This article will contain spoilers from American Horror Story.
American Horror Story is an American anthology TV series. Every season tells a different story, from haunted houses to summer camp killers, covens of witches to evil cults. The show has aired eleven seasons but has been renewed for at least another two, bringing the show to a thirteen-season run. As the show tells a different story each season, this means that every season introduces an ensemble of new characters, often recycling the cast. Sarah Paulson is one of the show’s main actors and has played twelve different characters across nine seasons, but which of her twelve characters is the best?
Ranking Sarah Paulson’s Characters
12 Susan Atkins (“Cult”)
Episode Count: 1
Quote: “I have no mercy for you.”
The lowest ranked character on the list is Susan Atkins. Sarah Paulson portrayed the real-life serial killer and member of the Manson Family cult in an episode of season eight (“Cult”) titled “Charles (Manson) in Charge” during a flashback sequence to their killing spree. Paulson did a great job at playing the character, coming of as terrifying and unhinged, especially when the character stabs a pregnant Sharon Tate in the stomach, which was a particularly difficult watch. However, since the character only has a few minutes of screen time, there was very little time for developed characterisation and storylines, especially as the character’s sole purpose was only to portray historical events. Because of that, the character had to be ranked bottom of our list.
11 Mamie Eisenhower (“Death Valley”)
Episode Count: 4
Quote: “I want to live forever.”
The most recent character to be portrayed by Sarah Paulson was Mamie Eisenhower in the second half of the series’ tenth season, titled ‘Death Valley’. Many fans of the show find this season problematic for several reasons, the main one being that the season is all about aliens, which comes under the sci-fi genre, not horror. As well as this, the season also tries to re-write history and fixate on conspiracy theories such as area 51, the fake moon landing, and the disappearance of Amelia Earheart.
Paulson’s portrayal of Mamie Eisenhower is very convincing as Paulson changes her voice and posture to appear that she is from 1950s America. However, the fact that the season only lasts four episodes, means that none of the characters are well-developed, and the character Mamie is just boring, and easy to dislike, especially as the character is based on a real person, going through fictional events that didn’t happen in real life. Just knowing that the character is based on a real person is enough to bring you out of the fantasy of the show and start to think ‘is this really in good taste?’
10 Audrey Tindall (“Roanoke”)
Episode Count: 10
Quote: “It’s nothing for a man to be 15 years older than his bride. But for a woman, it’s Mount Everest.”
Roanoke was quite a strange season when it comes to its characters, and Sarah Paulson’s character Audrey is no different. The season was split into two halves. In the first five episodes Paulson’s character was an actress, just seen doing re-enactments for a documentary called ‘My Roanoke Nightmare’, she was playing a character called Shelby (played by Lily Rabe) who experienced living in a house on haunted land.
In the last five episodes, we met the real Audrey, not just playing a character. She was seen as quite obnoxious and rude, as well as this, Paulson played the character with a British accent which wasn’t
believable in the slightest. The character was very unlikable and had very little story and character development. Her main character trait was that she was engaged to a much younger man. However, the character did have a few comedic moments which made her character more bearable. Paulson herself even admitted to having regrets playing this character as it felt anti-climatic after playing Marcia Clark in American Crime Story the same year.
9 Tuberculosis Karen (“Red Tide”)
Episode Count: 4
Quote: “I don’t do this to be close to you. I do it because you promise to protect me from the others.”
Paulson’s portrayal of Karen is different than any of the other characters she has played on the show. Karen is probably the only likable character in Red Tide, she is caring and has a good heart. Throughout the season, she tries to put a stop to the evil things happening around town by warning the visitors to leave, but they just think she is crazy, and this isn’t helped by the nickname the locals have given her- Tuberculosis Karen.
Although she has a good heart, she always does the wrong thing when her life is threatened such as kidnapping newborn babies to save herself. She also suffers from low self-esteem and is shocked when her friend Micky encourages her passion in art. Since the character has no family and always gives into peer pressure, we seem to pity her more than anything, this is why she is only number nine in our ranking.
8 Wilhelmina Venable (“Apocalypse”)
Episode Count: 7
Quote: “It’s our world now, to remold as we see fit.”
Ms Venable is by far the most evil character that Sarah Paulson has played on the show. Not only did she poison and kill the people she was in charge of protecting, but towards the end of the season it is
revealed that she played a part in planning the end of the world. This character is completely unredeemable, but it’s quite interesting to see Paulson play a character other than the heroine.
Venable is quite a complex character but is quite underdeveloped as there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding her. Such as, why she is obsessed with the colour purple, how she injured her back, and most importantly, why she is so evil. It’s because of these unanswered questions that Ms. Venable is only number 8 in our ranking.
7 Bette Tattler (“Freak Show”)
Episode Count: 12
Quote: “”There is only one law here; the bigger the star, the bigger the tent.”
Bette Tattler is one half of a pair of conjoined twins. She appears as sweet and innocent and full of joy and optimism for the world despite all her hardships. However, it is seen that Bette has a small hint of darkness within her as she killed her mother for keeping her locked away from the world. Bette is full of love and admiration for her sister and would do anything for her. When she joins the freak show, it is her dream to become a star, but her naivety is used against her, and she is just put on stage as an attraction for people to stare at. This character is likeable, witty, and caring, however, there are other characters portrayed by Sarah Paulson that are more interesting, so Bette is ranked at our 7th spot.
6 Billie Dean Howard (“Murder House”, “Hotel” and “Apocalypse”)
Episode Count: 5
Quote: “The dead can hold a grudge better than most Scorpios.”
Billie Dean Howard was the first character that Sarah Paulson played on the show. She appeared in three episodes of the first season and then proceeded to pop up in two other seasons. Billie Dean is a medium who is used to communicate with the ghosts in the ‘murder house’ in the first season. Not much is known about Billie Dean Howard, but she helps the heroes by giving advice about how to stop the ghosts and make them go away. She also helped Constance by making communication with her deceased daughter Adelaide in one of the most emotional scenes of the whole series.
Although she uses her powers to help people, she also uses them to help herself financially, and appears in one episode of the fifth season, ‘hotel’ where she films an episode of her reality TV show at the Hotel Cortez to try and get an interview with a deceased serial killer, only to be chased out of the hotel by a group of angry ghosts.
Ultimately, Billie Dean Howard is a very likable character, she was the first appearance of Sarah Paulson on the show, and she brings quite a bit of comic relief, however, since we don’t know much about the character’s life outside of her profession, therefore we can’t put her any higher in our ranking, so she has earnt the 6th spot.
5 Dot Tattler (“Freak Show”)
Episode Count: 12
Quote: “I knew I was about to enter the gates of Hell but like the inescapable pull of gravity, there was nothing I could do about it.”
Dot is the other half of the conjoined twins from the ‘freak show’. Dot is the opposite of her sister; she is highly pessimistic and hates the world for making her a conjoined twin. Dot expresses interest
in having surgery to have Bette’s head amputated so she can have a better quality of life. Although she is quite blunt about the world, she isn’t evil.
Dot falls in love with Jimmy and forms a relationship with him throughout the course of the season. Dot has the number 5 ranking on our list, because she is a lot more realistic than Bette and has more
character progression and has to go on a character journey of self-acceptance which is done extremely well.
4 Sally McKenna (“Hotel”)
Episode Count: 9
Quote: “Killing can be a righteous act.”
Sally is one of Sarah Paulson’s most interesting characters on the show. Not only is she a ghost who roams the Hotel Coretz, there to torture people and assist serial killers, but she is also the first of
Paulson’s characters to die. Before Sally, it had been a trope for Paulson’s characters to survive the entirety of the season, but when viewers found out in the first episode of the season that Sally was
dead, it meant that no one was safe. Sally is extremely complex, she is a drug addict who allowed drugs to ruin her life, creating a sense of pity for the character, but she is also very comedic with specific one-liners, but she also commits horrific acts, like the torture of Gabriel in the first episode of the season.
Because of this, it is difficult to know how to feel about Sally- she’s one of those characters that you both love and hate, who deserves to be happy, but also deserves to suffer at the same time. However, with an amazing wardrobe, comedic chemistry with Iris (Kathy Bates) and her complex backstory, we knew that Sally had to be towards the top of our list.
3 Ally Mayfair-Richards (“Cult”)
Episode Count: 11
Quote: “I know what I saw!”
Many fans have mixed feelings about ‘Cult’, it was a really simple season with only five main cast members, but no one can deny that Paulson’s character Ally kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Starting out as a mother with multiple fears of things like clowns, holes and irregular patterns, Ally began as a weak character, seen commonly screaming and running away from things, but as soon as
her family was threatened, she found herself brought into the world of an evil cult, doing whatever it took to survive.
By the end of the season, Ally had done a complete 180, having a lot of character and story development throughout the course of the season, with so many twists and turns to gain the strength she needed to survive. This character is extremely fascinating, and Paulson’s chemistry with co-star Evan Peters just made the character much more enjoyable to watch.
2 Cordelia Goode (“Coven” and “Apocalypse”)
Episode Count: 20
Quote: “Find our sisters.”
All hail the supreme! Cordelia was so close to the top spot of our ranking. Cordelia Goode was the main character of not just one season of the show, but two. In ‘Coven’ although she ended up as supreme of the witches, at the start of the season she was quite timid and unsure. She was powerful, but she just didn’t know what to do with her powers, so they went to waste. Throughout the season she trusted the wrong people and spent most of the season blind and almost helpless, but she was always there to support her sister witches in anyway she could. Cordelia is kind-hearted and caring and would do anything to protect the coven.
By the eighth season, ‘Apocalypse’, Cordelia had gained a lot more confidence within herself and using her powers. She joined with her sisters to fight against the anti-Christ to stop the end of the world.
This character is lovable and has no flaws at all, she always does the right thing. She has been a fan favourite since she first appeared on the show. It is because of this, Cordelia is awarded the second
place in our ranking.
1 Lana Winters (“Asylum” and “Roanoke”)
Episode Count: 14
Quote: “I’m tough, but I am no cookie.”
Of course, the top stop of our ranking had to go to the legendary Lana Winters. Lana is by far the strongest character played by Paulson, she would never give up no matter what situation she found herself in, whether it was being imprisoned, targeted by a serial killer or sexual assault, and it was this hard work and determination that made her a fan favourite character. After she found herself admitted to Briarcliff Mannor (a mental asylum) for being a lesbian in the 1960s, Lana Winters fought hard, to not only escape, but to defeat not just one, but two serial killers.
She is the most interesting and complex of Sarah Paulson’s characters on the show, and without her, the second season of the show, ‘Asylum’, would have been a flop. Because of this, there was no other spot for Lana Winters in our ranking other than the top spot.