Sarah Paulson Doubles the Pleasure in ‘American Horror Story: Double Feature’

They’re going to munch on your balls, motherfucker!

While first impressions are the most important, Sarah Paulson’s unexpected opening line in the tenth season of American Horror Story shakes viewers from the seemingly peaceful slumber of the chapter’s locale, Provincetown. As a quaint, quiet, coastal community at the northern-most tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown serves as a retreat from New York for main characters Harry Gardner (Finn Wittrock), his wife, Doris (Lily Rabe), and their daughter, Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). After arriving, Harry ventures to the local grocery store for provisions, where he encounters one of the town’s most notorious residents—TB Karen—and her ominous warning.

Despite her initial, destitute appearance, rotting teeth, and crass vocabulary, TB Karen (aka Tuberculosis Karen) proves to be the central moral compass of the first part of the tenth season, Red Tide. Far from Paulson’s usual polished, eloquent characters, such as Cordelia Goode (both  Coven and Apocalypse), Ally Mayfair-Richards (Cult), and Billie Dean Howard (Murder House, Hotel, Apocalypse), TB Karen appears crass, grimy, and abrasive… a less fashionable Hypodermic Sally (Hotel). Her destitute demeanor hides her deeper disposition, one that exemplifies a dignified sense of good and evil, and ultimately results in tragic Shakespearian demise.

American Horror: Double Feature (2021) was the first season to be divided into two distinct storylines, “one by the sea, one by the sand,” according to creator/director Ryan Murphy. The first six episodes, Red Tide, take place in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and center around a struggling television writer and his family who move there in search of a quiet reprieve from the distractions of the big city. A wild ride from the very opening scene, this season starts as Harry encounters not just TB Karen around town, but also tall, pale, black-coated creatures with rickety movements, sharp teeth, and a thirst for blood.

Local celebrities, such as romance author Belle Noir (Frances Conroy) and award-winning playwright Austin Sommers (Evan Peters), also reside in town during the winter months and entice Harry into their small circle to learn the secrets for success, a black pill that makes those with natural talent more talented, while turning the untalented into pasty, hairless, animalistic vagrants.

Also starring in Red Tide: Leslie Grossman as Harry’s agent, Ursula Khan; Angelica Ross as the chemist; Adina Porter as Chief Burleson; Denis O’Hare as Provincetown resident Holden Vaughn; Billie Lourd as Lark, the town dentist/tattoo artist; and, for the first time in the American Horror Story canon, Macaulay Culkin as aspiring screen writer Mickey, the notorious “suck boy” of Provincetown.

The second part of the 10th season, Death Valley, takes place during two separate timelines which eventually merge into the present. Shot in black and white, the first timeline begins in the 1950s after the UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico, and follows Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower (Neil McDonough) as he reluctantly makes a deal with an alien race to kidnap a certain number of Americans per year so as to successfully create alien/human hybrids. This compromise prevents the wholesale slaughter and enslavement of humanity by extraterrestrial conquest.

Starring alongside McDonough in this timeline: Cody Fern as Valiant Thor, the robot liaison between the aliens and Americans; Craig Sheffer as Richard Nixon; and Sarah Paulson as First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.

The present timeline revolves around a group of young college graduates who venture into the wilderness of the desert for a much-deserved retreat. The group, which includes American Horror Stories stars Kaia Gerber and Nico Greetham, is kidnapped and subsequently impregnated by the aliens (yes, even the men) and wind up in a secret government facility where they are cared for as they grow the next successful human/alien hybrid.

Angelica Ross returns from Red Tide in her new role as Theta, the part human/part alien caretaker of the kidnapped human hosts, as well as Leslie Grossman as Calico, a former ’60s Go-go dancer turned long-term resident of the government facility and devoted mother to the successful hybrids.

As all the cast members of American Horror Story are talentedly versatile in their range of acting abilities, the stark contrast between Sarah Paulson’s characters in Double Feature is deserving of a perpetual standing ovation. While TB Karen was shrouded in dark grey rags with a vulgar vernacular, Mamie Eisenhower is Karen’s antithesis with her stately mannerisms, erudite inflection, and penchants for the color pink and birthday parties. However, unlike TB Karen, there is a subtle phoniness to her self-aggrandized righteousness, one shrouded in vanity, selfishness, and opportunism to not only become the country’s most renowned First Lady, but to live forever with the help of her new alien friends. She is even caught by her husband having sex with Valiant Thor, claiming that her act of infidelity was no different than using a vibrator. Despite being polished and proper, Mamie’s moral compass is far from the true north direction of TB Karen, reminiscent of the old adage: never judge a book by its cover.

So, what can we expect from Sarah Paulson for American Horror Story season 11? When prompted in an interview with Andy Cohen last September, Paulson remarked: “It’s the first time in about three years where I don’t know. I think this is my last season of Horror Story, probably. I mean, I don’t know. Every time he [Ryan Murphy] comes to me with some whack-a-doodle-stoodle character, I tend to be like, ‘Yes! Let’s do it!’ But I don’t know.” Her ambivalence to committing to another season of American Horror Story shouldn’t be cause for alarm for fans. In an Instagram poll on Ryan Murphy’s page last year, fans were able to choose between possible future themes, with Paulson voting for Sirens. In the comment section of his post, Murphy is quoted as saying she may very well be spending “half of 2022 in a water tank wearing a flowing gold wig bloodily feasting on North Carolina pirates.”

Over the last decade of the show, Paulson has demonstrated her innate ability to slay whatever role she is given, and there is no doubt that she could be the only one to pull off donning flaxen locks while munching on pirates for season 11.

About Maggie Riegel

Maggie Riegel is a first year PhD student of Communication, Culture, and Media at Drexel University in Philadelphia. An avid horror addict since childhood, her favorite horror genres include Stephen King books/movies, psychological horror, historical horror, and paranormal horror. Her research centers around American Horror Story and exploring intersectional identities of race, gender, sexuality, and disability within the show’s decade long canon. Her other research interests include gender and queer studies, critical race theory, feminist theory, horror studies, and other academic disciplines that challenges structures of power and hegemony. She holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science from Moravian University, a master’s degree in political science from Lehigh University, and a master’s certificate in women, gender, and sexuality studies from Lehigh University. She is the creator and administrator of an all-original American Horror Story meme page on Instagram, AHSFXmemes, and will be presenting her essay “Goddess Don’t Speak in Whispers…They Scream: Queer Identity Construction and Visibility in American Horror Story” at the Popular Culture Association conference in April 2022. In her spare time, she enjoys painting, gardening, drinking wine, cooking elaborate meals, and taking care of her five cats.

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