It’s that time of the season when American Horror Story has its make or break for me. With nearly every season of American Horror Story, this is the part where I usually tap out. Thankfully, taking on coverage for this series affords me the task of needing to finish a season. The seasons may get better towards the end, but this is the point in the season where there is so much information introduced that either has nothing to do with the overall story or just feels retconned in. Episode 5 “Bad Fortune” and Episode 6 “The Body” are tests of patience—Episode 5 way more than 6, though. Resorting to gratuity, in every sense, over-forwarding the story, these two episodes are neither good nor bad, just plain.
Episode 5 “Bad Fortune”
Written by Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt, Brad Falchuk, Our Lady J and directed by Paris Barclay
“Bad Fortune” starts with Kathy (Patti LuPone) running a rehearsal at the bathhouse before getting an urgent call. We catch up with Fran (Sandra Bernhard) who sees a help wanted sign posted on a psychic’s front window. It turns out Kathy owns the psychic shop and offers Fran a job. Kathy doesn’t believe in reading minds, rather calling it entertainment; Fran on the other hand thinks she has psychic powers.
The next day Adam (Charlie Carver) and Dr. Wells (Billie Lourd) are taking a walk when they casually mention Dr. Wells is pregnant and Adam was the surrogate. I have a feeling Dr. Wells is pushing so hard on studying this mystery disease due to who supplied the sperm. Though it’s not mentioned if it was through IVF or good old-fashioned baby-makin’ ways, it’s definitely a surprise. Hannah talks Adam into going into the psychic shop as they pass it. They both see Fran inside, Hannah having reservations regarding their Plum Island conversation. They sit down for a reading, eventually and Fran makes it clear this is basically her first time doing this.
Fran flips over Hannah’s cards: The King of Pentacles, the 10 of Swords (though she tells them to forget that card), and finally pulls The Empress. Then it’s on to Adam. The first card pulled is the Death card; Fran tries to brush it off and moves back to Hannah. Death, Death, Death. Three Death cards in a row, Fran even mentions there is only one Death card in the deck. Adam and Hannah think this is some cruel joke and bounce.
Patrick (Russell Tovey) and Barbara (Leslie Grossman) sit down with their lawyers to finalize their divorce. There is a story beat that goes nowhere when Barbara says she hasn’t been feeling well for a few weeks, mentioning she had some bad sushi and has a parasite. Patrick wonders if it truly is a parasite or something else. Barbra ends up passing out, meaning Patrick is now back at the hospital for like the tenth time in the season. When Barbara wakes up she tells Patrick she has a dog at home and needs him to go check on the sweet pup. Being the ‘good guy’ he is Patrick goes to her apartment, but there’s something else inside the apartment with the puppy: Big Daddy (Matthew William Bishop).
Patrick and Big Daddy get into a huge scuffle, somehow Patrick gets out of this situation alive. Knowing there is one other person who somewhat believes in Big Daddy, since they chased him in Central Park, Patrick calls Detective Mulcahey (Brian Ray Norris). Mulcahey asks Patrick if this is some lover’s spat, which obviously offends Patrick. This is a fairly well-handled shoe-is-on-the-other-foot moment, I just wish they would have done more with it. It seems like Mulcahey truly likes Patrick as a friend and wants to work towards some level of acceptance of Patrick’s life. It’s just really muddy and not handled well.
Hannah tells Adam she had a nightmare of giving birth to a tentacle baby, while at the doctor’s office. The doctor leaves but comes back in to tell Hannah she has a low red blood cell count, just like all of the blood samples she took. Theo and Adam take a walk to the psychic, Theo said he was interested after hearing what happened with Adam and Hannah. They get a dual reading done and pull: Judgement, The Devil, and Death. Rightfully so, this freaks Adam out, and he runs out of the building, though not before hallucinating Fran with a demonic voice.
Later on at The Native, Adam tells Gino (Joe Mantello) about what happened with Fran. Even though Gino doesn’t believe in any of that stuff or Fran’s psychic powers. He goes to see what the hubbub is. When Gino arrives both Fran and Kathy are surprised to see him; Kathy gives Fran a lunch break and tells Gino she will do his reading. Judgement, The Devil, Death. Kathy is caught a bit off guard by this and tells Gino to shuffle the deck and turn his own cards over. Judgement, The Devil, Death. Like Fran to Adam earlier, Kathy’s voice turns demonic as the room goes dark. A fog rolls through the room as an angel-like figure stands behind Kathy with wings wide open. On Gino’s side, a similar figure appears in black, while Kathy tells him he is going to die.
I get what they are trying to do with these tarot scenes. The concept works really well, and I do think it could be pulled off by maybe Mike Flanagan or Simon Barrett. It just really falls flat here. It seems like a last-minute rewrite that was added to fill an entire episode. Sure, there are a few points in this episode that do add some fuel to the fire, but it just feels so out of place. I can’t tell if this is an example of too many cooks, or if there were not enough. Tarot cards could be made to be scary. I get what they are doing with having Fran specifically state she’s never done this before and isn’t really sure how to do it, then having what happens happen. It just really falls flat. I think Sandra Bernhard is a brilliant actor; I just think she was given bad direction from Barclay for the scenes in this episode.
The episode ends with the only real interesting moment of the episode with quite the montage of events, so here we go. Gino goes home and takes a bath, which is paralleled with Barbara taking a shower at her apartment. Gino notices bruises on his body while Barbara fantasizes about Patrick shaving. Gino sees Big Daddy in the mirror, though he disappears. But Big Daddy isn’t after Gino, he’s after Barbara; he chokes her to death. Patrick finds Barbara’s body and has an absolute meltdown, and Gino sees the same bruise on Patrick that are on himself.
But wait, there’s more! We finally get a true Whitely (Jeff Hiller) scene, rather than him just being in the background. The two men from the elevator at the end of Episode 4 “Blackout” are strapped down to metal autopsy tables. There is a fairly overwritten exposition scene from Whitely where he reveals the basis of his plans. What Whitely is doing is giving their lives meaning, a purpose to create the ultimate effigy. The Pride Parade is two weeks away, and Whitely reveals his opus: Whitely’s Monster. A Christ-like figure stitched together with parts from all of Whitely’s previous victims. All that’s missing is a heart…and a penis.
I will add one final note. I do not think one single moment of solid horror storytelling can save the blandness of this episode, the image and practicals of this Frankenstein creature are absolutely brilliant. It looks and feels incredibly raw. It’s just a shame it took nearly five hours of television to get to something this interesting.
Episode 6 “The Body”
Written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Many Coto, Our Lady J directed by John J. Gray
Fire Island ’81. Two guys fool around on the beach. When Tom (Alexandre Bagot) lays Frankie (Ralph Adriel Johnson) down on the sand Frankie gets cut by something. The finger bone of a skeleton. Oh, and what is the skelington wearing? A leather head mask. Dun dun dunnnnnnnn. *opening credits*
In an off-the-record visit, Patrick and Gino go to Dr. Wells’ and ask if they have seen Whitely, based on the sketch they have. They tell Dr. Wells they think she might have taken Whitely’s blood sample for the tests she is running, though if she is running secret tests, it doesn’t really make sense that they would be aware of this. Due to patient/doctor confidentiality, Dr. Wells refuses to give up any information on Whitely. As Patrick and Gino get ready to leave Dr. Wells sees one of the bruises on Gino and tells him he really needs to make an appointment to get it looked at.
Back at the precinct, all of the detectives and officers act differently towards Patrick. He tries to pay no mind to it. Patrick gets a call from Frankie who says he knows that Patrick is different from all the other cops, even if this makes no sense. It would have only been a few days since Patrick came out to Marzara (Kal Penn), and it’s surprising word would get around so fast about this. Anyways, Frankie calls Patrick to tell him about the skelington they found on Fire Island. Sam (Zachary Quinto) is having a sculpture delivered to his apartment, and after insulting the movers he too gets a phone call, this time from Patrick.
We finally get to see Henry (Denis O’Hare) out of his seat at the bar, which is a godsend. I really thought they were going to waste O’Hare and have him set in one location. Denis O’Hare is undoubtedly the greatest actor to ever grace AHS with his presence, and I’m glad they’re finally doing something more with his character. Henry meets with cliché Italian New Jersey mob guy Angelo (James Ciccone). Angelo is one of the shady men who control/run the gay bars around town. With a copy of The Native in hand, Angelo tells Henry he must take care of Gino by any means necessary.
Okay, wait. Why is Angelo asking Henry this? Cause Henry is a goddamn hitman! This is probably the most interesting angle, besides Patrick being a gay NYPD detective. Henry is well dressed, proper, and has a maintained appearance, so it’s interesting to see his character with this backstory. If anyone else had this role I don’t think it would have been pulled off properly, but Denis O’Hare has this innate ability to embody evil. His performances are always subtle and reserved, the level of grandiose is applied but never handled too abruptly.
Patrick tells Gino he needs to go to Fire Island, and Gino, obviously, thinks something strange is afoot. Gino wants to join, but Patrick says no. A few seconds after Patrick leaves, Gino rushes out of the building and watches him get in Sam’s car. Going back upstairs to pack and go to Fire Island, Gino is interrupted by a gun-wielding Henry. Though don’t call Henry a hitman, he thinks the term is gauche. Henry gets caught off guard when Gino mentions Patrick and Sam were going to Fire Island due to a body being found.
Skipping over the overly obnoxious mode of travel to get to Fire Island, Patrick and Sam arrive. Can I just say, it’s a pain in the ass to get to Fire Island, but it is absolutely worth it. Forget the fact that, even before all this inflation, a carton of milk on the island is 10 bucks or a bag of Flavor Blasted Goldfish are 15 bucks, Fire Island is a damn beautiful spot. There’s nothing more relaxing than walking the wood-paneled boardwalk floors while enjoying the atmosphere of the beautifully simple architecture. One of the best aspects of this season is the inclusion of Fire Island, and I really wish they would have sprinkled this out more through the season so far, rather than just giving us one full episode about it.
Patrick and Sam go to the leather masked skelington, but who else shows up? That’s right, Henry and Gino. This is where we get a fairly interesting look into Patrick and Sam’s first meeting, but as with the majority of AHS, it is hamfisted. It would have been thematically more interesting if they sprinkled bits of this next part up over a few episodes, rather than just trauma dumping on us and moving on.
We get a flashback of Fire Island ’79. Patrick, fresh off the ferry, runs into Sam who has a gaggle of men with him. Sam throws a bag of ice to Patrick and tells him to join. This is where Patrick meets Billy (Danny Kornfeld), and this series of unfortunate events unfold. Basically, Sam is throwing a gigantic party, as he does every weekend, and invites Patrick and Billy down to his basement for copious amounts of drugs, and sex. Sam gets Billy to get in his suspended stock in the middle of the room, pinning him in place, with a leather hood over his head, while Patrick and Sam take turns for what seems like hours on him, though things quickly go south when Sam realizes Billy is dead.
Sam tells Patrick he has a mob friend named Velvet Touch, and they will call him and he will take care of the body. And yes, we find out Patrick is still a cop in ’79 when he tells Sam they need to call the cops; Sam even pulls a gun on Patrick when he finds out, but it leads nowhere. It turns out Velvet Touch is Henry, and he brought along a sort of protégé: Whitely. When it comes to chopping up gangsters and bad people, Whitely has no issue. When it comes to chopping up and hiding the body of an innocent gay man, that’s where he takes issue. Henry tells Whitely he must do this, or he will tell Whitely’s mother about his sexuality. It’s kind of unclear how Whitely got into this who mess, but he seems ‘contractually’ obligated to help Henry and the mob. In probably the goriest scene of the season, Whitely chops and saws Billy’s body up limb by limb. Like Dean Pelton in Community, this awakens something in him.
Back in the present day—well, ’81, Patrick notices the bones they are digging up have been plucked from the body rather than sawn off. This means this body we’re seeing probably isn’t Billy’s. After goading Henry he finally reveals to Patrick, Gino, and Sam that it was indeed Whitely who helped them take care of Billy. They talk Henry into setting up Whitely to end this whole debacle, which he says yes to after quite a bit of haggling. Sam and Patrick stay behind to take care of this body while Henry and Gino prepare to take out Whitely.
Henry calls Whitely to set up a meeting time under the guise of having another body to take care of, it’s just that Whitely can’t do it right now as he is in the process of removing the heart of one of the guys from Episode 5. Whitely agrees to meet up with Henry at a bar at 9 PM. Henry and Gino arrive at the bar with the plan of Gino hiding in the back while Henry goes inside to get Whitely. They plan on holding him at gunpoint, and then I guess going to the cops? They arrive at the bar, and Gino gets in the backseat. Henry goes in and sees Whitely ordered him a Mai Tai; this obviously means Whitely knows something is up, and Henry knows this, too.
Whitely goes to the bathroom but doesn’t come out for a few minutes. At this point, Henry goes into the bathroom to see what’s up and brandishes his gun. Of course, Whitely knew this was coming and drugs Henry. They leave the bar and Gino sees the two of them getting in Whitely’s car. Gino follows, in Henry’s car, and phones Patrick from a payphone.
After going through my nine pages of notes to recount the episodes for this coverage, and after writing this, I realized I may have been a bit hyperbolic in my opening. With heavy consideration, I am deciding to keep it as it is, only because I think what really matters is initial impressions. I still think Episode 5 “Bad Thoughts” is an absolutely terrible episode, but in hindsight, Episode 6 “The Body” is not as terrible. Granted, it would have been much more interesting to have the Patrick/Sam backstory sprinkled throughout, but I can understand why they did this the way they did.
“The Body” provides a commendable amount of story progression, as well as gore, drama, and intrigue. As a concept, the idea of this episode works really well, but the direction of John J. Gray seems to really be lacking in…something. I can’t figure out what it is.
This idea of Patrick and Sam sharing this dirty little secret is very interesting, and it is leading me to my new theory. Big Daddy is a manifestation of Billy’s spirit. He’s bigger and tougher than Billy, so with a Grudge-type spirit, Billy is coming back bigger and scarier to haunt the people who have harmed him. Though this theory somewhat falls apart when you think about how he haunted Adam, Dr. Wells, Gino, and even kills Barbara (that kill makes sense). With just four episodes left, the final two episodes taking place in ’87, it will be interesting to see what direction the show decides to go in, and hopefully, we find out whether or not Big Daddy is being controlled by Whitely somehow.