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“American Horror Story: 1984” Episode 4 Goes Under the Knife

This season of American Horror Story reads like Lost Meets David Lynch: This trip back to 1984 not only demands that you keep a scorecard for the fast moving events presented therein, but it is also insistent that attention is paid to the vertigo-inducing twists and turns that our respective characters are put though. If you’re watching this sucker live versus the technological marvels of DVR and/or Streaming you’d better make sure you time those pesky bathroom breaks just so lest you miss some arcane and important tidbit of information.

 Last night’s episode of American Horror Story: 1984 was certainly no exception from the above and your intrepid reporter has the spent bottle of a Robert Mondavi white wine to prove this very point (I have a very circumspect methodology for absorbing my doses of pop culture and it always includes a little liquid lubricant. Don’t judge.).

 If episode three of this long-running FX series was all about shocking revelations, then the motif for the most recent outing has to be about secret origins and shining a struggling light against an encroaching darkness in order to finally get to some long held secrets. That kiss last week between the Archie Andrews of the serial killer set, Richard Ramirez (AKA The Night Stalker) and Montana is dissected and studied in a manner that would do Clarice Starling proud. It turns out that the two slid into the horizontal humpty after meeting cute at Montana’s aerobics class (ah, the 80s). What happens when you combine two highly combustible chemicals? In the case of Ramirez and Montana you wind up with a Machiavellian plot hatched by the woman named after our 41st state to use her newfound psychopath in order to exact revenge upon Brooke for the death of her brother at Brooke’s wedding. Obligatory backstory can sometimes feel shoehorned into a story that’s already whizzing by at Mach speed, but in the capable hands of the Horror Story writers and directors this has been anything but. If anything the Scooby-Doo explanation’s behind Montana’s unyielding hatred of Brooke is just as kooky and compelling as the rest of this week’s episode.

 And speaking of which, the 1984 flip side of the coin in this fourth episode is a jet ride that would do Chuck Yeager proud. Xavier is literally put in the hot seat when Richter, obviously channeling his inner-Julia Child, locks him inside an oven and proceeds to attempt to cook him to death before a mortally wounded Bertie rescues him.

 Dwelling a moment on the scene immediately after this and pushing to the side my inner-snark (a by-product of years of reading the lamented Movieline Magazine of my youth), Cody Fern is heart-wrenching and altogether brilliantly potent as he performs a mercy-killing on poor Bertie who is beyond rescue by this point. Certain moments linger from this show, and this is one of them. There is a lot of flash in American Horror Story: 1984, but this heartbreaking moment wakes up to the fact that there is much substance to go along with all of the glitter and camp.

 The long awaited duel between two monsters, Richard Ramirez and Richter, finally occurs, allowing Brooke to amscray from the proceedings. John Carroll Lynch is frightening and convincing and proves yet again why he is one of the most underrated character actors working in film and television. Zodiac and Shutter Island were no flukes for this accomplished thespian and his confrontation last night with Ramirez all but proves this.

 Big reveals are what the title of this episode, True Killers, promises, and the reveal of Margaret as the actual killer back in ’70 is a lobbed and explosive hand grenade, especially to Richter who took the fall for her murder spree. Of course that’s neither here nor there as Margaret (Can I call her Peggy?) puts a bullet in Richter, effectively ending his torment. Pulling a Do Si Do, Margaret summons her inner Lost (recalling for this writer the episode of Lost where two central characters were quickly dispatched one right after the other by actor Harold Perrineau’s character of Michael) and, to borrow a Tarantino-ism, puts a cap in the ass of Trevor who arrives to investigate the origins of the gunshot, thus sending him off to the land of the Big Sleep, too.

 Like the 1960s cult classic Dark Shadows, American Horror Story: 1984 is not afraid to mix in its real world elements with a healthy pinch of the supernatural: Xavier runs into the ghost of Richter shortly before being found by Brooke while everyone’s favorite identity stealing villain Donna witnesses the revival of Energizer Bunny Richard Ramirez by a spooky and other worldly force.

 American Horror Story: 1984 is one part straight Friday the 13th knockoff and one part ghost story and it ultimately lands on a cocktail mix that is undeniably tasty.

About Ryan Vandergriff

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