[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

[Review] “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” Spotlights Michael Langdon in Frustrating “Sojourn”

“American Horror Story: Apocalypse” takes an episode to focus on Michael Langdon’s crisis of faith as he whines, kills, and whines his way to salvation. 

“What do you want from me? What am I supposed to do?”

Oh won’t you please help a desperate, needy Satanist today? The mere change in your pocket could pay for a week’s supply of brimstone for these lost souls.

As American Horror Story: Apocalypse quickly barrels towards its conclusion, its antepenultimate episode provides a heavy dose of Michael Langdon and his many dark apostles that are in need of guidance. Last week’s episode was about empowering the witches about the future and building a battle plan and “Sojourn” largely does the same thing, but from the perspective of the Satanists. Cordelia and her fellow witches actually want to improve and protect the world, whether they’re the ones that are in charge or not, whereas the Satanists are all rather petulant and just want to wipe the slate clean after they’ve been dealt bad lots. They’re a bunch of children who flip over the checkerboard when they see that they’re losing the game. These are not individuals who are fit to run the world and “Sojourn” makes that point dangerously clear.

Michael begins this episode rather crushed over his torched brethren. It’s actually the most emotion and vulnerability that he’s shown since his younger years. In response to this, Cordelia defiantly tells Langdon that he is finally alone in this world, but then he goes out and spends the entire episode proving just how wrong that theory is and that he’s actually never been more loved.

This brief encounter between Cordelia and Langdon is perhaps the best part of the episode. It’s very fulfilling to see Cordelia taunt him and play the devil in her own way as she attempts to lure Michael to join her and her coven. She pushes him to talk to his dad, question his path, and really fight for the future rather than simply be smug and powerful. Langdon turns down Cordelia’s offer, but it does send him looking for answers.

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It only took eight episodes, but if there’s a point where this season of American Horror Story goes off the rails, then it’s “Sojourn.” While this is far from a wasted episode (although it may be the weakest entry of the season), it does choose to spend its time in some curious ways, especially when the episode is also only a scant 38 minutes. When only two episodes in this season remain, it feels like a huge oversight to run the clock in such egregious ways.

For instance, I don’t know if we really needed Evan Peters and Billy Eichner to play two bowl cut coke head misanthropes. It actually makes the final scenes at the robotics lab feel a bit like a parody (but perhaps that’s the point) or that Murphy and company realized that they didn’t have actors for these roles on the day of filming and just threw in Eichner and Peters. Additionally, it’s not really necessary to provide such a lengthy explanation on how Michael’s Robo-Mead came into practice.

In fact, this development really only reiterates how frail Michael is during this moment. When the time came for him to lead his people and take charge, he whimpered to his new friends and demanded that they build him a new mommy. We knew that Mead’s robotic return was imminent, but there are definitely better angles for her creation. It’d also just be more interesting to see Langdon go at the apocalypse “alone,” rather than clutch onto this security blanket because the end of the world doesn’t have a “how to” guide. That being said, Michael begins this episode alone and ends it with more love and support than ever. Much like the coven, he’s ready for combat.

“Sojourn” is a frustrating episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse that slows down the plot and provides answers to the wrong questions. Cody Fern rises to the occasion in an episode that basically functions as a showcase for him, but the rewards aren’t great enough, especially for an episode that’s this close to the end. Do we really need more disposable new characters when there are only two episodes left, and one is the conclusion to all of this? AHS: Apocalypse can still stick this landing, but they better not let these final two episodes get out of control.

“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