Since the fifth season of American Horror Story is underway, I’m reviewing my favorite characters, as played by the repertory cast, organized in order of how long they’ve been on the show.
All 5 Seasons
Sarah Paulson’s first role was small, as Billy Dean Howard, a psychic experience with helping ghosts move on from murder houses. Since then, her roles have been larger: Lana Winters (Asylum’s investigative journalist), Cordelia Foxx (the new Supreme), and conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler. This season, she plays junkie ghost Hypodermic Sally. This last role, while smaller, is her finest. It’s her first villain role, but it’s nuanced. There’s pain and history for Sally that I hope we’ll learn about before the season closes.
Evan Peters went from bad boy Tate Langdon to alleged bad boy Kit Walker to dead boy Kyle Spencer to lobster boy Jimmy Darling to the devil incarnate–Mr. James March. Tate’s huge following was lost on me. I enjoyed his character, but his overwrought emotions were too much (this is a character preference, and in no way reflects how well Peters played the character–he certainly made us love a killer). My favorite character of his is James March, because, like Paulsen’s, it challenges how we’ve typecast his role on the show. He’s an obvious villain, and he sounds and looks different, whereas all the others blur together. It’s a more adult role for him too, which I appreciate. I can finally take him seriously.
Frances Conroy began as Murder House maid Moira O’Hara then played Asylum‘s Angel of Death. In Freak Show, she was Gloria Mott, otherwise known as mother to the most spoiled boy in history, but my favorite was Coven‘s fashionable witch Myrtle Snow, who was fabulously quotable.
All hail Jessica Lange! While absent this season, Lange has had the most critical success of any cast member. She’s played nosy murder house neighbor Constance Langdon, reformed nun Sister Jude Martin, the Supreme Fiona Goode, and freak show manager Elsa Mars. Because she always brings her whole self to her roles, it’s hard to pick. I loved Fiona’s openly cruel nature, but I’ll never forget my first encounter with Constance Langdon. She hit the mark perfectly. Is she evil? Is she just annoying? I couldn’t look away, even when she proved herself to be truly awful. The first season was still my favorite finale, and that’s in no small part thanks to Lange’s portrayal of Langdon.
AHS was lucky to score Denis O’Hare. While we haven’t yet gotten to see him play a main character (please, oh please, Ryan Murphy!), he is an unbeatable supporting actor. He played crazed murder house burn victim Larry Harvey, the speechless Spalding, freak-murderer Stanley, and now Liz Taylor, the cross-dressing bartender at Hotel Cortez. Lucky him–he’s gotten to showcase the most range of any cast member to date. While Liz Taylor is more subdued than any of his previous roles, if you pay attention, you can see his mastery of the role at work. Liz Taylor is meant to be a detached, sarcastic character, and to that end, O’Hare is succeeding.
In season two, Lily Rabe joined the cast as Sister Mary Eunice, a role she reprised in Freak Show. She debuted in Hotel for the Devil’s Night episode, playing deceased real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos. My favorite is her Coven role as Misty Day, Stevie Nicks fan and witch. It’s hard to make a good character stand out in horror TV, because they have to compete with all the villains, but she’s one of the few good characters that I have enjoyed, and perhaps the most good character on the show to date.
Angela Bassett began by playing real-life voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Last season, she played Desiree Dupree, the three-breasted woman. This season, she’s Ramona Royale, former lover of the Countess. I’m enjoying Royale so far, but I loved her portrayal of Marie Laveau. She was timeless.
Kathy Bates played bearded lady Ethel Darling and hotel clerk Iris, but she made a splash when she joined the show as real-life slave torturer Madame Delphine LaLaurie. She brought humor and terror to the role simultaneously.
In Murder House, Jamie Brewer got the best first line with, “You’re gonna die in there,” when she played Addie Langdon. As Nan, I really hoped she would be the Supreme. In Freak Show, she played the sinister Marjorie, the ventriloquist dummy that Neil Patrick Harris loved in an extra special way. Her choices were boldest as Addie Langdon, and that’s why she was my favorite.
Last season, Wes Bentley appeared as Edward Mordrake, who appears when freaks perform on Halloween. This season he plays the lead character–detective John Lowe. This is a tough comparison because the two roles are so different in size, so I still feel I’m getting to know Bentley as an actor. To that end, Lowe is showing me more than Mordrake did.
Matt Bomer has played opposite Finn Wittrock in the last two seasons. First, as prostitute Andy who is seduced and killed by Dandy, then as Donovan, the Countess’ ex-lover before Tristan. Like Bently, Bomer’s role this season makes it easier to get to know him. I especially love the work he and Bates are doing at bringing to life the complexities of the parent-child relationship.
Taissa Farmiga played Violet Harmon, who unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on if you crushed on Evan Peters while watching Murder House) caught Tate Langdon’s eye, and witch Zoe Benson who unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on if you crushed on Evan Peters while watching Coven) caught Kyle Spencer’s eye. I wish she would return to AHS, but sadly, I think she’s moved on. I preferred Violet, because she sold so well her role, and the ending reveal depended on her ability to do that.
I would also love to see Dylan McDermott again, but he’s pretty busy. He started as Ben Harmon, the wretchedly pathetic husband in Murder House before moving on to Lana Winters’ crazy son Johnny Morgan in Asylum. This one is also more of a character preference than an acting deficit. Ben Harmon sucks. Johnny Morgan is scary in a fun way.
Zachary Quinto played former Murder House owner Chad Warwick before creeping us all out as Dr. Oliver Thredson (a.k.a. Bloodyface). Sadly, he’s also too busy to be in AHS anymore. That says a lot about the casting. Thredson definitely takes this one, because I still remember the shock of the reveal.
Emma Roberts played celebrity witch Madison Montgomery and remorseful con artist Maggie Esmerelda. P.S. Roberts is killing it on Scream Queens. That’s why I’m not clamoring for her to come back to AHS. I liked Madison, because remorse isn’t as fun to watch.
Chloe Sevigny debuted as sex addict Shelly in Asylum. I was thrilled to see her come back this season as pediatrician Alex Lowe. Both characters have been interesting, but I’m enjoying the Lowe character’s more complex conflict.
In Coven, Gabourey Sidibe portrayed Queenie, who challenged the other young witches. In Freak Show, she played Regina Ross, who searched for her mother only to find that Dandy killed her. Queenie was her more featured role and was the better of the two. Her power was awesome.
Starting with Freak Show, Finn Wittrock has become a favorite cast member of mine. Last year, he played the rich, demented Dandy Mott and this year he plays the insatiable Tristan Duffy.His two characters while both demented, still show his range as an actor in their different manifestations. Wittrock, who has brought originality and depth to each of his characters, is so good that he’s the first to play more than one character in the same season. He also plays the hunky Valentino.
I still favor Dandy, because that’s when I first encountered Wittrock, but so far, he can do no wrong.
These actors played the same character in two seasons, so their roles can’t be compared, but their quality deserves recognition. Naomi Grossman played Pepper in seasons two and four. John Carroll Lynch played Twisty the Clown (John Wayne Gacy) in seasons four and five.
My favorite characters top in at six from Coven and six from Hotel, three from Murder House, two from Asylum, and one from Freak Show. Even though I hold that the first season was the best in terms of story, I agree that the characters in later seasons have captured more of my heart.
Who are your favorite characters?