American Horror Story: Apocalypse – “The End” Review – IGN

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Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…

As someone who’s reviewed each episode of American Horror Story since the very start, the idea of Apocalypse instantly intrigued me. An actual payoff to the demon spawn ending of Murder House and the End Times prophesy relayed by Billie Dean Howard? Mixed with the (surviving?) witches from Coven? Oh, and old characters from those seasons returning? Meaning some stars will be playing multiple roles?

Admittedly, Apocalypse felt like a reward, of a sort. For those of us who stuck with the series after the Jessica Lange years and who relished the idea of this all turning, slowly, into a shared universe (which kinda/sorta began back in Freak Show). Because while Murder House and Coven are the main focus here, it’s still everything, right? All seasons. If Horror Story is one world, then this was the end of everything. And so, sticking with that, thematically this might be the final season.

Anyhow, this was all a long way of saying Apocalypse looked amazing on paper. It’s execution, at least in this first episode (appropriately titled “The End), was campy and muddled. Over the years, Horror Story slowly transformed from earnest slasher scares and nightmare haunts into schlocky pop-culture nods and cartoonishly shallow characters. Part of that is Coven’s fault, since Emma Roberts’ Madison was filled to the brim with overwritten witticisms and insta-quotable rhetoric, yet Horror Story seemed to find its ultimate sweet spot when it blanked both. “The End” lacked bite because it was too concerned with snark. It lacked fright because it was too focused on comically spotlighting a fallout bunker filled with “the worst” people.

To kick off “The End,” nuclear missiles launched, effectively ending the world, and in a Miracle Mile situation (1988, dir Steve De Jarnatt) four people (who weren’t Billy Eichner) flew out of LA in a private jet – Evan Peters’ Mr. Gallant and his grandmother (played by Joan Collins) along with Leslie Grossman’s Coco (who’s a lot like Grossman’s Meadow from Cult) and her assistant Mallory (Billie Lourd). Separately, Ashley Santos and The Path’s Kyle Allen, as Emily and Timothy, were scooped up by mysterious operatives and rescued from nuclear fire because of their DNA.

Two weeks later and everything’s a cross between the Fire Festival and a sassier, foggier Into the Badlands. The aforementioned are all in a bunker called Outpost Three and lorded over by Kathy Bates’ Miriam and Sarah Paulson’s (in one of her three Apocalypse roles) Wilhemina. We’d come to learn over the course of the hour (and 18 months of everyone’s tedious life) that Miriam and Wilhemina have gone a bit rogue. With other Outposts being invaded by God knows what on the outside, these two have decided to have some fun while their bosses, The Cooperative, are distracted. Meaning, they toy and torment the “chosen” who live in the Outpost by making up a hierarchy and enforcing crazy rules.

Basically, we’re back to some of the least interesting aspects of Cult, and with no one sympathetic enough to care about (except maybe Timothy and Emily, though they’re still quite boring) we’re just watching a bunch of tepid jolts and some mild menace. One person gets killed during this initial year and a half and it’s not even anyone we know all that well. It’s all so purposefully tedious that everyone, by the end, wants to revolt and leave the bunker, even though it’d mean death on the outside. Makes you wonder how we’re supposed to feel as viewers.

Assumedly, fuller and more committed crossovers are coming in upcoming episodes, because this premiere outing had very little to do with blending in other seasons. Cody Fern, who was superb in The Assassination of Gianni Versace and at the heart of one of its best episodes, shows up at the end however as Michael Langdon. And if that name sounds familiar to you it’s because he’s Vivien Harmon’s baby – the twin who survived and was adopted by neighbor Constance Langdon. The antichrist offspring of a human and a spirit, who murdered his nanny when he was just a young child.

After unnerving us for most of the hour, “The End” opened itself up a little bit toward the finish, bringing in Satan’s spawn himself as the head, or one of the heads, of the Collective. And much like Wes Bentley’s Edward Mordrake, back in Freak Show, he’s looking to visit upon all the souls of Outpost Three and judge them. Was this enough to redeem the entire episode? Not entirely, though it does set up next week’s episode nicely.

The Verdict

American Horror Story leaned into camp and comedy, including a couple of time jumps meant for laughs, to speed us through a sassy set-up episode that could have actually been disturbing and scary. Somewhere down the line, the franchise stopped evenly mixing its sinister elements and snarky quips and it’s worked to defang the show a bit. The beginning and end of the episode though, featuring the exodus from LA and the arrival of the antichrist, helped juice things up.

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