FX’s American Horror Story
10×01: “Cape Fear”
Directed by John J. Gray
Written by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
* For recaps & reviews of Season 9, click here.
* For a recap & review of 10×02, click here.
We open on a beautiful stretch of beach. Interior decorator Doris Gardner (Lily Rabe) and her screenwriter husband Harry (Finn Wittrock), along with their daughter Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), are headed to their new place in a new town. Alma’s busy counting roadkill along the way, and there’s plenty of it. Surely a great omen! Bit of a cheesy moment as the family drives away from one especially nasty bit of roadkill, as an unseen force drags it off the road. Quite the introduction to this season, Red Tide.
The Gardners arrive at their home in Provincetown, where the pilgrims landed prior to Plymouth. There, they meet Martha (Robin Weigert), who manages the place for the owners. She tells the Gardners all they need to know about the house then leaves them with the keys. Doris is there to redecorate the home while Harry works on a new pilot script. They’re hoping it’ll be “like a babymoon.” I’m betting it’ll be more a nightmare.
At the grocery store, Harry runs into Karen (Sarah Paulson), locally known as Tuberculosis Karen. She rants a bit about something munching on balls before Mikey (John Lacy), the guy who runs the store, sends her off. But soon the writer’s back home, trying to get working on his script. Alma’s evidently an artist, as well. She practises the violin, as we watch a fox on the beach get snatched by someone… or some, thing. She’s soon stopped by her father, who can’t seem to concentrate with the music, giving her a dumb story for why it distracts him instead of just saying it’s distracting.
Doris and her daughter go off for a walk, passing through the local cemetery. And a terrifying man pops up, as if right out of a grave, barrelling towards the mother and daughter. Doris and Alma make it back to the house where Harry rushes to make sure the doors are locked. Harry gets a glimpse of the man, baring teeth that are almost sharklike. The Gardners report this to Chief Burleson (Adina Porter), telling her the man was like “a wild predator.” The Chief says most crime in the area is “opioid related” so it was likely just an addict. But Doris isn’t so sure of that. Chief Burleson has answers for everything, desperate to ensure the couple that they’re safe in Provincetown.
There’s a reference to murders in Truro, Massachusetts. That night, Harry digs deeper into it, reading of supposedly animalistic slayings. Certainly not things the locals want tourists reading. Alma soon screams alerting her parents; she sees several people, including the creepy man who chased them earlier. Mom and dad don’t think it’s worth calling Chief Burleson again after the first response. Though there is definitely creepiness afoot. And it’s not helping Harry with his writing whatsoever. The next morning, Harry goes for a run and ends up at the beach, where he sees corpses washed up on the shore with their guts hanging from their stomachs.
Cops are alerted. Harry’s left curious about what could make such wounds in the bodies. The coroner suggests maybe a Great White. It makes Harry want to “celebrate life,” so he plans a date on the town with Doris for that evening. This also means they need a babysitter and Martha’s up to the task. Except Doris starts to feel sick, but she encourages Harry to still go out and get himself a bite to eat. He goes to a place called The Muse and gets a drink. He briefly meets Mickey (Macaulay Culkin), a local sex worker, at the bar. He’s taken to his seat as two other locals, Austin Summers (Evan Peters) and Belle Noir (Frances Conroy), take the stage to sing a duet: Austin plays Kenny Rogers, Belle plays Dolly Parton, singing “Islands in the Stream.” At home, Doris goes to sleep not realising the creepy man and more creepy friends are outside doing the Monster Mash.
After the performance, Belle and Austin send Harry a drink. He goes over to sort of thank them. They’re both writers, too. Austin’s a playwright, a Tony and Peabody winner. Belle is actually Sarah Cunningham, a well-known novel writer over whom Harry gushes a little. Belle and Austin happily embrace Harry, giving him insight into Provincetown’s inspirational atmosphere. Harry digs it because he wants some of that inspiration. While they chat they see Tuberculosis Karen show up, giving more warnings about the “bloodsucking motherfuckers.” Are there vampires in Provincetown? Or is it just crazy ole Karen ranting and raving? I get a vampire vibe, sort of a ‘Salem’s Lot-Stephen King-Maine thing. I also get an H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon” + Dead & Buried (1981) vibe from this initial episode.
At home, Harry gets attacked by the creepy man. They fight until Harry smashes the man’s head in with a fire poker. Across town, Belle’s been using the services of Mickey. She also says she wants to suck him, yet it isn’t a blowjob she wants to give; yes, there are vampires, and Belle’s one of them. The woman gets what she wants. On the street, Karen answers a cellphone, pleading with the person on the other end. Belle’s calling, telling Karen she only has “three hours;” to do what, exactly? Back at the Gardner residence, Harry and Doris are dealing with the cops. Chief Burleson again thinks it’s tweakers. Yet Harry believes the answer’s much more primal.
We see Karen go to meet Belle, receiving drugs in exchange for a baby.
Goddamn, this place is terrifying!
Only makes sense that Harry wants to pick up and leave. In spite of Doris’s job there she agrees to go. But Alma doesn’t want to leave and she figures the house is actually haunted now because her father killed someone in it. A complicated family situation. Harry gets a call from Austin offering a cure for writer’s block, which intrigues him too much to refuse. Perfect time for “Old Cape Cod” by Patti Page, as Harry heads up to Austin’s place on the hill. What does Austin have for writer’s block? Drugs.
Austin doesn’t have much actual info on the pills, only telling his new writer pal that they’re the key to coming up with new material. Interesting use of the word “feed” when Austin talks about how writers work, conjuring potential parallels between vampires and writers. Harry refuses the offer of drugs, so Austin accuses him of not being a real writer, for not going to any length and paying any price to unlock the key to his success. He leaves, though with the drugs in his pocket. When he gets home he receives a call from his agent Ursula (Leslie Grossman), urging him to stay in Provincetown and get the pilot finished. He’s running out of options and, most importantly, time. So now Harry thinks those pills could be the answer. And he swallows one down.