How double function Jessica Lange from Frances Conroy AHS does
Though Jessica Lange long left American Horror Story, Frances Conroy stepped up this season, and her villainy is one of the best on the show.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for American horror story: dual function Episode 5, “Gaslight,” which aired on FX on Wednesday.
One of American horror story‘s unique features are its cast, who change characters every season to match the latest story arc. It’s a chance to show off their range, and it’s become a staple of the show. While individual actors will move in and out depending on content and other factors, the de facto theater ensemble will remain.
For the first four seasons, Jessica Lange was the undisputed boss of the company, earned her Oscars and reputation as a living legend, and walked away with several Emmys for her trophy case. Lange moved on, and while the show continued to flourish, it often felt more like an ensemble than that of its reigning queen. Sarah Paulson has always remained a strong presence, but she often plays more personable characters, and her sad, desperate Karen is no exception this season. In that regard, Frances Conroy was the one who followed Lange’s footsteps in the rogue department.
Conroy plays Belle Noir, a bestselling romance novelist who owes her success to the mysterious chemist’s black “muse” pill. The pills transform creative geniuses at the expense of a persistent thirst for blood, a price that Belle is happy to pay. She kills regardless of her victims, she even eats babies, which – as Alma assures her father in Season 10, Episode 5, “Gaslight” – are almost as effective as the pills themselves in stimulating creativity. She rules this hidden side of Provincetown, MA with an iron fist. While the blood-drinking writer Austin Sommers is sometimes a peer and confidante, he’s hardly a friend. Everyone else in their circle is either a useful good or a potential victim – and sometimes both.
It is clearly the role Lange would have played in a previous incarnation, if not for the caliber of performance. Conroy’s parts in American horror story were traditionally softer figures, and indeed their monsters in Dual function also began her life as a faded, mousy woman who smelled of pathos. This is her wheelhouse with characters like Moira O’Hara, Myrtle Snow and Gloria Mott. In fact, Kathy Bates was originally supposed to play the role, but stepped down due to health concerns over COVID.
Instead, Conroy steps up to the table and enjoys the chance to finally play a real ghoul. The proof of this is provided by “Gaslight”, where it has a comparatively small share. Still, she hangs ominously on every scene in which she doesn’t appear. Alma repeats her irrepressible appetite when she complains about not being able to drink her brother’s blood, while Ursula’s machinations suggest that she may intend to take out Belle. Regardless, even when she’s not there, the other characters are all acting in relation to her.
And like Lange’s monsters, Conroy’s one works so well because it shows the audience what it has twisted. Here the actor comes full circle and with his traditionally sympathetic facade presents a woman so depressed by the world that she would like to murder her on a whim. Lange’s characters were often examples of the pride that faced a fall. Before her transformation, Belle has nothing more to lose: trapped in a marriage to a man who despises her, waiting for one or the other to die. The character could have played for a long time, but no one could hit that side of her with Conroy’s swing.
Most importantly, it will likely make for a fantastic mid-season finale. Belle seems to have all the cards in hand, and if the other characters are to achieve their goals, they will have to overcome them. It’s a setup for the kind of swan singing Lange Emmys won for. Conroy – always one of the series’ loyal companions – seems to be more than up to the challenge.
To see the villainous character of Frances Conroy, check out American Horror Story: Double Feature. A new episode will air every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
READ ON: AHS: Double Feature Episode 5, ‘Gaslight’, Recap & Spoiler
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