FX’s American Horror Story
11×01: “Something’s Coming”
Directed by John J. Gray
Written by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
* For recaps & reviews of previous seasons, click here.
* For a recap & review of 11×02, click here.
New York City, 1981.
A pilot and a group of flight attendants arrive at a hotel. Cpt. Ross (Lee Aaron Rosen) runs into Tawny (Kelsey Lea Jones), one of his attendants, and she suggests they spend the night together. He refuses, saying he’s married, though being married certainly doesn’t stop her. That’s because Cpt. Ross is into a far different kind of night out than what Tawny was offering. As “Heat of the Moment” by Willy DeVille plays—calling back to this season’s inspiration, William Friedkin’s polarising film Cruising—Cpt. Ross goes out in his leather daddy uniform down in a shadowy part of town where gay men are able to have some privacy. Except there’s an eerie masked man waiting in the shadows, too.
A couple detectives find a headless corpse by the harbour. They joke about the victim “giving head.” Some of that good old fashioned homophobia. At the same time, a woman called Hannah (Billie Lourd) has discovered a strangely mutating, “highly–communicable” virus in the area. She’s been tracking it for a year in the local deer population on Fire Island. She warns authorities the virus may leap to humans, unless it’s already happened. They determine all the deer have to be exterminated. Fire Island is quite the perfect place to have these deer, considering the connection between queer people and the island.
In the city, a sanitation worker finds the severed head belonging to the corpse. A handkerchief is found stuffed in the throat. The medical examiner mentions that “the homosexuals” use different coloured handkerchiefs to communicate. Meanwhile, a group of lesbians led by Fran (Sandra Bernhard) are at the offices of The Native newspaper complaining to a local gay writer, Gino Barelli (Joe Mantello), about a lack of coverage for their community while the writer mentions he’s been concerned with writing about issues that affect gay men, like the fact they’re being hunted currently. Turns out, the writer’s partner is one of the cops investigating Cpt. Ross’s murder, Patrick Read (Russell Tovey). They’re having issues in their relationship because they have to keep it on the low down. But Gino wants to write about the murders more in depth and he wants to use Patrick as a source, which Patrick doesn’t want to do.
Sully (Jared Reinfeldt) is trying to get his roommate Adam (Charlie Carver) to go out with him while he tries to sell some drugs. They head to the park, where all sorts of guys are out cruising. Adam doesn’t dig it there, whereas Sully finds it all exciting, soon silently gesturing to a guy in the bushes to head off for a hookup. This leaves Adam alone. After a long while he can’t find Sully, and then he sees the eerie masked man stalking after him. He rushes off, calling for Sully, who hears him and runs to try finding him. The two don’t find each other, and it’s then Sully runs into the masked man.
Some time later, Adam’s at the police station with Dt. Read, reporting what happened. It’s all a bit awkward, particularly when Patrick has to ask about the “leather man” and the potential connection to gay clubs. Adam thinks nothing’s being done because they’re gay. Dt. Read tries to assuage Adam’s worries without having to say ‘I’m one of you.’ But still, nothing much is being done. And Patrick knows that, so he goes to his his chief, Mac Marzara (Kal Penn). The chief doesn’t give his detective much hope, though.
At a gay club/bathhouse, Adam notices a masked man in a photo on the wall. He asks the bartender about it and finds out a photographer named Theo Graves (Isaac Powell) took them. Graves is a frequent member at the club there. Adam also runs into Gino at the bar, who overheard him talking about disappearing in the park. Gino advises the police won’t help, but says he will, giving the younger man his number.
Adam goes to a studio to meet Theo. The photographer gives Adam a book of photos to look through. They’re very early Robert Mapplethorpe. Theo says Adam has to pose for some photos if he wants to ask questions, so the latter does what he’s told, taking his shirt off for the camera. He also says: “Tell me something terrible.” Like a quid pro quo. Eventually Adam gets to ask about the masked man, whom he finds out is potentially somebody named Big Daddy (Matthew William Bishop). As Adam leaves, Theo’s boyfriend Sam (Zachary Quinto) arrives. Sam is more business than art, whereas Theo’s the creative spirit. Theo says: “Something dark is coming.” He doesn’t want to look into the darkness right now, he’d rather focus on capturing the beauty, however, Sam has his own ideas.
At home, Gino and Patrick “smoke the peace pipe“—oh, white folks!—then talk about the murders and Patrick’s situation at work. This leads to Patrick asking Gino about the blue handkerchief and Gino gives him a lesson on “the handkerchief code.” It involves the eclectic tastes of the queer community, as opposed to the vanilla lives of straight people. Gino explains all the meanings for the coloured handkerchiefs. A dark blue handkerchief means the wearer is down for anal sex. Patrick asks about a place called The Brownstone, which Gino knows. He asks Gino to go there and snoop around, making the writer very happy. “There‘s hope for you yet,” Gino tells Patrick, hoping his partner will be more gay than cop sooner than later.
That evening, Patrick meets with his ex Barbara (Leslie Grossman). They’re finalising their divorce. Patrick wants to do his part to look after Barbara following the split, but she’s ready to be independent with a job of her own. She’s angry that he wasn’t honest with her before they got married. He says he loved her and believed they’d make things work. He clearly feels bad. But this is goodbye for them as a couple.
Gino goes to The Brownstone, where he sends a drink over to a man named Henry (Denis O’Hare) sitting by himself. He introduces himself to Henry, hoping they might talk. Seems that Henry’s a regular there. Gino tells Henry about someone preying on gay men in the city. Henry says that “predators thrive on decadence and excess,” which he sees all over New York City. Gino talks about the predator more. Henry says he might’ve seen someone like that who typically shows up before closing time, looking for prey who are never seen again after leaving with the man. Also at The Brownstone is Sam, trying to lure a younger man into taking photos “for private sale,” asking about “pain threshold” and other things. Gino leaves The Brownstone feeling fuzzy and he soon can’t even walk. He’s been drugged. Then someone pulls him off to a car. A helpful friend? Or something darker?
When the young guy from The Brownstone, Freddy, arrives at Sam and Theo’s place he’s greeted by Big Daddy. They get taking photographs while Theo and his subject Freddy get into the groove. It isn’t enough edge for Sam, who turns over a stool and gives Freddy some Vaseline to lube up. Yikes. When it’s all over, Freddy gets paid and leaves. Theo asks Sam about Big Daddy but apparently the guy’s dead. Then who was it that answered the door earlier? Am I missing something?
Adam and Theo meet again at the club/bathhouse. Theo claims Big Daddy died, as he was told. Then he heads off for an anonymous encounter with a random guy. Soon Adam gets propositioned but he turns the man down. The man keeps looking for a hookup, but he finds only Big Daddy. And out on Fire Island, Hannah oversees the local sheriff’s men as they have to exterminate the deer. Quite the visual comparison. Lots of themes floating around in this beginning episode, particularly with the AIDS epidemic kicking off in 1981, along with this killer and a strange virus. Excited to see more of this season.