American Horror Story entered its ninth season on Wednesday night with 1984 premiere “Camp Redwood.” After nearly 100 episodes and a decade on television, it’s difficult to imagine the series could really surprise us anymore. That’s why Ryan Murphy’s FX horror anthology needed last year’s Apocalypse: It mashed up two of AHS' most beloved seasons, Coven and Murder House, and added a dash of its most visually striking one, Hotel, for an extra jolt of excitement.
Yet, there is one pearl of complete and utter shock in American Horror Story: 1984 — and it comes in the form of Emma Roberts. After years of playing Murphy’s most demanding young HBICs (that's head bitch in charge), Roberts is breaking… nice as Brooke Thompson. It is a sight to behold, and probably the key to 1984.
When we first see Brooke, we get a hint she may be as straightforwardly sexual as Coven’s Madison Montgomery, a girl who had a semi-dead person threesome, or Scream Queens’ Chanel No. 1, a woman who once Snapchatted through sex. Here, in 1984, Roberts' Brooke stares at ripped ex-athlete Chet (real-life Olympic athlete Gus Kenworthy) as he thrusts in an aerobics class.
But, Brooke’s shower scene afterwards confirms she would likely be scandalized by Madison and Chanel’s pasts. When Montana (Billie Lourd, another Scream Queens alum) looks into Brooke’s stall and says she noticed Brooke checking out Chet’s “mound,” Brooke demurs (have we ever seen Roberts demure on camera this decade?). “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she simpers. Montana isn’t deterred and continues to try to get Brooke laid, telling her everyone comes to this workout class to hookup. “Not for me,” Brooke says quietly and leaves.
“The last American virgin,” Montana whispers with unbridled excitement. It’s here that you should start realizing Roberts is actually playing the kind of Murphyverse character that usually goes to Taissa Farmiga — the kind of person Roberts' characters attempt to bully into submission. Farmiga's Coven character, Zoe Benson, was forced into virginity due to her literal man-eating supernatural power (sex with her would kill a man). Her Zoe Benson was romantically naive enough to get played by a ghost (Evan Peters) in Murder House.
It is possible Brooke was also tricked, this time by Brooke and her aerobics friends. It seems almost impossible that a serial killer would show up in her home the exact day she turned down her new friends’ offer to go teach at a summer camp, thus pushing her to leave L.A. and take them up on the trip. But, maybe Brooke has really terrible luck (another classic Farmiga AHS character trait).
That terrible luck extends to the 84 crew’s trip to Camp Redwood and first few days there. On the drive out to the woods, the group hits an apparent lost hiker (Lou Taylor Pucci). It’s Brooke who insists they save the hiker and bring him to Camp Redwood to keep him alive. When the blood-splattered hiker grabs Brooke’s hand to share a terrifying message — “You gotta believe me. I tried.” — she doesn’t kick him and run as Chanel, or Freak Shows’s con-woman Maggie Esmeralda, definitely would. Instead, Brooke looks on empathetically and assures the hiker he’s going to be okay. She doesn’t even reach for hand sanitizer once he passes out.
Since Brooke is the resident Nice Girl (who else would run into the night rain to get a relative stranger bandages?), 1984 uses the back half of the premiere to signal she will likely also be the Final Girl, the slasher film’s most beloved trope. She is already virginal and spends the last act of “Camp Redwood” being terrorized by the serial killer no one else sees. Brooke finds the hiker’s dead body, runs directly into a tree, and then falls down a muddy hill, getting covered in wet dirt. Then, she falls into a massive puddle. Madison Montgomery would never.
Unfortunately, no one believes Brooke about the serial killer lumbering around outside.
If Brooke is going through all of this hell now, it’s because it will pay off at some point towards the end of the season. Likely, when she’s alive and all of her doubters are six-feet-under and missing ears. If Brooke is this season’s last woman standing, that means she’s bound to have some shocking connection to the season’s Big Bad, Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch). As Halloween could tell you, that is the Final Girl rule. So is Mr. Jingles inexplicably Brooke's dad? The worst uncle in history? A third cousin once removed?