American Horror Story, like all good horror stories, has built its brand on the scary twist. The call was coming from inside the house. The boy was a ghost all along. So it was jarring when this week stacked on multiple quietly sweet moments. Sure, there was plenty of throat slitting and hailing Satan. But in the end, two crazy (dead) kids ended up together, a marriage was patched up in the afterlife, and Madison Montgomery seemed to be becoming a better person right before the audiences’ eyes.

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If this season has a theme, beyond greatest hits, it’s exposition through flashbacks. With some minor chanting and one subplot that sees Moira finally at rest, our witch and warlock detective duo spend most of their time in what would be the hardest sell on House Hunters on the couch interviewing the Michael witnesses, with varying degrees of suspenseful success.

Constance Langdon’s confessional monologue was the most effective, possibly simply because it’s so exciting to see Jessica Lange come back, but also because of the tragic through line, and the sense of self-awareness just at the edges of Constance’s denial. Each time she said she was born to be a mother over a shot of her cleaning up the animal (then human) carnage her grandson left behind, the story seemed to collapse under the weight of her sadness. Cutting to Madison’s repulsion at the sight of Constance’s eyeless daughter who insists she join her for tea is the perfect button to the disturbing story. This witch has actually been to hell, and she’s still unnerved by just how calm Michael’s grandma is in the face of what her children have become in the afterlife.

Ben’s memories of Michael sound like a pile of notes for a TED Talk on being a good father—even after you’re dead (and technically the kid isn’t yours). The little montage of Ben doing traditional father/son activities with the budding psychopath is cute, but it creates an almost bizarre juxtaposition between how he treats him after he witnesses Michael murder two new residents of the house. It makes sense that Ben would be horrified at such violence and hurt that he couldn’t save a kid he had grown to care about, but his bitter jab, saying he could have never saved him, seems like an obvious way to nudge him even further towards the dark side.

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While it was nice to leave behind season one for a moment to learn more about the Satanists who helped guide Michael after Constance’s death, every detail of the devil worshippers were so cartoonish their scenes didn’t even really work as camp. Kathy Bates is the rare actor who can make even the simplest, and most cliched lines seem chilling. Telling the young woman she just kidnapped it was a lovely night for murder makes it seem like her Satan is a big fan of the punny cold opens of Law and Order, but her sinister expression sells it. Once the girl has been robbed of her heart, Micheal gets the organ as a snack, Dothraki style. And in eating the heart he finally gets close enough to say hello to his dad, signaled by his audible greeting, the swelling and oh so subtle notes of “O Fortuna,” and the shadow-puppet looking dragon/gargoyle outline that extends behind him. The moment is so overdramatic it’s hard to take seriously, even as the Satanists seem to think the effects are very authentic.

The episode ends on a note of finality that seems a little too early when there’s still two episodes left before the finale. The mystery of Michael has been solved for the magic envoys—he’s the antichrist and has to be stopped. But even as the pair resolves to go home and tell their respective magical cliques their new Supreme did not pass the background check, there’s a massive lack of urgency. Part of that comes from the audience knowing, at least in the present timeline, it is too late. The world has ended, despite what Madison and Behold uncovered. If they couldn’t stop it from happening, will they have the strength, and the motivation, to undo what’s been done?

Next week, the Satanists go shopping, and we get closer to getting back to the original post-apocalyptic timeline.

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Stray observations

  • When Moira is finally reunited with her mother after her long stay at Murder House there were so many pauses when it seemed like a fresh hell would break loose-it was a trick, and she had never left the house, or her mother had been a demon all along. But in the end, the writers must have been feeling nostalgic, and instead opted for the end of Hocus Pocus.
  • Seeing Tate so childishly reject Michael when he suggests he’s his father was a truly unique twist on the quintessential angsty teen war cry, “You’re not my real dad.”
  • Does revisiting Murder House this close to Halloween mean Rubberman is going to be a costume possibility again?
  • Madison describes herself and Behold as the “worst possible versions of Heidi Klum and Seal” but does she really understand what the worst possible version would be if she was likely in hell when they had their split?
  • How many people have to die in a house before a real estate company cuts there losses and knocks it down to build what will surely be a haunted parking lot?

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