After years of apathy and franchise burnout, I’ll admit, this season of American Horror Story has finally got me interested again. Maybe it’s the return of stalwart Emma Roberts, or the presence of a new showrunner, actress and playwright Halley Feiffer—who will take the reins from series creator Ryan Murphy for the first time in AHS history. Or perhaps it’s the premise for this season, which draws its inspiration from the novel Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine and seems to contain at least some faint echoes of AHS’s impeccable, demon-baby-centric first season. (To bolster the Season 1 parallels, Zachary Quinto apparently shows up!)
But the biggest reason this season feels so intriguing is Kim Kardashian—a newcomer to the world of American Horror Story, whose role as aging actress Siobhan Walsh feels like a tsunami of memes waiting to happen. Unfortunately, she and the show also crossed the picket line to make it happen.
This leaves those of us who love our bloody TV shows but also respect the writers who create them in a bit of a bind: How do we feel about this season, which will likely be a lot of fun, and which also ignored a strike to cross the finish line? Call me Evan Peters in AHS: Coven, because this one’s really got me torn into pieces.
When the writers strike first began this spring, the Writers Guild of America and its entertainment-union allies shut down an impressive array of television productions. Still, a few proved tougher to crack. While rumors spread at the outset of the strike that AHS had shut down, Deadline poured cold water on that theory: Although the Teamsters union had, indeed, stood firm with the WGA and turned their trucks around, the trade publication reported, a crew member alleged that production had not yet been halted. The crew member reportedly noted that actors had been entering the studio using a back entrance to avoid physically crossing the picket line.
AHS: Delicate’s decision to disregard the WGA’s strike only became more blatant in June, when Kardashian tweeted from the set and asked her followers, “What are you all up to????” Comedian, actor, and WGA member Joel Kim Booster offered the most succinct response: “Picketing, Kim.”
Things only got more intense in July, when the New York Times reported that the WGA had turned its eye toward Murphy productions including American Horror Story—which had reportedly continued filming months into the strike. That same month, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Murphy also threatened to sue showrunner and former East Coast strike captain Warren Leight for a since-retracted tweet. While Leight alleged that crew members from the show had told him “they’ll be blackballed in Murphy-land” if they refused to cross the picket line, a representative for Murphy told Variety at the time that the claim was “absolute nonsense. Categorically false.”
Leight deleted the tweet and issued a retraction, stating that his remarks were “unsubstantiated” and adding that he’d since been advised they were “completely false and inaccurate.” As WGA East council member Josh Gondelman told the New York Times while picketing AHS, however, “We’re not here in protest of Ryan Murphy, the guy.” (Murphy was a lead donor for the WGA’s $1.7 million donation to the Entertainment Community Fund back in May, and this month, he started a $500 million strike fund for affected workers on his shows.)
Instead, Gondelman said at the AHS picket lines, “We’re here in protest of production happening without writers and while writers are on strike.”
Because AHS already had a finished script going into the strike, the show’s continued production would not have broken any strike rules, provided no one performed WGA writers’ usual production-related tasks like tweaking story beats or cutting scripts for time. Still, the decision to cross the picket line left a sour taste in some WGA members’ mouths—especially given the fact that Murphy himself is a WGA member. Strike captain T Cooper told the Times that “it just feels like keeping these things up and running is counterproductive to our overall mission.”
As far as the WGA and its leadership are concerned, the fastest way to end the strike is to force studios back to the bargaining table by drying up their content pipeline. Before fiery backlash disrupted The Drew Barrymore Show and other talk programs’ planned returns to air, Barrymore co-head writer Cristina Kinon told The Daily Beast that their plans were “frustrating, because it will prolong the strike, and we just want it to end.”
Speaking specifically about The Drew Barrymore Show’s decision, Kinon said, “I know that this show has a crew of hundreds of people who need to be paid, and I understand the perspective of wanting to protect your cast, your crew, and your staff.” At the same time, she added, she and her fellow writers are striking with tens of thousands of fellow WGA members. “And then, expanding out more, we’re standing with all of labor and all of the unions across the world, because that is how it works. Unions only work when you stick together with unions across the labor spectrum.”
In other words: AHS might not have violated the WGA’s rules by staying in production in spite of the writers strike, but that’s also not entirely the point.
Eventually, it seems the industry’s dual-strike summer did manage to disrupt AHS production. In August, roughly one month after the actors union SAG-AFTRA declared its own strike (effectively shutting down most productions for good), FX announced that it would split AHS: Delicate into two parts, with Part One due out September 20. The final episode count and premiere date for Part Two remain unknown. At the time, Hollywood Reporter attributed the decision to “productions shut down amid the work stoppage from the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.”
As longtime fans know all too well, it can be tough to predict which way any given season of AHS will go. Sometimes, we’ll get a marvelously chaotic masterpiece like Murder House or Apocalypse, and sometimes, things are just a mess. (In this house, we simply do not talk about Freak Show.) That said, Delicate has shown at least a great deal of potential.
This season marks the first in franchise history to draw its inspiration from a book, and the injection of a new, female showrunner for the show’s IVF-inspired chills could also prove refreshing. Roberts, a fan favorite since Coven, is returning for the first time in four years, and beyond Kardashian, this season also adds newcomers Matt Czuchry and Cara Delevingne alongside franchise favorites Billie Lourd, Denis O’Hare, and Leslie Grossman.
And yet, if it weren’t for writers, these beloved actors would not have anything to say on screen. As something of a perpetual buzzkill, maybe it’s just my wont to harp about this—even as teaser video after teaser video ramps up my anticipation. AHS has already tackled serial killers, aliens, murderous clowns, and sadistic witches, and yet, this chapter might just go down as one of the darkest in its history.