Wednesday, October 6, 2021

American Horror Story: Double Feature: Analyzing Episode 7

Every week (or so), I'll be analyzing the latest episode(s) of American Horror Story: Double Feature; This week is the season's seventh episode, "Take Me To Your Leader."


"Death Valley" starts off in the year 1954 when, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a housewife, Maria (Rebecca Dayan), is setting up dinner for her husband, Charles, and son, Timmy. As Maria toils away at her work while listening to a Dean Martin record, a dust storm surfaces and threatens to engulf Timmy. Quickly, we learn that this is no mere dust storm, as Maria finds all of her technological devices working backwards and herself forced to the ceiling as Timmy resurfaces. Maria's son pleads with her to not be afraid as he eyes turn completely white, while Maria considers the offer. Later, when Charles returns home, he finds his home in complete disarray and Maria now levitating off of the floor. She opens her eyes, now as white as Timmy's were, and uses a newfound power to make her husband's head explode. 

Some time later, President Ike Eisenhower (Neal McDonough) is playing golf in Palm Springs, California, when he is called to duty. After a word with his wife Mamie (Sarah Paulson), Ike arrives at the site of a crashed UFO to assist in the government investigation. Amongst the wreckage, Ike discovers the long presumed dead, yet very much alive, Amelia Earhart (Lily Rabe). At a government medical facility, Ike listens as Amelia recounts her tale of having been abducted by aliens and the total disorientation she felt, which lingers as she quickly forgets where and when she is and demands to see her husband. Ike expresses concern over Amelia, especially when he is informed that she is two months pregnant despite the impossibility of a fresh pregnancy for her. The president then goes to view an autopsy of an alien corpse found at the UFO wreckage, which results in parts of the cadaver being shot at the coroners' faces and swiftly popping their entire heads. Ike is then confronted by Maria, levitating once again as she faces down the president. Ike pleads with her, telling her that humanity is already doing a good enough job of destroying itself that he doesn't want the aliens to make things worse for them. Maria rebuffs him and menacingly states, "It is you who will listen to us."

Cut to Palm Springs in the year 2021, where four young adults named Cal (Nico Greetham), Kendall (Kaia Gerber), Troy (Isaac Cole Powell) and Jamie (Rachel Hilson) meet for lunch. It's the first time the quartet has met in quite some time, and they catch up on what's been going on their lives: Cal and Troy have become a couple, Kendall has started dating her professor who teaches her to forgo technology as much as possible and Jamie was dumped after discovering she's allergic to semen. Kendall pushes her beliefs onto the others, insisting on leaving their phones at home as they go off to explore the desert environment. After the four find a mutilated cow that is somehow still alive, they rush out of the desert. While attempting to flee, they are abducted by the same aliens from the 1954 section of the episode and awaken some time later. The next morning, all four discover that they share a common illness, which Kendall deduces are the symptoms of pregnancy. Something that is affirmed by the pregnancy tests the four friends all take with a positive result for each one of them...


It was speculated by many AHS fans that "Death Valley" would harken back to the Asylum season for its use of aliens, and there's definitely multiple callbacks to that season here. The opening sequence with Maria definitely (purposefully) resembles the abduction of Kit Walker, and the real life alleged abduction that inspired the characters of Kit and Alma Walker, Barney and Betty Hill, gets namedropped at the end of the episode by Kendall. There's also the use of dual timelines in "Death Valley", one in the mid 1950s and one in the present day, which was the same setup as Asylum with its 1960s storyline and modern day storyline. Interestingly, "Death Valley" spends more time in the present, the opposite of Asylum spending the majority of its time in the 60s. This is a point of contention with several AHS fans and, while it's a complaint I can agree with as I find the 50s storyline more interesting, I don't have as much of a problem with it as many seem to.  Anyways, I loved that the use of head popping that was first seen with the Michael Langdon character in Apocalypse returns here and is used to greater effect. As well as that we received more callbacks to Nora Montgomery from Murder House through Lily Rabe's newest character, as Amelia's confusion is definitely harkening back to Nora's ghostly disorientation. Also worth mentioning is Rabe and Sarah Paulson already getting to delve into some contrasts, with Amelia being at the beginning of a pregnancy flipping Doris being at the end of hers and Mamie's upper class status as the First Lady contrasting with Paulson playing a decidedly unglamorous role in "Red Tide". As well as one of sorts for Nico Greetham, going from playing a character in the spin-off American Horror Stories that pretends to be gay for social media clout to playing one that is an openly gay man.

When analyzing the 50s portion, I have to completely applaud the production as, thus far, AHS has done a great job at recreating the type of horror film that was popular in the 1950s. I'm currently reading a textbook called Dark Dreams 2.0 by Charles Derry and, within the text, one of the types of horror films that Derry analyzes is one which he refers to as "Horror of the Armageddon." He states that this type of horror film often combines horror with science fiction and deals with the concept of extraterrestrial life coming to Earth for insidious purposes and the concept being used as an allegory, often for fear of the "Other" or nuclear warfare. Some examples Derry lists includes The Thing From Another World, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day The Earth Stood Still. "Death Valley" does feel partially influenced by films such as those, in its dealing with an alien invasion while also contrasting the American values of the decade with the seemingly sinister "Other." It's no coincidence that our first exposure to the 50s period is of a nuclear family system being disrupted by these outside forces. The traditional values of the era are at odds with the future, symbolized by the alien arrival. And when these two set of value are combined as the plot dictates, the future seems threatening to the then-present. One could take this reading further by showing that those who have embraced the future/aliens (Timmy and Maria thus far), are those who will help usher the future in and those who aren't (Charles, the men working under Ike) find the future ideals impossibly to grasp, "mind blowing" if you will, which is why they are disposed of. Interestingly, the portrayal of President Eisenhower depicts him as a man who is willing to negotiate a bridge between the past and the future, which, when you combine the writing with Neal McDonough's wonderful performance, paints him in a more positive light than one might expect.

As for the present day segment, there's not a whole lot to talk about. Many have criticized this portion of the episode for, primarily, the acting, the dialogue and a "lack of scares." I'm going to be honest here: Besides whatever Kaia Gerber calls "acting", I had no major problem with much of this section of the episode. Greetham, Rachel Hilson and Isaac Cole Powell are all good in their roles, and I find Cal and Troy interesting in that they're already the most positive queer male representation the show has actually ever had. Seriously, almost the entirety of the queer men in past seasons have either been villains, morally dubious assholes or quippy sidekicks, so seeing two actual queer male protagonists is a welcome change of pace for the show The issues some have with the dialogue also feels somewhat reductive, as the supposedly sex-driven dialogue has always been a fixture on the show. Previous seasons have had lauded exchanges and quotes about vaginas tingling, anus bleaching, the term "gay for pay" and giving the devil blow jobs, yet somehow these characters talking about their sexcapades is where the line is drawn? Yeah, I call bullshit on that. And as for a supposed "lack of scares", it's all subjective and, frankly, the concepts presented about alien abduction and forced pregnancy have potential. It's all up to the next three episodes as to whether or not they will be utilized to their full potential or not.


After leaving this section out last week, I'm bringing it back for some "Death Valley" predictions!

1.) I think that "Death Valley" is definitely going to lean into homaging Invasion of the Body Snatchers because, besides the use of the Eisenhowers and Amelia Earhart, it's already been slated for John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Richard Nixon to be characters this season. I think that the aliens are going to try to replace or mess with a number of big figures in society, possibly to usurp them and gain control of the country. 

2.) One of the previews in "Death Valley" showed either Cal or Troy with a visibly pregnant body, so I'm going to guess the youths' pregnancies are going to go to term and we might get some birth scenes from them. It'd be cool if the show did an homage to the birthing dream sequence from the remake of The Fly and we got some kind of mutant alien baby.

3.) I'm predicting that in either the next episode or the next after that, we'll see the full process of how the aliens take over the humans like Maria, and I do not think it will be pretty.

4.) So, above during my analysis, I mentioned that the "Horror of the Armageddon" horror subgenre discussed in Dark Dreams mentions that the Sci Fi elements can sometimes be a metaphor for nuclear warfare. This is what I feel Eisenhower is referring to with the dialogue about humanity destroying himself, and I wonder if this, being such a trope in what "Death Valley" is homaging, will end up playing a part or just be a background element/subtext.

5.) Not so much a prediction, but more of an open question: I wonder how exactly is Leslie Grossman going to fit into this season. It feels like everybody in the cast has a role or there's an idea of how the other cast members will fit in except for her. I'm really curious to see what her role will actually shape up to be.


While I do agree that this episode wasn't as strong of a beginning as the beginning of "Red Tide" was, this episode was fine! I don't even have a problem with the show's continued reliance on modern day California settings, as it connects to the 50s plotline which wasn't entirely set in California. I really don't feel strongly enough to complain about any parts, and I enjoyed certain parts of it enough that I'm just content with what we got. Hopefully the weeks to come will boost that, but until then, I am not going to complain (well, too much).

No comments: