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Thursday, October 21, 2021

[Review] ‘Death Valley’ Condemns Humanity as “American Horror Story: Double Feature” Wraps Up

The pursuit for perfection in ‘AHS: Death Valley’ presents a scathing, honest look at the human race as it examines who deserves to inherit the Earth.

“What a sad race we turned out to be.”

It’s easy for each season of American Horror Story to get reduced to whatever sub-genre of horror that it’s put under the microscope, but more often than not these vicious veneers are just a creepy way for the series to engage with more universal themes. American Horror Story: Death Valley has been deeply interested in the pains and joys of creation, as well as the inherent compromises that are necessary for the survival of mankind, whether that’s on a federal level or just focused on a reluctant parent. Death Valley has asked vexing questions about cooperation, trust, and the prospect of “rebooting” humanity versus revising it.

These all scratch the surface of some compelling ideas that connect with the heavily stylized sci-fi throwback setting of the season, but are also deeply relevant to the daily struggles and dissent that continue to divide the modern world. The previous three episodes of American Horror Story’s Death Valley detour have engaged in this commentary in thoughtful ways. However, the season’s culmination, “Future Perfect, veers so far into elaborate conspiracy theory fan fiction that it would likely make even Fox Mulder roll his eyes.

The biggest strength of the Death Valley portion of AHS: Double Feature has been its ability to effortlessly ape classical genre cinema. The saving grace that’s kept Death Valley afloat is how each episode actually feels like a ‘50s era science fiction B-movie. Stylistic details like the use of black-and-white cinematography, over the top dialogue, a theremin-heavy score, and slightly heightened performances all contribute to this energy, which means that this genre experiment was ultimately worthwhile. It’s hard to deny that Death Valley’s story isn’t evocative of classic sci-fi, even if the narrative falls flat for the audience.

The previous installment of Death Valley kicks off the season’s fascination with a Forrest Gump style domino effect where aliens are actually responsible for most of the biggest scandals and technological advancements of the past few decades. Everything from the death of Marilyn Monroe, to Nixon’s Watergate scandal and Deep Throat, to the faking of the moon landing are put under scrutiny and reduced to creative storytelling. It’s all filtered with a heavy dose of classic Ryan Murphy cynicism for good measure, like when Neil Armstrong flubs his rehearsed lines during the moon landing. 

It turns out that the past sixty years of American history have all been elaborate subterfuge and a distraction to the development of the alien-human hybrid project, which “Future Perfect” finally has ready to come to fruition. This dynamic is playful in the earlier installments of Death Valley, but its quirky nature overwhelms this finale. It’s as if almost every scene that’s set in the past is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek criticism of iconic Americana. It’s all so over the top that it practically feels like one of the characters from the 2021 setting is going to stumble upon the shades from They Live and that the finale will tackle the subjugation of society with even less subtext. 

A lot of the first half of “Future Perfect” is consumed with scathing monologues and prophetic speeches, yet there’s still a healthy dose of carnage that’s on display. The alien birthing scenes function like brilliant reversals of alien autopsy scenes and are so well-crafted and unique. They present sterile body horror that stands out for American Horror Story and is the kind of energy that would have benefitted the infrastructure and shadow organizations from AHS: Apocalypse. There’s some powerful imagery that stems from how these human victims actually long for their “aborted” hybrid children rather than being horrified by them (a gay couple giving birth under the American flag, on the moon, might also be the most Ryan Murphy-iest visual of all-time). The breeding farm life that they’re exposed to mixes together sci-fi with horror and future dystopia tropes, like Logan’s Run meets Alien. It’s certainly no coincidence that Leslie Grossman’s character in this sci-fi prison is named Calico when all of the humans are basically forced to breed like cats.

The final act of “Future Perfect,” set after the aliens achieve hybrid perfection (complete with Daft Punk style breeding machinery), is easily the most entertaining material from this finale, but unfortunately it doesn’t get more time to explore this development. Humanity is deemed irrelevant as the Earth gets prepped to be shared by two contrasting alien species, Greys and Reptilians, as the planet grows further removed from its origins. American Horror Story continues to clean house until it returns to Mamie Eisenhower and her complex role in these decades of deception.

Mamie Eisenhower’s lingering complacency in Area 51 initially doesn’t amount to much and feels like it’s just there to give Sarah Paulson more to do. The epiphany that she experiences comes across as rushed, but Mamie eventually takes over “Future Perfect” and shifts to not only the season’s hero, but humanity’s last hope for survival. It’s a morbid tug of war with morality when the fate of the free world comes down to the execution of a baby. Paulson occasionally feels as if she’s going through the motions, but Cody Fern really kills it as the eerily stilted Valiant Thorn. Fern has grown into one of Murphy’s most consistent and committed ensemble performers, always rising to the occasion regardless of what’s expected of him. Many of the best moments in “Future Perfect” revolve around his character.

The concluding moments of “Future Perfect” build to a finish where it seems as if teamwork between humans and aliens is the essential key to salvation. It’s a touching idea, but one that feels slightly rushed. As crazy as it sounds, Death Valley would have benefitted from one more episode to let the fallout from sixty years of experiments get a chance to breathe. Red Tide managed to pad its story and all of this reinforces how a split season of five and five would have been the more effective divide than cramming Death Valley into just four installments. That being said, it does feel wildly appropriate that the damnation of humanity becomes the result of the species being unable to accept each other, let alone the existence of aliens. These extraterrestrials teased humanity with gifts of unprecedented wonders and technology, but it’s human nature itself that deems them unworthy. Aliens aren’t really the enemy here. Humanity is its own death sentence. 

Overall, AHS: Death Valley benefits from how it’s half of a season that’s further divided in half with its two dueling, yet complementary, timelines. This focus on not only aliens, but humanity’s own tendency to self-sabotage, isn’t just thought-provoking but also frighteningly relevant. Death Valley still stumbles along the way, but it’s a more satisfying culmination of ideas than what’s presented in the preceding Red Tide half of AHS: Double Feature. It’s unclear if American Horror Story will learn anything from this split season structure and if more condensed storytelling is in the series’ future, but if nothing else Double Feature proves that American Horror Story is at its best when it’s allowed to embrace big, bold genre staples.

Now, everyone get a head start on your shopping. There are only 147 days left until the next Evacuation Day.

Episode Rating:

“Death Valley” Overall Rating:

“American Horror Story: Double Feature” Overall Rating:



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3688382/review-death-valley-condemns-humanity-american-horror-story-double-feature-wraps/

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