Questions are swirling around season 10 of American Horror Story, and one particular plot point in American Horror Story: Red Tide that has fans theorizing is the meaning of the red lights seen in episode 1, “Cape Fear.” Part 1 of AHS: Double Feature wastes no time introducing the monsters in the latest installment of the anthology series created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, and they aren’t the Sirens, mermaids, or other sea creatures Murphy’s cryptic season 10 Instagram posts in 2020 seemed to promise. Instead, AHS 10 centers around a new breed of vampires: talented artists whose creative muse is a mysterious black pill that, in addition to unlocking creative genius, causes an insatiable bloodlust.
Screenwriter Harry Gardner (Finn Wittrock), his pregnant wife Doris (Lily Rabe), and their daughter Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) move to Provincetown, Massachusetts, so that Harry can complete a television pilot. Harry encounters successful playwright Austin Sommers (Evan Peters) and bestselling romance novelist Sarah “Belle Noir” Cunningham (Frances Conroy), who share with him the secret of their success: a black pill developed by an enigmatic woman known as the “Chemist.” The pill brings fame and fortune for people with talent, but hacks become “flesh phantoms.” Fans are trying to solve every carefully constructed clue to unlock the mysteries surrounding the evil goings-on in the tiny hamlet at the tip of Cape Cod, one of which being the red lights that appear in the premiere.
On the Gardners’ first night in town, Harry heads to the market just as the sun goes down. As he walks the deserted streets, red porch lights flicker on outside several houses. One obvious meaning is that the lights serve as a warning. Most people associate red lights with the word “stop.” Fans took to Reddit to offer their theories about how these lights may factor into the story. One Redditor stated the lights reminded them of the action role-playing game Bloodborne which includes red lanterns used to ward off beasts. The idea that red lights serve to repel the flesh phantoms is plausible since it offers one reason why the monsters attack Harry in his home, which has no red bulb. For whatever reason, these lights could be a way to fend off a season 10 pale person.
However, the red light on Belle Noir’s porch offers another possible explanation for their purpose. When Tuberculosis Karen (Sarah Paulson) delivers an infant to the novelist (presumably for its blood), the light is on, but Belle shuts it off as soon as she leaves. This has some Redditors convinced that the lights indicate a feeding schedule, at least among the more civilized sect of the pill poppers. The flesh phantoms whose thirst is never quenched, according to Austin, seek sustenance around the clock; however, for the creatives taking the pills, the red lights might serve as some sort of signal that they require a fresh victim.
Red-light districts, namely the famed urban area in Amsterdam, earned the moniker due to the red lights that adorned brothels, letting lonely sailors know where they could find female companionship. Perhaps, the lights in Red Tide serve a similar purpose. Any home with a red light is a beacon to some or a place to be avoided at all costs to others: a way to send a message without speaking. The fact that Belle has a red light doesn’t discount the idea that it serves as a safety measure against the flesh phantoms, although she has no reason to fear them. They don’t feed on others who ingest the pills, evidenced by how they descend upon Harry only to retreat once they somehow realize he shares their appetite for blood. Fans still have time to dissect this theory and countless others, including whether Doris is doomed to become a vampire before American Horror Story: Red Tide finishes its run.