Small Town Writers – Are AHS creators fans of Alan Wake?

The first two episodes of American Horror Story’s much-anticipated 10th season aired last night and, I can only speak for myself, but I was very impressed. I’m no TV critic, or an expert at all, which is why I don’t write about television a lot. The first two episodes of Red Tide however, had a hint of familiarity to one of my favourite video games of all time; Remedy’s 2008 cult classic, Alan Wake.

I may be way off the mark with this, but I thought I’d lay it out for anyone at all who might be interested.

Let’s begin with the setting. Provincetown, Massachusetts is the backdrop for Red Tide, with Harry (Finn Wittrock) and Doris Gardner (Lily Rabe), along with their talented violinist daughter, having moved to the remote-ish town by the sea seeking that elusive opportunity to chase their respective dreams; screenwriting and interior design.  

The setting for Alan Wake, as fans will know, is the town of Bright Falls, Washington. Massachusetts and Washington are in entirely different parts of the contiguous United States, with Massachusetts located in New England, on the East coast, one of the oldest and most historic (at least from the perspectives of white westerners) parts of the country. Washington is at the tip of the Pacific North West.

Provincetown is by the sea, whereas the majority of Bright Falls lies on a large lake (or is it an ocean, Alan?).

Aside from these differences, the locations are strikingly similar. Mist appears to be the weather of choice, although this could be easily explained away by the shared theme of horror, but more tangible similarities lie in the buildings which are made largely of wood and limited to single or two stories in both settings, and could date anywhere between the colonial era and the mid-20th century (to the untrained eye, of course, I’m sure there’s people out there that could more accurately date the structures).

Both locations appear to be relatively tight-knit communities. Not so small that you would say “everyone knows everyone”, but certainly a level of familiarity with neighbours and local characters that you only see in smaller neighbourhoods in bigger cities. Take the shopkeeper’s familiarity with and ability to give Harry some information about Tuberculosis ‘the coughing is just bad allergies’ Karen (Sarah Paulson) for example.

Perhaps most notably in terms of similarities is that of both towns’ history of attracting creatives, particularly writers, to take their vacations or reside in the towns due to its “inspiring” scenery and a solitude and peacefulness that allows writers to do their thing. Writers like Alan Wake and Thomas Zane find new muses, a word tossed around with abandon in both tales, in Bright Falls whether it be Barbara Jagger or the darkness that possessed her after Zane brought her back to life. (Alan Wake is wild, you guys, if you’ve not played it I thoroughly recommend it for the story if not the slightly repetitive gameplay). Austin Sommars (Evan Peters), Belle Noir (Frances Conroy) and good old easily-corrupted Harry Gardner are among the creatives drawn to Provincetown in Red Tide, along with TB Karen, an avid painter, and Macauley Culkin’s fascinating character (of whom I’m hoping to see much more as the season/half-season progresses) who is himself an aspiring screenwriter.

Another thing the towns have in common, are dark secrets responsible in some way for the works of art created there. In Red Tide the dark secret is an experimental drug, a bastardisation of crystal meth cooked up by the locals addict population if Austin Sommers is to be believed, that hyper-focuses talented creatives on their projects and helps them fulfil their absolute potential, while turning those less talented into the pale monstrosities that stalk the streets. In Alan Wake, the source of inspiration is a Dark Presence that sinks its hooks into creatives and bends their work to its will, often wearing the face of those it possessed.

Last and by no means least is the thing that sparked this idea in my head. Alan Wake’s look is truly iconic in cult video games, with his immaculately combed back, jet black hair and tweed coat x black hoodie combo giving him that rugged young professor thing. It is closely mirrored in Finn Wittrock’s Harry in Red Tide. While even Finn Wittrock may not pull off a tweed coat with elbow patches, his dark grey overcoat and black hoodie are enough to bring to mind that distinctive look.

I’ll end with some predictions, although my predictions in TV are very much hit-and-miss. They usually are either nailed on or totally off-the-mark, but what are we to do?

Firstly, given the interconnected nature of the American Horror Story universe, I’m sure all of our eyes are peeled for connections to the other seasons. Alarm bells went off in my head when the character that handed the keys to the Gardner family mentioned a “nor’easter”, a storm that blows along the East coast of the United States, because there was an episode of the same name in the second season, Asylum.

There are other connections to Asylum, which is very promising given that season 2 is often considered to be the strongest edition of American Horror Story to date. Asylum is the only season before Red Tide to have been set in Massachusetts for starters, and the primary location of Asylum, Briarcliff Manor, was initially built and utilised as the largest tuberculosis ward on the east coast (Tuberculosis Karen, anybody?).

Secondly, since becoming a regular cast member at AHS we have seen some brilliant performances from Adina Porter. She was superb as Lee Harris in what was a season of ups and downs, in my opinion, and always seems to play a character with a dark side. Be it Lee Harris’ unlawful killing and subsequent mental-health/child-abduction issues, Beverly Hope’s (AHS Cult) ambition that turns murderous or Dinah Stevens willingness to work with the literal Antichrist. I wonder if Porter will again turn her hand to a character with sinister intentions or if, in accordance with Red Tide’s other similarities to Alan Wake, will play the part of a small-town sheriff-turned badass heroine in the mould of Sarah Breaker.

Thanks for reading my nonsense ramblings about TV. In honesty, I’m just glad American Horror Story seems to be back to its creepy, campy and under-appreciated-ly well-written best. Now, I’m going to go and see about getting me some of those little black pills and get cracking with the novel I’ve been working on.

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