Every ‘American Horror Story’ season, ranked
After teasing it for what seems like forever, Ryan Murphy and co. finally did the American Horror Story crossover season between Coven and Murder House in season eight. AHS veterans Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, and Kathy Bates with Cheyenne Jackson, Billy Eichner, and Leslie Grossman returned, and in the greatest casting move ever Joan Collins also joined in.
We’re of the opinion Asylum, Coven, and Murder House feature some of the best storytelling and tone of the entire anthology series. As we reflect on past seasons and gear up for season nine this fall on FX, we figured it’s time to organize our feelings for the show by ranking seasons one to seven of American Horror Story. The order may surprise you.
Everything sounded great: Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born) was to return, Cuba Gooding Jr. (Men of Honor) was to enjoy a lead role, and the plotline – revolving around a doomed documentary crew with footage from their actual documentary – sounded full of meta horror treats. The result, however, was predictable, slow, and disappointing despite some fairly effective murder scenes.
We all cackled like lunatics when we heard that Murphy would be basing Cult around the current fraught political climate and the results from the 2016 U.S. election. “It’s so smart!”, we all glibly enthused while power drinking the largest glass of wine known to humanity, “because we’re literally living in an American horror story right now!”
The season actually wasn’t awful – and the addition of Eichner (What Happens in Vegas) and Grossman (Popular) was a touch of genius – but it was a little too on the nose with its metaphors about gaslighting and political clowns even if we appreciated how utterly brutal the show got.
Easily the most innovative and visually striking season of all of them, Freak Show is also the most playful and conspicuously queer. However it features a set of fascinating characters that are never quite fully utilized within the plot.
Regardless, we loved the batshit musical interludes provided in this season and are still living for Bette and Dot Tattler’s (Paulson) cover of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” and Elsa Mars (Lange) in full David Bowie regalia performing “Life on Mars”. Plus, the introduction of Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) – iconic!
When Hotel was good, it was spectacular, and when it was bad, it was almost unwatchable. Luckily the good just about outweighs the bad – even if we still don’t buy the need for all the bullshit exploitative rape scenes – with Gaga proving herself to be a bigger force of nature than we ever could have imagined as seductive vampire queen The Countess.
We also deeply appreciated seeing Wes Bentley (American Beauty) getting work again and enjoying a subplot lifted almost directly from David Fincher’s Se7en.
This season gets a lot of hate and we’re not here for any of it. As far as we’re concerned Coven helped to kick start a new era of teen horror and a newfound resurgence of witch stories, for which we’re eternally grateful.
As well as featuring the greatest guest star of the entire show – Stevie Nicks as herself – the season also features some of the best performances from its cast including Emma Roberts (Nerve), Lily Rabe (Miss Stevens), Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), Angela Bassett (Olympus Has Fallen), and Gabourey Sidibe (Seven Psychopaths).
All witchcraft aside, the season is also notable for featuring scenes where Taissa Farmiga (The Final Girls) ploughs through a crowd of zombies with a chainsaw like a teenage Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) from The Evil Dead and kills her rapist by fucking him to death. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks!
The original season is as weird and fiendish as you remember it being. Perfectly combining the domestic horror of a fledgling marriage between a tortured couple (played by Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott) with a teenage subplot so full of supernatural angst it feels like it could have pulled straight from a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, the season is full of camp menacing delights and unexpected twists and turns.
By far the weirdest and most ambitious season, Asylum feels the most confident even at its most preposterous.
The season matches some earnest sociopolitical commentary about the historical silencing of women and the stigma of mental health with some of the craziest feats of storytelling ever seen on screen. Nuns! Nazis! Aliens! Asylum seriously has it all, and regardless of how strange a turn the show takes you never doubt the direction for a second.
Plus, can we all just appreciate how wonderful James Cromwell (The Green Mile), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek), Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry), Clea DuVall (Argo), and Ian McShane (American Gods) are in this season of American Horror Story? All of them – no matter how big or small their role – really bring their performances alongside Murphy’s returning cast members.