[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” 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] “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” Season Eight Premiere Brings Upon “The End”

“American Horror Story” pulls the trigger on its crazy “Murder House/Coven” crossover and the season starts on a strong, ridiculous foot.

“No need for rules anymore. The chaos has won.”

Ryan Murphy is a showrunner that always gets by with his attempts to cultivate a certain level of madness in all of his projects. Madness can be a good thing and it’s what fuels some of his best work, but it’s also what causes so many seasons of his shows to careen off the rails. There have been plenty of audacious premises and seasons for American Horror Story (last season’s AHS: Cult even made megalomaniacal Trump followers the main evil), but this year promises to be the most insane yet. There’s been much publicity over how this new season will mash-up the show’s Murder House and Coven seasons and drape a cozy End of Times setting over it all. There’s always been a dialogue between American Horror Story’s different seasons, but this year makes it as explicit as possible and indulges in the camp of it all.

American Horror Story’s first season shockingly ended with the dour conclusion that Jessica Lange’s Constance Langdon was successful in her efforts to bring a baby Antichrist into the world. Many viewers were then excited to see how this Antichrist storyline would carry over into the following year, but then Ryan Murphy made the bold reveal that American Horror Story would be an anthology series and keep moving with its stories. That angle has been fundamental to the show’s success and the pedigree of actors that are attracted to the series, but now seven years later the audience can finally get some release! AHS: Apocalypse features a grown up Michael Langdon and it appears that his Satanic powers are in full bloom.

The season allegedly begins in October 2019, which is still close enough to now that it doesn’t feel removed from reality, especially when there are references to Donald Trump and hints that this disastrous world is a result of his actions. Like many seasons of American Horror Story, this premiere’s timeline is all over the place and “The End” catapults backwards and forwards in time to effectively fill in the details of this apocalypse. Even though this premiere pushes about two years deep into this Armageddon, if anything, it feels like things are just getting started here.

The premiere’s opening scenes where the apocalypse and fallout first strike and break through everyone’s simple, boring lives (A Free Willy six-part limited series isn’t a completely terrible idea though…) make for deeply effective and startling set pieces. The episode immediately shows that the affluent and connected are the ones with the escape plans and the means to survive through this mess. They have the ability to wade through the “fake news” here. It’s a rather startling commentary on how these bleak times likely would play out. The rich here have no qualms shooting down innocent lives if it means another of their own could get one of the limited seats in their survival plan.

In addition to people that are buying their futures, the mysterious Cooperative is also selecting (aka stealing) people with ideal genetic makeup that will be crucial for whatever their plan is for the future. Unfortunately, most people don’t have such luxuries and the bulk of the world is just in freefall panic mode. The streets are in disarray, newscasters publicly say goodbye to their families on the air, and the blare of air sirens is constant.

All of the original characters for AHS: Apocalypse wind up in the Outpost Three survival bunker and because they’ve bought their survival they all happen to be spoiled, awful individuals. “The End” mostly looks at Evan Peters’ haircutter savant, Mr. Gallant and Leslie Grossman’s vapid Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt, but everyone is largely a cipher at this point in the season. However, Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates’ new characters, Wilhemina Venable and Miriam Mead, are vindictive breaths of fresh air. These gatekeepers decide to “dispense punishments” in this new world and relish in the pain and confusion that ensues. They’re given plenty of attention once the episode dives underground into Outpost Three. The Cooperative is clearly this season’s big, evil monolith, but only a taste of their intentions are clear at this point. They pay people’s bills and are at the top of this chain of command, but some individuals are starting to entertain the idea of rebelling against it.

The premiere settles into life within Outpost Three and it slowly lets the bad news about the world unspool. Real food is a rarity and people have had to turn to drastic measures like cannibalism (“The stew is Stu,” is vintage Murphy). It doesn’t take long for their protein cube rations to get filed down to half a cube per day to ensure “survival.” This episode even broaches the idea of these survivors needing to ration “love,” which is both ridiculous, but also kind of touching. Relationships become the only thing that these people have left in this claustrophobic world. Everyone is stuck in this bunker as they hopelessly wait for the Cooperative to save them, but cut to eighteen months later and they’re still down there waiting for rescue. The thing is, it’s even more desolate and broken on the outside that it’s hardly a future to aspire towards.

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“The End” mostly relishes in its new characters, but one “familiar” face shows up in the final moments. Michael Langdon, relative Antichrist, breaches Outpost Three and gives Wilhemina and Miriam their first visitor in ages. He explains that three other outposts have fallen and that he wants to help save the people that are still alive, but obviously everything that he says should be taken with a tremendous grain of sulfur. At the moment he definitely appears to be calling the shots and holds authority—perhaps he even runs the Cooperative—in this broken future.

The appearance of a grown up Michael is enough of a “cliffhanger” for this new season to go out on, but it’s really just a tease. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the new place that he’s taking everyone is the Murder House so that he can gain more souls over there or just trap more people in twisted mind games. The bunker they’re kept in for the bulk of the episode is its own hypothetical Murder House, so to speak. They’re still indefinitely locked up in there.

At this point in the season American Horror Story is just having fun with the shock to the system that this new normal provides. We know that there are going to be a lot of characters in this season, but this premiere holds back on the reunions and focuses on setting up its chessboard. There’s some stunning cinematography at work here and even though this is a rather confined episode at times, all of the shots in the John Carpenter-esque fog are really breathtaking. Furthermore, “The End” may restrain itself from inserting literal monsters into this premiere, but once again with this show, some of the most effective, terrifying stuff is to watch humanity go off the rails and see people at their worst.

“The End” makes for a strong start to this season that should have no trouble grabbing viewers’ attention. That being said, strong premieres are pretty par for the course with this show. The season is still very much in its introduction phase, which is always an area where the series has a lot of fun. The real test will be to see if the fourth episode or the eighth episodes are still as entertaining. This season of American Horror Story has potentially more riding on it (and more viewers) than any season that’s come before. Hopefully Murphy and company have given Apocalypse the proper amount of attention and that this season works as a stunning send-off to two previous seasons rather than a messy fire that tarnishes some of the show’s golden years in the process.

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