Episode Review: “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” Ep 1 (SPOILERS)

Spoilers from Episode 1, “The End” to follow…

“On Wednesday’s, we wear black AGAIN! American Horror Story returns…”

For two years that devilish Ryan Murphy has been teasing a super-secret-epic-crossover between the two fan-favorite seasons, Murder House and Coven, of his titillating anthology series, and on Wednesday, September the twelfth, he made good on that promise with American Horror Story’s latest installment, Apocalypse. Mr. Murphy and co-creator, Brad Falchuk, deliver an anti-Christ superstar studded line-up with old favorites, such as Jessica Lange returning to her first role as Constance, as well as new characters like Joan Collins playing the witty Evie Gallant. Series franchise torch bearers, Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters will be playing their season one and three counterparts, in addition to putting on some fresh new faces. Paulson’s Ms. Wilhemina Venable, self-appointed leader of Outpost Three, is deliciously dark and twisted in stark contrast to Peter’s flippant and flamboyant Mr. Gallant, the grandson of Collins’ character. Now, without further ado, let “The End” begin…

This season opens in a salon in Santa Monica, California; hence the FX teasers of a twisted hair brush parting a woman’s head with half blonde and half purple hair now seem relevant! Long-time fans know the teasers can mean anything and/or nothing (remember Roanoke). During her hair appointment, the stereotypical privileged rich bitch character, Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt, portrayed by Leslie Grossman, is having her stylist, Peter’s Gallant, and assistant, Billie Lourde’s Mallory, fuss over her in an attempt to become an Instagram sensation. In the midst of her pampering, she receives a devastating face time phone call from her father who warns her that the threat of a missile heading for Los Angeles is real, and she needs to evacuate immediately to the plane he has waiting for her. News reports that Hong Kong and London have already been hit only help to usher in the bedlam and chaos that floods the streets. People leaping from buildings committing suicide in order to avoid the blast are images not foreign to post 9/11 America. In an ironic twist, Billy Eichner once again plays the husband to Grossman’s character, who doesn’t make the plane, which is definitely some Cult karma considering how bad he screwed her over last year!

If decoding the teasers and season’s main theme isn’t enough, the opening title sequence has also become an integral part of an American Horror Story premiere night. Rich, textured, and stylized, this year’s main credits did not disappoint with haunting imagery of candles, creepy dolls, snakes, and the Man in Red himself! Fans are being reminded that not only is this an amalgamation of previous seasons, but its own unique story too. Emma Roberts name appearing amongst this season’s regulars raises an interesting question of how integral the return of her Coven character, Madison Montgomery, will be, especially since she has yet to appear. For the record, the only returning character we see in this particular episode is Cody Fern’s Michael Langdon, who is now all grown up and a far cry from the giggly adolescent butchering his nanny’s that we encountered in the final moments of Murder House.

With the world we all knew now a desolate wasteland of smoke, ash, and cold burning winds, we enter the Power Ranger-esque Command Center stronghold known as Outpost Three. The hazmat suits always transport me back to E.T., whilst the black leather gas mask people feel like a nod to the Rubberman as well as all the fetishisms we have witnessed in previous seasons. Newcomers are greeted with intense methods of sterilization to prevent any radiation from outside contaminating the bunker. Venable informs us of a secret organization known as the Cooperative, a group of global visionaries that have come together to better the world: think REALLY Big Brother. The bunker is divided by two classes, the Purples, which represent the cream of the crop, and the Greys, who are the belaboring servants to the Purples. The dialogue between Venable and Kathy Bates’ character Miriam explaining how the world ended is a very ominous, cautionary tale we should definitely pay attention to. Miriam described the world as sensitive as a “water balloon,” and Wilhemina spoke of the illusion social media had given us, making everyone think their voice was important.

Throughout the course of the episode, we learn that there are other outposts, but they were breeched and now Outpost Three is all that remains, or so Venable wants her guests to think. Strict rules that are harshly enforced, accompanied by limited food rations in the form of a protein cube, as well as torture inflicted for Wilhemnia and Miriam’s sheer pleasure make Outpost Three almost mirror the oppressive and desperate conditions of Briarcliff, season two’s Asylum. Paulson has graduated to Lange’s sinister Sister Jude, whilst Kathy Bates carries a piece of Misery’s Annie Wilkes in every dastardly deed she carries out, whether she is executing humans and/or horses alike. The lesbian undertones will be interesting to see played out over the course of the season between Paulson and Bates’ characters. Paulson’s Venable wanted to embrace Bates’ Miriam so bad, but she restrained herself. Perhaps following her own rule of no unauthorized copulation. Paulson’s note about “puss monsters” outside the gate also harkened back to Asylum and Dr. Arden’s botched experiments, which only strengthens the invisible thread that connects the seasons together. The same creepy happy music played in the parlor also feels like an Asylum nod (a little “Dominique” anyone).

In typical Ryan Murphy fashion, the Romeo and Juliet story between Kyle Allen’s Tim Campbell and Ash Santos’ Emily seem to spell disaster for future episodes. The romantic in all of us can appreciate the need to share in one kiss per day just to make sure they were not “dying inside.” If what we have seen play out between Tate and Violet, or Zoe and Kyle this will most likely not end well, and I can’t wait! Watching Tim being ripped from his family after learning he was accepted to UCLA just adds to the guttural, teenage angst.

Joan Collins’ character of Evie helped round out the episode with much needed humor and satire. Her refusing to waste a “single drop” of the stew that may or may not be compromised of the character Stu, a victim of Venable and Miriam’s radioactive deception, is mouthwatering. One aspect of American Horror Story I always find enjoyable is the subtle satirical nuances. The writers have a great sense of humor just from episode titles, such as “Tupperware Party Massacre” and “Charles (Manson) in Charge.”

True Blood alum Adina Porter has secured another season for herself, since joining the franchise with Roanoke. For the Apocalypse, she is portraying former talk show host Dinah Stevens, which will be interesting to follow because you can never tell what direction her character will go in. It was also a rare treat seeing Erika Ervin return as a Cooperative Agent. Ervin played the Titaness “Amazon Eve” in Freakshow (a season that has grown on me over the years).

As the episode winds down, the gates of Outpost Three are breeched by two black horses wearing gas masks with matching black carriage in tow. Another black leather gas mask figure emerges, and from the I.D. we see that it is Michael Langdon, the child born of flesh and spirit now grown and an agent for the Cooperative. If we learn anything in these final moments, it’s that this anti-Christ knows how to make an entrance! His long golden hair reads Tom Cruise’s Lestat from Interview with a Vampire. Michael’s appearance seems to startle Venable, yet Miriam did not seem moved. More deception? Michael tells Venable of a new safer sanctuary that has over a decade worth of rations, and that he has come to judge and see who is worthy to go there.

Overall, “The End” is a very satisfying beginning to see where the next episodes will take us. If the story continues to maintain this organic balance, then I do not mind waiting for the witches’ grand return! I am also anxious to see the bitter-sweet return of Lange, who’s absence these past four years has been greatly noted. We were not gifted with a preview of next week’s episode, “The Morning After,” but Murphy and Falchuk knew we will be back. Who will survive the Apocalypse? Stay tuned!

“American Horror Story: Apocalypse”

Season 8, Episode 1 “The End”

Written By Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk

Directed By Bradley Buecker