hours as we might have liked, there is definitely the promise of more to come with the last twist for his character, as well.
Sarah and Evan and Frances, Oh My!
Speaking of great entrances, Murphy's "AHS" legends Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters and Frances Conroy all had incredible entrances of their own. Paulson is nigh unrecognizable as the very disturbingly sickly TB Karen, coming out of nowhere like a horror monster herself, accosting Harry in the supermarket.
By the end of the hour, though, it may turn out that Karen is the least crazy person we've met so far ... or at least one of them. She knows way too much -- and we really want to know how everyone in this town seems to know exactly what's going on and does nothing about it -- but has resisted giving in to temptation, despite her own artistic ambitions.
As for Evan and Frances, they're already our favorite odd couple of the season. Evan is an award-winning playwright, while Frances plays the world-renowned romance writer (elevating the format), Belle Noir. Their whole look and demeanor is fun enough, but meeting them while they duet on "Islands in the Stream"? That's pure magic!
While vastly different in personality, Belle is more ethereal and mysterious while Evan's Austin Sommers is crass and hedonistic, they work so well together. You can tell that the two performers are absolutely loving the cartoonish nature of their characters, and getting to play off of one another.
It's not the Matrix, and the pills aren't red or blue, but this black pill apparently changes absolutely everything. We quickly learn that this pill is the secret to Belle and Austin's incredible success as writers. And it works for anyone who's an artist.
There are, however, a couple of unexpected side effects, side effects that Austin failed to tell Harry when he convinced him to take a pill. We don't learn why Austin would even bother to share his pills or try and get Harry hooked. Does he get something out of it, or is he just spreading the love?
What he's also spreading is a thirst for blood that can't be satisfied by raw meat or, apparently, even animals. No, this thirst requires a full blood sacrifice of a live person (or about half of one) every week.
What's remarkable is that this isn't a permanent change. Stop taking the pill and the bloodlust subsides. But so does the "Muse" it provides, the feverishly prolific and brilliant works of artistic genius that comes out the other end.
By the end of this two-part premiere, Harry -- who'd only ever really written television procedurals -- suddenly had Joaquin Phoenix on board for an approved pilot, he'd written the whole series already and Netflix was looking at offering him an overall deal.
Give all that up just to not become a murderous vampire-like bloodsucking killer? It's easy enough. And Doris was definitely ready to pack up the family and go after a man broke into their house and got brutally murdered by Harry; the same man (or so it seemed) who chased her and Alma all the way to the house on like Day 2 in P-town.
But that would make for a very short show, so instead we learned that any type of art is enhanced by the pills when we met Lark (Billie Lourd). Trained as a dentist, she's actually an incredible tattoo artist. But what she's really good for is sharpening those teeth and making great coverups so you can feed better and still live a normal life.
Perhaps the most startling thing to happen in the episode was that chase from the graveyard home, with a strange, hissing bald man relentlessly chasing them all the way to the door and pounding on it. Later that night, Alma heard a sound at her window and there were three.
Later still, there were up to five. They had terrible gauche shoulder pads on and all appeared to be men, but we weren't immediately told what they were, how they came to be, and what their problem was. But they were dangerous and terrifying, with one breaking into the house.
Later, though, after Harry had taken a black pill, they sniffed him and walked off. It turns out, they were recognizing him as one of their own. And there's a reason they're they way they are.
In a later scene, we learn that Mickey (Culkin) is the only person who'll allow Karen to stay with him in his squalid apartment through the winter. It's here that we learn that both are aspiring artists themselves, with Mickey ready to take a pill to finally finish a screenplay and Karen terrified to do so.
But we also learn her biggest fear is what would happen if Mickey isn't talented. It turns out, the pill only works as prescribed if you have a modicum of talent already within you. If you're a faker, then it transforms you into those bald, white, stalking menaces in the streets.
Considering everyone seems to know about these pills, we can't help but wonder how many of those menaces are running around? Where do they hide during the summer? Hell, where do they hide now? The new sheriff is woefully underinformed as to what's going on on in town.
Remember how we were worried about Doris above? Harry is a talented writer and Alma a young but talented musician. We're desperately worried that Doris is an insecure and untalented person who thinks she's more talented than she is -- or desperately wants to be. If she takes a pill, we're pretty worried what might happen to her, though that would give us our first glimpse at an obviously female one.
Harry's first hunt was done with Belle and Austin, and it went about as advertised. We were a little more surprised when he ran into another male prostitute underneath a pier during his morning jog and decided to go ahead and have a healthy breakfast of blood right then and there.
First, he killed a white walker in his house and now he's casually slashing throats on the beach. But was he outside of P-town when he did that? We kind of think he wasn't, and even after being warned by B&A to never kill in Provincetown because the new sheriff is not keen on how things operate.
Is it just the siren lure of fame and success that has Harry so quickly adapting to this twisted new lifestyle, or does the drug alter more than just your talent and bloodlust? This guy has already shaved his teeth and taken to murder like someone asked him to try a different flavor of coffee.
So much of this premiere was just too casual, we think we're getting a little too comfortable with how things are going.
This wasn't so much a WTF moment as it was a moment built up inevitably from the moment Alma saw Harry take a black pill. Throughout the premiere she kept worrying she wasn't good enough on viola -- she's quite good for her age -- and would never achieve her dream of sitting first chair at the New York Philharmonic by the age of 18.
Of course she was going to take the pill. Of course she has the natural talent for it to simply make her great. It also made her arrogant and crabby, lashing out at her mother. And, of course, it created the night's closing scene.
It might have been more effective if we hadn't now that of course Alma was going to have an insatiable bloodlust. Honestly, while Doris is more shocked and horrified by seeing her daughter all covered in blood, we're more worried about all the white stalkers around.
They won't attack Alma now, but what's going to protect Doris from them? And we're still worried what happens if Doris takes a pill and then starts to turn into one of those things. And what exactly are they? We were told about a "Chemist" who made the pills, but what are they made of? Is it a supernatural creature, to bring that element into this?
If Karen doesn't have TB, what does she have? Did she used to take the pills and then stopped? Mickey noted that most of the paintings were tossed but three of them were actually quite moving. Karen could be what happens if you quit, it does long-term damage to your body, perhaps.
We're looking forward to the "kitchen" sink as "Red Tide" continues, and "Death Valley" looms on "American Horror Story: Double Feature," every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.