American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2018)
Written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, James Wong, Manny Coto, Tim Minear, John J. Gray, Crystal Liu, Adam Penn, Josh Green, and Asha Michelle Wilson
Directed by Bradley Buecker, Jennifer Lynch, Loni Peristere, Sheree Folkson, Gwenyth Hordor-Payton, Sarah Paulson, and Jennifer Arnold
The season opens with the destruction of the world. Bombs fall. Humanity is depleted with only the wealthy and their servants surviving in secret bunker sprinkled around the world. The survivors of Outpost 3 while away the days doing nothing and being tortured with adult contemporary music from the 1970s. Then Michael Langdon arrives, an agent of the Collective, the secret society behind the bunkers and possibly the end of the world. Langdon interviews the survivors one by one, searching for some factor unrevealed to the audience. One lowly unassuming servant seems to possess a spark beyond her station, and this intrigues him. However, things go south, and a series of deaths lead to the surprise arrival of some familiar faces of a season gone by. Also, then most of the season is a flashback taking place before all this happens.
I am stuck in with Ryan Murphy and AHS since Murder House premiered in 2011. There have been personal ups (Asylum, Roanoke) and some tremendous downs (Hotel, Cult). Apocalypse has so much going for it with the ambitious goal of weaving together multiple seasons of this anthology series, yet it manages to flounder and left me feeling incredibly unsatisfied. Once again the aesthetics and decisions of Ryan Murphy get in the way of a story that has great hooks. The things he chooses to explore are not the most interesting things he presents us with. Whereas Murder House was focused with its emphasis on the ghosts and Asylum (other than the UFO thing) told a great psycho story, Apocalypse gives us a mutant wasteland, Ridley Scott style androids, the anti-Christ, a return to Murder House, a return to Coven, a return to Hotel, and these are just some of the disparate elements crammed into the season.
I honestly believe a crazy, off the wall show like this can work, but just not with the sloppy writing and characterization. If you want to be a weird, unpredictable horror show, then you need to make sure that the writer’s room is delivering smart, sharp scripts. AHS follows its typical plot structure of starting the season off with some genuinely interesting ideas to explore and then proceeds to squander all that goodwill by getting so lazy with plot beats. Characters are killed off, and we’re left wondering why a handful of hours were devoted to them if Murphy was going to flip the show over and essentially start from scratch. I loved Roanoke’s mid-season switch because it organically grew out of the structure of the story that was being told. It was a decent meta-textual examination of media and reality television, the perils of fame that didn’t feel cliche and actually had horrific moments.
I’ve tried to view the show through the explanation of some fans that it should just be seen as camp. I don’t think that works with seasons like Cult or Murder House. Apocalypse delivers a crap ton of spectacle, but I was left feeling like everything I’d seen over the last ten weeks was quickly being flushed from my mind. Nothing was stunning about anything that happened. The reintroduction of the Coven felt like terrible fan fiction, and that finale had some of the worst lines. I love Billie Lourd but her character, Mallory, is one of the blandest things Murphy has ever given to viewers. Not quite as dull and uninteresting as the star-crossed young couple that manages to be resurrected in this last episode. But Mallory is practically perfect in every way, has zero character flaws or development for that matter. She is the…hero of this season? I know absolutely nothing about her.
Despite being sold as Apocalypse, this season was a secret sequel to Coven. Now, I know many people love Coven. I am not one, but I also know Asylum was not every viewer’s cup of tea. So to each their own. However, I can’t imagine a fan of Coven came away feeling satisfied with how this season played out. The number of flashbacks gets exhausting so that I can’t blame the audience for losing track of where we are and what is happening in the narrative. Then a time travel plot is tacked on that further complicates the plot and further highlights how poorly structured this whole affair was.
AHS has been renewed for at least two more seasons. And…I will probably be back. Why? Maybe I hate myself. Perhaps this has become an endurance test to outlast Murphy until he gets canceled or ends the damn thing. Sigh.