Sarah Paulson as the sadistic Ms. Venable in Apocalypse (FX)
The Apocalypse has finally come. Wednesday night brought us the highly anticipated first episode of AMERICAN HORROR STORY: APOCALYPSE, the Murder House and Coven crossover season premiere, appropriately titled “The End,” and, as was expected, it gave us some pleasure, while also leaving us desiring a little more.
Literally beginning with a bang— and riffing on the self-obsessed aloofness of the people living within Southern California— “The End” opens with characters played by Leslie Grossman, Evan Peters, and Billie Lourd receiving the news about a nuclear attack, as they witness the crowded streets of L.A. filled with panicked people, stop-dead traffic, and threatening sirens coming from who knows where. The apocalyptic horror tropes are all present here: explosions in the sky, newscasters sadly bidding their final farewells to their families, SWAT teams rushing to the scene…all things that we’ve seen in various other forms of this subgenre (minus the zombies, for now.)
In what could only be described as Ryan Murphy’s horror version of the Marvel cinematic universe, Apocalypse will eventually bring back some of our past favorites, but for now, we meet many new characters portrayed by AHS mainstays. Leslie Grossman and Billy Eichner play yet another contentious married couple—this time, Grossman is Coco, a spoiled heiress who selfishly leaves Eichner behind, as she takes off in her family’s private jet, leaving him to fend for himself in what’s left of Los Angeles. Billie Lourd takes a proverbial step down from the intriguing character Winter that she embodied last season—this year, she’s a bland, subservient assistant to Coco, named Mallory, with very few lines. Lourd has shown her potential last season, so hopefully she gets utilized more. After his compelling performance last year as cult leader Kai, Evan Peters tries his hand at a more flamboyant character named Mr. Gallant. A hairstylist that resembles a lovechild between Elton John and Billy Idol, Mr. Gallant has a deadpan sense of humor, quipping things like, “I want to die,” and “Maybe it’s time we eat somebody,” while simultaneously singing and dancing to The Carpenters’ songs. Hopefully we are given more emotional depth for our characters in future episodes, because thus far, they are fairly entertaining in their own ways, but disappointingly cartoonish and emotionally inept…
A group of selected survivors— including Peters, Grossman, and Lourd— are taken to a dimly lit/electricity-free/old-school style refuge called Outpost 3, which we learn is somewhat of a torture chamber that is disguised as a safe space, and is run by the mysterious “Cooperative” that we have yet to learn much about. This brings us to our gratifying dosage of AHS queens Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates: Paulson is intimidating as Ms. Venable, who lords over the Outpost with her cold stares, ominous walking cane, and regressive worldviews. Bates is equally chilling as Ms. Venable’s cohort Ms. Meade, with her close-shaved, jet-black faux hawk and lack of facial expressions, which always make you curious about what she is thinking. The two of them make a deliciously sadistic pair of villainesses, as we find out that they are running a much more malicious sanctuary than their hierarchy, the Cooperative, is aware of. Additionally, if you didn’t notice, Erika Ervin (who played Amazon Eve in season 4’s Freak Show) is also back as one of the militant members of the Cooperative, but we didn’t get to see much of her yet. Can’t wait to see which characters these three badasses slap the hell out of next episode.
Apocalypse brings us a few new faces, one of which we are dying to see more of: Ms. Joan Collins. Others, including Ashley Santos and Kyle Allen, are snooze-worthy thus far, but, if we’ve learned anything from seven prior AHS seasons, the body count will eventually rise, and these guys may not last too long anyway. We can surely predict that, despite Venable’s warning, there will definitely be “unauthorized copulation” occurring, in a possible Adam and Eve-like fashion, in which their urges will be tested. When it comes to AHS, the sex occurs as often as the blood flows. That being said, with iconic actors like Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Frances Conroy, Connie Britton, and Taissa Farmiga set to return to the show in subsequent episodes, we don’t really need all these newbies.
If there is anything that the show is trying to hint at thus far, it’s that surviving this end of the world scenario doesn’t equal thriving. In Outpost 3, life is miserable for the group, as they are forced to eat vitamin cubes and possibly a stew made out of a former survivor that was contaminated by radiation, aptly named “Stu.” As the elite members of the group rock regal purple formalwear, and the “servants” of the group don gray, separation of class and value is obvious, although anyone and everyone is at risk of dominatrix-like “punishment” from Ms. Venable and Ms. Meade. As the episode jumps to eighteen months in the future, the group is hoping for some form of rescue, which never comes.
The premiere’s final moments are arguably its best. After 45 minutes of introducing us to the season’s new canon with fresh characters, we are rewarded with the moment we’ve been anxiously awaiting. As we hear the lyrics of a familiar song from early Murder House episodes— “But tonight, You belong to me, Just to little old me” — a cloaked man arrives and reveals himself to be none other than grownup Michael Langdon, played by The Assassination of Gianni Versace breakout star Cody Fern— complete with luscious, long locks that give off Interview with a Vampire vibes— who is already sending chills down our spines. Michael claims that he has arrived to take as many (or as few) people to a shelter that contains more supplies than Outpost 3, although we get the feeling that his intentions are much more menacing than that. As you may remember from season one, Vivian was raped by the ghostly Rubber Man (aka Tate Langdon) which turned into a pregnancy that brought us Michael, aka the Anti-Christ baby, destined to usher in “the end of times.” And here we are.
Tonally, “The End” is all over the place. Apocalypse has brought back the camp, for better and/or for worse. The episode is overly concerned with returning to the snarky sense of humor that was contained in Coven. Some one-liners are a hit, while others are a total miss. (One particular miss being Grossman’s comparison of her cold-pressed juice to “turtle shit.” Meh.) With all this attention to cynical humor, we need more darkness, more scares! We get hints of gloom throughout the episode, between the scary, Darth Vader-like hazmat suits, to the brutal gun shots to the heads of both humans and horses, and to the shades of grays and ambers within the bleak cinematography, which gives us a gothic-feeling atmosphere. But still not enough.
As AHS fans, many of us enjoy a degree of fantastical plot lines and campy dialogue—however, the show does have a reputation of taking things too far, and winds up losing our interest by midseason. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that we all want to see how this crossover storyline, with all of its Ryan Murphy-branded twists and turns, will play out. We’re just craving a lot more scares and a few less quips to make the rest of the season’s ride more satisfying.~