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Where Did It All Go Wrong For American Horror Story: 1984?

Another year has gone by and yet another season of American Horror Story is over. Or is it? Did we just watch American Horror Story or did we watch something that probably should have been a new show? Yes, the show carried the name, had some pretty weak connections to other seasons, and contained some of the regular cast. So why did it feel so different and out of place in the show’s overall story? Well, there are a number of reasons.

Firstly I just want to point out that I love Ryan Murphy’s work and was once a huge fan of AHS. I know negative articles tend to get a lot of hate but we’re all entitled to an opinion on it, right? Disliking something about a show you love doesn’t make you less of a fan. It’s OK to be unhappy. The first five seasons are some of this decade’s best television and I will happily discuss how amazing they are with anyone. But after those first five themes, something just changed…drastically. It felt as though the show had lost its creativity and the things that made the first five seasons so brilliant were suddenly gone. Whether it was an endless parade of characters that it felt impossible to care about, or predictable plots that didn’t really go anywhere, the love wasn’t there anymore for me.

But back to the latest season, 1984. Why didn’t it work for me? Well, the most obvious thing is the plot…or the lack of one.

A collage of images of all the leading characters from 1984

Mr. Jingles is a serial killer. No wait, Margaret is. Now there’s a real-life serial killer there? Ooh, the ghosts are serial killers. Now Brooke is a killer. Is that another serial killer that’s hitchhiking? Hang on, Mr. Jingles’ mom is the killer. And now they’re just killing each other…for fun? Oh wait, they’re all killers for some reason. Sigh. Are nonstop deaths and everyone killing one another really a plot? Even the big horror franchises have an actual storyline running alongside the death.

There aren’t any rules that the slasher franchises that inspired this season must limit themselves to one single killer. While Jason is the first thing we think of for Friday the 13th, there was also Pamela and Roy doing their fair share of killing too. Likewise, with Scream, various people took on the identity of Ghostface with us having to work out who was behind the mask next. The mystery of who was doing the killing made the movies more exciting as it could literally be anyone. It keeps you guessing and makes you want to keep watching. But how do you keep people interested when everyone is or will be a killer?

We were told from the start that Mr. Jingles was the serial killer. Even though that technically wasn’t true, to begin with, he eventually became a killer anyway. I’m not entirely convinced that electric shock therapy and years in a mental hospital would convince you that you’d done something you hadn’t. But what do I know? Apparently that kind of brainwashing works and results in Jingles killing people in various gruesome ways without thinking twice about it. But what of the real killer, Margaret?

Margaret was the original killer (not Jingles) and her motive was to kill the counselors that had bullied her. She does so and frames Jingles. Revenge is always an interesting element in any horror movie and her killing the other teens that bullied her definitely echoed Carrie. But then that motive goes out the window and she just begins killing anyone at all. She even kills people just for disagreeing with her which just feels a little tiresome in the end. In fact, all of the killings got tiresome real quick in this one.

A young Margaret is covered in blood as she hides her victims severed ears in a military tin

We know that a lot of seasons of the show have a large amount of unnecessary death and bloodshed in them. But it quickly felt like 1984 was just an excuse to put as much brutal death on screen as possible. I’m not against it, far from it. The original slasher and horror movies that supposedly inspired this season have been favorites of mine from a young age. But did practically everyone have to die and was it necessary for there to be so many killers in there? It didn’t add anything to an already thin plot.

Jingles, Margaret, and Richard Ramirez were already more than enough killers for a shortened season of just nine episodes. But then the rest of the characters became serial killers too. Presumably, it was because of their unhappiness that they were now ghosts, but they just began butchering anyone that came to the camp and then butchering each other. Even good girl Brooke became a killer.

I know that when you limit yourself to one location in a show that there’s only so much you can do with it. But the previous seasons have all used a single location as the main story focus and Murder House, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show, and Hotel all had in-depth and interesting plots. I know Hotel had its fair share of bloodshed but it wasn’t relied on to carry the season. Camp Redwood just wasn’t an interesting location and is something that’s been done to death in various movies and shows. If you’re going to use the kind of location that has appeared so many times in horror then you at least need to give us something new and exciting with it.

A dull backstory for a location doesn’t really do anything for me, even when it brings the amazing Lily Rabe back to the show. She really is an incredible actress that can do wondrous things with a poor script, but why waste her completely when she’s agreed to come back?

Lavinia looks up to the sky as she follows the sound of her sons voice in the woods

It turns out that the original Camp Redwood massacre in 1970 wasn’t actually the original massacre. There was another one back in 1948 when the place was called Camp Golden Star. It probably would have been easier to say that the Camp was the site of a long history of massacres instead of trying to shock us with more. Would it really have opened again in the 1970s after Lavinia’s bloody spree?

Lavinia is Jingle’s mother (yawn) and killed the counselors that she held responsible for her youngest son’s death. At this stage, the plot has just become a straight-up copy of Friday the 13th with an added son in there just to make it seem like a different story. Now I know what you’re going to say to me, “But it’s just a homage to all of those movies”. That’s fine and I appreciate that. AHS has done some wonderful homages to various things in the past such as The Exorcist, Misery, A Clockwork Orange, and even Kill Bill. But those homages were just small parts of a larger, unrelated plot. They worked and are extremely memorable moments. That’s how you do a homage.

When the majority of a season is made up of plots and scenes borrowed from a handful of other movies then it’s no longer a homage. It’s lazy and completely forgettable.

As I’ve said previously Lily Rabe is incredible and I am genuinely surprised she came back for this role. But her return to the show just made it painfully clear how many of the original cast was missing. Dylan McDermott came back as some sort of rubbish serial killer. Finn Wittrock returned as Jingles’ son in the present day. And then Leslie Jordan was there as…whatever his character was meant to be. The humor of his character was apparently lost on me. I think that when you’ve lost a large number of the powerful actors that carry the show (Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Frances Conroy, etc) then you have to replace them with the best people for the job.

The disfigured corpse of Bobby pulls Mr Jingles into the water in a scene that looks like Friday the 13th

Please don’t take my criticism of the current actors as hatred towards them and what they do. They’re all talented in their own way but it’s a talent that doesn’t work in this show for me. Emma Roberts really is brilliant and I still genuinely have a lot of love for the first season of Scream Queens. But she’s still just playing Emma Roberts. She started the season playing a different kind of character for her, one that was much more reserved. But so far into the season she just became that same bitchy gal that she’s been playing for the best part of a decade.

Sadly it’s the same with Billie Lourd, Cody Fern, and Leslie Grossman. There’s nothing really different about the characters they play and it does just feel like they’re constantly playing some sort of version of themselves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing I know. But for this kind of show (one that deals with various themes each year) you need to be able to play characters that are completely different from the previous one. Look at the characters that Paulson and Lange have played over the years. This sort of show is the perfect place to show what kind of range you have as an actor. Something the newer, younger members should be keen to do.

Having this newer bunch of younger actors as the leads makes me think Ryan Murphy is handing the AHS baton down to a new generation as a way of breathing some new life into the show. Or even bring in a new generation of fans, who knows? But I kind of wish that he’d have just given them their own show. Scream Queens was 100% created for Emma Roberts (you can just tell) but it still felt very AHS in style and the way the story was told. That’s pretty much what 1984 should have been, a new show instead of a wasted entry in a beloved show.

I say it was a wasted entry because what did it bring to the show as a whole except for a couple of very weak connections to other seasons, completely forgettable characters, and a lot of contradictions & inconsistencies?

The bloody corpse of Richard Ramirez lies on the ground as a circle of ghosts surround it all looking down at him

I say connections to other seasons but there were barely any which is probably just as well. Margaret apparently bought Briarcliff manor at some point in the late 1980s except that she didn’t. The show previously told us that the setting for Asylum was bought up by the state who closed it down and allowed it to fall into ruin—the same ruin that we see during the present-day scenes of Season 2. No mention of it being bought by anyone else. Those are the kinds of connections I feel are weak and forced in there for no real reason.

The other real connection is another that’s hardly a connection at all: Richard Ramirez. We first met Ramirez in the Devil’s Night episode of Hotel when he comes for dinner with James March and the other serial killers. Granted the ghost version we saw of him in that episode appeared much older but 1984 was years before that and his actual death in 2013. I mean Richard Ramirez tells us himself that he died in 2013, that’s part of the show now right? Wrong. Ramirez spends 30 years being killed by the other ghosts, resurrected by Satan, killed by the ghosts, and so on. He hadn’t aged and in the scenes set during 2019, he was still young. He was still being kept prisoner on the camp so how had he attended three Devil’s Night dinner parties (looking old) at the Hotel Cortez prior to this? It makes zero sense and why do the show’s writers not know their own history?

Also, why did Satan spend 30 years resurrecting Ramirez thousands of times and not just use his ultimate power to remove the ghosts that held his servant hostage? Why not just give up on him and let him go. If we learned one thing from Apocalypse it’s that Satan has an army of followers out there in the world just waiting to do his bidding. Satan chose to repeatedly save Ramirez for all those years but let the Anti-Christ die after getting run over by a car? Of course he did. Where did Ramirez even go when he escaped the Camp in 2019?

Maybe Satan is using all of these main locations from each season of the show as a testing ground for the creation of the Anti-Christ. We know she doesn’t get pregnant but Brooke does end up sleeping with a ghost pretty early in the season. That’s how you make an Anti-Christ apparently.

Other things that bothered me included Donna Chambers and her history of research into serial killers. We learn that she’s made serial killers such as Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy finally talk to her. She researches into what made these people kill and what happened in their past to trigger it. It seems off that in her research the fact his mother massacred dozens of people because of his brother’s death didn’t come up. She didn’t question it or seem to know anything about it at all. I’m fairly sure that’s the kind of sad backstory that would come up, especially in the case of someone as high profile as Jingles. Why did Jingles deserve a happy ending? He still murdered people in cold blood. I understand the need for an occasional sad ending to the show but it doesn’t feel right this time. It’s like Tate from Murder House being allowed to have a happy ending (despite being a mass murderer) all over again.

Brooke says that she loves the Crocodile Dundee movies (the first one especially) but when did she actually get to watch them enough to fall in love with them? Both of them were released in the years she spent in solitary confinement on death row. I can’t imagine they did day trips to the cinema or provided her with a VCR in her cell. Is it just lazy writing? I want to defend things like this but I honestly can’t. There’s just too much of it. Like was there actually a point to Trevor’s huge penis? It felt like it was just there (along with the majority of other stuff) to add silly humor to the show. I know this season is about teens in a camp but come on, don’t insult the intelligence of your fans with the lame comedy.

Trevor stares into the distance with his hairy chest exposed in a vest in a dark cabin

Only a couple of weeks ago Ryan Murphy suggested that the show could run for at least twenty seasons. But today, in a complete U-turn, he’s revealed that next year’s tenth season could well be the last. I kind of hope it is the last to be completely honest. One more season revisiting all those iconic locations and stories with as many of the original cast as possible. Tie up all those loose ends and go out on a glorious high. He no longer has the time to focus on AHS, especially with other new things in the pipeline, and it pains me to see the show suffering in the way that it has.

I know both Murphy and AHS are capable of true TV greatness and as a long time fan, I would much rather have great memories of the show. I genuinely don’t want this decline in quality to continue.

Murphy has created this rich television universe full of interesting characters and well thought out intertwining plots. Naturally, something so good would get the attention it deserved and people would call on Murphy’s creative talents for various other projects. This to me is where the problem lies. When you have AHS, Scream Queens, American Crime Story, Feud, 9-1-1, and Pose (to name just a few) as well as new deals and shows with Netflix, then there comes a point when you start spreading yourself a little thin. We’ve all done it in life: we take too much on and as our focus goes elsewhere other things begin to suffer.

It’s certainly not a crime. I know I have multiple creative ideas in my head and if I’d been given the chances to make them like Murphy has then I’d take them too. As hard as it is to end something I do think that if you can’t put 100% into something then you should call it a day and focus on something else. I know he doesn’t make or write the show single-handed but even with a collective working on it it’s still not working for me. The spark has well and truly gone.

I used to watch the show out of excitement and love, but for the past few seasons, I’ve sadly had to watch out of nothing more than loyalty. I know a lot of people have enjoyed the seasons I haven’t and that’s totally fine. The world would be a pretty boring place if we all liked and agreed on the same things. I just pray that Murphy does what’s best for the show: deliver one last beautiful swan song in Season 10. Otherwise, the show (and us) may have to be put out of our misery.


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Written by Martin Hearn

Martin Hearn is a Social Media Manager for 25YL who also writes, has a penchant for interviews, watches too much TV, and plays too many video games. He joined the site through his love of Twin Peaks and also has a passion for shows such as The OA, The Crown, American Horror Story, Lost, and Desperate Housewives. His hobbies include insomnia, dancing in secret, and buying too much Twin Peaks merchandise from eBay. Martin lives in Middlesbrough, UK, which is the birthplace of the Parmo (you may want to google that amazingly beautiful delicacy that definitely won't cause a heart attack). He loves spending long weekends binge-watching TV shows with his partner Anthony.

3 Comments

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  1. I agree with you that it was a bit of a hot mess but in saying that, I still liked it better than Cult. I think that the constant “twists” were supposed to play on slasher tropes. I was glad when Rabe appeared since the acting like you say, was a bit stiff. It is odd for a group to bond over killing a serial killer over and over, yet most of them delighted in killing themselves and why did they all suddenly bond to Jingles’ kid? It seemed forced. And yes, I had no idea what Leslie’s character was referencing. I thought it had to be something but then I gave up.

  2. I liked it. But then again, this is literally the first season of AHS I have watched. The ’80s slasher film gimmick appealed to me. Your criticisms all seem very valid, especially if this show wasn’t lining up at all with previously established continuity.

  3. I was trying to figure out what happened to AHS after its 4th season (sorry I didnt like 5 either). The Apocalypse (8) was ok. But then again… wtf??… you are right about every little thing you said!!

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