American Horror Story makes its fourth debut on FX tonight, in a special 90-minute premiere. Once the skepticism wears off and everybody decides this is going to be a good season of American Horror Story, that's when you start taking bets as to when we'll collectively flip the script again and disavow ever having enjoyed it. That moment—when you start placing bets—you'll think back to this humble roundup of preview and non-spoiler information, and start checking things off.
But until then we'll always have the last three bonkers seasons, so let's review what we know about this season—from interviews, sneak previews and hints dropped by cast and crew—going in.
Old Bitches Who Fight: This year, the old bitches who are fighting are played by Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy. Lange is the owner of the freak show, Fraulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities, while Conroy plays Gloria Mott—described as a "socialite of considerable wealth," which is already a weird phrase but makes me wonder which Florida Jupiter's actually in—with, if last year's Myrtle "Balenciaga" Snow is any indication, an overpowering subtlety.
The Darlings: Kathy Bates plays the loyal Bearded Lady Ethel Darling, while Evan Peters plays her politically conscious son Lobster Boy, Tommy Darling, who says things like "If they just got to know us, they would see that we're just like them!" and "We're people, just like everyone else!" in between being erotic, crazy and/or lobsterlike.
Tommy's described elsewhere as "tragic," but frankly I think Peters could stand a break: In previous years his characters have been rapists, rape victims, alien abductees, had terrible accents, been a mute sex slave zombie that licked a shoe, and one time he even got a spanking. Likewise, Bates is an actor of such caliber that it's worth hoping her storyline this year makes even basic fucking sense.
Angela Bassett's Deal: This year she plays a three-breasted hermaphrodite married to Michael Chiklis, who once played a person made out of rocks in the Fantastic Four films, but in this plays a strongman with a secret relating to one of the people already mentioned. He describes the strongman, Wendell Del Toredo, as "the most deeply emotionally damaged person that I've ever played... This guy is just broken." As last year, Bassett will make her dramatic entrance a little later in the party (next week).
Motts: Conroy's son Dandy Mott is played by Finn Wittrock, a standout from the first season of Masters of Sex (as gay sex worker Dale), not as a freak—unless you count Most Beautiful Human Alive as being freaky—but presumably later on he will be revealed to be in fact freaky, because it is a Ryan Murphy show (highly political). Matt Bomer may also be involved in this storyline, in which Patti LaBelle will play the Motts' suspicious maid (and Gabourey Sidibe's mother).
Normies: Jupiter, Florida has a strained relationship with the circus outside it—especially once some serial killings bring down a town curfew that wrecks the freak show's business. The wonderful Grace Gummer will appear as a mean candy-striper named Penny, to whom one assumes terrible things will happen one act after she is introduced. Along those lines, Emma Roberts plays "Maggie Esmerelda," a fake fortune teller—but if you remember both your Tod Browning and your Victor Hugo, her pseudonymous surname could be a huge clue to her fate.
What Is Up With Sarah Paulson's Brain: According to claims made by the actress, Paulson only has one brain, and playing the conjoined Tattler Twins Bette (the Jessica) and Dot (the Elizabeth) has fucked it up:
"I have one brain that controls both sides of my body. These girls have two brains and one controls one side and one controls the other. So, physically speaking, sometimes one is doing one thing and one's doing something else, and I don't know how to do that. Sometimes it short-circuits my brain."
Other Curiosities: Jyoti Amge, the real world's smallest woman (a hair over two feet), as Ma Petite; the fascinating Erika Ervin (6' 8") as Amazon Eve; Rose Siggins as Legless Suzi; Mat Fraser as Paul the Illustrated Seal. A geek, or person who bites the heads off chickens, will bite the head off a chicken. Edward Mordrake could be a townie, except for his freaky name and the fact that he is played by the supremely freaky Wes Bentley. Same for Stanley, who is called a "collector of freaks" and is played by the wonderfully weird and stately Denis O'Hare. (Mordrake, Murphy told EW, is actually a mythological person with a Quirinus Quirrell situation, and will be part of the show's usual Halloween two-parter, so he doesn't really count anyway.)
Who Is the Rubber Man or Bloody Face: Cuddly John Carroll Lynch plays Twisty the Clown, who seems to be That Thing this year. He lives in a scary school bus, which is a very good/bad sign, and does not actually work with the circus, which makes him scarier because why are you just a clown?
Jessica Lange's Future with the Franchise: She still says she's leaving, two of the show's four Emmys neatly pocketed, after this. Ryan Murphy isn't so sure: "My seduction continues," he told Buzzfeed on the telephone.
The Pepper Situation: Naomi Grossman is back as the microcephalic party girl, which is cool when you consider that the main body of the Briarcross story in Asylum took place in the mid-sixties, or over a decade after 1952 when this season is set. Will this be a true crossover, establishing all the shows in the same universe, or will Pepper's particularly subaltern/interdimensional status throughout Asylum render that question meaningless? Either would be satisfying.
- "[T]he deadening force of the normative... always colliding with the lively energy of the strange, producing a tremendous subversive spark."
- "...[W]restling with a mess of ideas about coming out, civil disobedience, and political violence, AHS remains an ardently ideological series dressed up in Hollywood glitz."
- "[An] anachronistic and deliriously brilliant musical homage to [spoiler], with a batshit star turn by Jessica Lange... glittering, surreal, and proudly out-of-place, much like the series itself."
How Ryan Murphy Feels About His Television Show: Emotional.
"I've seen the first few episodes, and what struck me is how emotional it is... The stories about these quote-unquote freaks being persecuted when many of them have shared stories of actual discrimination and harassment from their own lives is very emotional."
How Scary This Ryan Murphy TV Show Is, According To Ryan Murphy: So scary it will give you coulrophobia where no coulrophobia was present before. So scary it will probably cause your death, according to Ryan Murphy.
"Two crew members told me they have had nightmares about this clown since we started shooting—and they're not even scared of clowns. I think he's pretty extraordinary because, when you see why he's a clown and why he's wearing the mask... Just you wait."
...Yeah, that checks out. But listen, if Ryan Murphy ever discovers hyperbole we are fucked.