After wrapping up the first half of Double Feature titled “Red Tide”, American Horror Story continued this week with “Death Valley”, taking us far from the brisk seatown in Massachusetts to the dry and hot desert of the American Southwest.
Opening in 1954, we see President Eisenhower (played by Neal McDonough) dealing with a UFO landing in the desert. Amid the crash site, they find a woman claiming to be Amelia Earheart (Lily Rabe), who hasn’t aged a day since her disappearance in 1937.
Between this and a woman levitating with the ability to explode heads, this entire sequence plays out like a 50’s sci-fi monster movie. Everything from the black and white, to the minimalist practical effect design of the monsters.
Everything about this 1950’s sequence plays out much more subtle and intriguing than AHS is normally capable of. McDonough’s performance as Eisenhower is of a leader who’s kind and compassionate, but also calculating and firm.
This is not just a character, but a real life historical figure who was known for being very calm and soft-spoken, despite being a military leader who helped defeat Nazi Germany. And he’s played extremely well here, which makes it all the more frustrating when the shift happens nearly halfway through the episode.
After spending the first act in black and white in the 50’s, we then move to present day in color with a group of college students getting ready for a camping trip in the desert. Among them is Kaia Gerber, who already displayed her less than stellar acting ability in the American Horror Stories spinoff series.
Fortunately, she seems a bit more natural here than she did before. Among the group of friends, there is a familiarity. But it doesn’t change the fact that the story was weaving a truly fascinating mystery just to give it a hard stop to bring it to modern day.
It’s likely that the writers/producers felt that setting an entire season in black and white in 1954 would have turned off younger viewers, but they’ve done entire seasons set in the past before. Look no further than Asylum, Freak Show, or 1984.
Their camping trip results in a strange bright light and the revelation that they are all pregnant, which is exactly what happened with Amelia back in 1954. And a throwaway line about mankind advancing more in the last 50 years than the previous 20,000 is most likely a reference to something that happened in the 50’s affecting today.
Either way, it’s an intriguing start, and hopefully we get back to the 1954 setting. Given how disappointing “Red Tide” was, we’re going to be more skeptical than usual going forward.
What did you think of this episode? Did you prefer the 50s or modern setting? Let us know in the comments!