American Horror Story: Double Feature: Red Tide
September 8, 2021
Welcome to the obligatory flashback episode.
Five years before the current events, The Chemist arrives in Provincetown and is shown a house by the Denis O’Hare character who previously had introduced himself as an interior designer. So he’s also a real estate agent? Or he was a real estate agent and then became an interior designer? WAIT, was he a real estate agent who took the pill and his artistic talent came out and he became a successful interior designer?
When the agent tries to suggest that The Chemist might be happier living in a busier part of town, especially since P-Town all but shuts down in the winter, she explains that she requires privacy. There’s some Ryan Murphy dialogue about how P-Town is losing its formerly unabashed homosexual character in favor of yuppie parents and their strollers, and The Chemist for no reason whatsoever, reveals that she used to be a chemist in the military before separating in an “ugly divorce.” When Real Estate Agent suggests that she intends to cook meth there, The Chemist snips that meth is well below her pay grade. Also, she’ll take the house.
Soon, The Chemist is moving her science equipment into the house and doing science and making the now-familiar black pills.
Sometime later, The Chemist is at The Muse where she picks up Macaulay Culkin, and brings him home. However, she is not interested in his services; she wants him to be her guinea pig.
The Chemist asks Macaulay Culkin what his dreams are: did he want to be a model or play for The Yankees? And he admits he writes a little, but he has no idea if he’s any good, he’s never shown what he’s written to anyone.
The Chemist then delivers our exposition to this street hustler she literally just met: she is a biochemical engineer who had been working on a project for the military to make less creative soldiers. In her research, she discovered how to unlock the creative mind, and has created a drug that makes the neurons in that part of the brain fire 1000 times faster than they normally do.
However! There’s a twist: in the primates she tested the drug on, the smart ones reacted well; the rest … became highly aggressive and tore the other apes limb from limb. The theory is that the awareness of their own mediocrity drives them mad which … hang on … wait … so apes are not only capable of understanding the concept of mediocrity, but have enough self awareness to recognize it within themselves?
The Chemist asks Macaulay Culkin to take one of the pills, but he’s like, “Oh fuck no, please and thank you.” So instead she offers him $50 for every random person he can convince to come take the pill. Because this is definitely how scientific trials are conducted.
Sometime later, Macaulay Culkin and TB Karen are hanging out at a karaoke bar talking about the summer season ending, and how it’s a relief to TB Karen when the galleries close and the paintings no longer mock her as she walks by. Meanwhile, a guy sings Billy Joel’s cheestastic classic, “Just the Way You Are,” and Macaulay Culkin gets An Idea.
Soon, the singer is at The Chemist’s house, explaining that Macaulay Culkin sent him.
The next day? Let’s say the next day, a practically unrecognizable and very dowdy Belle is doing a reading of her new historical romance novel, Martha’s Cherry Tree, at a P-Town bookstore to a huge crowd of three. The Chemist herself swings by after, notes that Boring Belle is a good writer and asks for a signed copy; but, as we learn later, it’s the only copy Boring Belle sells.
After the reading, Boring Belle joins her husband, a snarling, angry man who refused to attend because her books “gross him out.” There’s some grousing about her forcing him to use his retirement to go on a book tour and bitching that she’s only sold six books. When she suggests they go to The Muse to watch the sunset, his hisses about it being a gay bar before announcing that he’s going to go on a haunted dune tour. Also, they haven’t had sex in two years. Also, he calls her “weak and scared and boring” so, you know:
So Boring Belle goes to The Muse by herself where she chats with Macaulay Culkin. He recognizes her from the reading, and claims that he’s a writer too, just not a published one like her. They talk shop for a while, until she finally asks him if he has any coke on him — she’s always wanted to try it. Instead, he gives her a hit of meth, and then bemusedly watches her dance like a lunatic.
Meanwhile, Billy Joel guy comes to the bar, demanding a bloody mary and looking shaky. After guzzling his drink, he runs to the bathroom where he vomits and clumps of his hair begin falling out, the poor dear.
Boring Belle asks for more meth from Macaulay Culkin, but he’s like “… instead, let me introduce you to a cooler drug.” He takes her to The Chemist’s house, who offers her something to “make her dreams come true” — but warns that it causes “certain side effects.” Boring Belle is like, “don’t care, gimme,” and happily swallows the “black beauty.”
Soon, she’s back in her motel room, furiously typing through the night.
When her husband returns in the morning, she informs him that she wrote an entire novel the night before, which he calls bullshit on. She hands over the computer and after reading a single line of text, he declares she couldn’t possibly have written this, it’s too good. BECAUSE THAT IS DEFINITELY HOW READING WORKS.
Anyway, Boring Belle suddenly remembers that her husband was out all night and demands to know where he was. He explains that he went on the dune tour, got drunk, met a woman, fucked her in the dunes, passed out, woke up and fucked her again, and now he’s going to pack his things and go meet her at her hotel and fuck her a third time.
Orrrrr … No Longer Boring Belle is going to smash a bottle, slash his throat, and gorge on his blood.
Belle returns to The Chemist’s home, where she describes her feelings of rage and thirst. The Chemist finds her information fascinating, but not surprising: she found that in the apes she tested on, their blood was depleted of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The Chemist asks if having to drink human blood will stop Belle from using the pill, but Belle’s like, “Nah,” so The Chemist instructs her to go get rid of her husband’s body …
… parts of which Real Estate Agent discovers on the beach to his horror.
The Chemist is also visited by Billy Joel Guy, who explains that he shaved his head lest he look like Riff Raff …
The Chemist asks about his temper, if he’s been aggressive towards anyone, and he claims he hasn’t: he’s a Buddhist! Anyway, can he have more of those pills, please? Pretty please? But The Chemist denies him: she’s running a scientific study, and he can’t have another pill until Day 5. It’s only Day 3. Because now she’s suddenly serious about running a proper study. He begs — what if he dies before then? He’s freezing cold! So she orders him to go buy a real coat, it’s October, after all.
So Billy Joel Guy goes to Dr. Feldman’s boutique, where she points him to some fabulous coats from the 80s left behind by AIDS victims that were donated to her by the new owners of their homes.
And that is how Billy Joel Guy becomes Coat Guy.
Coat Guy then goes to lurk around the cemetery, as you do, where he attacks, kills, and eats a woman who is there just trying to mourn a loved one.
It’s Halloween night, so Coat Guy, covered in blood and looking very much like an 80s Nosferatu, doesn’t attract any attention as he makes his way back to The Chemist’s house. Distressed, he tells her about killing the woman, which he doesn’t understand — HE’S VEGAN.
The Chemist asks if he’s feeling full of rage, and he admits that he is. She explains what is happening: he’s not talented and the drug is making him face that fact, which in turn makes him hate the world. When he tries to lunge at her, she pulls a gun on him, and kicks him out of the house, while also assuring him that he won’t be alone in this state for long. Thanks?
Two years later, Belle is shopping for a new look in Dr. Feldman’s shop. When Dr. Feldman asks her if she has a new guy, Belle explains she likes to play the field. She killed her husband a few winters ago and left him in pieces on the beach. They laugh and laugh, and recognize each other as being pill-takers, and Dr. Feldman shows off her shaved teeth which she promises to give Belle as soon as they revamp her wardrobe.
New Fabulous Belle decides to spend Halloween night at a drag show where a table of performers sit near the stage, waiting their turn. Presiding over the group is the delightful Eureka O’Hara, though here she’s a mean bully, picking on poor Patty O’Furniture for her terrible name and worse drag. Patty takes the stage, and lip syncs to one of my least favorite bands of all time, Heart, while a bemused Belle watches on.
After the club has emptied, Belle approaches Patty — who is actually Austin — and informs him that he doesn’t belong here, doing this. She can sense he has talent. He explains that he is a playwright and he talked the local playhouse owner to stage his play. When they started casting, though, the guy just disappeared and he has to pay the bills somehow. Belle, realizing that the playhouse owner is one of her victims, is like … oops, and hands him a pill.
Austin pops it, no questions asked, and is soon frothing at the mouth, but also feeling “unstoppable and unafraid … furious and starving.” So she suggests they get him fed on a big hot dish of revenge.
With that, they head over to Eureka O’Hara’s house, and guns a’blazing, shoot and eat all of the men hanging out there, except for one Eureka O’Hara who manages to escape. Her escape is short-lived however, because she is soon devoured in the cemetery by Coat Guy.
Right, so, this is another exposition episode, explaining the origins of the pills; the origin of The Chemist; the origns of Coat Guy; and the origins of Austin and Belle. As such, there’s not a whole heck of a lot to add or speculate about as we careen towards the end of this particular story.
The one thing I will point out are the film references, one of which was evident from the first episode, the other is new to this episode. It’s clear the “mediocre” vampires, with their bald heads and 80s coats, are modeled after the classic German vampire film, Nosferatu.
Nosteratu is a retelling of the Bram Stoker novel, Dracula, except set in Germany, and with a few minor differences, notably that the titular vampire is only weakened by sunlight, not destroyed by it, and that he does not make other vampires, he just kills all of his victims. And I suppose there’s something to consider especially in that last point in relation to this season of American Horror Story, in that there seem to be two sets of vampires created by this drug: the “mediocre” vampires who do not create more of their kind, but only kill their victims; and the “talented” vampires who both kill their victims and create more of vampires.
As for the other film literally referenced in this episode, Billy Joel guy/Coat guy explains that after he began losing his hair, he shaved the rest of his head so as to not look like “Riff Raff,” a reference to the iconic Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rocky Horror is, of course, about a young couple who become stranded at a strange castle owned by Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a mad scientist who happens to be trans. As of this point in AHS‘s story, The Chemist has not been revealed to be trans, but the gorgeous actress who portrays her, Angelica Ross, is. Rocky Horror also features a lot of drag, including the protagonists, not unlike Austin’s dabble with drag. And curiously enough, the Rocky Horror character that Billy Joel/Coat guy references, Riff Raff, presents first as Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s servant, but by the end of the movie, it’s revealed that he is actually an alien. I’m not saying that Billy Joel/Coat guy is going to turn into an alien, or has been one all along, but it is an interesting little Easter Egg, considering the theme of the second half of this season.
American Horror Story airs on FX on Wednesdays at 9/10 p.m.