[TV Review] “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” Travels Through Time and Prepares for the End In “Fire and Reign”

“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?

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

[TV Review] “AHS: Apocalypse” Strikes a Match and Watches the Fire Burn in ‘Traitor’

‘AHS: Apocalypse’ conjures that voodoo that you do as the witches run through various battle strategies to conquer the imminent Antichrist

“What’s ‘deserve’ got to do with any of this?”

What’s the qualifier on being a traitor? This episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse very clearly labels Miriam Mead, Ariel Augustus, and Baldwin Pennypacker as infidels to their own kind (and even burns them at the stake accordingly), but sometimes the answer isn’t so black and white. Dinah Stevens would consider Cordelia to be a traitor to humankind because of the decisions that she makes in this episode. For that matter, Myrtle may even think of Cordelia as a traitor for how she ignores her wishes to stay dead. A traitor isn’t just someone who outwardly betrays someone, but it just as easily can be a trusted individual that isn’t willing to go as far as they can for a person. “Traitor” persecutes the most egregious backstabbers in a flashy manner, but this episode is also full of tests between friends as they prove how far they will go for each other and that they will rise to the occasion when it’s necessary.

It’s worth noting at the top that there’s no Michael to speak of this week (he’s away in the wilderness doing wilderness things, apparently), but after getting Langdon’s extended life and times last week, an episode without any Cody Fern is acceptable. It does remove a certain degree of tension from this installment, but this is an episode that’s more about taking action, not cowering in fear. Michael’s absence results in “Traitor” focusing entirely on Cordelia and her coven. It’s a freaking witch party this week on AHS: Apocalypse and all of the series’ female spiritualists appear in this episode—minus Misty (maybe she’s just sleeping this one off).

“Traitor” essentially revolves around the coven’s battle plan, now that both the witches and the warlocks know what’s really going on with Michael. Cordelia is eager to end all of this before it gets out of hand and more people die, so she resorts to whipping out the big guns, which largely means enlisting the help of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Papa Legba (Lance Reddick). American Horror Story: Apocalypse has largely felt like a “Greatest Hits” of the anthology series this season. Many characters that haven’t been seen in years have experienced glorious returns and closure, and AHS: Coven’s Papa Legba is the latest heavy hitter to reappear. AHS: Apocalypse finally remembers that Adina Porter’s Dinah Stevens has voodoo powers, which she alluded to back in the premiere. We learn that Dinah’s skills are a lot more impressive than she originally let on and that she’s actually taken up the mantle of head voodoo priestess after Angela Bassett’s Marie Laveau met her unfortunate end. Cordelia uses Dinah’s voodoo skills to summon Legba and pick his brain on the Michael problem.

It’s exciting to see that Legba’s incorporation into this horror free-for-all actually makes a lot of sense. Someone as powerful as the Antichrist can’t just be easily “magicked away,” but someone as eternal and mysterious as Legba could maybe make a dent in the guy. Legba’s toll for something as dangerous as trapping Michael in damnation is unsurprisingly steep, which inevitably causes Cordelia to back out of this literal deal with the devil. Legba wants the souls of Cordelia’s entire coven as payment for his imprisonment of Langdon (on top of the $200,000 that Cordelia has already paid to Dinah for her mystical services) and so while it’s understandable to see her rebuke this, it does make Legba’s appearance a little manipulative.

episode four). Cordelia’s spell works, but it nearly kills her in the process and Myrtle isn’t exactly thrilled when she learns what’s happened here. Nevertheless, they make it work and soldier on.

This episode also wastes no time as it rushes to set up Mallory as the next Supreme to usurp Cordelia. “Traitor” provides a highlights reel for Mallory’s own Seven Wonders initiation (once again, complete with old timey silent film veneer) and even though she may not impress as much as Michael’s performance, she still nails the test. On top of that, she also uses her magic in some very unique ways, like the bonkers mojo she works to save Coco’s life. And thank God, because Coco’s own food-based witchcraft is also nicely developing. At this point, Mallory’s unexplored talents are the witches’ best shot at defeating Michael. The brief glimpse that the show has provided of Mallory and Michael’s powers colliding in the present implies that quite the insane battle lies ahead.

‘American Horror Story: Apocalypse’ airs Wednesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX

[Review] “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” Conjures One of the Series’ Best Episodes With “Return to Murder House”

Get ready to go back to where everyone knows your name (and how you died) when “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” returns to the Murder House for a series high!

“This is not a home. It’s a prison.”

Last week’s American Horror Story pointedly ended with Sarah Paulson’s Cordelia Goode declaring that Madison and Behold’s next destination, the infamous Murder House, is “where it all began.” Cordelia’s announcement is of course in reference to the origins of Michael Langdon’s story, but it’s also meant to be looked at figuratively. Murder House is literally where American Horror Story started as a series and so returning to that sacred territory is obviously a fairly momentous event. It seems like no coincidence that this episode also marks Sarah Paulson’s directorial debut and that such a fundamental cast member of this show gets to be the one that’s behind the camera.

“Return to Murder House” is a homecoming in every sense of the word and it’s also perhaps the best episode that the series has ever made.

American Horror Story can be a show that jerks its audience around, but “Return to Murder House” cuts the bullshit and starts delivering the goods right away. Madison and Behold immediately come into possession of the Murder House and the episode wastes no time with its setup. This episode understands how anxious everyone is to dig into this material and what’s even better is that “Return to Murder House” is nearly a full hour long and it makes every minute count. This episode doesn’t trip over itself with its plotting either. Its premise is very to the point: Figure out if Michael Langdon is evil.

Early on in the installment, an exasperated Madison asks, “what the fuck happened in this house?” “Return to Murder House” finds delight in really getting to the core of that question and the 36 souls that inhabit this prison. Behold and Madison perform a ceremony to get access to the ghosts that knew Michael, but it’s an all-or-nothing situation. If they want to talk to some of the ghosts in this house, then they’re going to talk to all of the ghosts in this house. “Return to Murder House” turns into a poltergeist free-for-all and delivers many poetic ghost vignettes that feature some dearly beloved departed characters. It’s should be too much when Jessica Lange’s Constance Harmon interrupts Sarah Paulson’s Billie Dean Howard right after Madison and Behold grill Evan Peters’ Tate Langdon and Ben Harmon for information, but it’s fucking fantastic. “Return to Murder House” does not hold back with the fan service and if a huge grin isn’t slapped on your face throughout this installment then you are not a fan of this show.

second third chance she’s been given. Make no mistake, the sass is still strong with this one, but it’s kind of shocking to see her ditch a good party in favor of responsibilities. Hopefully, this more well-rounded version of Madison sticks around, but this change isn’t a complete 180. Her deadpan serious delivery of how she doesn’t want children because she couldn’t love an uncool or ugly offspring is the maybe the best line of the episode. It’s also rather perfect that she considers the Tate Langdon/Violet Harmon love story to be some sort of spectral Romeo and Juliet.

Jessica Lange may only be in one episode this season, but this truly doesn’t waste the return of this incredible actress.

Her opening line is even better than Madison’s first words this season. American Horror Story has definitely gotten by in the absence of Lange, but it really is nice to have her back. She cuts everyone down at the knees and gives absolutely zero fucks. It’s the grandiose entrance that she deserves.

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Constance gets all quid quo pro on Madison and Behold and tells them that if they can permanently exorcize Frances Conroy’s Moira O’Hara from the premises, then she’ll spill the goods on her grandson. This really couldn’t go better as Moira turns out to be desperate to leave this house. She’s given the touching closure that she’s longed for during all of these years in purgatory and Madison gets another notch in the “good person” column. In fact, there’s so much positivity in this episode that you’d forget that the world is presently dealing with the apocalypse. A lot of people get their happily ever afters. It’s a great shift in tone that goes a long way for the season.

We’re treated to Constance’s twisted story of her efforts to raise Michael and how he very quickly was set on a dark path, regardless of anything that she ever did. Constance’s blind love for her child slowly begins to rot and fester as she needs to continually cover up his “gifts” to her. Her admission over how Michael ruined the smell of roses for her is just heartbreaking and Crystal Liu’s script features plenty of incredible monologues. “Return to Murder House” becomes incredibly expository as Constance fills in the blanks on Michael’s childhood and the circumstances around her death. Flashbacks to the more pivotal moments in his developing evil help punctuate her tale, but it’s still a colossal info dump. Thankfully it just so happens to be information that everyone wants to hear.

Constance all but confirms that Michael is pure evil and while his demonic childhood initially contains a lot of familiar beats, it’s a major surprise to hear that he miraculously ages a decade in the course of a night. It’s a very interesting wrinkle to see this child who’s still learning proper grammar look like an adult. Fern’s acting is a little much at times as he plays this man-child. This also hints at the idea that Michael’s accelerated age is because he serves some higher purpose and is heading towards some sort of deadline. It’s yet more evidence that Michael is more than just a warlock and actual some harbinger of doom.

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Once Constance has said all that she needs to, the episode curiously shifts from Michael’s maternal upbringing to Ben Harmon’s efforts as a father towards the boy. This gender divide and how each parent differently impacts Michael also speaks to the larger themes of this season that have pit gender against one another. However, both parents ultimately give up on Michael and this could be partly responsible for why he embraces his dark side. While it’s not exactly enough to create sympathy for the devil, it is important to remember that this is still someone who’s mentally much younger. The uber expository structure remains, but Harmon presents a much more complicated case study of Michael, but still a picture of pure evil. We learn that Ben is the first one to really witness Michael’s supernatural powers in action (and boy does he get a show) and that Michael’s got nothing against latex. Oh, and it turns out that Michael Langdon is the Black Dahlia murderer (hey there, Mena Suvari as Elizabeth Short!). Case solved!

At this point, Madison and Behold have their answer, but freaking Connie Britton takes the episode home as Vivien Harmon provides one more disturbing tale from the Michael Langdon files. Vivien validates suspicions that Michael is the Antichrist, but her story goes into full-fledged deep end Satanism here. She introduces Miriam Mead and the Church of Satan who play the final part in Michael’s development. The Church of Satan lays on it on pretty thick with the prophecies—or rather “the omens,” as the episode blatantly puts it—but there’s no denying the results. Finally, the Black Mass ritual that’s crucial to Michael’s birthright is vicious stuff and it makes all of the brutal sacrifices that went down in AHS: Cult look like child’s play.

“Return to Murder House” is a triumph from top to bottom and it speaks to the underlying sweetness of American Horror Story that nobody gives the show enough credit for.

It beautifully resolves many storylines that I’m sure many people never expected to get closure on and it sets up the final stage of this season. “Return to Murder House” gives you the whole Wikipedia page on Michael Langdon and now the end game can begin. Just how the hell are they going to defeat this guy?

“Return to Murder House” actually creates a lot of excitement over where this season will go now that an important warlock is ready to put Michael down and understands his dangers. It should be interesting to see if Ariel can exhibit enough common sense to work together with them, or if he’ll still be blinded by the prospect of a male Supreme. Or maybe Madison and Behold will return to a building full of slaughtered witches and warlocks.

Also, let’s just go ahead and agree that season nine of American Horror Story should be the ghost of Madison haunting a movie production at Paramount Studios.

“American Horror Story: Apocalypse” airs Wednesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX.

[Review] “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” Loses Its Momentum as the Seven Wonders Take Center Stage in “Boy Wonder”

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. Also, the world is still in full-on apocalypse mode but there are several moments where things don’t seem that bad out there. Gas stations are still in full working order, it seems?

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.

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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

[TV Review] “AHS: Apocalypse” Delivers the “Coven” Sequel We’ve Been Waiting for With ‘Could It Be…Satan?’

It’s morlocks against witches for ultimate supremacy as ‘AHS: Apocalypse’ turns back its clock and explores the origins of evil.

“You have to admit…that was impressive.”

Evil, but more specifically how evil is developed, is a fascinating subject. Is someone born with a nugget of blackness in their soul that only grows larger over time, or is it learned behavior that can evolve and change. Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story brilliantly examines this principle in regards to its subject, serial killer Andrew Cunanan, but what makes its dissection of evil so compelling is that it never over-explains its monster. The aim of “Could It Be…Satan?” follows a surprisingly similar course and Murphy once again understands that breadcrumbs are more effective than handing over the whole loaf.

The first two episodes of AHS: Apocalypse took some time to get going, but damn, the brakes have been cut and there’s no turning back now! The plot quickly turns to Langdon and Mead against the witches, now that they’ve not only reached Outpost 3, but brought the majority of the corpses there back to life. “We need you,” explains Paulson’s Cordelia Foxx. “We need all of you.” And just like that, the war between good and evil in the face of the apocalypse can finally get started. Anyone got some rosé?

Cordelia, Zoe, Myrtle, and all the surviving members of Miss Robichaux’s Academy are aware of and even indebted to Michael in some respects. This means that they’ve had years to prepare against whatever he’s cooked up, which makes their confrontation at the beginning of this episode all the more interesting. That being said, Langdon is awfully cocky that this war is over before it’s even gotten started. Leave it to the Antichrist to man-splain the apocalypse to a bunch of empowered witches.

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“Could It Be…Satan?” spends most of its time in pre-bomb goodness. In fact, this is the sequel to AHS: Coven that everyone wanted back in season four! Men against women was very much a part of Coven’s DNA, but this episode doubles down on this dichotomy. There’s plenty of angry posturing as both sides argue which is more powerful. It’s no coincidence that now is the time that such a story is told, nor is it a coincidence that Cordelia bitterly tells Ariel and his fellow morlocks that “their time is up.” While there’s plenty of witch activity in this installment, it’s all filtered through Michael’s indoctrination into this world. “Could It Be…Satan?” is interested in Langdon’s past and how he came to be who he is.

Michael’s story begins with a glimpse into the budding Antichrist’s time during his formative years with the robotic Miriam Mead. Langdon recalls that he doesn’t quite remember how Mead found him or how they ended up on this righteous path together, but he does reiterate that, “everybody needs a home.” In spite of the strange relationship between the two of them, Langdon genuinely cares about Mead and values her companionship. This certainly makes both Langdon and Mead’s actions from the previous episode a lot more understandable. Furthermore, this flashback to before the world all went to Hell—literally—plays so much better at this point in the season rather than if I came earlier. Say what you will about American Horror Story’s impatient, inconsistent structure of its seasons, but they always know how to get the most out of an idea and how a simple touch of non-linear storytelling can make such a difference in the story.

Unfortunately, there’s no lengthy flashback to Constance Langdon making sure baby Michael’s first word is “genocide” (however, we may not have to wait too long for such an indulgence, as episode six this year is titled, “Return to Murder House”). Michael’s relationship with Miriam still offers a wonderfully twisted take on a healthy family dynamic and the “model home.” Mead makes sure that a young Langdon cleans his plate, keeps his room tidy, and of course, prays to the all-mighty Satan before every important task. It’s like if Leave it to Beaver were a bunch of heretical Satanists…

Presently, Langdon’s bond with Mead continues to burn strong. He desperately needs Mead by his side because the task that he must fulfill requires someone else. At this point, Langdon has been so mysterious and powerful that it appears that he could do almost anything on his own—his involvement of other people in his life is simply for his own amusement—so the development that he can’t achieve his mission on his own makes his journey suddenly much more engrossing. What’s so important that Satan needs a sidekick? Also, how perfect is Kathy Bates as a sniveling Igor-like lackey?

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Langdon’s story flashes to three years before the bombs go off and examines his time at the Hawthorne Academy for Extraordinary Young Boys. This is essentially the male equivalent to Miss Robichaux’s Academy and if you were ever curious what it would look like if Ryan Murphy jumped in to direct a future Fantastic Beasts installment, this feels pretty close to what that would look like. There’s plenty of testosterone, sexual innuendos, and emotional insecurity that bounce between these walls with all of this powerful magic. It’s also nice to see Billy Porter from Murphy’s Pose show up as a headmaster at Hawthorne. This time in Langdon’s life where the morlocks welcome him in and he leaves Miriam is quite exciting, both in regards to what Langdon learns and also how he plays naïve to just how strong and informed he really is.

Some alarming security footage that involves Langdon gets the headmasters at Hawthorne’s attention. This video where Langdon works his possessive, evil magic is deliciously gruesome, right down to its explosive ending. It makes for yet another powerful example of what Michael can do with his powers, as well as remind the audience that there was a time where he was deeply confused over who he is. He’s had many years of struggling and persecution before he was the suave leader that crashes Outpost 3.

Before Langdon puts his stamp on Hawthorne’s, the episode provides some appreciated history on their association. There’s a prophecy that they’re all rather hung up on that details a powerful warlock that will become the “Alpha” and lead them all. This all sounds eerily similar to the coven’s prophecy about their Supreme. They even have the same “Seven Wonders” trial to ordeal. As badass as it would be to see the Alpha fight alongside the Supreme against the forces of evil, it appears that the morlocks have representation on the mind. Their Alpha is supposed to supplant the witches’ Supreme and flip the power dynamics on all of this gendered magic.

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“Could It Be…Satan?” features a fun juxtaposition that puts Michael through a mirror version of the same trials that Zoe, Madison, and company all did back in AHS: Coven. Michael’s aptitude for these tests is technically what’s in question, but there’s no doubt that he’ll completely dominate these tasks. What’s much more telling is Michael’s condescending attitude towards all of this. The point of this season isn’t to figure out who has the most power, but who knows how to best harness it. Langdon’s grandstanding for Hawthorne’s is the antithesis of this. Even though the morlocks begin with reasonable, cautious intentions, it’s their hubris that inevitably helps Langdon rise to power. They mistake his evil blood as ordinary magic, unaware that there’s something much more vicious inside of him.

Another real joy of “Could It Be…Satan?” is that it not only fills in some blanks regarding what Cordelia, Zoe, and Misty were up to post-Coven, but there’s also a considerable visit to the Hotel Cortez from AHS: Hotel. There’s even a surprise appearance from evan Peters’ James Patrick March! What’s especially impressive here is that the Cortez’ appearance isn’t just fan service, but it actually functions as a solid demonstration of Michael’s power and Cordelia’s limitations. Sadly, the episode can’t find a way to fit in Bastien, the Minotaur or Papa Legba, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Langdon puts his burgeoning skills to use and effectively wraps up Queenie’s unresolved plot line from AHS: Hotel (it also explains that Cordelia did not abandon her there, for what it’s worth). Michael easily rescues her from the labyrinthine purgatory that she’s been trapped in. Not only is he strong enough to save Queenie from her fate, but Langdon’s even has the power to pull Madison from the personal hell that she’s trapped in. The real mic drop moment here is that the revival of Madison and Queenie definitely helps out the witches, but Langdon does all of this for bragging rights. He wants them to know that he can.

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Most importantly though, goddamn is it nice to have Madison Montgomery and her unlimited snark back in this series! Emma Roberts is consistently a standout in Ryan Murphy’s production (I still don’t think that she ever properly got her due for the force of nature that she was in Scream Queens), but AHS: Coven’s Madison has always felt like her best, most fitting role. We got a tease of her trademark demeanor last episode, but now that she’s back for good, it’s even more satisfying.

“Could It Be…Satan?” continues to prove that this season might contain some of the strongest, intricate storytelling from any year of American Horror Story (except for Asylum, nothing will ever touch the heights of Asylum…). In fact, this feels like what all of the other seasons of American Horror Story have strangely been building to, but Murphy and company just had to get all of the excess out of their system first. For once I’m strangely confident that this season won’t terribly fall apart. We’re almost halfway through the season and the narrative is still providing rewards. This all amounts to another fulfilling episode that teases what’s to come, but then smugly withholds it from the audience. If you want your full goat head for dessert then you’re going to have to finish your vegetables first. Now that we’ve done our homework, let’s get the battle going and the magic flying!

Anybody need a smoke?

“American Horror Story: Apocalypse” airs Wednesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX

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[Review] “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” Picked Up the Pace (and Death Count) for a Winning Episode 3

‘AHS: Apocalypse’ steps on the gas and delivers a winner with a festive party that’s big on death, answers, and plot twists.

“Surprise, bitch. I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me.”

Sex is a very prominent topic, not only in American Horror Story, but every one of Ryan Murphy’s productions. This is a series that delightfully devours its eye candy and takes just as much pleasure in figuring out new sexy characters for Evan Peters to play as it does in bringing new monsters into its world. Hell, the previous entry concocted a deviant scenario where Evan Peters more or less fucks himself, but at this point I wouldn’t even be surprised if this year’s finale somehow features all of Evan Peters’ past characters tangled up in a gang bang.

If sex is an important area for Ryan Murphy, than forbidden sex, like the kind that’s referenced in the title of the episode, is even more fundamental. It’s worth noting that while the term “forbidden fruit” obviously has sexual connotations, it’s also a reference to the apple in the Garden of Eden—the original forbidden fruit—which is a symbol for knowledge. It’s no coincidence that as soon as sex is back on the menu in Outpost Three that this development comes with an influx of information about the “truth” of the outside. And because this is American Horror Story this show can also be incredibly literal, so while these two angles are true, this episode is also very literally about dangerous, forbidden apples. If the previous episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse marks the skin of that forbidden fruit getting initially broken, than this installment unabashedly digs its teeth in and lets the juices run down its face.

Matters begin with Tim Campbell and Mr. Gallant feeling considerably indebted to Langdon after he comes to their aids after the events of the last episode. While he throws them a life preserver, it’s also covered in barbs. With those two effectively under his thumb, Langdon continues his examinations of the rest of these survivors. Langdon’s manipulation of Outpost Three only grows deeper in “Forbidden Fruit” and he demonstrates just how thoroughly he understands everyone. “Call it a ‘night vision of the soul’,” he says. He goes through an expedited version of what he did in the previous episode with Tim and Gallant, but then all of a sudden “Forbidden Fruit” shows that it isn’t playing around.

Rather than let Langdon continue to brainwash Outpost Three, he gets kicked out of this episode surprisingly early. When Langdon pushes Billie Lourd’s Mallory especially hard during her examination, she pulls off some badass psychokinesis and pyrokinesis skills that knock Langdon to the ground. Not only that, when Langdon tries to save face by revealing his true demonic nature, Mallory just dishes it back even harder and makes him retreat. It’s a rare moment where Langdon looks not only overpowered, but also caught off guard. For once he’s not pulling the strings and actually surprised.

The likely conclusion here is that Mallory is a witch, but she hasn’t realized it yet. The end of the episode pretty much answers this question as well as implying a deeper connection between Mallory and the other witches from American Horror Story. When Langdon runs away in defeat and performs a very emo blood ritual to bring forth his “father” for guidance, he cryptically reveals that “one survived” and that he’s killed the rest. It stands to reason that a powerful coven would be able to eliminate or seal away Langdon, so the idea of him at one point assassinating all known witches makes a lot of sense. Of course, there are definitely some blanks to fill in here, like if the AHS: Coven witches faked their deaths or have be in hiding. Lourd is perfect witch material though and if she was a part of Murphy’s ensemble back during Coven, then she surely would have been included as a witch. Or maybe she is just the Dark Phoenix.

“Forbidden Fruit” also treats the audience to some depressing scenes of life on the outside with the mutated cannibals who are struggling to survive out there. At first it just seems like this is some set dressing and further context for the state of the world, but then Billy Eichner’s Brock shows back up as a gross, mutated Road Warrior version of his former self and it’s extremely awesome. The decision to have Eichner’s character become a radioactive vindictive ex is a drastically more fun angle than to use him as cannon fodder in the premiere. Brock manages to sneak his way into Outpost Three, but surprise surprise—Coco has mixed feelings about this reunion. The episode also gets to gleefully lean into that urban legend about the married couple at the Halloween party to great effect. The direction that this all takes is certainly one of many surprises.

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Last week’s episode dropped the bonkers bombshell before its credits that Kathy Bates’ Miriam Mead is actually a robot. “Forbidden Fruit” doesn’t shy away from this topic, but it still tries to play with the audience’s expectations. A myriad of formative scenes from Mead’s past play out as she thinks back on her life and development. There’s even a visceral fight that she thinks back to that’s reminiscent of the domestic fight with Vernita Green in Kill Bill Vol. 1. The episode packs a sprawling amount into this rundown through Mead’s life and it’s some incredible stuff. The devastating nature of these scenes is not in their content, but rather in the brutal realization that they’re not real. They’re just some programmed memories that she’s supposed to feel.

In spite of Mead’s awareness towards her “condition,” she continues on with the same goal and doesn’t change her behavior (or so she thinks). Mead and Venable are still determined to pull off some kind of coup against Langdon because they don’t trust his selection methods. Mead’s solution here is to kill everyone, Langdon included. What’s great about this decision is that they’re still operating out of a place of honor. They want to do what’s best for the world and they’re not entirely wrong. They shouldn’t go and kill everyone, but Langdon is up to something.

It’s no secret that American Horror Story likes to indulge in Halloween-centric episodes and give them as much respect as possible. This season is no different and the holiday becomes the conduit to mass poison the lot of Outpost Three. The games and frivolity of Halloween allow mass murder to easily take place and it’s another surprising turn when this villainous poisoning scheme actually works. Even though the massive projectile vomit is played for laughs to some degree, this is a properly terrifying sequence. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors of being poisoned.

For a moment it looks like AHS: Apocalypse has cleaned house with the bulk of its cast, but then the final piece of the puzzle finally comes together and there’s one more final twist. Apparently, these mass executions were Langdon’s plan all along. He wanted all of Outpost Three killed and the express purpose of the apples was to poison them. Furthermore, Mead’s allegiance to Venable has all been one elaborate long con and a function of her programming. Mead is actually devoted to Langdon, not Venable, and he maybe even built her in the image of Constance. It seems that in many ways she’s been a mother figure for him through the years.

“Forbidden Fruit” is easily the best episode of the season. It picks up the pace and it actually feels like the plot starts to get moving here. Plus, there are plenty of shocking, memorable sequences throughout this offering. As big as all of the episode’s developments are, none of these massive twists are as awesome as the final witch-infused minutes of “Forbidden Fruit.” The camera mysteriously swirls, “She’s A Rainbow” blares on the radio, and the all-powerful witches from Miss Robichaux’s Academy immediately start kicking ass and cleaning up Langdon’s mess. It’s surprising how cathartic it is to see these characters return and in such a triumphant fashion. In many ways it feels like the first three episodes of American Horror Story: Apocalypse were just an extended prologue to immerse the audience in this desperate world. Now the training wheels are off and it’s time to light some devils on fire.

Surprise, bitch? I’m not just surprised. I’m goddamn excited.

‘American Horror Story: Apocalypse’ airs Wednesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX