Spoiler Alert: The Recap contains spoilers from tonight’s American Horror Story: Apocalypse season 8 opener “The End”:
Eight seasons in, and one thing you can’t say is that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk don’t know how to reinvigorate a TV Series. Tonight’s first episode of season 8 of American Horror Story: Apocalypse titled “The End” which has largely been shrouded in secrecy (except for the fact that it’s a crossover over between season 1’s Murder House and season 3’s Coven) literally began with a bang: Nuclear missiles have decimated Hong Kong, Russia, the Baltics and more and the United States isn’t too far behind. A jarring, unnerving sequence which makes us realize just how far TV has come since 1983’s The Day After. Plus they’re some great dark zingers as Beverly Hills just can’t come to grips with the world that’s melting around them.
If there’s one question fans will ask tonight is –where’s the Murder House? Where’s the Coven? While Murphy and Falchuk’s company of AHS actors look the same, they’re all playing fresh parts. No old characters have been revived as of yet, well, except for…read on.
It appears to be just another day in Beverly Hills with celebrity Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt getting her hair, oh so perfectly done by her beautician Mr. Gallant played by Evan Peters. She gets a call from her father in Hong Kong, and she learns right there and then on her cell phone, Hong Kong is gone. She frantically calls her husband Brock (Billy Eichner, both played kooky gun-loving spouses last season). He’s aloof to the end of the world, just gobsmacked by the fact that there’s going to be a six-part Free Willy series on TV. Coco’s father has arranged a plane to escape them all at Santa Monica airport. She darts there with her assistant Mallory (Billie Lourd), Gallant and his Nanna played by Joan Collins. Brock’s stuck in traffic (“Don’t leave me in Santa Monica” he screams to his wife) and Coco informs him promptly that’s she’s executing that part of their marriage contract where they can see other people. The plane takes off and the gang witnesses a mushroom cloud on the ground, not to mention their plane is on autopilot.
In the second act, 40 minutes before the bomb, we meet Timothy Campbell (Kyle Allen), a bright senior who with his family learns he’s just made into UCLA. But as they learn of the nuclear war, a team of suited feds — The Cooperative — come to collect young Timothy with a SWAT team. You see, he’s got the perfect genetics to survive. He’s shipped to an underground facility where he meets a fellow teen Emily (Ashley Santos) and they’re both transported to Outpost 3, an underground for rich folk that’s run by Ms. Wilhemina Venable (Sarah Paulson) aka the strongest right arm of the Cooperative. Emily and Timothy are dressed in purple, “the color worthy of those who can survive” says Venable. Servants wear grey. Above ground, gas mask soldiers patrol, who are all dressed like the Imperial spy Long Snoot who patrols outside the cantina in Star Wars.
During act 3 we see that Emily and Timothy are among the characters we met at the onset, most of who don purple colonial fashion — Coco, Mr. Gallant, and Collins’ Evie Gallant while Mallory wears grey. Their accommodations are fancy with marble floors, bookcases and walls, yet dark and candle-lit. Food is sparse, everyone is confined to one piece of vitamin Jello when seated for dinner. But Kathy Bates’ Ms. Miriam Mead, a right hand of sorts to Venable smells a rat — someone has been upstairs on the contaminated ground as her Geiger counter reveals. She hauls two people away to the showers, one of them being Peters’ Gallant. Mead shoots the gentleman next to Gallant in the head, freaking him out.
Act four has Venable in private quarters with Mead, who reveals that they’re most important people at the fall out shelter. This is all a ruse and Venable is having a ball torturing the guests at Outpost 3 who’ve shelled out $100M a ticket to be there. The inhabitants are tormented with never-ending Karen Carpenter music, having their meals cut back by Venable and the consistent threat they’ll be shot to death. Emily and Timothy meanwhile fall for each other. But as Venable warns earlier, there’s to be no copulation among the guests.
All the while as you’re watching, you’re wondering where’s The Murder House? Where’s the Coven characters? And then in the final moment the payoff: Michael Langdon (not to be confused with former NBC angel Michael Landon from Highway to Heaven) played by Cody Fern. Remember he’s the biological grandson and the adopted son of Jessica Lange’s Constance Langdon, and the birth child of Tate Langdon (Peters) and Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton), and as we’re informed this season, he’s the Anti-Christ. There’s another outpost that’s still stable and Michael can choose those who are the most worthy to go on the journey. He says, “Those that make it live, those that don’t end up like my horses”.
This season of AHS looks to be playing it straight for the mythology of it all. Arguably tonight’s episode didn’t feature any cinematic genre Easter eggs like season 6’s Roanoke Nightmare, a season which was also kept under wraps. Nor does it dial into the socio-political divide and fanatical psychotic nature of humanity like season 7’s Cult which opened up on the horrific 2016 presidential election night when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton. Those first three episodes of Cult were truly electric. Apocalypse is significantly heightened versus Cult, and it’s way too zany to even be considered anything allegorical to current times. While it’s still too early to see where this season goes, one thing is clear: We’re in brand new territory, and that’s a hard feat to pull off eight seasons into any series. Some will argue that Murphy and Co. jumped the shark in season 6’s Roanoke Nightmare with its reality show in a reality show satire, but Cult seemed to get us back on track with the series’ embrace of nuanced paranoid personas laced with genre line pushing. The amount of detail from production design to storytelling to sublime acting by Lena Dunham in “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag” was worthy of any edgy ’90s indie thriller. Hopefully, more is in store here with Apocalypse to keep mouths dropping.