AHS: Apocalypse’s Season Premiere Begins With The End

by Ben Martin

[PLEASE NOTE: This recap of American Horror Story Season 8: Apocalypse, Episode 1: The End DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS. It is assumed you have already viewed the episode. If you have not, it is recommended you do so. Episode 2: The End can be seen on FX, FX+, On-Demand or via your preferred streaming service.]

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are one of the most prolific creative duos in television history. Murphy, in particular, has had an impressive amount of output since creating Nip/Tuck (2003-2010); bringing his brand of camp to TV and always pushing the limits of the medium. Back in 2011, Murphy and Falchuk in their fruitful partnership with FX Network created television’s first long-form horror anthology series in American Horror Story. Over its past seven seasons, this series has varied in its theme as well as quality. Asthe show enters its eighth season with American Horror Story: Apocalypse, the series once again uses the world’s current socio-political climate as fuel for horror fodder. Having announced one more season following this one, I find it odd that AHS is using the apocalypse as its theme. You would think they would save that for the aforementioned next and final season. Nevertheless, it’s the end of the world as we know it in thisSeason Premiere episode titled The End”.

The Season Premiere begins by quickly introducing us to a few of the main and supporting characters. Opening with the introductions of vapid billionaire heiress and aspiring social media influencer, Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt (Leslie Grossman) and her closest confidants. Coco’s hair stylist, Mr. Gallant (Evan Peters), and her assistant, Mallory (Billie Lourd). The introductions are brief however as mass chaos breaks out. Wasting no time getting to the titular Apocalypse, the media and a nationwide text inform us that intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM)s have been fired.
As you would imagine chaos reigns as traffic jams, people panic, and some folks commit suicide to avoid the inevitable nuclear holocaust. Thankfully for Coco, a private jet has been arranged to fly her to whatever little relative safety could possibly exist during such an event. As Coco, Mallory, and Mr. Gallant (in his own car) race to the airport, Coco calls her husband Brock (Billy Eichner) and tells him to get to the plane as well. Meanwhile, Mr. Gallant stops off to pick up his nana, Evie Gallant (Joan Collins). Unfortunately, Brock is unable to make the flight with the others as the plan is forced take off thanks to mad gunmen who want to overtake the steel bird for themselves. The plane makes into the air; however, it doesn’t stay there long due to a nearby nuclear explosion.

The opening credits sequence treats us to a new version of the show’s theme song. Of course, there are new visuals to go along with it as well. Visuals that seemingly cover many gametes of the horror genre. In other words: Satanic imagery, melting candles, snakes, skeletons and so on. Not to mention a few striking images of nuclear fallout; to reiterate the season’s theme.
Post-opening credits, we cut to “40 Minutes Before the Bomb,” where it’s time to be introduced to more characters. The Campbells are a happy family of four who are soon separated. Upon the announcement of the proverbial end, eldest, college-aged son Timothy Campbell (Kyle Allen) is snatched up by government officials claiming to be with a mysterious organization called The Cooperative. Timothy soon finds himself in a holding cell of sorts where he meets fellow prisoner Emily (Ash Santos);  who was arrested under the pretense of illegal protest. The two quickly bond, as they hug each other in fear, as blasts echo in the background.
Following that, there’s a two-week jump as Timothy and Emily find themselves in an underground facility built for long-term habitation. They aren’t the only ones dwelling in the safety of the underground though. Others here have paid $100 million a ticket to be in the dwelling. Among said ticket holders are Coco and her crew. We are also soon introduced to Ms. Wilhelmina Venable (Sarah Paulson), the manager of this facility dubbed, “Outpost 3.”

Ms. Wilhemina Venable proceeds to ramble on about the savior that is The Cooperative before laying out the ground rules of Outpost 3. Firstly, there is a color-coded class system in this fallout shelter. The Purples are considered elite while The Greys are merely servants. No matter your class though, no one is to go outside for any reason due to the possibility of radiation. And, last but definitely not least, no sex.

Dinner is the main event in Outpost 3. Everyone must be in attendance and dress formally. Due to such regulations Timothy showers before it’s time to dine. Before getting ready, he sees “666” written on a steamed-up bathroom mirror. At dinner, we are introduced to the other occupants of this shelter. There is couple Andre (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Stu (Chad James Buchanan). Then there’s former TV talk show host, Dinah Stevens (Adina Porter). Not to mention, Ms. Wilhemina’s right-hand woman, Ms. Miriam Mead (Kathy Bates). The tension at the dinner table is palpable as it’s evident cabin fever is already setting in.

Tension escalates further when Ms. Wilhemina announces to all that there had been a perimeter breach earlier that morning. Thus, everyone at the table is checked for excess levels of radiation. Mr. Gallant, Andre, and Stu’s respective levels are too high, and they are hauled off to the decontamination room. There, they are sprayed and scrubbed harshly, with an intensity I haven’t seen since Silkwood (1983). Despite this procedure, Stu’s still considered contaminated. Therefore, he is shot in the head at point blank range and killed by Ms. Miriam Mead.

Later that night, a revelation is revealed. That being that Ms. Wilhemina and  Ms. Miriam are lovers. Furthermore, they rigged the game against Stu and killed him for “The pleasure of dispensing punishment.” It seems these ladies are going against the rules put in place by their benefactors at The Cooperative. Meanwhile, Andre’s still reeling from Stu’s death. Not that Andre’s lost love won’t get far from his heart; only to go to his mouth. In an unoriginal turn, the ladies serve Stu for dinner.
Eighteen months later, we find everyone in Outpost 3 is even more miserable. Except for Timothy and Emily, who are secretly carrying on a love affair. Alas, love alone is not enough to survive on as food is running low. As if things weren’t bad enough, a mysterious visitor soon comes calling. Michael Langdon (Cody Fern), a higher-up in The Cooperative, announces to Wilhemina that he has come to Outpost 3 with a sole purpose. To evaluate the facility and its members. Those worthy will move on to a superior facility; while the unworthy will be killed. With this proclamation (and set-up for the remainder of the season), the episode ends.

As you no doubt surmised from that recap, plenty of content is packed into this 45-minute Season Premiere. Alas, quantity does not always mean quality. Now, that isn’t to say that AHS: Apocalypse doesn’t possess good qualities; it definitely does. As with other respective episode and season of this series, The End is a well-made season opener. One that is ripe with atmosphere, thanks in part to its theme. The cast, many of whom are returning from previous seasons of the show (as different characters of course) shine here. However, they all play characters whom I found to be unlikable on some level.

If this episode is any indication, the real issue for AHS: Apocalypse is that it’s going to go one step forward and two steps back. Meaning, I think everything is dealt with wrong here; particularly concerning this season’s apocalyptic theme and setting. Instead of playing the end of the world for pure horror, it all seems to be played for camp after this episode’s opening sequence. While I realize and appreciate that Murphy and Falchuk are partial to camp, there’s far too much of it present in the episode. In fact, The End played more like a vaudevillian comedy than anything else to me. Worst of though, I chiefly found this episode to be a bore.
While I do not doubt that AHS: Apocalypse has great potential, I did not find this episode to be the enticing season start which I desired. This season is promising a lot, namely being a crossover season that ties into American Horror Story: Murderhouse (Season 1) and American Horror Story: Coven (Season 3). An idea which I find to be interesting; but I fear it could be sloppy. For all the atmosphere that Apocalypse has it needs to pick of the pace and adjust its tone. Otherwise, I frankly think that this season’s going to be a long-haul.

Episode 2: The Morning After Premieres Wednesday, September 19th at 10:00 PM, Only on FX.

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