Content Warning: This article discusses graphic imagery and content seen in “American Horror Story: NYC.”
Ryan Murphy seems to be on some kind of kick lately. After releasing “Dahmer” and “The Watcher,” both of which broke records for the number of hours watched on Netflix, Murphy returns yet again with “American Horror Story: NYC.” With the 11th season in the greater “American Horror Story” anthology, Murphy seems to be leaning a little more toward creepy and a little less toward horror.
“AHS: NYC” was the only season in “American Horror Story” released without a trailer. Instead, fans received several teasers and character posters, which informed us that we’d be seeing some regulars return to our screens, such as Zachary Quinto (“Star Trek”), Billie Lourd (“Scream Queens”), Denis O’Hare (“Infinite Storm”), Leslie Grossman (“Studio 666”), Patti LuPone (“Hollywood”) and Isaac Powell (“Dear Evan Hansen”). The show didn’t even give us the iconic title sequence until the second episode, which raises the question: Have fans lost faith in the “AHS” cult?
Hulu released the first two episodes of “AHS: NYC” on Oct. 19, and the first couple minutes really scream “American Horror Story.” Viewers are treated to huge leather-clad people and a decapitated body within the first five minutes. It quickly becomes apparent that the season revolves around gay culture in New York City in the ’80s. Someone — or something — is targeting New York City’s gay men, resulting in a string of dismembered bodies and missing people. As the targeted community is already stigmatized, these crimes are generally ignored by the New York Police Department (NYPD), much to the dismay of local reporter Gino (Joe Mantello, “The Watcher”), who is secretly dating Patrick (Russell Tovey, “The Sister”), a closeted cop. At the same time on nearby Fire Island, Hannah (Lourd), discovers a mysterious virus affecting the deer on the island that somehow infects multiple men in New York City’s gay community.
The analogy between this silent serial killer and the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic becomes clear to the viewer. Between cops who couldn’t care less and a spreading panic within the community, it was impossible to not see how the first two episodes of Murphy’s new season directly mirrored the struggles of the gay community during that period. In an on-the-nose scene, Gino gets captured by someone who is presumably the killer. The man decides to let him go, telling him, “You can tell the cops about me, but they won’t care. They don’t want to.” Given just how strong these parallels are in the first two episodes, it will be interesting to see how far Murphy takes it throughout the rest of the season.
Considering this is “AHS,” it’s interesting to look at how Murphy develops the “horror” of this season. Other seasons, notably season 10, relied heavily on jump scares and creepy effects, while “AHS: NYC” focuses on building suspense and horror through “real” threats — which proves to be much more effective. Granted, seeing Gino get hot needles stuck under his fingernails was definitely reminiscent of gorier seasons, but it’s clear the first two episodes of the season are setting viewers up for an extremely intricate storyline. This runs almost opposite to previous seasons like “AHS: 1984,” which — though a great watch — was essentially just “Scream” repackaged.
Certain viewers may lament the turns that “American Horror Story” has taken over the seasons. While it’s true that some seasons are objectively better than others (I’m looking at the flop that was season 10), there’s no doubt that Murphy knows how to entice loyal “AHS” fans. He keeps the horror genre on its toes by building a twisted narrative to accompany the blood and gore that we’re so used to seeing. The first two episodes open with a spectacle of horror but quickly snap back to reality, ready to parse through what we just watched — reminiscent of the opening scenes of previous seasons like “AHS: Asylum.” With two new episodes airing every Wednesday until Nov. 16, “American Horror Story: NYC” is on track to be another head-turner.
Daily Arts Writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.