TV Review: American Horror Story: Apocalypse – Episode 1: The End

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: APOCALYPSE
“The End” (S08E01)

Starring: Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd, Kathy Bates, Adina Porter, Joan Collins, Kyle Allen, Ash Santos, Billy Eichner, Cody Fern
Director: Bradley Buecker
Writers: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk

Reviewed by Sidney Morgan

This review CONTAINS SPOILERS.

After almost ten months, our screens are finally graced with the newest season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s horror anthology. Expectations are high, more so because this season is the long rumoured crossover season of Murder House and Coven, seasons one and three respectively. All those months to speculate about which actors would return and what the story would be. Well, the wait is over and episode one finally aired. And it starts off with a bang! Quite literally. Only eight minutes into The End, and the world as we know it is gone. For reasons yet unknown, nuclear missiles targeted major cities all around the world, including Los Angeles, where the episode begins. But one particular organization, The Cooperative, had the foresight to prepare for such an event (how would they have known to do so…), building and converting existing structures into outposts for the worthy few.

Wilhemina Venable (Sarah Paulson), in charge of Outpost 3.

First up are the wealthy, those who financed the building and provisioning of the outposts by paying a $100 million membership fee. Among them is Coco (Leslie Grossman), who escapes LA in a private jet, bringing along her assistant Mallory (Billie Lourd), her hairdresser Mr. Gallant (Evan Peters, who looks like he’s having a blast) and his grand-mother Evie (Joan Collins). Then there are the chosen, those who have the superior genetic make-up to survive in this new world. This includes Emily (Ash Santos), whose DNA was tested from blood samples taken from her doctor, and Timothy (Kyle Allen) whose own DNA was used after he submitted it to Ancestry.com. I guess even in television shows there’s no such thing as online privacy. But what is not known, is what exactly their role will be. Oh, watch Tim’s creepy foggy mirror scene carefully for some fogshadowing… or rather, foreshadowing.

The outpost is run by Wilhemina Venable (the ever brilliant Sarah Paulson) whose true nature remains somewhat of a mystery. Walking with the help of a cane, thumping it rhythmically with every step, like a metronome, it’s a pace indicative of old age perhaps? Add a hairstyle that is eerily reminiscent of the one worn by Gary Oldman’s Dracula (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), and it’s clear she isn’t ‘normal.’ And she rules with an iron fist, expecting all those inside the outpost to follow her rules. But to ensure everyone complies and order is maintained, she leaves the dirty work of enforcement to Miriam (Kathy Bates).

Mr. Gallant (Evan Peters), a hairdresser lucky to have survived the apocalypse.

Though under the orders of the mysterious Cooperative, Ms. Venable runs the outpost like her own fiefdom. She makes it clear to Miriam that the two of them are the most important people there.

Her treatment of the supposed guests is pure torture. Ms. Venable makes them listen to the same song, over and over again, for months on end. She has them adhering to an outdated Victorian dress code that looks uncomfortable. She uses the excuse of radiation poisoning to instill fear and make everyone paranoid and resorts to killing them, well, because she can. And she forbids any unauthorized copulation. Really? Two of the outpost inhabitants are young attractive adults, with nothing to do? It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out they’ll be the prime candidates to break that rule. And sure enough, Timothy and Emily fall in love and begin stealing kisses whenever they can. And who can blame them?

All that tension threatens to boil over during one supper. In an act of benevolence, Ms. Venable serves the guests a specially made ‘chicken’ stew as an alternative to that bland vitamin-filled jello they normally eat. Diving in, they find small bones that don’t look like chicken ones. Well, coincidentally, Stu was killed earlier… and now, they’re eating… stew. See what the writers did there? It’s brilliant! In any case, an outraged Mr. Gallant threatens to walk out but is interrupted by the arrival of an unexpected visitor. Finally, it happened!

Michael Langdon (Cody Fern) all grown up now…

As the show progressed, I was excited to see all those familiar faces that have come to define American Horror Story. But they were all playing new characters. I wanted Vivian, Tate, Violet or Constance! Where were Madison, Queenie, Stevie or even Cordelia? Oh, the promises! But then, he came. Walking in and immediately imposing himself, reminding Ms. Venable that she too needs to follow orders. 

After informing her that all outposts will soon be overrun (who knows by whom, or worse, by what), he divulges that there is one that remains impregnable and has sustenance to last a decade. Naturally, she assumes that everyone at outpost three will be moved there. But not so fast! He tells her he is there to evaluate who is, in fact, worthy to go. By the way, did I mention that the man’s name is Michael Langdon (Cody Fern)? Vivian and Tate’s offspring? The evil one (antichrist perhaps?) who was raised by Constance? And in case you weren’t convinced, the episode ends with that familiar creepy song, Tonight You Belong To Me by Patience and Prudence, the one that played at the beginning and end of the first season (Murder House). Wow, what a start!

Verdict

The End wasn’t what I expected, but it is one of the best opening episodes of the anthology. New and familiar faces have again given rise to fun, bigger-than-life characters, though I’ll be honest and admit that I can’t wait for the old ones to visit. The story is already in full motion, both intriguing and frightening. It includes doses of drama and gothic horror while adding a pinch of humour, even if dark. The brilliant cast and story are supported by great settings. The dark underground outpost, the newly destroyed world that is shrouded in fog and smoke, and the costumes all work to support the dark mood and tone of Apocalypse. This is a must watch!

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