American Horror Story: NYC “The Sentinel” and “Fire Island” (S11 E7&8)

Trigger warning: This article has references to sexual violence.

Pardon my crassness as I am not going to try and think of some catchy intro here because I want to jump right into a new possible theory I have before we get to the chunk of these two episodes. As with the majority of my theories for this series, this is still a working theory, and I will even provide one specific example that may just negate this whole idea. This theory may not even be as mind-blowing as I think it is and is probably just something I was too obtuse to notice from the beginning.

I’ve spent a good bit of my coverage throwing around different ideas of Big Daddy (Matthew William Bishop) like whether he is real, if he is an entity, if is he here on his own accord, or if was he summoned, is it Billy (Danny Kornfel), all that jazz. I now don’t think his inclusion is here for any literal matter, rather he is a physical conduit for the idea of HIV/AIDS. Notice the people he shows up for: Detective Patrick Read (Russell Tovey), Gino (Joe Mantello), Dr. Hannah Wells (Billie Lourd), Adam (Charlie Carver), Theo (Isaac Powell), Sam (Zachary Quinto), Whitely (Jeff Hiller), Fran (Sandra Bernhard), Barbara Read (Leslie Grossman). All of these people, whether specifically mentioned or not, suffer from HIV/AIDS. People like Detective Mulcahey (Brian Ray Norris) and people on the street don’t see him; either Big Daddy makes his escape before someone else can see him or he only appears to those afflicted.

My evidence against this theory is the people Big Daddy also shows up for: Henry (Denis O’Hare) and the rest of the patrons at The Ascend Bar, where Big Daddy throws the molotov in. Unless I am completely forgetting something, Henry isn’t said to have been afflicted, nor is it implicitly implied for him. To boot it would be pretty messed up to just assume everyone in Ascend has it. But I just really like this idea of Big Daddy representing the looming insidious nature of this disease. There are seemingly no signs of attack on Barbara in Episode 5 “Bad Fortune,” nor does anyone mention/show anything to/regarding Patrick and possible strangulation marks around her neck. Quick side note I didn’t mention it in the last article, but that moment of Patrick finding Barbara dead and having his meltdown with the police who were assigned to watch her was absolutely amazing and probably the greatest moment of acting in this season. Do with that theory what you will, but just know that is what I’m working with.

All right, let’s get to Episode 7 “The Sentinel” and Episode 8 “Fire Island.” Spoiler alert, these may very well be my favorite two episodes of this season. I know I have been harsh on American Horror Story in past coverages, but this season has really grown on me. I find myself incredibly invested in this storyline and these characters; I even am now spending my weeks with a [insert number of days] until NYC mindset. It’s kind of weird.

Episode 7 “The Sentinel”

Written by Our Lady J, Many Coto and directed by Paris Barclay

Episode 7 starts with Whitely working in his kill room and talking to The Sentinel. Outside the location, Patrick shows up to join Gino in trying to save Henry. Patrick is insistent that Gino does not come in with him, but Gino is persistent as always and ends up storming the building with Patrick. We find Henry cuffed to a table and ball gagged, he is also missing his left ear. Whitley brings The Sentinel down for Patrick and Gino to see before knocking them out with a meat tenderizer.

Patrick holds his gun at the ready with Whitely in his sights

An indeterminate amount of time later Patrick wakes up cuffed to a table next to The Sentinel, Henry and Gino wake up cuffed to tables in a separate room. Patrick finally gets a few direct answers from Whitely when he has a villainous monologue about why he is doing what he is doing, though his plans have changed. Whitely tells Patrick he admires him for being a gay detective for the incredibly homophobic NYPD. The heart Whitely put in The Sentinel is now no good to him, rather he wants Patrick’s heart. As much as I obviously disagree with Whitely’s goals, I completely understand why he would trash the heart he took from one of the guys at the end of Episode 4 “The Blackout.” The idea to take the heart of a true warrior in the fight of good versus evil, rather than a random man he pulled off the street holds quite a bit of purposeful symbolism.

In the other room, Henry is able to wiggle one of his hands free, though his other hand is still trapped. Henry has a true hero’s moment when he finds a handsaw, exactly like the one from Saw, and chops his hand clean off! Honestly, this was such a surprising move for his character, but I understand and appreciate the arc they are making his character go on. Henry has spent his life committing numerous crimes, and here he finally has a moment to be a good guy, thankfully he jumps at the opportunity. Whitely reveals more of his plan, saying that he is doing this because of the idea of the less dead; his crimes have proven that no one in the NYPD, or police in general at this time, cares about what happens to the LGBTQ+ community. Oh, and he’s literally going to Frankenstein The Sentinel and plans to reanimate it. Say what you will, but Whitely is a man with a plan.

Gino and Henry make their way to the main room, with Gino hysterically wielding a chainsaw! They get Patrick uncuffed, and this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s 3v1. I was really thinking Patrick would want to go by the letter of the law and make Whitely answer for his crimes, instead, Patrick whips out his six-shooter and plants one right in his forehead, thus ending the reign of the Mai Tai killer. This is a bittersweet moment, though I think I’m overall content with the way they ended Whitely. It could have been a bit more grandiose, maybe have Gino use some of that chainsaw on him…but I’ll take it!

Patrick gets back to the office, only to find his desk defaced with pink paint. Turns out Gino did a complete expose on this whole situation, taking an interview with Patrick where he basically says the NYPD doesn’t care about LGBTQ+ people. The other detectives are pissed at him for what he is saying, but there is one person who says Patrick is right and wants to change: Marzara (Kal Penn). Making a complete 180 Marzara pleads with Patrick not to quit, saying that he promises to right the wrongs, and to open old cases they swept under the rug. I understand why Patrick does this, even if I think it’s the wrong move, but he places his badge down on the table and says, “fuck you, fuck this whole department,” and walks out. MIC DROP.

Dr. Wells breaks out in sweats and consistently throws up

Presumably, right after this, Patrick meets with Adam to try and see if he can identify any of Sully’s body parts on The Sentinel. It’s futile when Adam can’t see any of Sully’s parts on it. Later in the day, Adam goes to meet up with Dr. Hannah Wells and breaking patient/client confidentiality Hannah says that Sully was one of her first patients with this disease. Adam and Hannah get Fran and her crew together for a meeting in a diner, though the scene feels really out of place and only acts as another scene for Fran to bring up the ticks from Plum Island again.

Back at The Native office Gino and Adam have a discussion about the possibility of another killer. Adam is adamant that there is still another killer out there, saying there are more missing people than Whitely took. Gino tells Adam he needs a break, inviting him and Theo to Fire Island for the weekend with them. Walking home from the precinct Patrick sees the ghost of Barbara across the street, only disappearing after a bus drives by.

Hannah throws up at home and then proceeds to call Adam to say she will not be joining them for their Fire Island trip. She then calls her mother to say that she hasn’t been feeling well and would like to visit for a few days. Throughout this conversation with her mother, Big Daddy watches menacingly through her window.

Adam tells Gino he thinks there is another killer out on the streets

The episode ends with a beautifully heartbreaking piece that Gino writes for The Native under the title “Gay Pride” and includes a brutal crime scene photo as the cover. The papers fly off the shelf. I can’t even find a way to try and summarize Gino’s piece because it is just that haunting. There have been a few very impactful moments in this season, but I think I can easily say this moment is probably the strongest singular moment of the entire season.

Episode 8 “Fire Island”

Written by Ned Martel, Our Lady J, Charlie Carver and directed by Jennifer Lynch

We start with Patrick, Gino, Adam, and Theo on the ferry to Fire Island. The aquatic travel is fine for all, except Theo who spends the trip vomiting. What seems to be nothing more than a bad case of sea sickness turns bad, as Theo tells Adam he has been throwing up regularly every morning. Once Theo’s stomach settles a bit he and Adam have a conversation about how Theo is happy that he is now a one-man guy, it’s a really cute moment. I really thought Adam was going to give him a kiss on the lips during the conversation, but thankfully he didn’t.

Henry undresses with his head tilted back, bathed in blue light

They arrive at Fire Island and immediately see Sam waiting for two other guys to get off the ferry. Theo and Adam do their best to completely ignore Sam, though we will come to find out that Sam has an insidious plan set in place for Theo. Later on, Patrick and Gino relax on the beach drinking Mai Tais. Gino talks about how he and Patrick are having more contusions pop up on their bodies. Patrick tries to calm him down by saying the doctors are telling them it is benign. Gino is still worried about it and is also worried that there still may be a killer out there. Patrick wants Gino to relax, which ignites another fight between them. Gino decides to walk it off and walks away.

Back at their vacation house Adam and Theo have a drink even though Theo looks pretty rough, with clammy skin, deep bags under his eyes, and constant sweating. They still decide to go to The Blue Whale later on. Patrick enters the vacation house pretty heated and asks Adam how Gino is at the office. Adam says he’s pretty intense, eventually changing the subject and asking Patrick if he wants to go to The Blue Whale with them. Patrick politely declines. Patrick goes to take a shower and hears a strange noise and goes to investigate: it’s deadite Barbara!

On the beach, Gino is intercepted by Henry who tells him the mob is still after him, but they are backing off for the time being because Henry told them Gino is valuable for business. Eventually, this leads to Henry telling Gino he is in love with him, saying, “if I can’t have you no-” promptly being cut off by Gino before he can finish the sentence. Over at The Blue Whale Adam and Theo are trying to enjoy their time, even if Theo isn’t feeling well. They decide to head out but Adam forgot his wallet and Theo doesn’t have enough cash so Adam decides to go back to the house real quick to grab his wallet (though nothing on Fire Island is ‘real quick’ because it takes a considerable amount of time to get anywhere on Fire Island).

Sam just happens to show up at The Blue Whale after Adam leaves. First Sam buys a drink for Henry and tells him if he wants to have fun to meet him at the Heat Rock at 9 P.M. After this conversation Sam goes over to Theo who is still waiting for Adam to get back, he buys Theo a shot and they sort of makeup. Sam even has what seems like a real moment of clarity when he says losing Theo has been really hard on him. They do the shot, and well, we’ll come back to this later.

Fran, Lita (Quei Tann), and KK (Lara McGregor) are hanging out in their respective Fire Island house when they notice Big Daddy standing outside their window. They try telling him to make like a tree and leave, but he doesn’t move. In the blink of an eye, Big Daddy transports to another window where KK confronts him with a knife and tells him to leave…thankfully he does. The same cannot be said about what’s about to happen to Gino. Gino gets back from his long beach walk and pours himself a hefty glass of tequila. Things quickly go awry when Big Daddy tackles Gino out of nowhere. They scuffle for a bit until Adam pops out of nowhere to save Gino. After a bit more fighting a shot rings out, and Patrick shoots Big Daddy in the back of the head. Patrick is insistent on calling the cops, but Adam wants to see Big Daddy’s face before they do. When they go to check out the body, it’s gone.

This is another example of how my theory posed earlier falls apart. If Big Daddy is a representation of HIV/AIDs would a physical bullet be able to put him down? With the molotov and now this, Big Daddy shows he can have physical repercussions in the real world, while also having the supernatural ability to disappear at any moment. I think I’m done trying to theorize on Big Daddy, rather just taking him at face value for what it is.

The episode ends with a pretty fast-paced back-and-forth between two scenes. Fran arrives at a party Sam is throwing to read people’s tarot cards, also getting 15 bucks a reading. Not too shabby. Fran’s first reading she immediately pulls a Death card. Henry walks down a dark and foggy path when Sam pops out at him. Henry says he is trying to now be a better man in life and wants to try and right some of his earlier wrongs…that’s when we see Theo tied up to a tree in a Jesus on the cross-like stance. Henry is taken aback by this, but Sam says it’s Theo’s fantasy to be defiled against his will. We also see in a flashback that Sam drugged Theo’s drink and had two of his friends carry him out of the bar. As Theo is fading at the bar Sam tells him he will always belong to Sam.

Sam and Henry approach a tied up Theo in the woods, bathed in blue light

Fran pulls another Death card on her next reading. Cut to Big Daddy showing up in the forest where Theo and Henry are. Henry sees Big Daddy and runs away. Fran pulls another Death card. Theo is in and out of consciousness when he starts to see spirits everywhere, all adorning these diamond-encrusted deer antlers. Fran pulls another Death card. The spirits in the woods untie Theo. Theo realizes these are all people he’s photographed. They lie him on the ground, and everything goes white.


Final Thoughts

Two thrilling episodes with conclusions to some storylines and deeper digging into others. Sam has proven he is the piece of sh*t we thought he was all along and will do whatever he wants whenever he wants. It was good to see Henry trying to turn his life around, and I’m glad he didn’t go through with raping Theo. While it’s unclear what happens to Theo, based on the trailer for the final two episodes I don’t think this is his death as he is prominently featured in the teaser.

I do wish Patrick would not have quit the force, as he really could have made changes and spearheaded Marzara’s wanting to open up old cases they threw away, but I completely get why he did what he did. The final two episodes look to be set in the future as they are titled “Requiem 1981/1987: Part 1” and “Part 2,” so it will be interesting to see what the AHS: NYC world looks like six years in the future. I have been quite harsh on this season, but I really think it is winding up to a thrilling conclusion.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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