As it approaches its seventh season, the anthology TV series American Horror Story is bringing back some familiar franchise faces to tell the story of one woman who is being terrorized in the days and weeks following the 2016 election. One of those familiar faces is AHS’ greatest repertory actor, Sarah Paulson, who has been featured as a key player in every season since the early days of AHS: Murder House. She’s proven herself not only indispensable to the world of AHS, but she’s become a total chameleon. Playing a psychic medium, a steely witch, a beleaguered queer reporter, conjoined identical twins, an actor and, soon, a terrorized and fragile American in the exaggerated hellscape of late 2016, AHS has put Paulson through the wringer with no sign of letting up.
As we approach the premiere of AHS: Cult on Tuesday, we should take a moment to appreciate all of Paulson’s finest moments over previous AHS seasons. While she has consistently turned in a riveting performance, there are some moments that stand out better than others, in my opinion. What follows is a selection of those moments. Take a look for yourself.
1. Murder House: Billie Dean Howard predicts the birth of the Antichrist
Paulson’s first appearance on AHS was as psychic Billie Dean Howard on Murder House. In one particularly powerful scene, Billie Dean explained how the Antichrist would come to exist, effectively chilling to the very bone Jessica Lange’s character, Constance Langdon. Watch Paulson put on her best drama voice and scare the ever-living daylights out of ol’ Connie.
2. Coven: Cordelia says goodbye to her mother
Coven was one of Paulson’s best runs, and it’s thanks to her character, Cordelia Foxx, and the way in which she maintains the upper hand. Cordelia goes on a real journey in her personal life and as a witch in Coven. It’s one of the scenes toward the end of the season, where Cordelia makes up with her mother as her mother approaches death, that is the most affecting.
3. Asylum: Lana finally escapes the asylum and gets the upper hand
In one of Paulson’s best AHS moments, she hardly says anything at all. As Lana Winters, Paulson’s skills in nonverbal dramatic acting are at their best. Watch as she masterfully conveys so much with a deadly stare and one well-timed middle finger, escaping Briarcliffe with damning evidence against serial killer Oliver Threadson.
4. Freak Show: Meeting Bette and Dot
Paulson had double duty in Asylum, playing identical twins sharing one body, Bette and Dot. Their introduction to the series sees Paulson playing both sides of the situation and showing off her impressive range.
5. Roanoke: Shelby can’t stop saying Matt’s name
One of the key twists in Roanoke was that Paulson was actually playing a fictionalized version of Lily Rabe’s character, Shelby, in a TV show reenactment. As such, Paulson’s fake Shelby was left screaming the name of her husband — a lot — as she pretended to be part of a couple living in a haunted house.
6. Freak Show: Bette and Dot eat pink cupcakes
In another ultra-eerie Freak Show moment, Paulson acts her heart out, showing the twins dying because of a lethal pink cupcake.
7. Coven: Cordelia uses her second sight on her skeevy husband
Following an accident where Cordelia has acid thrown in her eyes, she is brought home by her mother, Fiona, and her husband. It turns out that Cordelia isn’t technically blind; the attack has given her the gift of second sight, and she can see a person’s actions when she touches them. Paulson channels so many emotions in this scene and flows between them so well that it’s amazing to watch.
8. Asylum: Looking into the face of madness
The final scenes of Asylum feature Lana’s story coming full circle. It’s a little bloody as she confronts her serial killer son, but it’s also eerily cathartic.
9. Cult: The clowns are out to get her
Cult will see Paulson become Ally Mayfair-Richards, a woman who is not dealing with the election of Donald Trump particularly well. While the season about to get under way, it’s clear that Paulson will be doing a lot of terrified screaming as her character sees creepy clowns everywhere — even in her own bed.
10. Hotel: Hypodermic Sally’s scary time to shine
Paulson played the dead drug addict Hypodermic Sally in Hotel. Frequently crying and always brooding, Sally isn’t doing very well in the afterlife, and her death proves it.