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American Horror Story, FX’s dark and twisted anthology series that’s brought viewers from a modern, murderous Los Angeles home, to a 1960s mental institution, to a centuries-old school of witchcraft, and (most recently) to a 1950s big top tent freak show.
In honor of another season gone by, we looked back at the actors who have become part of the unofficial Ryan Murphy repertory group, and ranked their performances over the course of American Horror Story. In order to be eligible for this list, each actor had to appear in at least three episodes of at least two seasons (and because Naomi Grossman played Pepper in both Asylum and Freak Show, we decided it was too difficult to compare).
Read on to find out which performances for each actor reign supreme.
The first few episodes of the fourth and most recent season of
AHS had Lange singing past and current hits alike, channeling a much-beloved scene from Asylum. But the musical moments faded and so did Elsa’s spark as the freak/freak collector with dreams of the spotlight. There’s nothing more to say, because that was pretty much her only storyline for 13 episodes. —Jaimie Etkin
Fiona Goode gave Lange the chance to serve her delicious bad bitch schtick and it was utterly delightful to watch. Her one-liners — which referenced Ed Hardy and Knotty Pine, to name a couple — were some of the season’s most GIFable, and her ability to cut a bitch with both her words and actual knives was incomparable. Fiona will forever be the Queen of Shade, if not the actual Supreme. —J.E.
Like Fiona, Constance could throw shade with the best of ‘em, but what pushes her to the No. 2 spot is her conniving ability to throw it without the recipient realizing that’s what she’s doing. Her sweet Southern smile masked her seriously depraved past and cold heart, but the genuine sorrow she exhibited when she lost her only daughter was enough to make your stomach drop. The only thing missing was a song and dance… —J.E.
…Which is one of the many reasons to be oh-so-grateful for the joyousness that is
Asylum’s unexpected “The Name Game” number. Though it was certainly just a two-and-a-half-minute blip in arguably the most disturbing season of AHS, it showcased Lange’s ability to display a wide range of (oft conflicting) emotions and to turn on a dime. As Briarcliff Manor mental institution’s hard-ass Sister Jude, she went from heartless to vulnerable, celibate to sexualized, dutiful to downward-spiraling, and authoritative to completely helpless. Sister Jude was one of the most fully formed, honest, and complicated women AHS has given Lange (and the audience) yet, but hopefully, she won’t be the last. —J.E.
We didn’t have long to get to know psychic Billie Dean Howard, but even with only a handful of scenes, Paulson was able to craft a complex and compelling character. The first of many. —Jarett Wieselman
From a technical standpoint, what Paulson accomplished throughout the anthology’s fourth season was nothing short of a revelation. So when you actually take the acting into account, there is no shortage of superlatives you could ascribe to her pair of distinct yet emotionally and physically conjoined performances. —J.W.
AHS history (a statement I, Jarett Wieselman, will defend to the grave), but also the franchise’s single best performance. Paulson gave so much of herself to bring this Emmy-nominated role to life, it’s nearly impossible to understand how she was able to recollect herself and return for Coven. —J.W.
To be honest, I really couldn’t get past the lobster-claw-for-sex-for-pay endeavors. Even this wink is giving me the chills. —J.E.
Sure, Kyle barely spoke beyond his holier-than-thou interaction with Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) in the season premiere of
Coven, but the one time he broke from his zombie existence was to let out silent but incredibly powerful tears after being painfully reminded that his mother (Mare Winningham) sexually abuses him. It’s a moment that stands out as one of the season’s most gut-wrenching. —J.E.
Poor Kit Walker. All he did was love a woman of another race in the ’60s, and it led to him being locked up at Briarcliff after a series of vicious murders were pinned on him. Truly, he was a good guy, who may or may not have been abducted by aliens? Honestly, I’m still not sure. But the fact that he took Sister Jude in gives him pretty high marks in my book, and the No. 2 spot among Peters’
No, Tate was definitely NOT a good guy, but he is easily the most layered, complex character amongst Peters’
AHS repertoire thus far and even this GIF is getting to me right now. He set his mother’s boyfriend ablaze, shot up his school and killed 15 students, and donned a BDSM suit to become the Rubber Man, wreaking more havoc. His smile had the ability to simultaneously melt hearts — like Violet’s (Taissa Farmiga) and Nora’s (Lily Rabe) — and destroy others, i.e., Peters at his finest. —J.E.
Elegant, regal, but perfunctory. She only existed to usher the dying to their next chapter (i.e.,
When “incest to maintain wealth” isn’t your biggest mistake as a parent, you kinda deserve to be murdered and turned into one half of your son’s conjoined-twin sex puppets. —J.W.
Twice the maid you could ever be. Literally. —J.W.
A freak turned fashionista whose eye for couture was matched only by her ability to spot natural Wiccan talent. And when she proudly marched to the stake, she burned brighter than any other witch in history. We were blessed by her resurrection and left in constant awe of the wondrous one-liners that crossed her lips. —J.W.
Nora was basically every young man who isn’t ready to be a father’s worst nightmare in that she could say pretty much nothing besides, “My baby… Where is my baby?” in a panicked 1920s trill. That is, of course, when she wasn’t crying. But, to Rabe’s credit, she did both damn well. —J.E.
Sure, Misty devolved into a vehicle to get Stevie Nicks onto
American Horror Story, randomly singing at the piano of Miss Robichaux’s Academy. But before that, she was a true free spirit who told it like it was and never wanted to hurt a fly… or a frog. If only she could go on happily in the afterlife, twirling in her many shawls. —J.E.
The dichotomous versions of Sister Mary Eunice — the wide-eyed, heart-opened, pre-possessed one and the vicious, merciless, possessed one — could not have been more different. And Rabe could not have played both with any more expertise. From her most evil moments to her lighter ones (including a glorious Lesley Gore musical number), Rabe made Sister Mary Eunice’s every move believable, down to the expression on her face in her final seconds on screen in
Asylum. If anyone was going to be revived in Freak Show, I couldn’t have been happier to find out it was Sister Mary Eunice (even if it was her sunny side). —J.E.
AHS’s own Two-Face only wanted Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) to learn from his mistakes, and just went about it in a really fucking disturbing way. As time went on, though, it was revealed that Larry had some darker intentions and his crimes were far more intentional than he let on. Still, there was something incredibly depressing about this burn victim/aspiring actor, something only O’Hare could bring out. —J.E.
I must say, one of the things I actually looked forward to in the most recent season of
AHS were Stanley’s totally irrelevant role-playing scenes. Because of that and only that (OK, maybe that mustache also), he ranks slightly higher than Larry. —J.E.
The fact that Spalding didn’t speak for more than half of his time on
Coven, but still managed to be one of the most hilarious characters in what is the funniest season of AHS, speaks to O’Hare’s incredible talents. As the trusty butler at Miss Robichaux’s Academy who lost his tongue in an extreme effort to ensure a secret, Spalding managed to exude an air of immense creepiness (thanks to his doll obsession) and elicit laugh-out-loud moments (like this reaction to accidentally ripping his real-life doll’s arm off). —J.E.
Brewer brought her signature sass and her pursed-lips look to her latest
AHS role: a ventriloquist’s dummy-turned-murderer who is a product of her owner Chester’s (Neil Patrick Harris) disturbed imagination. But, seeing as she was brought in with only three episodes left in the season and, for half that time, was only providing voice-over, we’ve seen Brewer do better. —J.E.
As Constance Langdon’s daughter, Addy, for example. Anyone who has seen the inaugural season of
AHS is haunted by two of Addy’s standout lines: her ominous “You’re gonna die in there” warning to all who entered the eponymous murder house, and the heartbreaking one in the GIF above. Addy was gone too soon, but she certainly made her time on the show memorable, and her presence haunted those who knew how much she was capable of. —J.E.
Coven, I found myself praising the powers that be for bringing this badass witch into Miss Robichaux’s Academy. Nan was a self-assured young woman who knew her worth, power (beyond her clairvoyant skills), and how to use the fact that people underestimated her to her advantage. She also had a heartbreaking romantic storyline, allowing Brewer, as an actor, to add devastation to the boldness, humor, and strong-mindedness she already expertly exhibited in the AHS world. —J.E.
In a season full of witches, this Voodoo Queen was the most insanely fun to watch as she conjured minotaurs, stole babies, brought the dead back to life, controlled the minds of weaker men, and uploaded incriminating videos to YouTube. —J.W.
While the character’s physicality made Dupree as much of an attraction
on the show as it did in the show, as the season progressed, the writers proved there was so much more to Desiree than her appearance. She turned out to be the biggest defender of her fellow freaks, a mobilizer of women, an enterprising businesswoman, and someone you do not want to cross. Plus, Bassett basically rewrote the book on side-eye, reaction shots, and making the most of silent moments. In short, Desiree was a revelation. —J.W.
AHS history was the reveal that Thredson — who had been so instrumental in helping Lana escape Briarcliff — was actually Bloody Face, the serial killer who had been looming large all season long. And while Quinto’s steely performance in the first batch of episodes was good, that paled in comparison to the soul-quaking work he delivered following the character’s heinous unmasking. —J.W.
It was so beyond sad to say good-bye to this endlessly GIFable and quotable character. I mean… —J.W.
OK, so she was a racist, sexiest, homophobic, bigoted piece of historic trash. But, in the right hands (see: Queenie), LaLaurie was able to evolve … sort of. And Bates made a meal of her Emmy-winning role. —J.W.
I shouldn’t have liked Maggie as much as I did; she came into Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities with the hopes of dipping everyone in formaldehyde. But a funny thing happened on the way to the embalmer as Roberts found a way to let her heart shine through, so that when Chester sawed Maggie in half, I was gutted as well. —J.W.
There’s no surprise (bitch) that Madison is No. 1 here — she was sadistic, hilarious, and totally honest in a way that inspires envy and anger in equal measure. —J.W.
While you have to admire Regina’s unrelenting dedication to finding her missing mother (Patti LaBelle), returning to confront Dandy (Finn Wittrock) about her whereabouts was one of the more boneheaded things to ever happen on the show. —J.W.
Queenie was just that: royally amazing. Whether she was educating the severed heads of magically immortal racists, making love to a minotaur, or using her human voodoo doll powers to exact revenge, she was completely free of all flaws. —J.W.
Zoe started off as the unfortunate owner of a deadly vagina, but it seemed she’d use her evil for good early on in the season when she found the guy who raped her friend and fucked him to death. But as
Coven went on, the absurdly campy season veered more toward the absurd and the once empowered Zoe instead allowed herself to become a victim… and totally pathetically boy-crazy. —J.E.
Firstly, Violet Harmon wore wide-brimmed hats better than anyone else on the planet. And yes, she had a standard teenage emo attitude — and Farmiga’s
AHS characters’ pension for letting boys determine her characters’ fates reared its ugly head once again — but Violet still had some bite in her. Her kick-assery and quick thinking when intruders tied up and tried to kill her and her mom (Connie Britton) are really what pushed her into Farmiga’s top AHS spot. —J.E.
Given the season’s premise — the Harmon family moves to Los Angeles following Ben’s affair — Ben was never going to be anyone’s favorite character. But he was, in many ways, one of
Murder House’s most exciting and layered characters. —J.W.
It’s hard to argue with a character who is so emotionally stunted he breast-feeds from prostitutes who’ve recently given birth. And given how homicidal he turned out to be, you wouldn’t want to argue with him anyway. —J.W.
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