There’s something amusingly meta about the fact that American Horror Story’s latest season centres on the idea of foreseeing death and destruction and putting a plan in place to prevent it. As much as the anthology series has its loyal viewers that will tune every year, it seems fair to say that the show’s later outings have failed to live up to its excellent earlier ones. For a time it looked like it was going to continue to go so off the rails that eventually, the network would put it out of its misery.
It’s perhaps for that reason that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk resurrected themes and characters from both Murder House and Coven for Apocalypse. Revolving around Michael Langdon AKA the Antichrist, whose desire to bring about the end of days might only be stopped by clairvoyant witch Cordelia Foxx and her magic mates, it kicks off with the titular event. Later, it jumps back in time to explore what lengths the spellbinding sisters took to thwart it – it’s basically Final Destination, only more ridiculous as it unravels uncontrollably towards a meaningless conclusion.
Newbies Mallory (Billie Lourd) and Coco (Leslie Grossman), who both discover that they’re much more than timid personal assistant and bossy billionaire, make for great new additions but it’s the old favourites that save the show from being a complete mess. It is brilliant to see Sarah Paulson’s Cordelia – now confident in her role as Supreme – take charge, Emma Roberts’ Madison Montgomery bring bitchy energy and Frances Conroy’s Myrtle Snow rock that orange crimped hair once again. It’s just a shame that the show regards them as caped and coifed figures to pose and deliver one-liners rather than three-dimensional characters that can actually drive a narrative.
American Horror Story’s need to indulge fans has never been so evident, from Joan Collins’ inclusion and Jessica Lange’s Constance Langdon declaring to a snooping Madison that ‘this is [my] f***ing house’ to having Stevie Nicks show up and perform for seemingly no real reason. AHS isn’t an exploration of dark and interesting things such as ghosts, trauma or social downfalls anymore; it’s merely here to offer up a series of ‘YAAAS QUEEN’ moments for audiences to tweet about.
Because of that, the plot is choppy. Piecing together Langdon’s life from when he was a toddler in Constance’s care to a grown man with a painfully unsubtle ‘666’ brand behind his ear, we see him find a home with Kathy Bates’ character Mrs. Mead and study at a school for warlocks but they do little to add depth to his character nor attempt to have you sympathise with him. It’s a far cry from the superb screenwriting in the show’s first season, which somehow got you to understand Tate Langdon (Michael’s father) even though he was a mass murderer in life and a messed-up manipulator in death.
More frustratingly, Apocalypse lacks any sort of twist that previous seasons – however questionable – have possessed. Things just sort of happen. Things that are completely out of the blue and nonsensical – particularly in the finale – and you’re just expected to nod along and buy it. It’s hard to believe that such calculating witches, with the threat of global extinction, would mess around bringing back pals from the dead just so they can enact revenge or that two tech nerds can manage to coerce Satan’s all-powerful spawn and yet, here we are.
That said, the visuals and costumes this season are some of the best the show has seen since Hotel (those witches sure know how to serve some looks). The locations are pretty engaging as well, from the gloomy quarters of the Outpost, the sanctuary in which some of the world’s elite go to survive the apocalypse, to the glistening white walls of Miss Robichaux’s Academy. It’s a treat to once again be inside the shadowy claustrophobic cage that is Murder House too but it’s not enough.
It’s clear that AHS is running out of creative steam, having used up all of its twisted imagination. If only Falchuk and Murphy could have envisioned how messy their once-extraordinary show would end up being, perhaps they could have done something to save it. The only thing we can hope for now is that after its renewed seasons, the end is nigh.