Season 10 of American Horror Story had an unusual start with its two-episode premier, and has an even more peculiar setup in that it is divided into two halves — hence the title, Double Feature. The first half of the season, titled Red Tide, follows the story of a family who temporarily moves to an oceanside town in pursuit of artistic creation and a new headspace. But nothing can be that easy.
The vampire trope has been rapidly evolving in recent media, so at first I was skeptical about how well AHS would pull it off this season. Especially considering that the show previously did an amazing job with vampires in Hotel. What struck me most about this season’s vampires was the way humans are turned; rather than a straight up turn toward vampirism, humans can choose to take a black pill that’s specially formulated by a woman called The Chemist which fuels their temporary artistic greatness with human blood.
It’s the human element that makes vampirism great in Double Feature. The choice lies not in whether to permanently change oneself, but to sacrifice one’s own humanity for the sake of greatness. Alma, the precocious daughter of Harry (Finn Wittrock) and Doris Gardner (Lily Rabe), is undoubtedly the boldest of all when it comes to sacrifice.
From the beginning, Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) showed a hardened personality and cold demeanor most likely born from her isolation and homeschooling. But Alma slowly made it clear that anything standing between her and greatness could not stand, and this culminated in “Gaslight” when she intentionally convinced her mother to take the black pills knowing she would turn into one of the pale creatures plaguing the town rather than experiencing the rush of artistic talent felt by her and her father.
We’ve seen that Lily Rabe has amazing acting talent, but the same cannot be said for Doris. A stay-at-home mother turned social media minimalist designer, Doris keeps chasing a dream that, sadly, she just won’t live up to. To add injury to that, the Gardner family would not have ended up in their situation at all if she hadn’t accepted a job to redesign a beach town home. So, really, the irony lies in how Harry and Alma unearthed their full potential in a situation meant for Doris to find hers. Neither of them would be where they are if not for Doris, which made it especially painful when watching them release Doris into the town with the rest of the pale creatures.
Well, it was painful at least when Harry had to let Doris go. Alma? Alma hasn’t garnered much sympathy from anyone yet, save for the parasitic Ursula, especially because of her newfound knowledge that newborn blood gives a person an even greater rush of creativity than the black pills. And the fact that she discovered this by feeding on her newborn brother brings out the worst in her character even further. AHS has given us some creepy children in the past, but Alma is without a doubt the most unnerving of them. Where Doris was soft, understanding and supportive, Alma is cold, apathetic and void of any emotion that doesn’t directly correlate to her musical talent. Without both mother and daughter to keep the balance, the plot will definitely take a much darker turn from here on out.
Harry, on the other hand, seems to be growing in the opposite direction. While before he was consumed by his work and need to become better, now he is forced to face the grave danger of his family’s situation and must decide between his own greatness or the safety of his children. It appears that he won’t have too difficult a time figuring this out, but he now has one obstacle to face: Belle and Austin have forbidden him to give Alma anymore pills. And without his wife to protect it, there is a very real chance that Alma could use the baby as either leverage for more pills or to feed on in hopes of achieving the rush of violin performance once more.
But it is Belle’s need to feed that will stoke the hellfire of the next episode. Tuberculosis Karen (Sarah Paulson) has long been subject to Belle’s command and has brought her victims in exchange for drugs. But Karen has now drawn the line at kidnapping babies because her heart broke too much after the last time. Without Karen to do her bidding, it’s likely that Belle will take matters into her own hands. God help them all if Belle and Alma team up — that pairing could be deadlier than all the pale creatures in town.
Whatever the outcome may be, be it revenge on behalf of Doris or the rampant spread of pill-induced vampirism, the final episode of American Horror Story: Red Tide is sure to be horrifying.