“American Horror Story: Apocalypse” sets up the final pieces of its Armageddon, but it builds to the way the world ends not with a bang, but a whimper…
“Math is way more powerful than magic.”
This episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse opens with a close up of an empty revolver that attempts to unload its inexistent ammo. The firearm delivers one hollow, unsatisfying click after another, the gun’s user hopelessly repeating the same action and expecting different results. This depressing image practically feels metonymic of the AHS: Apocalypse’s last few episodes. There’s a shiny, impressive presentation with lots of potential, but the chamber keeps coming up empty. And here we are, continuing to pull the trigger.
It’s pretty damn depressing that we’re an episode away from the end of the season and it turns out that two assholes with impulse control and bad haircuts named Mutt and Jeff are the puppet masters for this whole apocalypse she-bang. We have the literal Antichrist here and it turns out that he’s just a catfished mouthpiece for two random idiots (who seriously thought we’d get more Mutt in this season than Eichner’s original character, Brock?). There’s a fascinating idea buried deep inside all of this where it’s actually mankind that ushers in the apocalypse and Michael is just the conduit to do the dirty work. Jeff and Mutt are the ones who hate the world and declare that “nothing works.” If more altruistic individuals were speaking through Mead then Michael might have developed an entirely different purpose.
As stupid and lazy as it is, I kind of love the idea that Michael wrestles with aspirations to become president, but it’s purely because of fictional Antichrist, Damien Thorne’s, trajectory in The Omen III. It’s a perfect distillation of just how lazy and lost Langdon is, but damn if I don’t love a good Omen III riff. I can also appreciate the parallel between this Antichrist’s brief goal to become president and set off nuclear bombs and the idea that our actual bomb-happy president may not be that far off from this image. Has Trump ever seen The Omen?
A major problem through these last few episodes is the scattershot, inconsistent characterization of Michael. It seems that he fluctuates between lost child and vengeful demon as it’s convenient for the storyline. Furthermore, it’s ostensibly Jeff and Mutt (and a lot of popular cinema) that put the whole Armageddon idea in Michael’s head in the first place. To be fair, this indecision that swirls within Michael is kind of the whole arc of his character, but these choices could feel more justified. Yes, Michael has Mead back in his life, but he shouldn’t immediately lose all of his weaknesses and then regain them again depending on who he’s talking to at the moment.
Outside of Michael’s grand visions of despair, Cordelia attempts to set up a faithful protection spell over Robichaux Academy to make sure that they don’t get any unexpected Satanic visitors. It’s this level of confidence in their witchcraft that makes Michael’s ability to get past it all the more frightening. Perhaps the most powerful scene of the episode is Michael and Mead’s surprise ambush on the Robichaux Academy. The way in which they light up the place is truly disturbing and raw.
AHS: Apocalypse completely goes for broke here as Mead busts out a shotgun arm and lays waste to the majority of characters this season who have attempted to stop the apocalypse. Moving forward, every future character that Kathy Bates plays on this show, robot or otherwise, must have a shotgun arm. Michael also makes a point to destroy all of the souls of the witches that he kills in order to permanently keep them out of the picture, something that particularly crushes Cordelia. This is yet another detail that makes this devastation particularly brutal and helps increase the dread as the season moves into its finale.
After the Robichaux Academy massacre, clearly some more powerful mojo is needed and so a desperate Cordelia and Myrtle seek out the warlocks for additional magical support. However—surprise surprise—it looks like Michael’s rampage has extended to the Hawthorne Academy too. There are no longer any living warlocks left to help the surviving witches out. On that note, the only reason that Dinah is able to survive through all of this massive bloodshed is because she and her voodoo powers are actually responsible for Michael’s ability to circumvent the Robichaux Academy’s magic and break into the school for his big attack. Michael recognizes his debt to Dinah and not only spares her, but also rewards her for her obedience.
There’s plenty of apocalypse prep throughout this installment, but “Fire and Reign” seems more interested in incessant jokes about the affluent people in the world that run the Cooperative than simply focusing on its story. It’s confirmed that the Cooperative and the Illuminati are one and the same and that every member has sold their soul to Satan to gain access, which effectively places Michael at the top of their power structure. “Fire and Reign’s” divided focus becomes increasingly egregious when there are even more unnecessary detours to extraneous characters here.
Time travel is always a risky gamut to bring into a text (is that seriously going to be the solution here? They just go back in time pre-massacre?), but the fact that Mallory’s visit to the past involves the freaking Romanoff family is a tad exhausting (although it’s pure American Horror Story in terms of how random it is). With a showdown between good and evil imminent, Cordelia is anxious to get Mallory’s powers to as formidable a place as possible. Mallory showed tons of promise in previous episodes, but now she struggles over basic resurrection incantations. In spite of her fluctuating powers, Mallory attempts the dangerous time travel spell since they really don’t have any other options here. Mallory successfully travels back to 1918 Siberia to reach Anastasia Romanoff, but she’s not powerful enough to actually save her and alter the flow of the past (due to how Cordelia is still the Supreme and has some of “her” energy).
“Fire and Reign” spends a lot of time on this time travel spell to the point that it’s almost a certainty that it will be the key to victory in the finale. Otherwise, this lengthy trip to Russia during the height of battle will feel like an even bigger waste of time. And once again, really, time travel? And not only that, but this spell is literally only mentioned now when it suits this dire storyline? American Horror Story at least could have teased this when Mallory inadvertently tested her powers against Michael in the post-apocalypse timeline. Maybe she could have seen a flash of the past then. Or maybe season nine will just be all about the Romanoffs (take that Matthew Weiner and Amazon)…
“Fire and Reign” ends at a place that basically connects most of the lingering dots to the show’s post-apocalypse timeline. There’s a lot of information on the Cooperative, the people behind it, the creation of the Outposts (as well as Venable’s cushy position at Outpost 3), as well as the rules that govern them. In spite of all of this technical progress, there’s still a lot to cover in next week’s finale (which not only has to tie these narratives together, but also wrap them up). A more leisurely finale with a very clear goal (a la AHS: Cult’s finale last season) might have been a better position for AHS: Apocalypse, but we’ll see just how crowded and disjointed this conclusion is when it all comes to a head next week. Jesus may have needed time to figure out what to do with his purpose, but for American Horror Story, time is up.
Hail Satan, indeed.
‘American Horror Story: Apocalypse’ concludes next Wednesday at 10pm (ET) on FX