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Brad Falchuk (#110 of 15)

American Horror Story: Cult Recap Episode 1, “Election Night”

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American Horror Story: Cult Recap: Episode 1, “Election Night”

FX

American Horror Story: Cult Recap: Episode 1, “Election Night”

After years of trying to conjure up a universal boogeymen with which to tap into the primal fears of Americans, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have landed almost effortlessly on target. “Election Night,” the first episode of American Horror Story: Cult, knows exactly how to trigger us; in fact, that’s the modus operandi of the show’s central antagonist, Kai Anderson (Evan Peters). This anarchist’s most terrifying moment isn’t when he rubs blended orange Cheetos all over his face in a send-up of Glenn Beck’s mocking of Donald Trump, or the thought of him donning a three-faced clown mask to terrorize his fellow Americans, but when he calmly walks into a local city council meeting, clad in a suit, to suggest that government allow fear to reign. “Haven’t you been watching what’s been going on in the world?” he asks.

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap Episode 4, "Edward Mordrake (Part 2)"

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American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 4, “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)”

FX

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 4, “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)”

“Edward Mordrake (Part 2)” finds Freak Show wallowing in the sort of dull, meaningless outlandishness that usually sets in right around the halfway mark of any given season of American Horror Story. Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk seem to forget that if everything is “shocking” and “subversive,” then nothing is, as there’s no contrast between conventionality and deviation to produce the sort of dramatic friction that’s necessary to sustain something like 95 percent of all fiction. The problem with American Horror Story writ large is that there’s never any patience exhibited, never any sense of shocks being actively prepared for. For a few episodes, this speed-freakiness doesn’t necessarily matter, as TV shows are obviously playing the long game and need to instill in the viewer a notion of the stakes from the outset. But it’s becoming clear that there aren’t any stakes in Freak Show, and that the characters, who are barely characters, are going to say and do things whenever it’s convenient, because Murphy and Falchuk can’t ever be bothered to construct a coherent scenario with which to govern their admittedly impressive sense of atmosphere.

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap Episode 1, "Monsters Among Us"

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American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 1, “Monsters Among Us”

FX

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 1, “Monsters Among Us”

American Horror Story: Freak Show opens on a strikingly cockeyed image of a woman’s head sticking out of the bottom corner of the right side of the frame in such a fashion as to suggest an ambulatory human mushroom. Even if you haven’t seen any of Freak Show’s publicity photos, you instinctively know something’s off. The woman appears to be profoundly uncomfortable, contorted, the remainder of her unseen body walking toward the camera with dreamy slowness, a title telling us that we’re in Jupiter, Florida in 1952. In this one image, the majesty and dread that leaked out of Coven by the end of its season is restored to American Horror Story. It’s clear that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have returned ready to play.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 13, "The Seven Wonders"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 13, “The Seven Wonders”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 13, “The Seven Wonders”

“The Seven Wonders” finds American Horror Story: Coven largely tending, predictably for the most part, to a final bit of plot bookkeeping. Fiona (Jessica Lange) is finally dead, after one last inevitable revival or fake-out or reversal, and apparently destined to spend her eternity catfishing with the Axeman (Danny Huston) in a realm presided over by Papa Legba (Lance Reddick), a demonic entity that’s retrospectively revealed to be entirely superfluous to Coven’s grand narrative scheme. Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) and Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) are installed as new Supreme Cordelia’s (Sarah Paulson) upper management, and it appears that their work will be cut out for all of them, as a swift PR maneuver has rejuvenated the institution with a global-wide new influx of troubled witches looking to hone their baffling new powers.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 12, "Go to Hell"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 12, “Go to Hell”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 12, “Go to Hell”

The penultimate episode of American Horror Story: Coven, “Go to Hell” finds the series still desperately scrambling to introduce busy conceits. Theoretically, we should be eagerly anticipating the revelation of Fiona’s (Jessica Lange) successor as the next Supreme, but how can we? As an audience, we never know if any event “counts,” or if it will be reversed to satisfy a new creative whimsy. The first two or three hundred character resurrections were a cheeky way of illustrating Coven’s ’s willingness to screw with viewer expectation, but that device, along with the witches’ highly varying procession of week-to-week powers, has long ago devolved into tedium. And somewhere down the line, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk also lost a valuable sense of pace: Major events seem to rush by now in a barely coherent tizzy, while negligible vignettes eat up a significant portion of running time.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 11, "Protect the Coven"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 11, “Protect the Coven”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 11, “Protect the Coven”

With only two episodes remaining, it’s probably fair to say that American Horror Story: Coven has evolved in a fashion opposite to that of the prior American Horror Story: Asylum. Where the latter gradually discarded its various narrative convolutions to arrive at a conclusion of surprising emotional purity, the former opened with a confident sense of parody that’s been gradually cluttered up with a variety of desperately WTF tonal switcheroos. It’s difficult at this point to evade the suspicion that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk prize the moment, the here and the now, above any particular thematic coherence—a development that won’t come as much of a surprise to those who watched Murphy’s initially addictive, eventually monotonously “outrageous” series Nip/Tuck. Which is to say that this week’s episode of Coven, “Protect the Coven,” is eventful without being especially involving, as Murphy and Falchuk’s game of “anything goes” appears to be very close to stalling out. If anything can happen, then nothing’s really at stake, as the writers have proven themselves perfectly willing to reverse or outright ignore any past development that has the potential to impede a moment of quick theoretical shock value or novelty.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 10, "The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 10, “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks”

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 10, “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks”

“The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” opens with a prolonged instance of “last month on American Horror Story: Coven,” as it behaves as the TV equivalent of what Quentin Tarantino once deemed a “hang out movie.” Fiona (Jessica Lange) and her extended family of witches, ghosts, and disgruntled demons spend much of the first half hour lounging around the coven, trading bon mots and reminding us who’s planning to kill or revive who, with Stevie Nicks occasionally popping in as herself to sing a song and counsel the increasingly irritating Misty Day (Lily Rabe) on her possibilities of being the next Supreme.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 9, "Head"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 9, “Head”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 9, “Head”

This week’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven steers the series into unexpected and retrospectively logical narrative and thematic directions. So far, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck have been primarily concerned with offering viewers an often frank and disconcerting parody of a race war as waged in that uneasy cultural melting pot known as New Orleans. But if “Head” is a proper indication, Coven is moving toward introducing a grander villain who’s amusingly of the times as well as indicative of the sentiment that class and money cut deeper than skin color. That’s right: Turns out that witches are as vulnerable to massive corporate gentrification as the rest of us.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 8, "The Sacred Taking"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 8, “The Sacred Taking”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 8, “The Sacred Taking”

If the last few episodes of American Horror Story: Coven were marked by a palpable sense of creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck’s concern with lining up certain narrative pawns in the proper positions so as to satisfy a larger game plan, then “The Sacred Taking” finds the show’s variables nearly, but not quite, cohering into a grand narrative arc. There are pros and cons to this evolution. The pro, obviously, is that there’s pleasure in finally seeing certain hints begin to pay off, but the con is that Coven sometimes threatens to favor a certain heaviness of plot at the expense of the weirder moments with which American Horror Story typically thrives.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 6, "The Axeman Cometh"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 6, “The Axeman Cometh”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 6, “The Axeman Cometh”

In this week’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven, memorably titled “The Axeman Cometh,” an elegantly interlocking series of plot turns suggests a major character’s undoing. Most pivotally, we learn that Cordelia’s (Sarah Paulson) unfaithful, murdering husband, Hank (Josh Hamilton), has a larger stake in Fiona’s (Jessica Lange) escalating rivalry with Marie (Angela Bassett) than we could have reasonably suspected. Hank’s an agent, of sorts, working with Marie to help ferret out the locations of the remaining descendants of the Salem witches in order to systematically execute them. Kaylee (Alexandra Breckenridge), the gorgeous redhead who Hank killed in a hotel room a few episodes ago, was actually a witch who’d discussed joining the coven with Cordelia, only to resist in favor of pursuing a “normal” life. In one of the episode’s many flashbacks, we see Hank eavesdropping on the meeting and subsequently seeking out Kaylee, who was presumably just one of who knows how many other young victims.