Wednesday, October 20, 2021

American Horror Story: Double Feature: Analyzing Episodes 8 + 9

Every week (or so), I'll be analyzing the latest episode(s) of American Horror Story: Double Feature; This week is the season's eighth and ninth episodes, "Inside" and "Blue Moon".


 "Inside" begins in the year 1963 when Ike, now no longer president, joins his former vice president Richard Nixon (Craig Sheffer) to meet with current president John F. Kennedy (Mike Vogel). Ike and Nixon reveal to Kennedy that, nine years prior, the duo signed a peace treaty with the aliens. Said treaty decrees that the aliens give America access to their advanced technology in exchange for allowing the aliens to abduct a certain amount of people per year for their own agenda. Kennedy is horrified at this knowledge and, after a bedtime conversation with his mistress Marilyn Monroe (Alisha Soper), decides to withdraw from the treaty and expose it to the general public. This infuriates Nixon, who calls Ike in the middle of the night to inform him of this development. Fortunately for Nixon, Kennedy is assassinated before he can expose the alien treaty in an event that is implied to potentially be connected to Nixon and/or the aliens. The Eisenhowers learn of Kennedy's death via television, leaving Ike conflicted while Mamie tries to emphasize the good the aliens have brought to their country.

The plot returns back to 1954, shortly after where we left Ike in the previous episode. The current president holds a meeting with a variety of government agents to discuss the aliens. Maria emerges from her holding cell to present Ike with the initial offer for the treaty, presenting him with a sample of the alien technology. When Ike questions why the aliens need to abduct so many, Maria explains that they need to experiment with many humans to create a hybrid species between humanity and alien. The aliens are not evolved enough to be capable of handling the aliments and pollution on Earth, and their solution is to test on humans until they can create the perfect specimen to ensure their race's ultimate survival. Maria concludes by stating that the aliens await an answer, but won't wait forever, which is punctuated by the woman's own head explodes. After Maria's death, Ike shows the others what was meant by needing more test subjects by showing the now-dead Amelia Earhart. Amelia died giving birth to a baby that emerged monstrous and, when it tries to attack the group, is immediately murdered. 

Ike discusses these matters with Mamie, whom encourages him to accept the aliens' proposal for the greater good of the nation. Ike remains torn on whether he should pull the trigger on the decision or not, prompting Mamie to contact Nixon and meet with the vice president. She pleads for Nixon to convince Ike, as he is more likely to listen to him over her. Nixon follows Mamie's request and attempts to persuade Ike, even stating that once they have the alien technology they can use it to eventually drive the aliens away. Upon seeing Nixon wipe away his perspiration with one of Mamie's monogrammed napkins, Ike realizes his wife's plot and returns home to confront her. There, we learn that the aliens have possessed Mamie as they did with Maria. The aliens give Ike a choice: Either accept the treaty, or Mamie will be killed. The 1963 scenes have already given us the answer in how the president responds to that ultimatum.

Meanwhile, in 2021, Kendall drives herself and her friends to Jamie's OB/GYN to have the doctor investigate their pregnancies. Jamie and Troy are given sonograms that confirms that the quartet are indeed pregnant with alien/human offspring. Unfortunately, their actions attract the attention of the government, whom murder Jamie's doctor and kidnap the four of them. Kendall awakens in a room where a woman in a white masked costume, Theta (Angelica Ross), tends to her. Kendall demands to know what is going and where she and her friends are, but Theta evades the questions and drugs Kendall back into unconsciousness. The four friends reunite in a cafeteria where they are fed jello cubes in place of substantial food. They are approached by a woman who calls herself Calico (Leslie Grossman), who claims to have been a prisoner of the aliens for over five decades. She explains that she has been kept around for this lengthy period due to her ability to successfully breed hybrids. When Troy asks her if those who can only breed once will be let go after giving birth, Calico merely says, "Life will find a way out." A statement Theta repeats to Troy when he is taken to her after an outburst, presumably to have his birth induced. The episode ends with Theta unmasking herself, revealing that she is a fully grown hybrid.

"Blue Moon" aims to fill in some of the missing gaps of "Inside" while carrying forward with the storylines. After Ike signs off on the alien treaty in 1954, under the threat of Mamie's death, the aliens begin abducting American citizens. By 1957, they have abducted over three hundred Americans to perform their experiments on. When Ike discusses the lack of communication from the aliens in the three years since the treaty signing, an alien representative who calls himself Valiant Thor (Cody Fern) appears. Val, an android creation of the aliens, presents another sampling of alien technology to the government, which appears to be a riff on the iPod touch. He also brings the experiments to the White House, as Ike learns that Val and the aliens have begun performing their tests in a series of underground tunnels underneath his home. Val reveals the results of the alien tests in the form of a large series of failed hybrid fetuses. Ike demands to know why he was never informed about any of this, which Val responds by claiming that he was meant to learn the truth at a later date. Val threatens Ike next by insisting that if the country backs out of the treaty now, the aliens will take what they want from America by force rather than their current diplomatic(-ish) actions.

While Ike tries to navigate a way out from under the alien thumb, Mamie embraces the new way of life and carries on. Having popularized adults celebrating birthday parties, she is set on decorating the White House for the upcoming Halloween celebration next. She refuses to discuss the experiments with Ike and, as an act of retaliation towards her husband, begins to have an affair with Val. The two are discovered by Ike, who faints and has a heart attack. Ike can't believe what his wife has become, whereas she merely states that sex with Val isn't any different to her than when Ike found her masturbating with her shower head. He also has to eventually deal with Marilyn beginning to speak out about the alien invasion, even being filmed on set blabbing about what Kennedy told her of. While Ike insists that no one will take the starlet seriously, Nixon successfully arranges for her to be murdered and her death to be covered up as a suicide that occurs shortly before Kennedy's assassination. The past segment concludes with Ike, Nixon and the new president Lyndon B. Johnson visiting the new alien base in Nevada, known as Area 51. They enter a warehouse and find a seemingly endless collection of jars containing the hybrid fetuses.

In 2021, Theta successfully aids Troy in giving birth to his hybrid baby, which is almost immediately murdered by Theta and her staff. A week later, he is reunited with Cal, Kendall and Jamie and tells them of what has happened. He furthermore states that he experienced an unexpected connection with the baby after giving birth and wants to escape with the others before their offspring experiences meet a similar fate. This plot is squashed by Calico, who insists they need to accept their fate as alien breeding stock rather than attempt to return to their former lives. She takes the quartet to her personal sanctuary, a film set modeled after the moon, and reveals her backstory to the group. In 1969, Calico, then a bartender, discovered Buzz Aldrin (John Sanders) and Neil Armstrong (Bryce Johnson) at a booth despite them supposedly being in space. They reveal to her that the government and the aliens faked the moon landing (with help from director Stanley Kubrick) as a way to get the general public to adjust to the rapid technological growth spurred on as a result of the treaty. After a threesome with the astronauts, Calico awakens pregnant with a hybrid spawn and is captured and taken to Area 51. Calico concludes her story by once again insisting that the friends make peace with their new lives. Later, Cal finds himself going into labor, but isn't ready for Theta to take his baby away. Troy takes Cal to the film set and delivers the baby himself, which proves to be a painful experience to say the least. When Troy retrieves the baby and releases her from a larval sac of sorts, the hybrid baby girl's first action is to attack Cal tentacles-first.


Similarly to my analysis of episode four, I'm going to break this week's up by character/s. Since "Inside" and "Blue Moon give "Death Valley" a lot more development and yet, also a lot more questions. I'll start by saying that I love the portrayals of Nixon and Kennedy, with Nixon as an unhinged man that everyone around him only tolerates for his political savvy and Kennedy as a "Little Lord Fauntleroy" who gets punished for trying to do the right thing. Craig Sheffer and Mike Vogel's performances are great too, with Sheffer totally nailing the unlikable stooge that was Nixon and Vogel bringing his brand of all-American to JFK. I've seen some fans complain Vogel's take on Kennedy's accent, but I had no problem with the accent and, considering that these are probably the same fans who complained endlessly about Kathy Bates's wonderful Baltimore accent in the Freak Show season, I really can't take complaints about accents from that crowd seriously. But anyways, I love the continued use of historical figures in AHS and I also was surprised that, as in our timeline, Kennedy was assassinated instead of assimilated by the aliens. The only new character we've seen being taken over by alien control is Mamie. Which I understand for plot purposes, but also seems purposeful with who we've seen fallen under this type of possession. Once again, the aliens seem to possess those who are vulnerable and open to use against others.

That does bring me to a question I have upon reflection: Is Mamie's insistence that Ike accept the alien treaty entirely a part of the alien long game, or was her openness to life outside of the planet genuine and said attitude what allowed her to fall under control? "Inside" suggests the former, while "Blue Moon" seems to go with the latter. While AHS is no stranger to inconsistent characterizations (See Coven and Hotel for prime examples), Mamie's characterization as a loving but no-nonsense and petty at times partner to Ike seems fairly consistent aside from this particular motivation. Speaking of Mamie, I love that the show incorporates so much of the actual Mamie's history, as many details are taken from reality such as her insistence on popularizing birthday party celebrations for adults, her bitterness towards the Kennedys (allegedly for making her and Ike seem passé and "unhip") and her fondness for fudge. I feel like more than any other character in this section of "Death Valley", Mamie is probably the closest example of combining reality with fiction. I also just love what Paulson's performance is delivering, especially when she gets to deliver the diss to Ike that "By the way, he [Val] loves my fudge." 

Speaking of Ike, I love that the show is setting him up as one of AHS's classic protagonists throughout "Death Valley." One way it's doing this is by setting up a parallel between him and Asylum's Sister Jude in terms of motivation. In "Blue Moon", we see Ike latch onto the abduction of a nine year-old girl named Caroline in a similar way to Jude's lingering guilt over her hit and run of young Missy. Like Jude, who believed herself to have murdered Missy to the point where the guilt lead her to becoming a nun, Ike clearly blames himself for Caroline, along with the rest of the alien mess. However, whereas Jude did commit a crime (albeit not the grave one she believed she did), Ike was clearly coerced into this situation by the aliens and, frankly, he shouldn't blame himself when he is shown to only go along with the aliens to protect Mamie. If Ike is meant to fully follow in the path of characters like Jude, then I fear the final episode of the season will not end well for him. On the more positive side of things, the storyline has given Neal McDonough a chance to really shine this season and, in my opinion, elevate the season with a sense of class. McDonough has said he's interested in returning for future seasons and, if Ryan Murphy has any sense, he'll bring him back for more.

Mention also has to go to Valiant Thor, who is a historical figure that I have never heard of before he was announced as Cody Fern's character this season. I can't find a lot of information on Valiant Thor, other than, in short, he was a man who believed himself to be an alien from the planet Venus. Allegedly, the real life Val actually did meet with Ike and Nixon back in 1957, as portrayed on the show. Albeit, Val's supposed meeting with the government was over concerns the Venusians had about nuclear war on Earth. The use of Val is just one of multiple conspiracy theories "Death Valley" makes use of, alongside its use of Area 51, the moon landing being faked, and the death of Marilyn Monroe not actually being a suicide but rather a murder. It's interesting how much "Death Valley" relies on these conspiracy theories combined with the use of historical fiction, as Murphy is no stranger to historical fiction (The Netflix miniseries Hollywood is probably the most prominent example). With one episode of the season left, it remains a safe bet that we'll probably see more of this element and at least a little more of Val.

The youths in the 2021 storyline don't really get a lot more to do, except it's interesting how their prison is very clearly harkening back to both Asylum and Apocalypse. In fact, the quartet get fed the same food cubes that the cast of Apocalypse were eaten by the cast repeatedly during the first three episodes of that season. It's also interesting to me that the focus seems to be more on Cal and Troy rather than the two young women, especially as a large amount of time in "Blue Moon" is focused on Troy's giving birth and his feelings of grief over his alien offspring's death and attempt to prevent the same from occurring to Cal. While, like I've said before, it's nice to see queer men be actual protagonists in a season, I do have to call attention to the fact that the cliffhangers for both these episode involve one or both of them being put into life-threatening situations. The treatment of queer men on the show as expandable has been a series-long issue for AHS, and the likely death of at least Cal after this episode does not absolve that issue out one bit. It's a recurring trope in AHS that is worth a larger discussion that I plan to write about in the future outside of these recaps.

Now, let's talk about Leslie Grossman's latest character Calico: I had no idea going into "Death Valley" where the hell Grossman was going to fit in and I sure as hell did not expect her role to be this. Let me start by stating that, on a shallow note, Grossman looks absolutely stunning in this role. The late sixties period look befits her spectacularly, and I hope this isn't the last time we'll get to see her in this era. I also enjoyed the reuniting of Grossman with Bryce Johnson, her former co-star from Murphy's first series Popular. Hopefully, Johnson will return in a future season, as I actually liked him in what I've seen of Popular and his presence is definitely welcome! But, on the topic of Calico, I love that she is one of the connections between the past and the present stories, as she bridges the gap between the two eras. I also love the name Calico alone, as it's both a sly callback to Fiona's interrupted speech about having a calico cat in Coven as well as a reference to the Pussycat Dolls. To those who aren't familiar with the history of the Pussycat Dolls, before they were a 2000s girl group led by Nicole Scherzinger, they were a burlesque dance group. It's another indicator of Calico's history as a dancer, and I love it! Beyond her name, Calico's backstory as having been abducted as a result of her discovering the truth about the faked moon landing is interesting. The government in "Death Valley" seems to function largely as a squad to cover up leaked conspiracies, either kidnapping people to use to breed hybrids (Calico and the four youths) or just murdering them altogether (Kennedy and Marilyn). We are also shown a connection to "Red Tide" as Calico is being shown taking the black pills from that section of the season, which seems to serve as a so far subtle connecting of the two stories that will hopefully amount to more. Also it helps establish Calico as a contrast to Ursula, Grossman's previous character, as Calico is shown as worthy enough to be on the Muse whereas Ursula didn't touch the stuff and only pushed it onto others for her own greed.

Finally, we come to Theta, the newest character played by Angelica Ross. We don't know much about Theta, other than she is currently the most successful attempt at a hybrid we have seen thus far and she has a number of abilities including mind control. I don't have a lot to say about Theta, other than I love the hybrid makeup done on Ross and I do find it interesting that she was the one who was selected to play this character. I had a discussion with a friend of mine about Theta, and she noted that Ross's casting as the so-far perfect hybrid was interesting as Sci-Fi horror stories involving aliens typically revolve around the abduction and harvesting of white characters and actors. The fact that a black actress was selected as the currently perfect combination of human and alien DNA is breaking some ground and is similar to The Chemist in "Red Tide" in how both are archetypes that Murphy gave to Ross instead of a white performer as has been done with other titles in the past. Whether or not Theta and The Chemist have a bigger connection as I suspect has yet to be seen.


1.) The logline for the next episode mentions that Mamie will play a prominent role in the resolution of the past storyline, so I'm expecting her to step up and be a key player in the conclusion of the alien conflict. Hopefully her motivation will be steadied and consistent in the final episode, but with one episode left, I have my doubts.

2.) Of the present day characters, I'm only expecting Kendall, Calico and maybe Troy to survive. I don't think there's a real way for Cal to survive the attack from his alien baby, and Jamie...hasn't done much of anything. Kendall and Troy seem to be locks for the roles of narrative protagonist(s), but Kendall is statistically more likely to survive based on the high mortality rate the show has for queer men. I also think that Calico will survive to not only be the smoking gun that the youths need to fully expose the Area 51 conspiracy, but also to be proven wrong that she can escape and return to normalcy.

3.) I'm once again repeating that I think Theta will become The Chemist and this whole section of Double Feature will end up being a prequel to "Red Tide". Either that, or The Chemist is involved with the Area 51 conspiracy since the black pills were shown for a reason. A YouTube analyst also pointed out how Calico not having aged a day since her abduction could also be connected to The Chemist's comments at the very end of "Red Tide" about wanting to develop a pill to allow people to live forever. I am just determined for these two stories to connect SOMEHOW!

4.) As also mentioned prior, I strongly suspect Ike is going to be killed in the next episode, but will die a hero's death to cement his status as a parallel to Jude, who died after her redemptive character arc was completed. I also think McDonough is going to end up walking away with "Death Valley" when all is said and done after the next episode.

5.) I think that we are going to witness one of the characters in the present day storyline give birth to the perfect hybrid that Val teased in the trailer for the season finale and that it will be taken by Theta in a parallel with The Chemist running off with Eli.


So, I actually enjoyed these two episodes for the most part, even if I do agree that they're not perfect. I think that what's going to make or break "Death Valley" and possibly Double Feature as a whole for me will be the final episode. Either way, I'm invested in how this story ends for, if nothing else, just to see what happens to Ike. Seriously y'all, if there's nothing else to take away from this season as a whole, it's that McDonough and Macaulay Culkin both need to stick around the show for a while.

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