Horror

[Review] ‘Slashdance’ Provides Twists, Answers and Bloodshed in Best “AHS: 1984” Episode Yet

Not everything is at it seems as the counselors of Camp Redwood continue to fight for their lives and figure out where the truth lies.

“Sometimes sacrifices need to be made in the name of science.”

The latest installment of American Horror Story: 1984 is titled “Slashdance.” Is there a dance? Nope. Is there a Flashdance parody? Nuh uh. Is there at least some synchronized slashing to ‘80s hits? Not so much. So what is there in AHS: 1984’s “Slashdance?” Running in terror and flashbacks. Lots and lots of running in terror and flashbacks.

To be fair, this is easily the best episode of American Horror Story: 1984 in what’s already been a cautiously optimistic season. Things begin with the lovable camp counselors still in the middle of peril as both Richard Ramirez and Mr. Jingles bear down on them. One of the smarter things about this structure is how the counselors have been split into two groups, with one serial killer after both of them (Mr. Jingles is much more effective, by the way). During this opening onslaught we almost get our first major casualty in the form of Ray, but he’s saved after a few vicious flesh wounds. Just to be clear here, why exactly is Richard Ramirez going all knife-happy on the counselors? Didn’t Margaret Booth just hire him to protect her campus and ward off Mr. Jingles?

It’s comforting that the whole team is still together through this episode, but after Ray so negligently suggests that everyone go at it alone versus sticking together, he kind of has it coming. That being said, it’s fun to still see this season of the show so unabashedly embrace the tropes of the genre and then break the rules to defy expectations. To this end, there’s a fitting set of reflexive murders early on where the form directly addresses itself. The real Mr. Jingles takes out some townies who are decked out in Mr. Jingles costumes. It’s not anything that hasn’t already been done in Scream, but it still feels appropriate in this meta pastiche season.

So what was the over/under on nurse Rita being evil? In a particularly unexpected move, Rita turns against Brooke and 50cc’s of flashback help explain her peculiar behavior. Rita hasn’t just been keeping a massive secret, but she’s actually Dr. Donna Chambers, the mastermind who’s responsible for this whole massacre and prison break. She’s even Mr. Jingles’ accomplice, at that.

Donna has studied serial killers in the past and has her sights set on cracking the nut that is Benjamin Richter. A week prior to Camp Redwood’s opening, Donna talks to Richter about the nature of evil and how she believes more in outside circumstances informing who someone becomes rather than evil being inherent in a person. She argues that it’s Richter’s violent time in the military that have made him aggressive and that his actions aren’t entirely his fault (she’s also really big on blaming pornography). Richter desperately wants to believe that idea, which unveils an unexpected humanity to this serial killer.

Mindhunter this is not, but John Carroll Lynch does some of his strongest work from the season here. It also doesn’t hurt that Donna/Rita’s flashback is the best part of the episode. “Slashdance” shows Mr. Jingles at both his most brutal and most docile. His passive nature during Rita’s interviews rather than a more intimidating demeanor says a lot towards his psychology. Mr. Jingles may be the one who wields the knife and severs the ears, but in many ways Rita is even more culpable in all of this. Richter straight up tells Rita that he doesn’t want to go back to Camp Redwood and that it will ignite bad behavior in him, yet she makes him do it and says that any casualties are for the greater good.

Donna’s an agent of chaos that just wants to see what will happen in order to benefit her research. She hopes that Richter can be the last serial killer, even if that means that some more bodies need to fall in the process. It should be very interesting to see what comes of Donna’s efforts to tip the scales to make sure that Richter faces specific results in order to trigger certain behavior. However, Ramirez is a wild card that Donna couldn’t have accounted for and is likely going to throw a blood-covered wrench into her plans.

Ray’s flashback from a year prior to all of this isn’t as exciting as the glimpse into Donna’s pre-Redwood life, but it does reveal that he shares something in common with Benjamin Richter: they’ve both killed people. Ray’s accident falls into the manslaughter category, but his behavior in the present continues to disappoint and illustrate that he hasn’t exactly learned anything. He only tells his secret to Chet because he believes that he is dying and then proceeds to abandon him. He pulls the same stunt on Montana until finally a very cathartic decapitation takes place. Ray’s fraternity corpse romp is also more evidence that everyone that’s been assembled at Camp Redwood has major baggage that they’re trying to outrun. It’s only a matter of time until the right event sets everyone off at once.

By the conclusion of “Slashdance” the core group of counselors are reunited (minus Brooke and Ray). However, just when it seems like some semblance of the status quo is regained, another major left turn is taken. Guess what? Turns out Montana and the Night Stalker are an item and she’s also gunning against Brooke (or some other “her”). Constant betrayals can often work against themselves, but at the moment AHS: 1984 has pushed this level of absurdity just far enough. Now if Xavier and Trevor also turn out to be evil, that’s another story, but as it stands these betrayals fit the formula.

“Slashdance” is a success and it works better in the season’s favor that these Rita/Donna and Montana reveals happen earlier in the season instead of holding them off for a few more episodes. On top of the information that’s gained, this episode also features the most murders yet and gets pretty creative on that front, like with the impaling of the real Rita (Dreama Walker!) There’s also a giant hidden spike pit that might as well be out of a level from Mortal Kombat. It’s one of the more gruesome elements of the episode, but it stands out without being too out of nowhere.

“Slashdance” clocks in at a lean forty 40 minutes, which kind of became the norm during last season of American Horror Story. I’m all for this show not overstaying its welcome, but there easily could have been ten more minutes in here that explored Ray or Donna’s past. With the highly serialized approach that’s been present this season, next week’s episode will presumably begin right where this one ended. That being said, we’ll see if it provides more answers towards the multiple double crosses that are in play or just throws its cast further into danger.

“Irredeemable” is a word that the asylum used to describe Benjamin Richter. Let’s hope it’s not one that we have to use for American Horror Story: 1984 when all is said and done.

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