It’s time for Langdon to put his magic where his mouth is as the enigmatic warlock faces the Seven Wonders in a meandering installment.
“History has shown us that the hubris of men knows no bounds.”
If the above quote is any indication, “Boy Wonder” is an episode of AHS: Apocalypse that is very consumed by the idea of hubris. It’s not just the men, but everyone here, who fall victim to their pride and the episode dangles the question of whether it’s the men or the women who are ultimately right in the end. Regardless of who comes out on top, both are confident and terrified on the matter. This season has made it clear that power itself is important, but it also shows that what’s even more important is the ability to have insight and perception.
AHS: Apocalypse’s previous episode blatantly pits the men against the women, and that’s still very much the case here, but “Boy Wonder” starts to see rifts form within the factions, too. The past two installments have presented a ton of history and plotting, but “Boy Wonder” slows things down and wallows in the chaos that it’s erected. This episode sees both the witches of Robichaux’s Academy and the warlocks of the Hawthorne School go into holding patterns while they try to figure out what to do next and how to not get trampled by the wheels of progress.
“Boy Wonder” is a necessary steppingstone in the progression of this story and its bleak timeline, but it also marks the first time in the season that the narrative begins to drag. For instance, is any of the material on Coco, the Gluten Detector of North Hollywood even necessary? Her indoctrination into Robichaux’s feels incredibly forced and doesn’t even make a lot of sense. Her powers of gluten detection are a fun aside, but a snide comment about them from Madison would be more than enough.
A major catalyst after Cordelia’s encounter with Langdon is that she experiences an apocalyptic vision that presents an even more dystopic rendering of events. Not only are the rest of the witches from Robichaux’s Academy charred rubble, but a foreboding white-faced demon appears to rule supreme. Cordelia, for once, is actually scared about what’s to come. After Langdon asserted his power in the previous episode, Cordelia’s ready to let him take on the trial of the Seven Wonders, provided he can wait two weeks time until the next blood moon.
Cordelia placates the men from Hawthorne’s as much as she can and she’s concerned that if she doesn’t allow Langdon to attempt the Seven Wonders than she’ll be no better than the warlocks. Myrtle occupies the other opposite end of the spectrum and doesn’t want to indulge Langdon in the least, even if it is arguably for the greater good. It’s helpful to see tension erupt between friends and cast some characters in shades of grey rather than have the good and evil be so easily defined. Cordelia and Myrtle are still unsure about what the best plan is, but they’re hopeful that Mallory is some sort of secret weapon that can help them in the fight against Langdon. This season needs to start shifting its focus over to Mallory more and minimize the distractions on less crucial, albeit entertaining, characters.
Furthermore, it also feels rather convenient that Cordelia’s powers happen to be weakening and she finds herself close to her expiration date just as all of this stuff with Langdon begins to heat up. Of course, Cordelia could be getting weaker because Langdon is growing stronger, but “Boy Wonder” holds off on that theory until the very end. For the most part, it’s just yet another coincidence that helps turn up the tension and urgency of the witches’ mission. “Boy Wonder’s” final act eventually starts to explore the idea that Langdon’s ascendance as the new Supreme is responsible for Cordelia’s deteriorating health, but it still treats this ominously enough that there may be another reason for the recent shift in power.
Off in warlock land, the male magic wielders are considerably excited about what their future may bring. The group is already counting the days until the next blood moon and they act like Michael has already completed the Seven Wonders. Ariel and the others are optimistic about Langdon’s odds, but Cheyenne Jackson’s John Henry starts to exhibit skepticism. He’s seen the same white-faced demon that Cordelia warned them about and it was frightening enough for him to want to talk to her further on the matter.
John Henry’s suspicions nicely parallel the rift that’s beginning to form between Cordelia and Myrtle. The witches aren’t willing to murder each other over such disagreements, whereas Langdon and Ariel are much more proactive about their dissenters. Miriam Mead also remains in the picture as she continues to prove her effectiveness as a blunt object of destruction. It also becomes rather clear that Ariel has his own ulterior motives in all of this. He’s seen himself bottom out and get as far as he can with magic. What seemed like a lost cause for him and his people is suddenly reinvigorated with the prospects that Michael brings along with him.
While “Boy Wonder” may meander in its first half, it’s gratifying to see that the “two weeks” until the blood moon don’t transpire over the next two episodes of the series. AHS: Apocalypse still has enough sense to speed up the timeline and fast-forward to Michael’s sacred ceremony. One of the smaller delights from this season has been the minor aesthetic cues that harken back to AHS: Coven, whether it’s the opening bars of music when there’s an establishing shot of Robichaux’s Academy, or in the case of Langdon’s trial, the fact that his gauntlet through the Seven Wonders is presented like an old silent kinescope or cinematographe film also pays homage to the presentation style of American Horror Story’s third season. Langdon even moves through these stylized trials with the impish energy of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.
Unsurprisingly, Michael breezes through his trial until he gets to the final stage, divination, wherein Cordelia decides to spice up the pot. Rather than simply descend to the underworld, which is the usual task, Cordelia wants Michael to also retrieve Misty Day from her hellish prison, in the process. It’s a difficult complication to unexpectedly throw at Langdon, but Cordelia also knows that his ego is so huge that he won’t be able to resist the challenge. This accomplishment is effective in several respects, as it continues to show off Michael’s advanced skills, but it also brings in another important ally in the witches’ fight against evil. Cordelia clearly has a plan that involves Misty’s powers. Plus, it’s always nice to get Lily Rabe back in the mix.
Alternatively, I’m not sure if we needed another tribute to Stevie Nicks right in the height of the episode’s climax. Much like the detour that “Boy Wonder” experiences with Coco, Nicks’ return feels wasted and gratuitous. Audiences probably won’t begrudge Ryan Murphy and company much for this piece of fan service, but there are just a lot more important things that could be happening instead. This is the shortest episode of the season and it still throws five minutes away to a musical number. But hey, at least the warlocks don’t seem to discriminate against Nicks’ music. At the same though, I would have kind of loved if during Stevie Nicks’ final verse of “Gypsy,” Langdon just cuts her off and belts out the rest of the song as he proves that his powers also translate to singing ability.
“Boy Wonder’s” final act revolves around Langdon’s domination of the final trial from the Seven Wonders and what that means for the future. Honestly, perhaps the best part of the entire episode is right after Langdon brings back Misty, which lets Cordelia takes a second to truly revel in his powers. She may utterly despise and distrust this guy, but she lets go of all of that for a moment as she just enjoys the return of her lost friend. Misty seems to have the best grasp on what Michael really is and even though more people are coming around to him, she’s the necessary outlier to help expose him for what he really is—the Antichrist.
“Boy Wonder” marks a disappointing lull in AHS: Apocalypse’s season and the episode’s script just generally feels weaker. “They might be wizards, but they’re not exactly wizzes,” is pretty cringe-worthy dialogue. This episode continues to rearrange the pieces on this apocalyptic chessboard, but what’s really important here is that even though both genders are posturing so hard through all of this, Cordelia is the only one who’s mature enough to admit defeat and help usher in the era of someone else. This may not seem that crucial, but it’s a strong distinction that I think is going to help the witches come out on top here. Hubris is one thing, but humility is something else entirely.
It really feels like the answer between dueling could-be-Supremes won’t be so cut and dry and that there should be a more progressive solution—some sort of scenario where both a woman and a man can share the power and enable one another, rather than siphon each other’s strength to survive. It’s still entirely unclear how this Supreme shakedown will conclude—or if there will even be a clear victor—but I hope the area becomes a little more challenging than the simple gender binary that it currently addresses.
At least next week promises wacky road trip misadventures as Madison Montgomery and Behold Chablis return to the good ol’ Murder House!
‘American Horror Story: Apocalypse’ airs Wednesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX