The Chemist arrives in Provincetown to begin her grand experiment on the local talent -- or not-so-talented.
Just four episodes in, and "American Horror Story: Red Tide" took a step back in time to pull back the curtain and not only show us how the sausage is made, but basically reveal how everything that's been happening began.
It's a bit of a surprising move for a show that likes to just throw more nonsense into the mix. This first half of the "Double Feature" season has been surprisingly cohesive and straightforward in its horror thus far.
While we had a lot of questions as to what's been going on and why, this hour answered just about every one of them. We found out where the pills first came from, why they were developed, why they're being distributed in Provincetown, how Macaulay Culkin's Mickey knows so much about it, and exactly what happened to the pale people.
We even got the origin of the series' most enigmatic and intriguing character, Frances Conroy's Belle Noir, as well as how she and Evan Peters' Austin came to be an unlikely and yet compellingly charming duo, and a better understanding of how Billie Lourd's Lark fits into things -- and why she's getting star billing.
They even explained away the one thing we were king of laughing about, and that's the ridiculous shoulder pads on the oversized coats the pale people have been seen wearing. In so many ways, this has not felt like a typical "AHS" season, and we've kind of been enjoying the more straightforward, serious approach to horror.
We love the shtick, but by the time we got to "Apocalypse" and "1984," this show was almost becoming a parody of itself, much less a love letter to horror tropes. Now, while it's still trading liberally in them, it seems to be genuinely forging its own chapter on the annals of the genre.
For as many questions as were answered in this episode, there are still many things we don't know, with a lot of it having to do with The Chemist herself, as well as Sarah Paulson's TB Karen. She does make an appearance in this episode, but only enough to convince us further she has a larger role yet to play.
The hour opened with the arrival of Angelica Ross as the as-yet-unnamed Chemist, looking regal and dangerous at the same time. Once again, Denis O'Hare's Holden is the real estate agent, getting very nosy as to what a chemist is doing in Provincetown. He's thinking meth -- if only it were that simple.
Almost immediately, she gets into the production of her little blue pills. But it's when she first meets Mickey that we get the exposition we've been missing about her, her motivations and just why these little pills were developed in the first place.
It shouldn't really be a surprise that they're being developed as a tool for the military.
The Chemist first caught Mickey doing his hustle down at The Muse and getting flatly rejected, so she decides to try and start with him, inviting him back to her place. There, she is surprisingly candid about what she's been working on.
It turns out, she and her colleagues discovered that talented people have denser neuron clusters in their occipital lobe. What the military wants to do is tamp down that talent so that soldiers won't have creative ideas of their own. But in order to control and shut it down, it first must be isolated and unlocked.
Provincetown is actually the second test site for this new drug, having first been presented to apes. There, they discovered aggression in both talented and non-talented apes, with the non-talented tearing the talented ones apart. It's here that Mickey's role in everything is full explained.
After she offers him a pill, which we already know he'd initially turned down due to his own insecurities about whether or not he's really talented, she instead offers him $50 for every person he can send her way willing to take a pill. It is through his work that she finds her first two candidates, who achieve wildly different results.
A fascinating study in devolution, the first person Mickey sends to The Chemist is a mediocre singer. As it turns out, though, this guy is apparently not talented as he slowly begins to transform into the bald monsters we've already seen on the streets of Provincetown.
His hair falls out, he grows more aggressive and he shares with her that not only is he filled with rage -- she says that's because he now knows he has no real talent -- as well as the bloodlust due to the pill's stripping the body of some of the things it needs, but he's incredibly cold.
He seemed to be devolving intellectually, as when he told The Chemist he was freezing, she sent him to get a coat and he appeared to follow this instruction to the letter. That's what took him to Lark's place, where we finally find out why the pale people where those ridiculous coats.
It turns out she has an overstock of them in her store, hoping to unload them for Halloween, but it's not working. So she basically offers him one for free. We've no idea how it becomes the go-to style for all pale people, but we appreciate the in-story explanation for such a silly and yet instantly recognizable look.
By the end of the episode, this first pale person has killed a woman randomly at a gravesite and when he confronted The Chemist and she shunned him from her house, he seemed to become even more animalistic. By the time we met them in the premiere episode, it had been years, so there may not be much human left in them at all.
Probably the most compelling and enjoyable character on the show, played with a sultry sophistication by Conroy, the Belle we meet this week is a shell of who she will become. Who we meet is a desperately unhappy wife who writes weird, smutty romance books about people like George Washington that her husband despises ... almost as much as he despises her.
The Chemist makes first contact with her at her latest book tour appearance where she sold one paltry book, but it's Mickey at The Muse who manages to again seal the deal. After getting her high on the more traditional stuff, he offers to take her to The Chemist.
This time, The Chemist actually takes the time to read some of Belle's work before offering her the pill, saying she wants to make sure she has talent. It makes us wonder if The Chemist is trying to avoid pale people, or if she just wants to ensure she has some of both kinds of people to study.
As we saw with Harry (Finn Witrock) in the premiere, it doesn't take long for the talent to explode out of Belle after she takes the pill, and she also spends that whole first night writing, hammering out a whole book.
The difference between the two is that Harry was happily married and Belle's husband came home and admitted he'd just got finished cheating on her and he was leaving her. That made it a whole lot easier for Belle to slake her thirst for blood without ever having to leave her room.
Jump to two years later, and we get to see Lark's influence again, as well as learning that she's now a client of The Chemist as well, manifesting as we'd already learned through her tattoo work. She introduced Belle to her innovative sharp chompers upgrade and designed her iconic look. So we can thank Lark for the ridiculous pale people look as well as Belle's sensational style.
With Belle firmly established and confidently churning out incredible material, the only thing missing was her other half. Enter a drag queen show and Evan Peters in full drag doing his best worst impression of a straight man trying to infiltrate the world of drag with no idea how to do it.
He was painfully terrible to watch as he performed, flopping awkwardly on a piano and grabbing his behind. It was at this point, perhaps, that The Chemist began to lose some control over her experiment as it was Belle who offered Austin his first taste at greatness.
Was it hearing him play the piano, which was beautiful, or was she just taking a huge gamble that it would work? Did Belle at this point know enough about the whole process to understand that he could turn pale if he wasn't talented?
As we know, Austin definitely has the gift, and he and Belle go on to become the dynamic duo of The Muse, dominating karaoke night where its proven that the pills can only enhance existing talents -- and they got zero singing talent!
We're assuming another visit to Lark was in Austin's near future, but his immediate post-pill future was a visit to the drag queens who were dragging him for how terrible his performance was. They managed to kill all but one of them.
That makes for a sloppy dinner, with neither all that concerned that one queen could expose them. Luckily for both of them, whatever was left of that singer by this time took care of the last queen, assuring the continued secrecy of the darkness lurking in Provincetown.
So now that we know how it all got started, we still don't know exactly what The Chemist is doing in Provincetown or what she's trying to accomplish. It's been years now that she's been feeding these pills to Belle, Austin and however many other people.
Is she still on the military payroll, exploring the long-term effects of the pill? Or is she trying to tweak her formula to maximize her own profits? Is she charging for these pills? One would imagine she could make a pretty premium, considering how much money most of her artists are now making.
Is there a plan for the pale people? It's all well and good to kick them out of her house, but they're roaming around P-Town at all hours of the day and night, chasing and trying to kill people. Was this happening when tourists were around, too? One would think there'd have been a whole lot of unexplained murders.
Of course, there's the more immediate problem of the murder of Chief Burelson (Adina Porter) that happened in the last episode, in the present day, that threatens to blow the whole experiment wide open. Maybe the military will swoop in and quarantine the whole area. Maybe they've been looking for The Chemist, if she did go rogue.
The story moves back into the present as "American Horror Story: Double Feature" continues next Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.