Taking place in 1954 and today, "Death Valley" delivers two different stories with five pregnancies, one shocking return of a real historic figure and more exploding heads than any show could ever need -- and plenty of graphic sex talk!
Just when we thought we had some idea how this second half of "American Horror Story: Double Feature" might unfold, the show pulled the rug out from under us with a wild jump and a whole new setting.
Who knew that Part 2 of "Double Feature," titled "Death Valley," would feature two stories of its own. Here we were anticipating connections between "Red Tide" and "Death Valley," and now we're looking for connections between 1954 and today.
The premiere of "Death Valley" kicked things off in stark black-and-white, which was used beautifully to show off its New Mexico setting. There was something hauntingly stunning about such crisp pictures stripped of color.
Here we began to explore what looks like a very nasty first encounter with alien life, and just from this first half of the episode, we had so many WTF questions and moments. But Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were only halfway through blowing our minds.
Halfway through the hour, everything shifted to color and to right now, as we were introduced to a new cast of characters who found themselves in a similarly alien situation, though with major differences and obvious -- if yet unknown -- connections to the story unfolding nearly 70 years prior.
The horror started right off the bat with the introduction of the classic 1950s American family, living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mom is preparing dinner, little Timmy is playing outside. But then the dust devils and blinding white lights come and Timmy vanishes ... momentarily.
We then see the mother, Maria, thrown onto the ceiling as Timmy comes in, eyes as white as the lights, as he invites her to take his hand and not be afraid. Was it because she was an adult that he recruited her into whatever the aliens are up to?
After all, when her husband showed up, Maria was hovering in the house -- apparently waiting for him -- and when she reached her hand out, it wasn't to offer it to him. It was to make his head gruesomely explode. But that raises another question: where did Timmy go?
This isn't the last we see of Maria even in this hour, but we've not seen Timmy since that opening scene. Was he only needed to enter the house and recruit Maria to the cause, or is he perhaps on another mission? Plus, how do they decide who's worth recruiting and who's head needs to be crushed? And why such a gruesome method? Is it by choice, or is it that something about them is too much for the human brain to handle and it literally explodes?
We were already kind of blown away that Neal McDonough and Sarah Paulson were playing Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, but we did not expect Lily Rabe's abductee rescued in the desert to be none other than Amelia Earhart, who vanished for real in 1937.
Rabe and McDonough were sterling in the interview scene where the president tried to figure out what happened to the already mythical American legend, as was Rabe as a terrified, confused woman who starts to doubt everything happening around her.
It's clear that Earhart was tortured and abused during her time with the aliens, but how is it that she did not age. And if they've had her for nearly 20 years, why did the impregnate her only two months ago and then drop her back off in the desert? Or was she even dropped off? Did she somehow escape in the crash? Was the crash an accident?
Playing on the traditional myth of the little green men bodies, when Ike's men cut into this one, it comes up hollow ... only not completely empty. From the way it looked, though, it almost looked like the body itself might be artificial. When a blob-like substance jumped out and landed on the scientist's face, we wondered if maybe that was the alien.
It would explain why their favorite fear tactic was employed again, with the scientist's head quickly exploding as the blob latched onto the other scientist in the room and blew up his head, too. And the head exploding wouldn't stop there!
If the hollowed out little green man body was more akin to a personal vehicle (think Daleks on "Doctor Who"), then maybe the blobby aliens are able to "ride" human beings the same way. Perhaps that's what happened to both Timmy and Maria, they each have an alien inside of them now, steering the ship, so to speak.
Do they need human bodies in order to communicate with humans? Or is it perhaps more of an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" thing? If they are "riding" inside of human beings, then why do they need to impregnate them (a la Amela)? Can they not procreate on their own or are they creating some new hybrid species?
Also, as we already know by now we spend half of this story in the present era, does this mean there could be either a new hybrid species of human/aliens already infiltrated all over the planet, or even possibly humans with aliens "riding" inside of them?
After the hollowed body alien blob kills the scientists, more heads start exploding among the president's military retinue. Out in the hallway, Maria's back! So why is she killing people, but not necessarily all of them? If it's an intimidation tactic, it's working great.
President Eisenhower proves his own mettle by walking bravely up to her and asking her to stop killing so they can talk, but she tells him that it is, in fact, him who will be listening to her, or "us," as the case may be.
So what do the aliens want? Did they know they were going to be speaking with the president of the United States? Why did they feel the need to kill before opening talks? Was it to ensure they had the upper hand? Fear, maybe?
How did Eisenhower and his team manage this situation to the point no one knows anything about it now? And for that matter, what happens to Amelia Earhart from here, as she's still considered to have disappeared now and never returned. That doesn't seem to bode well for her. Those questions all have to wait, though, as this is where the black-and-white serial ended.
Jumping into color and the present, we're introduced to four incredibly handsome young people who went to ivy league colleges, and they all have miserable sex lives. Yes, we followed up the surprising elegance and purity of the 1954 alien horror story to scenes with so much lurid sex detail it was almost like audio porn.
Sure, Murphy and Falchuk can't show much on FX, but they can apparently talk in as much graphic detail as they want. That's how we learned that Jamie's latest love has semen that she has a violently allergic reaction to, and we got the graphic details of how longtime friends Cal and Troy went from roommates in Princeton to lovers.
And we do mean graphic! It's almost as if the show is attempting to be shockingly graphic in its depictions and descriptions of sexuality here intentionally. Is it in relation to the apparent theme of technology and its dominance in our lives these days?
Certainly the explosion of the internet and smartphones have put graphic porn and sex in the hands of everyone, desensitizing and outraging everyone about sex all over again. Maybe the point is to make us uncomfortable about the pervasiveness of sex as we think about the pervasiveness of technology, since the two are so intertwined.
It's clearly a focus as the fourth member of this quartet of old friends, Kendall, is very specifically dating a Luddite professor who has recruited her into the anti-technology legions, thus she has no computer and no smartphone. We meet the guy later and he's a bit of a condescending jerk, so there's that.
And the boys may be happily together, but Troy is an Orthodox Jew, and so homosexuality is absolutely not accepted in his house or culture, creating a troubling challenge for the couple. They're currently hiding their relationship by having Troy's lover Cal act as shabbos goy during sabbath for the family (allowing them to see one another).
We're only speculating that the foursome's Luddite camping trip took place in the same area of desert where Eisenhower saw the crashed alien ship and recovered Earhart. Certainly there's something weird going on there now.
After a few days of normalcy, Troy tried to take the group to a lake he'd seen only to follow the same path and find no lake. That raises enough questions on its own. Was the lake ever really there, and if so, what happened to it?
Or, since we're playing with technology, was the lake there as an illusion to cover up something else? As they were standing there, the group got a whiff of death -- or near-death -- and uncovered what was nearby in place of a lake. And it's pretty gross.
If the hollowed out alien body and exploding heads weren't creepy enough, seeing cows neatly sliced in half was creepy AF. The practical effects on the cows was actually pretty well done, as they looked pretty damned authentic.
We already had millions of questions about what the point of this whole experiment was, slicing a whole herd of cows lengthwise in half with laser-like precision. But then there's the follow-up of why they just left the cows lying there? Also, where did the blood go?
Why go through the effort of creating a lake illusion to cover up the gruesome aftermath of your weird cow experiment when you could just clean up your mess?
Oh, and that wasn't even the worst part. When Kendall touched one of them, it's eye opened and it mooed. So there's the question of how a cow sliced in half would have the physical ability to moo (everything is cut in half), but how could it still be alive? And again, why leave it that way, and if it's not killed, why leave it half-alive (literally) like that, just laying there?
If the aliens have been abducting people at least as far back as 1937, how are they still so bad at it? Sure, the foursome has no idea what happened when they inevitably encountered the bright spotlight and white lights while trying to flee the desert, but that was some messy work on the part of the aliens.
Also, where did the tentacles randomly come from? They were creepy as hell in the opening credits, but suddenly there was one coming in each window to grab the foursome. So are the aliens octopi? Are there multiple species of aliens working together? Or maybe aliens are "riding" tentacles the way they do the little green men bodies, and maybe human bodes.
When the kids came to, Troy was suddenly behind the driver's seat and Cal in the passenger seat. Even worse than that, Jamie wasn't even in the car. They almost hit her trying again to flee, standing in the road. Was there a plan to get her back in the car and the others woke up too soon?
Did they forget who was driving? Was this intentionally done so poorly so as to leave the four rattled? Why erase their memories of what happened when they were abducted only to not put them back exactly as they were. This way, they knew something happened ... not that they were going to be able to avoid knowing for much longer, anway.
We know Amelia Earhart was impregnated at some point before her return back in 1954, but the foursome abduction was taking this to new levels. It was one thing when Jamie and Kendall compared notes, took pregnancy tests and discovered to their horror that they're pregnant.
But it didn't stop there. The boys showed up suffering just as much morning sickness and quickly discovered that they were pregnant, too. Nice of alien pregnancies to show up on human pregnancy tests, no matter who's peeing on them.
So now all four of our intrepid heroes are pregnant from an apparent alien abduction that lasted much, much shorter than the nearly 20 years the aliens had Earhart. Was she a learning opportunity, and now they understand human anatomy so much better?
Have they always been able to impregnate all humans, regardless of gender, or is this a new trick? How long is their gestation period? Will there be any follow up as these four carry the babies to term, or do the aliens just let it play out however it will?
Also, if they snatched this group and impregnated every single one of them, is this their first time doing that or have they been impregnating large groups for awhile now? How many men and women are pregnant with aliens? And considering the tentacles we keep seeing, we don't even want to think about how birth works -- though we suspect we'll find out.
"Death Valley" continues in "American Horror Story: Double Feature," every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.