American Horror Story Apocalypse Begins at the End

first_img American Horror Story’s eighth season starts strong with a fear that’s been at the forefront of all our minds since November of 2016. That one day, we’ll be going about our business, and the world will end. The opening moments of the American Horror Story: Apocalypse’s premiere is its best. It’s where Ryan Murphy’s comedy and horror sensibilities combine perfectly. He gives us a bunch of shallow, garbage LA people and puts them through something truly terrifying. And we can’t even enjoy it in a sadistic slasher movie way because one, the worst person survives, and two, the entire world goes up in flames. Hard to laugh when you know you’re among the victims.The opening scenes capture the panic of imminent nuclear annihilation very well. We a rich girl getting her hair done so she can make a name for herself as an Instagram influencer. She berates her assistant and gossips with her also-rich hairdresser when she receives the alert. It’s worded exactly like the mistakenly sent missile alert Hawaiians got a while back. Which really adds to the authenticity of this whole scenario. Because we’ve all collectively gone through that as a nation, and had a good laugh about it when it turned out to be nothing, we can totally see ourselves taking the next one less seriously. Even when it turns out to be real. The socialite, Coco, doesn’t even fully understand what’s going on until her assistant, Mallory, forces her into a car to take her to a private plane.These opening scenes show us American Horror Story still knows how to build a tense scene when it wants to. It’s one of those situations where Ryan Murphy’s comedy adds to the horror. While we’re laughing at these awful people, our guard is down for the chaos outside the car. We’re just as scared as Coco and Mallory when a dead body lands on their windshield. People are jumping off buildings to avoid the bombs. That’s especially horrifying because we’ve seen that happen before. The comedy even lets us have a moment of release after all that stress. In the end, Coco has four spots on her pilot-less plane. The other three were for her family who never made it back. Those four spots are taken up by her, Mallory, the hairdresser Mr. Gallant and his grandmother, Evie. The whole ride over, Coco has been begging her husband to get to the airport, but he’s held up by LA apocalypse traffic. Billy Eichner’s last words being “you bitch” screamed at a plane as it takes off is a great comedic cap to all the terror.Kyle Allen as Timothy Campbell. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FXLater, we meet the two other main characters of this season, meaning we get to experience the horrors of Armageddon again. We see a family celebrating that their eldest son, Timothy’s acceptance into UCLA. Their father, played by Cheyenne Jackson, rushes home to warn them of the incoming missiles. What we get is an oddly affecting scene where the family just hugs each other and prepares to die. You don’t get genuine moments like this from AHS very often. Then, a bunch of shady maybe-government agents show up to collect Timothy. He sent his DNA to an ancestry website, which is how they learned he’s a perfect candidate for survival. They separate him form his family and take him to a bunker where he meets the other candidate, a girl named Emily. The end is just as horrific a second time as we watch them watch the bombs go off.So here’s where the episode gets real messy. Its best moments were all these little human dramas that played out as the bombs were on their way. Then, Timothy and Emily are taken to The Collective’s bunker, where they meet up with the rest of our main cast. This is what Coco’s family paid so much to be a part of after the world ends. A strict caste-based society watched over by Sarah Paulson in medieval Halloween garb. I’ll say this for the season. It’s a lot of fun watching Paulson turn up the evil here. In most of these seasons, she’s the everywoman beset by horror, and this time she gets to be the one causing it. We got a little glimpse of her sadistic side in last year’s AHS: Cult, but she really gets to sink her teeth into it here.Sarah Paulson as Ms. Wilhemina Venable/Cordelia Foxx. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FXThe bunker has very strict rules and none of them make a lot of sense. That’s probably by design. There’s nothing American Horror Story likes to do more than disorient and confuse us in its premieres. They may have taken that a little too far here, though. Timothy and Emily learn that they are to be Purples, people who were chosen to survive… or who paid their way in. Oddly. Despite having someone else’s paid ticket in, Mallory is assigned to be a Grey, the servant class. It’s darkly funny that even after the end of the world, she’s still serving rich assholes like Coco. Make your peace with that, because darkly funny is kind of the best we get for the rest of the episode.The bunker is wacky and weird, but even one extreme scene can’t quite bring back the horror of the premiere’s opening scene. The Purples are forced to wear Victorian dress clothes at all times, making everything look like a low-budget period soap opera. They only eat a single cube at each meal that supposedly contains all the nutrients they’ll need, and they can’t have sex. It’s never explained why, but I’d guess so no babies are born while the world is still a radioactive hellscape with no food. Timothy and Emily have an instant attraction to each other, so that leads to a lot of hand-holding and secret kisses. Why that was important to tell us, we don’t know yet. The show hasn’t given the slightest indication of where this is all going.(Photo via FX)That’s the big problem with this latter half of the premiere. It’s so focused on confusing us with tonally questionable wacky comedy, that none of the horror really lands. We simultaneously told too much and not enough. We know that Paulson’s Wilhelmina Venable and Kathy Bates’ Miriam Mead are running this place in their own way. They’re not following The Collective’s direction; they’re purposefully tormenting the purples. Why? How? What was The Collective’s plan supposed to be? We have no clue. It’s hard to be scared when the show won’t tell us what to be scared of. We know they want to be Purples, but they can’t. So they take sadistic joy in punishing them. Which mostly seems to involve keeping them in a room together and playing the same annoying song indefinitely.It means the big horror moment of the second half of the hour comes out of nowhere and doesn’t land quite the way it should. Miriam says she’s received word that one of the Purples has been outside, and brought in a dangerous amount of radiation. She scans each of them, turning up the Geiger counter’s sensitivity so it lands on Gallant and… one of the other purples who’s given little more than a first name: Stu. They’re taken to be forcibly cleaned, the torturous nature of which is admittedly a little scary. When Stu still comes up contaminated, Miriam shoots him in the head, right in front of Gallant. This should be scary. This should be the moment where we realize what mess our main characters are in for. But it’s not. It doesn’t work because we don’t even have the slightest inkling of who this guy is or how he relates to anyone else.Cody Fern as Michael Langdon. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FXAt least the cannibalism scene that follows pulls off the horror movie gross factor well enough. Unfortunately, it’s telegraphed so far ahead, we catch on before anyone onscreen does. We don’t even get the initial shock because we see exactly how the whole scene will play out before it even gets started. I will say that Stu Stew is a great pun. Even if these scares were pulled off well, it’s hard to care about any of these people, save for Timothy and Emily. The rest of them are either the worst people, or we don’t know them at all. That lessens the horror quite a bit. By the end of the episode, I’m not relishing the chance to spend another nine hours with these people. And that’s when things get interesting.If there’s any indication that American Horror Story will pull this off, it’s what happened right at the end. We finally see the face of the man in charge of The Collective. It’s Michael Langdon, the Antichrist child from the end of Murder House. We’ve seen our first crossover, and he’s here to decide who gets taken to the better bunker, where it’s nice and comfortable, and there’s enough food for a decade. How he’ll decide, we don’t get to see just yet. Considering his identity, and his parentage, it’s not going to be pleasant. And he’s probably not being entirely honest about this supposed good bunker. Immediately, this throws the nature of the world of AHS: Apocalypse into question. How did the war really start? How did all the other bunkers fall? Is there some malevolent mutated creature out there destroying them, or was it all Michael’s doing? Right away, the whole premise of this season became scarier. I just hope it can hold back its desire for wackiness enough to make the scares work.Learn more about FX’s spooky hit in our Geeksplainer. Read up on all our reviews from last season, AHS: Cult. Find the perfect gift for the ultimate AHS fan. Follow all AHS updates here.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Top Movie and TV Trailers You Might Have Missed This WeekAmerican Horror Story Takes Us Back to the Days of Witches and Warlocks Stay on targetlast_img