“The End” provided a solid start to a tantalizing season. American Horror Story is back with a bang.
It’s the end of the world as we know it, friends. The much anticipated eighth season, American Horror Story: Apocalypse, which has promised us a Murder House-Coven crossover, has crash landed. We’ve been teased Jessica Lange and mass destruction. What more could we possibly need?
Los Angeles is no more. Hong Kong, London… a few nuclear missiles and the world is a radioactive wasteland. Survivors, or at least the ones in our tale, are few and far between. Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt (Leslie Grossman) is one of the elite few thanks to her daddy dropping 100 million per ticket for an undisclosed location. Unfortunately, Daddy Vanderbilt bought four tickets, but couldn’t make it back in time to use them, so Coco had space for a few last minute fill-ins: her assistant Mallory (Billie Lourd), her hairdresser Mr. Gallant (Evan Peters), and his Norma Desmond-esque grandmother, Evie (Joan Collins). Shortly after leaving behind her partner (Billy Eichner), the unmanned private jet takes off, only to give the passengers a better view of the mushroom cloud that engulfs La La Land.
Cue the infamous theme music, this time scoring a slide show of End of Days iconography, ripe with devils, serpents, and more mushrooms clouds. The end is nigh.
Not all survivors are blessed with golden tickets. Some, like Timothy (Kyle Allen) and his cellmate Emily (Ashley Santos), are taken by force because of perceived exceptional genetics. They are transported from confinement, two weeks after the blast, to Outpost 3, an austere underground bunker that was once a school for boys. There they encounter Coco and crew, as well as other survivors, Dinah (Adina Porter), Stu (Chad James Buchanan), and Andre (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, who I am happy to see in a world outside of UnReal). All of this survivor bonding is under the eyes and ears of Wilhemina Venable (Sarah Paulson, in one of three roles she plays this season, rocking a Gary Oldman Dracula updo), a strict overseer tasked as the right arm of a mysterious group called the Cooperative, a dozen of the world’s greatest minds who have funded this little bomb shelter experiment. Her deputy, and partner in severe eyebrows is Miriam (Kathy Bates).
Outpost 3 comes with its own quirks, including a strict set of rules against leaving the building and unauthorized copulation. When Timothy and Emily first approach Outpost 3 in their hazmat suits, they see two Grays (lower class servants) being executed for breaking the copulation rule. These outdoor scenes with the gas masks on various figures, and later on horses, and the colour distinction (upper class are Purple) is somewhat reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale colony scenes. Maybe it’s derivative; maybe it’s just that the future will be gas masks and colour-coding. Whatever the reason, those Purples dress for dinner each night in period costumes, listening to the same bland music on a loop. (Shout out to the hilarious detail of making poor Mallory, a Hollywood assistant, a Gray. As a former Hollywood assistant, this is absolute truth). Despite the fancy dress, food is scarce, mere cubes of sustenance. The Cooperative, Ms. Venable tells her guests, has sent word that in the absence of governments, the outposts are being overrun by the infected. They may not survive.
Additionally, fear of radioactive contamination looms. So much so, that when a sweep of the dining room during dinner reveals both Mr. Gallant and Stu to be too “hot” for comfort, they are forced into decontamination showers. Some men just can’t get clean, it seems, and Stu is executed. What follows provides Joan Collins’ best bit of the night, casually quipping over her first hot meal in months while everyone else realizes the stew is Stu. With this and Mallory’s colour assignment, it’s good to see Murphy hasn’t lost his sly humour at poking fun at Hollywood.
After dinner, Miriam joins Ms. V in her room for cards and a little chat, including disclosing that they have gone rogue, enacting their own made-up rules just to torture the guests. While the Cooperative may be real, the rules, and even Stu’s contamination are not. Like so many of the characters who haunt the twisted tales of American Horror Story, these ladies are in it for the mind games. Which may include changing the music the next day to “There Has to Be a Morning After” from The Poseidon Adventure. The survivors view this as a sign, but when it is still playing 18 months later, hope, food, and time are running out. Even in these conditions, a bright spot appears, as Timothy and Emily begin to fall in love, rationing their kisses to one a week to avoid greater temptation.
Out of the nuclear winter comes a stranger, a Lestat lookalike brandishing credentials that name him Michael Langdon (Cody Fern) of the Cooperative. With Outposts falling across the world, he has come to select survivors to whisk away on an all-expenses-paid one-way trip to a sanctuary lush with food options that probably do not include questionable stew. The only catch? He will deem who is worthy and who should be left to die, dragged away like his infected horses.
American Horror Story: Apocalypse is ripe with possibilities. Although it was established years ago that the worlds are connected and we’ve seen characters pop up in other narratives, this is the first time Ryan Murphy and the team have intertwined the worlds in a more meaningful way. The challenge, I would venture, is that part of the appeal of American Horror Story is that each season has is own feel and, as a result, its own subset of fans. For all those who argue Asylum is the strongest season, you have another group willing to fight to the death (and beyond) that Roanoke is where it’s at. How then will we bring the bitchy-Prada chic of Coven into this world? I can’t wait to find out.
Amber is a doctoral candidate in Language, Diversity, and Literacy at Texas Tech. She holds an MA in Literature and History and a BFA in Theatre. A Texas-based mother of two, she is an Associate Professor of English and History at Howard College.