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American Horror Story Review Seasons 1-5

In this article I’ll be going over seasons one through five of American Horror Story, part one of this series is posted now and goes over seasons six through eleven. AHS is known for combining sex, horror, and camp into mostly standalone seasons of ten to thirteen episodes filled with dynamic characters and fascinating settings. Originally just one ordered season of a horror anthology the show co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk found themselves met with nominations for awards and critical acclaim fairly quickly. 


AHS Review Season 1-5 Title

Please proceed with caution, this is the only content warning in the video and topics range from the bizarre to the downright evil. Specific trigger warnings are not provided throughout.


American Horror Story Covers

The first five seasons of American Horror Story are generally still regarded as the best AHS seasons. Season one of AHS premiered October 5, 2011 on FX, a network of 20th Century Fox Television. Murder House’s success paved the way for green light after green light from the studio for additional seasons of the anthology horror show. After season one Asylum premiered the next year in October 2012, followed by Coven in October 2013, Freak Show in 2014, and Hotel in 2015.


American Horror Story ratings

AMERICAN HORROR STORY VIEWERSHIP & AUDIENCE RECEPTION


American Horror Story viewrship by episode

Total viewership per season in millions stayed consistent between season one and season two and then saw a big increase between season 2 and 3. Total viewership drops off with season 5, Hotel, while still considerably high for a cable show. Each season follows a similar trend of starting with the highest viewership of the season in episode one that overall declines throughout the season with key bumps around certain episodes and then an uptick in viewership for the finale. 


Season 1, 2, 3, and 4 saw increases in their highest viewed episode with a slight dip between Freak Show and Hotel. Season 4 of AHS reaches a milestone of most viewed episode thus far. Unfortunately the next season, 5, saw another milestone, the lowest viewed episode at that point in the season.


American Horror Story viewrship by season

Something else that stood out to me is that season 5’s average viewership reached season one levels, never getting back up to those heights again. I have an unproven common-sense notion that each season’s success, especially upon premiere, is largely reliant on the previous season, showing that Freak Show halted the meteoric levels of success early seasons saw in pop culture.


American Horror Story viewrship

Total viewership however pokes holes in this theory with similar viewership for season 3 and 4, both significantly higher than seasons one, two, and five. So this led me to hypothesize that seasons three and four are the most well regarded. I genuinely just wanted to better understand why the show had gone from stunning to increasingly bad despite involving the same creators, actors, and increasing budgets. What season is the culprit?


That however is not supported in the Rotten Tomatoes audience scores. Season one is currently at 84%, Asylum at 90%, Coven at 76%, Freak Show at 68%, and Hotel at 61%. I had anticipated that Asylum would be highly rated but didn’t think it would be the highest and had been pleasantly surprised by that. 


AHS Rotten Tomatoes

What I also didn’t expect was season three being at 76% when taking social media engagement into account. I mostly saw GIFs, memes, and references to Murder House and Coven, previously even thinking that Asylum didn’t get the acclaim it deserved. Fortunately I was very wrong when it came to audience reception. I don’t agree with every rating but I do agree with Asylum being the highest scored of the series after rewatching.



MAIN SEASON 1-5 ACTORS & THEIR CHARACTERS


One of the most iconic things about AHS is the cast of phenomenal actors that play a variety of characters from one season to the next. Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Jamie Brewer, Denis O’Hare, and Kathy Bates are the main actors from early seasons. 


For the purposes of this article I’ve identified main actors appeared in at least three of the five seasons in this video, so not including actors that got introduced during the first five but appeared in more of the later seasons than earlier ones.


AHS Actors

Some would go on to become even more prominent in the series while others, like Jessica Lange, started and ended their times on the show with season one through five characters and potential cameos later. Paulson, Peters, and Rabe are in five out of five of the seasons, Jessica Lange, Conroy, and Brewer, appeared in every one except Hotel. On the other hand O’Hare is in every season except Asylum. Bassett and Bates join during Coven and are in Coven, Freak Show, and Hotel.


In the last article I started with seasons six through eleven, wanting to get some of those seasons out of the way earlier on. This article however has not been as much of a drag, getting to rewatch and research the first few seasons was enjoyable and a nice walk down memory lane…especially in regard to the “not like other girls” Violet aesthetic that I had covered my Tumblr in back in the day.


AHS Spoiler Alert

From this point on the video will contain spoilers for seasons one, Murder House, two, Asylum, three, Coven, four, Freak Show, and five Hotel. 



Murder House title card

SEASON ONE MURDER HOUSE


The first season of American Horror Story premiered in 2011, subtitled Murder House retroactively after the setting, a haunted mansion in Los Angeles, California, USA. The series was created by Ryan Murphy, Dante Di Loreto, and Brad Falchuk as a horror anthology series on FX.


AHS 1 basics

Taking place in 2010 The Harmon Family that consists of Vivien (played by Connie Britton), a mother who just experienced a traumatic miscarriage and caught her husband, Ben (played by Dylan McDermott), having an affair. Them and their troubled daughter, Violet (played by Taissa Farmiga), move from Boston to Los Angeles for a fresh start. The house’s recent history, the deaths of former owners Patrick (played by Teddy Spears) and Chad Warwick (played by Zachary Quinto), is one of the reasons they decide to buy it.


AHS Asylum Directors and Writers

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk directed and wrote multiple episodes in season one, along with Jennifer Salt, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Bradley Buecker, along with others-pause to read corresponding directors and writers for each episode. Most of these names will also appear as the writers and directors of other seasons, which I found really cool despite being shook how few episodes Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are directly credited with. 


AHS Asylum Actors

In season one, Murder House, our main actors Lange, McDermott, Peters, Conroy, Rabe, O’Hare, Paulson, and Brewer. All of the characters that they play - Constance, Tate, Addie, Moira, Nora, Larry, Ben, and Billie Dean Howard are some of the most recognizable from the series, responsible for many memes, GIFs, and threads—especially Evan Peters portrayal of Tate Langdon alongside Violet Harmon, both teen characters. 


AHS Asylum characters

Upon moving in the Harmons discover that there are multiple parties still invested in the house including Addie, the daughter of next door their southern neighbor Constance Langdon, and former owner Larry Harvey, just including those on the living plane of existence.  Aside from unusually intense obsession with their new property others are obsessed with the new residents like Hayden McClaine played by Kate Mara, a former student of Ben’s whom he had an affair with and Tate who likes Violet so much he doesn’t recognize boundaries with her and his new therapist, her dad. Their maid Moira, a semi neutral party, also plays tricks to achieve her own goals and often can’t be trusted to be forthright. 


THE SETTING: MURDER HOUSE


The collection of characters and their intertwining story lines is interesting all on its own aside from the supernatural elements. The house itself, Murder House, is the main setting of the entire season and the focal point of much of the action. 


The house not only sees an unusually high amount of tragedy for one property but also acts as a potential portal to hell, a place where the boundaries between this world and the next are blurred. The lives lost on the property with unfinished business are doomed to roam the house alongside the living, repeating the same cycles that got them trapped to begin with. 


Throughout the season we see the home during different time periods and states. Including present day with modern and updated fixtures as well as it’s dilapidated state when it had been abandoned following multiple deaths on the property.


SOME MURDER HOUSE HISTORY


  • Distraught Nora Montgomery kills her husband and then herself after their son is murdered in 1926.

  • Elizabeth short is killed during an assault by Dr. Curran & Charle’s ghost mutilates her to cover it up in 1947 (The Black Dahlia murder).

  • Nursing students, Gladys & Maria, are murdered by serial killer R. Franklin in 1968.

  • Troy and Bryan are killed in the basement by Thaddeus Montgomery in the basement of murder house in 1978.

  • Constance catches her husband, Hugo, attacking their maid, Moira, and kills them both in 1983.

  • Beauregard Langdon is killed by Larry Harvey at the request of his mother Constance Langdon in early 90's.

  • Lorraine Harvey sets herself and children Margaret & Angela on fire in the house, killing them in 1993.

  • School shooter Tate Langdon is shot by a swat team after murdering 15 students in 1994.

  • Chad & Patrick Warwick are brutally murdered by tate’s ghost in 2010 and the crime is staged as a murder suicide.

  • Fanatics break in & attempt to re-enact the 1968 nursing student murders but are killed by ghosts.

  • Hayden McClaine is killed by Larry Harvey to keep her baby with ben harmon a secret.

  • exterminator, Phil Critter, finds violet’s corpse & is killed by Tate to keep violet’s fate concealed.

  • Moira lures Joe Escandarian into the basement & attacks him so that Larry can murder him.

  • Finally, one more ghost is added when Ben is hung from the chandelier by ghosts at Hayden’s request.



AHS Asylum Rating

CONCLUSION & THOUGHTS


Season one is not nearly as good as I remember it being. It’s possible that I’ve just grown more tired of it after rewatches over the years but I had always thought it was a clear slam dunk when remembering back. It’s well regarded and is a good watch but I found some of the sexual themes to be overwhelmingly cringe and the obsession with women’s reproduction and babies specifically, something I’ve noticed in almost every AHS season, to be boring. 



AHS Review Asylum Title Card

SEASON TWO ASYLUM

Asylum episodes

Season two, titled Asylum, is the highest rated season via Audience Scores on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s usually considered scary, well rounded, and generally just good. The first episode of season two, “Welcome to Briarcliff,” premiered October 17, 2012 on FX to good critical response.


Favorites from season one, Jessica Lange and Evan Peters, return and blow their previous performances out of the water with portrayals of Sister Jude, a nun and administrator at Briarcliff manor, and kit walker, a new patient awaiting trial for several gruesome murders.


Asylum characters

Most of the season takes place during 1964 but similar to season one we jump around history while watching a story unfold in present day except this time the main story is the one in the past. The setting is stunning but even more so stunning is the camera work and use of shots to not only portray but build upon the emotions of the scenes. The only writers and directors who worked on more than two episodes is Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and Tim Minear. Coming in at 13 episodes, it is the first season with that many and starts the trend of 13 episode seasons for the next few as well.


AHS characters expanded

Every single performance is chefs kiss good, and the story is genuinely scary. So much happens during this season including a serial killer (Bloody Face), a doctor who has some serious sexual dysfunction (Arthur Arden), alien testing (kit walker’s story), and angels of many varieties (Satan & Shachath). That’s not even all of it. If you watch one season of American Horror Story it should be this one.


We meet residents of the asylum, employees, the police, the guardians that surrender their loved ones to the asylum, and more. From children to the elderly all experience similar difficulties with Briarcliff, people don’t really get out of Briarcliff.


THE SETTING: BRIARCLIFF MANOR


Briarcliff Manor AHS

Briarcliff Manor is a stunning horror setting, both in its abandoned and operating states. The 1960’s is such a visually interesting setting combined with the asylum locations like the surgical theatre, common room, or boiler room, and gorgeous winding staircase in the front foyer keeps you engaged even when dialogue and action is sparse. You can sense the attention to detail and excitement about the setting throughout the season.


Asylum setting

I noticed lots of little film details early on that felt like they were intended to mimic the film and TV of the 60’s. Swooping close up shots in, funky angles almost fish-lens like, and so on. The use of angles and depth also portrays the emotion on screen or a relationship between characters, with varying distances from the camera to create space and tension on screen. 


Asylum best moments

I was in awe of the use of lighting and depth to symbolize an aspect of a character or action on screen while building towards future rising action. For example characters facing difficult crisis of their beliefs would be shot with angles that displayed great depth of the scene, usually lit from behind like stage lighting or lighting associated with being visited by God or other religious beings. 


CONCLUSION & THOUGHTS


Rating after this watch Asylum

After rewatching this is still one of my favorite seasons, if not my absolute favorite then it’s in the top three for sure. It’s easy to forget just how much story is covered in this season and just how interesting most of the stories are. Very few of the plots are boring, they are spooky and even scary at times, and call into question mental health and the nature of evil while also critiquing the disciplines tasked with aiding those who are suffering like psychiatry and religion. 



AHS Review Coven Title Card

SEASON THREE COVEN

Coven plot

Season three titled Coven is one of my personal favorites and is still after this recent rewatch. The first episode premiered in 2013 and is the first season that Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, and Emma Roberts join the cast, going on to be series mainstays.


The plot follows a small coven at Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies as it faces new threats from internal and external forces. Over the last few generations the bloodline of witches decreased significantly. Partially due to women choosing not to have children and in some part due to witch hunters and other threats to young women displaying abilities, like religious zealots. 


Coven episodes writers and directors

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is all over this season if there is a season I’d credit to one director due to how many episodes they’re credited with it’d be them and this season. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are two writers credited the most on the season if you consider both the episode they co-wrote and the individual ones they wrote. 


Cordelia Foxx, the headmistress at the start of the season, spends a good portion of her time investigating potential witches and reaching out to them to offer a home to them. The group of witches at the academy when season 3 starts includes: Zoe Benson played by Taissa Farmiga who discovers her powers during sex and accidentally kills the boy she’s sleeping with, Nan played by Jamie Brewer a clairvoyant, Madison Montgomery an actress that used her telekinesis to injure a crew member, and Queenie played by Gabourey Sidibe, a human voodoo doll that burns herself in order to attack a rude customer at her fast food job. 


Coven characters

Aside from the academy the season follows an age old vengeance between Delphine LaLaurie played by Kathy Bates, a racist serial killer from the 1800’s and Marie Laveau played by Angela Bassett, a Voodoo Queen who’s lived for centuries while holding racists who’ve escaped justice over the generations to account for their sins. 


THE SETTING: MISS ROBICHAUX'S ACADEMY


Coven setting

The main setting of the season is Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Girls but some of the most interesting stories from the season involve or revolve around the Voodoo practitioners across town from the witches. Marie Laveau uses magic in the season to help with fertility issues, immortality, and resurrecting zombies to do your bidding. On the other hand the magic done by the coven starts off quieter and lighter, appearing dimmer if not weaker than the magic performed in the French Quarter. The coven in the start of the series is consolidated power at the top of the pyramid with the Supreme and then a hierarchy of witches with varying abilities below that. 


Coven setting

Back in 1692 during the Salem witch trials a group of witches flees to Louisiana and eventually obtains Miss Robichaux’s Academy. Established as a finishing school for girls in 1790, the well off. During the Civil War it was turned into a military hospital. In 1868 Marianne Wharton reopens it as a school. In reality this school hid the establishment’s true purpose-a safe haven for magically gifted women to learn about and how to control their powers. 


Coven history

Over the last few generations the bloodline of witches decreased significantly. Partially due to women choosing not to have children and in some part due to witch hunters and other threats to young women displaying abilities, like religious zealots. Cordelia Foxx, the headmistress at the start of the season, spends a good portion of her time investigating potential witches and reaching out to them to offer a home to them. 


Coven past and present

Despite her dedication to the coven and guardianship of the girls Cordelia is not the Supreme, considered the most powerful witch and the only one in a generation that is able to perform all seven wonders or powers. The powers: telekinesis, Concilium or mind control, transmutation or teleportation, divination, pyrokinesis, Vital Vitalis or resurrection, and Descensum or astral projection to the nether world.


It is very clear even by the end of episode one that witches, as a collective, are under attack and that they turn inwards to the community for issues, shutting out the world for their own protection. With a mistrust of the police and strangers alike the events of the season prove to the coven that they can only rely on themselves…but that there are a lot more of them then they had previously thought. 


Coven advertising and promo

By the end of this season Cordelia passes the seven wonders and becomes the new Supreme of the coven, Fiona Goode is in her own personal catfish-smelling-hell, and witches have outed themselves to the world while calling upon young women who might also be witches to come to them. 


The advertising campaign for this is one I’ll always remember being captivated by, the combo of old souther Bayou with modern stiletto and studs makes me want to know more about each character. The ad campaigns all hint to things that will actually happen in the season or that could be feasible once you’ve seen it.


CONCLUSION & THOUGHTS


Coven review

Coven is still one of my favorite seasons and probably my actual favorite. Some parts are still hard to watch when it comes to the racial injustice the black folk experience but aside from that I have little critique and mostly just admiration and excitement whenever I see it again. 




AHS Review Freak Show Title Card

SEASON FOUR FREAK SHOW


Freak Show plot

Premiering in October of 2014 season four of American Horror Story, Freak Show, has a score of 68% on Rotten Tomatoes. Personally the really good stories from the season shine enough to bring it a little higher in my ranking. It not only paves the way for its own characters but also for characters from Asylum like Pepper’s origin story and Sister Mary Eunice before Jude arrives at Asylum.


Freak Show setting

Taking place in 1952 Jupiter, Florida, Freak Show is the earliest time period that we have as a main setting in American Horror Story. Elsa Mars, played by Jessica Lange, a show frontrunner for seasons one through four, gathers a group of eccentric individuals or freaks whom perform in her variety show called, “Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities,” one of the last two traveling freak shows in the US.


Freak Show setting 2

It doesn’t take long for the folks in Jupiter to not only become upset that the freak show is in town and for them to begin blaming the freaks in the freak show for all of the local crime. Starting with the murder of Bette and Dot’s mother, both conjoined sisters played by Sarah Paulson, one who is smart but quiet named Bette and one who is more flamboyant but not always the sharpest or quickest named Dot. 


Freak Show main actors

The show has staple acts like Paul the Illustrated Seal (played by Mat Fraser), Lobster Boy (Evan Peters), the Bearded Lady (Ethel played by Kathy Bates), World’s Smallest Woman (or Ma Petit), Amazon Eve (played by Erika Ervin), Legless Suzi (played by Rose Siggins), and Meep (played by Ben Woolf). 


Freak Show characters

Worlds Strongest Man (Dell Toledo played by Michael Chiklis) and The Woman with Three Breasts (Desiree Dupree played by Angela Bassett) join the troop but Dell’s hidden past with Ethel the Bearded Lady, played by Kathy Bates, to come back to haunt them. The character Dandy Mott, played by Finn Wittrock, explores the nature of being a freak that is not just exterior. When we meet Dandy his mother Gloria Mott, played by Frances Conroy, is caving to his every demand, furthering his superiority complex and entitlement which paves the way for his breakdowns, performances now iconic for Wittrock and the AHS franchise alike. 


The season creates a world full of fear and pleasure, delving into both metaphorical and physical manifestations of freaks and their relationship with society. What that relationship says about society rather than the freaks themselves is a theme woven throughout each narrative, the idea that we dislike what we see in others that we dislike in ourselves.


Freak Show Historical Counterparts

The overarching themes are relevant and compelling but the extreme and often preposterous nature of stories like Jimmy’s flipper-party escapades and the wild sex party that seems to happen once and then never again do wash them out some. This season isn’t one that I can rewatch often, it’s rather dry and you can sense the story being stretched out over more episodes even when what is being added contributes little to any of the core plot lines. 


Freak Show, the fourth installment of American Horror Story, got announced as Jessica Lange’s last early on and became a key factor in the season. Despite no proof to the point I believe that the story got sacrificed for more Lange musical numbers. Let me explain. 


Lange is responsible for not one but three different iconic franchise characters by the time Freak Show came out, Constance Langdon in LA’s Murder House, Sister Jude in Asylum, and Fiona Goode in Coven. With this in mind it’s no wonder that the show wanted to give her a proper send off with a really, really good ending to the character’s story. Unfortunately for the story’s sake it makes absolutely no sense and causes the ending to fall flat and feel forgettable amongst the bigger moments of the season.


Freak Show ad campaign

For example: it would’ve made way more sense and have been way more impactful if they had made Dandy Meep-like instead of Stanley-Richard-Spencer and then put him in the giant glass case to drown while everyone watched like their version of a Freak Show. Elsa shouldn’t have gotten a good ending, if anything I left the season feeling that her character hadn’t gotten nearly enough punishment to walk away feeling satisfied, she got rewarded. 


She gets to live out her best days over and over and over in the afterlife after sacrificing everyone to get fame and glory. Even up until the end she cared only for herself and being admired by audiences despite doing things that are reprehensible. 


Freak Show promo

Other characters like Esmerelda, Paul, and Dell’s stories cut off abruptly with jaw dropping deaths that would have been better off as daydreams or imaginings than actual endings. Things that we’d been setting up all season turned out to be pointless once the massacre at the camp occurs and everything non-Elsa related is wrapped up rather quickly. 


The least that could’ve happened is her living out being made fun of and booed on stage for all eternity, something. Instead I found myself checking every few seconds how much longer the last episode had. At the end I felt like I could have just watched a Jessica Lange fan edit and imagined my own ending for the season and saved myself the annoyance. 


CONCLUSION & THOUGHTS



Freak Show review

The thing that stood out the most for me about this season is how much time is spent on filler. Filler stories, filler scenes, filler moments within scenes, everything. It feels like the studio contracted 13 episodes but the story chosen for the season couldn’t be stretched seamlessly into that many episodes. I don’t care to rewatch this one much and still don’t really after a rewatch. 



AHS Review Hotel Title Card

SEASON FIVE HOTEL


Hotel plot

The first word that comes to mind when I think about Hotel is glitz but if I got a second word it’d be decaying glitz. Premiering in October 2015 Hotel is the fifth season of AHS. Set in Los Angeles, the Hotel Cortez is a haunted property based off of the real Cecil Hotel that is the setting and focal point of the season.


Hotel episodes

When the season begins we arrive at a mostly vacant, stuffy, and drab hotel that is definitely haunted by the living and dead who both seek to victimize guests for the hell of it. The owner of the Hotel, The Countess, and her partner Donovan roam LA hunting for victims to lure back to the Cortez. The Cortez is not simply a hotel, it also doubles as a murderers playground with trap doors and a death chute. 


Hotel actors

Murphy and Falchuk are heavily involved in the writing and directing of this season alongside Loni Peristere, a newer name, and Buecker. The season started by drawing a large crowd following the two preceding seasons but that viewership dwindled significantly once fans started actually watching the season.



Hotel characters

This season is one where we focus heavily on a non-AHS actor character, played by famous singer Lady Gaga, at the time extremely relevant to pop culture especially horror related pop culture following her theatric and blood heavy performances and appearances. With the addition of Gaga we see less of our faves, with Paulson, Bates, Bassett, Peters, and O’Hare joining the cast as main AHS actors. 


Hotel Cortez setting

The characters this season are varied but similar in the sense that they all had reasons to be in this downtown LA hotel whether that be big dreams or cheap vacations. We know however that this is happening in the same universe as Murder House and Coven with the appearances of Queenie and Marcy the realtor. 


Hotel Promo

The Hotel Cortez gives and gives in creepy during the season, the decor themes are throughout but levels of old and run down touch parts of the hotel. What at first seems like a pristine time capsule you soon discover is falling apart under the weight of financial struggles. 


The ad campaign relied heavily on Lady Gaga and her stories in the season but other stories or rather the people whom the Countess is messing with are what truly makes the season. Despite the campaign mostly focusing on the child vampires we don’t really spend much time on them but rather the other characters who are impacted by them. We do however focus a lot on the Countess’ love life as it’s the roadmap to a lot of the events surrounding The Cortez. 


Hotel Cortez history

The hotel was constructed in 1925 by James March, a serial killer who hoped to create the perfect place to commit his sadistic murders without interruption. Opening in 1926 March wastes no time putting the hotel to use and filling it with murdered souls. Hazel Evers, the maid, and March’s wife Elizabeth AKA the Countess encourage his serial killing due to personal benefits. 


During the 1930s March is caught while doing the Ten Commandments Killings and dies by suicide at the hotel. When he dies the ownership transfers to Elizabeth who is infected with a vampire-like blood virus that allows her to live in youth indefinitely off of human blood. 


CONCLUSION & THOUGHTS


AHS Hotel Review

After this rewatch I’d give this a solid rating that puts it above many of the others. I find this one similar to Asylum in that there are so many stories that are interesting on their own aside from the main plots that keep things interesting. At some points in the center of the season it does feel like we transition to a new story and that transition is a tad bumpy but if you can get past that both halves of the season are good. 



CONCLUSION


The next video and article will be the final AHS review video going over season 12, the current season of the show (on pause due to the writer and actor strikes) as well as the spinoff AHS stories and overall thoughts about the entire series. 



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