It’s that wonderful time of the year again, when “American Horror Story” returns to bring us thirteen episodes of utter madness. In fact, “Hotel” premieres tonight, now with 100 percent more Lady Gaga! There’s so much to love about “American Horror Story”—the exceptional cast, over-the-top characters, sensational violence, and the beautiful way we get an entirely different (yet still cohesively connected) setting and themes every season. One thing fans don’t always agree on is which season is “the best.” Well, this writer is here to settle that debate once and for all, by ranking the four existing American Horror Story seasons in reverse order of greatness. Minor spoilers follow.
This is arguably the weakest season of “American Horror Story” due to its one fatal flaw: in Coven, characters die left and right, yet they keep on returning. Sure, this is explained away by magic, but even Harry Potter fans know that magic isn’t a cure-all for the grim specter of death. Coven was studded with stars and solid performances, beautifully led by Jessica Lange as Fiona Goode, and her daughter Cordelia Fox (series staple Sarah Paulson). The witches square off against the Voudon, led by an exceptional Angela Basset as Marie Laveau. Kathy Bates joined the cast this season, playing the real-life murderess Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie; as did Gabourey Sidhibe as Queenie, a Detroit-born witch who isn’t sure where her allegiance should lie. Don’t get us wrong—there’s lots to like about this season, but the meaninglessness of the many deaths means it lacked the power and depth of other seasons of “American Horror Story.”
Season four of American Horror Story boasts the best cast yet. Bates and Bassett stuck around for this season, as did recurring series stars Jamie Brewer, Denis O’Hare, and Evan Peters. But Freakshow also carried a cast of real-life “freaks,” along with fun additions like Michael Chiklis, Wes Bentley, Malcolm Jamal Warner and Neil Patrick Harris as a batsh*t crazy veteran and puppeteer. Freakshow was a fine season for Jessica Lange to go out on, as her turn as the legless performer Elsa Mars was utterly sensational. She sang, she screamed, she acted in German fetish porn and treated her husband like crap. Freakshow was fun to watch, but like Coven, it didn’t live up to the full potential of what we knew the show could be. Still, we’ll probably never see a character we love to watch as much as Finn Wittrock’s Dandy Mott. Well, except for maybe Pepper.
There’s plenty to love about the first season of American Horror Story, and its success is why we continue to love the show to this day. The Harmon family is a regular family—loving, but full of issues and dysfunction. Jessica Lange and what we consider the core cast of the series take a back seat to the Harmons as they deal with the many, many ghosts in their opulent new home. We’re introduced to an insane abortionist, a family annihilator, demon babies, a depressed school shooter, a murdered maid, and much more. Real-life crimes serve as backdrop to the myriad smaller stories, and include Richard Speck, The Black Dahlia, and the many other crimes that gave the Murder House its name. This season also has one of the finest and most shocking reveals in the series as we watch in horror as Violet—well, we won’t spoil it.
Season Two of American Horror Story was anything but a sophomore slump. Nazi scientists, women-skinning murderers, aliens, sadistic nuns and twisted fetishists are only the beginning of what Briarcliffe had in store for fans. This was the first time we saw the supporting cast take on different roles, as Jessica Lange was brought center-stage along with Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto, and Sarah Paulson. Dylan McDermott appears in the most blue-collar role he’s ever played, while James Cromwell pops by just long enough to scare the hell out of us. Series regular Lily Rabe breaks new ground as a possessed nun who commits a terrible crime against a not-so-pious Monsignor (Joseph Fiennes). Asylum is especially terrifying to those fans with a real-life mental health diagnosis, since it makes mental health treatment look even worse than a trip to Alcatraz. Still, it’s the very best season we’ve had so far. And one word: Bloodyface. Actually, three more words: The Name Game.