“American Horror Story” pulls the trigger on its crazy “Murder House/Coven” crossover and the season starts on a strong, ridiculous foot.
“No need for rules anymore. The chaos has won.”
Ryan Murphy is a showrunner that always gets by with his attempts to cultivate a certain level of madness in all of his projects. Madness can be a good thing and it’s what fuels some of his best work, but it’s also what causes so many seasons of his shows to careen off the rails. There have been plenty of audacious premises and seasons for American Horror Story (last season’s AHS: Cult even made megalomaniacal Trump followers the main evil), but this year promises to be the most insane yet. There’s been much publicity over how this new season will mash-up the show’s Murder House and Coven seasons and drape a cozy End of Times setting over it all. There’s always been a dialogue between American Horror Story’s different seasons, but this year makes it as explicit as possible and indulges in the camp of it all.
American Horror Story’s first season shockingly ended with the dour conclusion that Jessica Lange’s Constance Langdon was successful in her efforts to bring a baby Antichrist into the world. Many viewers were then excited to see how this Antichrist storyline would carry over into the following year, but then Ryan Murphy made the bold reveal that American Horror Story would be an anthology series and keep moving with its stories. That angle has been fundamental to the show’s success and the pedigree of actors that are attracted to the series, but now seven years later the audience can finally get some release! AHS: Apocalypse features a grown up Michael Langdon and it appears that his Satanic powers are in full bloom.
The season allegedly begins in October 2019, which is still close enough to now that it doesn’t feel removed from reality, especially when there are references to Donald Trump and hints that this disastrous world is a result of his actions. Like many seasons of American Horror Story, this premiere’s timeline is all over the place and “The End” catapults backwards and forwards in time to effectively fill in the details of this apocalypse. Even though this premiere pushes about two years deep into this Armageddon, if anything, it feels like things are just getting started here.
The premiere’s opening scenes where the apocalypse and fallout first strike and break through everyone’s simple, boring lives (A Free Willy six-part limited series isn’t a completely terrible idea though…) make for deeply effective and startling set pieces. The episode immediately shows that the affluent and connected are the ones with the escape plans and the means to survive through this mess. They have the ability to wade through the “fake news” here. It’s a rather startling commentary on how these bleak times likely would play out. The rich here have no qualms shooting down innocent lives if it means another of their own could get one of the limited seats in their survival plan.
In addition to people that are buying their futures, the mysterious Cooperative is also selecting (aka stealing) people with ideal genetic makeup that will be crucial for whatever their plan is for the future. Unfortunately, most people don’t have such luxuries and the bulk of the world is just in freefall panic mode. The streets are in disarray, newscasters publicly say goodbye to their families on the air, and the blare of air sirens is constant.
All of the original characters for AHS: Apocalypse wind up in the Outpost Three survival bunker and because they’ve bought their survival they all happen to be spoiled, awful individuals. “The End” mostly looks at Evan Peters’ haircutter savant, Mr. Gallant and Leslie Grossman’s vapid Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt, but everyone is largely a cipher at this point in the season. However, Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates’ new characters, Wilhemina Venable and Miriam Mead, are vindictive breaths of fresh air. These gatekeepers decide to “dispense punishments” in this new world and relish in the pain and confusion that ensues. They’re given plenty of attention once the episode dives underground into Outpost Three. The Cooperative is clearly this season’s big, evil monolith, but only a taste of their intentions are clear at this point. They pay people’s bills and are at the top of this chain of command, but some individuals are starting to entertain the idea of rebelling against it.
The premiere settles into life within Outpost Three and it slowly lets the bad news about the world unspool. Real food is a rarity and people have had to turn to drastic measures like cannibalism (“The stew is Stu,” is vintage Murphy). It doesn’t take long for their protein cube rations to get filed down to half a cube per day to ensure “survival.” This episode even broaches the idea of these survivors needing to ration “love,” which is both ridiculous, but also kind of touching. Relationships become the only thing that these people have left in this claustrophobic world. Everyone is stuck in this bunker as they hopelessly wait for the Cooperative to save them, but cut to eighteen months later and they’re still down there waiting for rescue. The thing is, it’s even more desolate and broken on the outside that it’s hardly a future to aspire towards.
“The End” mostly relishes in its new characters, but one “familiar” face shows up in the final moments. Michael Langdon, relative Antichrist, breaches Outpost Three and gives Wilhemina and Miriam their first visitor in ages. He explains that three other outposts have fallen and that he wants to help save the people that are still alive, but obviously everything that he says should be taken with a tremendous grain of sulfur. At the moment he definitely appears to be calling the shots and holds authority—perhaps he even runs the Cooperative—in this broken future.
The appearance of a grown up Michael is enough of a “cliffhanger” for this new season to go out on, but it’s really just a tease. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the new place that he’s taking everyone is the Murder House so that he can gain more souls over there or just trap more people in twisted mind games. The bunker they’re kept in for the bulk of the episode is its own hypothetical Murder House, so to speak. They’re still indefinitely locked up in there.
At this point in the season American Horror Story is just having fun with the shock to the system that this new normal provides. We know that there are going to be a lot of characters in this season, but this premiere holds back on the reunions and focuses on setting up its chessboard. There’s some stunning cinematography at work here and even though this is a rather confined episode at times, all of the shots in the John Carpenter-esque fog are really breathtaking. Furthermore, “The End” may restrain itself from inserting literal monsters into this premiere, but once again with this show, some of the most effective, terrifying stuff is to watch humanity go off the rails and see people at their worst.
“The End” makes for a strong start to this season that should have no trouble grabbing viewers’ attention. That being said, strong premieres are pretty par for the course with this show. The season is still very much in its introduction phase, which is always an area where the series has a lot of fun. The real test will be to see if the fourth episode or the eighth episodes are still as entertaining. This season of American Horror Story has potentially more riding on it (and more viewers) than any season that’s come before. Hopefully Murphy and company have given Apocalypse the proper amount of attention and that this season works as a stunning send-off to two previous seasons rather than a messy fire that tarnishes some of the show’s golden years in the process.
‘American Horror Story: Apocalypse’ airs Wednesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX