American Horror Story: Double Feature (Red Tide) – Pale (Episode 2) Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*
The second episode of American Horror Story: Double Feature (Red Tide), Pale, unveils the mystery behind the pale vampires of Provincetown and the mysterious black pill given to Harry (Finn Wittrock) to tap into some hidden creativity.
Right away, we see the effects of this mysterious pill on Harry as rapid visions instantly spark inspiration in him that essentially makes him write a masterpiece in mere moments. His obsession with this inspiration is captured in chilling fashion as he doesn’t sleep, eat, or really blink, and is glued to his computer for most of the episode. Although there’s a part of me that really wanted to see him write things that only he thought were amazing, the pill really does work, and he crafts a breakout screenplay that could give him the fame and fortune he desperately desires. It’s doesn’t come without some damaging side effects though that bring out some creative insecurities within Harry and his family.
With everyone going through some creative struggles as Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) hits her limits in her violin playing and Doris (Lily Rabe) continues to make no progress in her projects, there are some harsh words being thrown around and this pill isn’t fully to blame for it. Just from only two episodes, it’s clear that this family is plagued with creative insecurities that viciously come out throughout this episode. Harry’s belittling of Alma’s violin talent and Doris’ efforts for success in their relationship bring out his own dark desperation for success and his insecurities are elevated in the way he thinks he’s better than everyone now. One little taste of success and he thinks he’s on the level of Quentin Tarantino or Aaron Sorkin and it’s a perfect example of Red Tide showing its true thematic colors.
While the vampiric threats of this series seemed like this part’s horror theme, the series actually touches a well-known story focus – obsessive artists. Films like Black Swan and Whiplash aren’t necessarily horror, but their stories of struggling artists obsessively striving for success to unhealthy degrees go to some dark, horrifying places. So, to have American Horror Story deliver their own version of a struggling artist story is awesome and leads to some pretty devastating moments. As said before, Harry’s remark towards Alma’s violin playing is brutal, but doesn’t even compare to Alma absolutely destroying Doris by belittling her as a mother. With these arguments and creative insecurities starting to come out, this family has many more problems than this mysterious black pill – which we learn more about as well and even come to understand that these vampires aren’t vampires.
Sure, they have sharp teeth and suck the blood out of people, but these are the only traits they have of vampires and really, they’re more like leeches. There’s a lot we learn about the pill, those who consume it, and its affects in making those who take it crave blood. So, the mysterious pill, which Austin (Evan Peters) lovingly names The Muse, is actually the cause of people becoming bloodsuckers, but only works for those with a creative mind. If you take the pill without having the creative mind to sustain its effects, you actually turn into the animalistic pale people we’ve seen. However, it doesn’t come without its side effects which include acting like a pompous jerk, having a sense of creative entitlement that’s addicting, and, of course, the irresistible craving for blood. It’s crazy how much lore surrounds one little pill, but it really helps give a wider perspective on Provincetown and its current residents.
Austin says that the pill is likely a metaphor for creative minds sucking the life force from others to improve their work, kind of like how filmmakers and writers adapt or use other people’s stories for their own success, and it’s why these pale people are more like leeches than vampires. Harry’s transformation into this leech is pretty horrifying and stomach turning as his craving for blood has him grab red meats from the store to wring out their blood to make a disgusting meat blood drink. Just watching this was sickening and thinking about it now just makes me nauseous. Ugh, it’s so gross. Harry also has his dedication tested with a midnight snack run with Austin and Belle (Frances Conroy) that also gives us some rules surrounding always wearing gloves, so no fingerprints are left and never killing any locals – which are likely going to be broken by the end of Red Tide. He even heads to a “dentist” named Lark (Billie Lourd) who grinds pale people’s teeth to make them sharper for better blood consumption. There’s also a mention that Chief Burleson (Adina Porter) isn’t exactly fond of these leeches and there could be a crackdown coming the near future. Also, we learn of the pill’s origins coming from a mysterious entity known as “The Chemist.”
There’s definitely a lot to unpack with this episode, but it’s all told in an incredibly engaging way full of bloodshed and harsh realities that’s visually awesome. This series has always had great lore, but Red Tide’s world is built out in a way that’s accessible and kind of mind-blowing in the moment. Pale really pulls back the curtain in a way that instantly invests you and also help flesh out the locals a little better. Mickey (Macaulay Culkin) and Karen (Sarah Paulson) also have some untapped creative talent, with Mickey being a struggling screenwriter and Karen showing some painting skills, making the Muse that much more tempting. It’s a really great reveal that makes Karen and Mickey so much more likeable and there’s definitely an underdog hero story starting to unfold with them. They have such a genuine passion for their artistry that’s easy to love, especially compared to the narcissistic personalities we have seen thus far, and you can feel their frustrations that could possibly lead to Mickey and Karen rebelling against Austin and Belle. Although Karen hasn’t succumbed to taking the pill yet, Mickey has and is already unleashing that untapped creativity. Culkin and Paulson’s performances are great and really all of the performances in this series thus far are great.
It would be really awesome to see Mickey and Karen rise from the bottom to take out the top and they might not be alone as Alma also takes the pill. Yeah, pretty much from the start of the episode, it was set in stone that she would be taking the pill and she quickly becomes hungry for blood. It’s a devastating sight to see that further shows this season’s horrifying take on the struggling artist stories, but it leaves a big question mark for how Doris will react to all this. She’s obviously going to be horrified that she sees her daughter devouring a squirrel, I think, with those pale people around her, but I’m even more curious as to what’s going to happen when she eventually takes the pill.
She may not know about it now, but it’s probably not long until she learns about it and takes one for herself. The question is though: Is she going to turn into a normal bloodsucker or one of those animalistic pale people? Her struggles to get this interior decorating project done makes her an easy candidate for this pill, but part of me feels like we’re in for a dark twist with her. I mean, someone’s going to take the pill and end up a pale person because it’s so American Horror Story and if I had to bet on someone, it’s going to be her.
Red Tide’s second episode contains American Horror Story’s greatest storytelling elements as it fleshes out its engaging lore that gives us a better understanding of Provincetown’s vampiric threats and their little black pill and shows the potential for strong character arcs mixed with excellent performances to deliver a new, horrifying take on the desperation of a struggling artist.