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The Ending Of AHS: Double Feature's Season Premiere Explained

Contains spoilers for the "American Horror Story" episodes "Cape Fear" and "Pale"

After an extended break, "American Horror Story" is finally back for its landmark tenth season. On Sunday we were treated to two episodes of the first part of "Double Feature," dubbed "Red Tide," which proved to be a very welcome return to the twisted imagination of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. The premiere night delivered everything from terrifying humans with razor-sharp teeth to Frances Conroy and Evan Peters doing a piano bar karaoke duet of "Islands in the Stream."

At the beginning of the first episode, we meet the Gardner family, who are arriving in sleepy, wintertime Provincetown for three months of peace and quiet. Harry (Finn Wittrock) is trying to level up his career as a TV writer by producing a killer pilot script, Doris (Lily Rabe) hopes to use her re-design of the house they will be staying in to launch her career as an interior decorator, and their daughter Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) will have plenty of time to practice violin. The getaway from the Gardner's home in New York City promises to be fruitful for them all.

But it's not long before the family is interrupted by a double dose of horror. First, Harry is struck by a nasty case of writer's block that has him staring at a blinking cursor on a blank word document. Next, the family begins encountering disturbing pale men that attack them in the streets and even break into their home. Police Chief Burelson (Adina Porter) assures them that these men are merely victims of the opioid epidemic that has been sweeping Cape Cod.

Harry soon learns, though, that their strange demeanor is actually the result of a very different kind of drug.

Welcome to Provincetown

Like most of the "American Horror Story" seasons before it, the "Red Tide" half of Season 10 is very influenced by its location. Provincetown sits on the far end of Cape Cod in Massachusetts and for such a small and relatively far-flung community, it boasts a few distinct claims to fame.

The town has been the site of European colonial settlement since the early 17th century and has long survived as a hub of fishing and whaling activity. Beginning in the late 19th century, the town became a haven for artists and writers. The list of creators who spent time in Provincetown includes everyone from Jackson Pollock to Tennessee Williams (via I Am Provincetown).

These days, Provincetown is known for its popularity as a vacation destination for LGBTQ+ folks. As Martha (Robin Weigert), the manager of the house the Gardners are renting, notes, in the summer months the town's population explodes thanks to the influx of those who own vacation properties or arrive for events like Bear Week. In the winter, though, the town is nearly deserted.

Provincetown in winter is theoretically the perfect location for Harry to come to finish his masterpiece TV pilot. It's also an ideal setting for the horrors that Murphy and Falchuk have in store for us. When the Gardners begin encountering the pale men, they do so on the cold, deserted streets of the village where there's no one around to help them. And when Harry meets a few other authors who come to town to chase their own muse, he comes to learn that it's not just the peace and quiet they are seeking.

Austin and Sarah let Harry in on their secret to success

While on a night out on the town, Harry meets Austin Sommers (Evan Peters) and Sarah Cunningham (Frances Conroy), a Tony Award-winning playwright and a bestselling romance novelist known to her fans as Belle Noir. The pair quickly bring Harry into their circle and introduce him to the key to breaking out of his writer's block.

The black pills we saw in the "Double Feature" promo trailers are an inspiration-boosting drug that Austin calls The Muse. Harry is initially reticent to try one. But after he takes his first dose, he sits down and in a single writing session, produces the brilliant pilot script he knew was in him all along.

The Muse is a wonder drug for creative types, but the pills aren't without their side effects. Harry becomes consumed with work and lashes out when Doris tries to interrupt him. Normal food repulses him and he craves only blood. When he complains to Austin and Sarah, they fill him in on exactly what he should expect while under the influence.

While the pills provide a wellspring of creativity and drive, they drain vital minerals from the blood that need to be replaced, hence the vampiric craving. Austin also explains that the pills only work on people with a "creative seed." Those who take The Muse but lack creative brilliance turn into the disturbing pale men that have been terrorizing Harry's family. As Austin describes them, "Always thirsty, never satisfied or employed.".

They also explain that animal blood can do the trick when it comes to satisfying the hunger that comes with The Muse (as evidenced by the abundance of roadkill around the Cape that the Gardners have encountered) but to really replenish what the drug takes, human blood is preferable.

Addiction and art were key themes in the premiere episodes of American Horror Story: Double Feature

One of the central themes of the premiere episodes of "Red Tide" is addiction. Cape Cod is introduced early on as a place reeling from the opioid epidemic and with characters like local sex worker Mickey (Macaulay Culkin) and the unaffectionately nicknamed Tuberculosis Karen (Sarah Paulson), we see plenty of other drugs in the mix, as well. And of course, there's also Austin and Sarah who are addicted to The Muse.

However, while the writers are just as driven by their chemical dependencies as Mickey or Karen, their privilege causes them to look down their noses at other people experiencing drug addiction. In episode two, Austin and Sarah take Harry for his first feed and explain that they mostly target opioid users. Sarah cruelly explains, "We find the ones who won't be missed. The ones who are a drain on society."

Austin and Sarah see themselves as morally superior because they are wealthy and use drugs to fuel their art, while the others are poor and make their living in less glamorous ways. But the only thing that attitude does is expose their hypocrisy. They view the man they kill for Harry as worthy of death because he may be trying to resell stolen merchandise to fund his habit, but they are literally murdering people to continue theirs.

To dig a bit deeper, there is also quite a bit of commentary on the visceral life and work of artists in "Red Tide," fitting considering its Provincetown location. After he tells Harry the score, Austin makes an attempt at analyzing the subtext at play in his particular lifestyle: "Metaphorically ... I don't know, maybe something about artists stealing other people's lifeblood to inspire our work?"

Expect that thread to be tugged at more and more as the season progresses.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

What to expect from this season of American Horror Story

The first two episodes of the "Red Tide" portion of "Double Feature" both dropped us into the world and set viewers up nicely for what's to come in Season 10.

Harry's use of The Muse leads him to finish a script that isn't just good, but a bonafide hit, according to his agent Ursula (Leslie Grossman). When we see Harry kill a man at a popular Provincetown cruising spot toward the end of the premiere, it becomes clear that this newfound success has quieted whatever moral resistance he originally had.

At the very end of the premiere, Alma takes one of her father's pills to help her improve her violin playing and it has an almost instantaneous impact. In the final moments of the episode, Doris finds Alma chowing down on a dead animal in a fit of Muse-influenced bloodlust. We can expect some tough times for the Gardner family in the future.

There are also a few characters to keep your eyes on going forward. We only spent a little time with TB Karen in the premiere episodes, but we've already learned that the disturbed and disheveled woman is also a gifted painter who refuses to take The Muse despite the fact that it could take her from destitute to celebrated. That should make for a rich storyline, especially as she seems to be the only character who is able to resist the allure of the drug.

And one person we have yet to meet is The Chemist, who invented The Muse. What kind of role she will play remains a mystery but considering we know that regular Murphy collaborator Angelica Ross is portraying the character, we're expecting something thrilling.

"American Horror Story: Double Feature" is currently airing Wednesdays on FX and dropping the following day on FX on Hulu.