Last year, I made an attempt to recap each episode of American Horror Story: Cult but quickly fell off the regular write-up wagon. Will my coverage of Apocalypse fair better, or will part of the inevitable fallout of frustration AHS creates be another incompletely reviewed season? Let’s find out!
So, Ryan Murphy and crew brought about the end of the world, and it was surprisingly dull. This episode was pretty low on scares. I mean, outside of the all-encompassing fear of annihilation, but there’s only so much you can do with that once the bombs have dropped. And the bombs dropped early, like before the opening credits early.
“The End” begins with billionaire and aspiring Instagram influencer Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt (Leslie Grossman) getting her hair done by Mr. Gallant (Evan Peters) while her assistant, Mallory (Billie Lourd), introduces her to pressed juices. Panic breaks out outside the salon, a notification of an incoming nuclear missile appears on everyone’s phones, and Coco receives a video call from her father in Hong Kong, informing her that the missile is real and she needs to get to a private jet he’s arranged to whisk the family to safety—except 75 percent of the family won’t make it because they’re in Asia, not L.A. (Great planning, dad!) At the call’s end, a nuclear blast appears to go off in Hong Kong. That cues a mad race to the airport with all the panicking in the street disaster movies are known for.
Elsewhere, Timothy (Kyle Allen) is living every high school senior’s worst nightmare: getting into your first choice university and then immediately finding out the world is ending. Good news though: his genes are special, so man-in-black types show up to whisk him away after finding him on an ancestry site. (And you thought 23andMe was pointless.) Tim is secured in an underground bunker where he meets another teen with great DNA, Emily (Ash Santos).
Fast forward a few months, and Tim and Emily are being transported to Outpost 3, a fallout bunker inside a super weird, former boys school. It’s run by Wilhemina Venable (Sarah Paulson), who informs them that their saviors are The Collective. The group is dedicated to restoring civilization by safeguarding the genetically superior and super rich. There they meet other survivors, which include Coco along with Mallory, Mr. Gallant and Evie (Joan Collins), the hairdresser’s grandmother—those three took the spots originally meant for Coco’s family. There’s also Dinah Stevens, notable because she’s played by Adina Porter, and Stu (Chad James Buchanan), notable because before the episode ends someone will scream, “The stew is Stu!”
And I hope you like this low-lit bunker where some people dress like they’re in a period drama and others look like Hunger Games extras because that’s where we spend the bulk of the episode. I get that surviving nuclear fallout or another cataclysmic event would likely be very boring and monotonous, but those are two things AHS should never be. The only intrigue comes from Venable and her henchwoman, Miriam (Kathy Bates), who are abusing their power, making up rules and terrorizing the survivors.
All in all, it’s a little dull narratively and surprisingly unpleasant visually. There is some striking imagery, especially of the spiral-shaped, obsidian bunker against the flat white of nuclear winter and the plague doctor-like gas masks Collective associates wear. But mostly, scenes are too flat and dark to create visual interest. Similarly, there a few entertaining moments, but not much pops in traditional AHS fashion. It probably doesn’t help that we stick close to Tim and Emily, who may have just the most amazing DNA but also are kinda boring, in spite of (or maybe because of) the forbidden love blossoming between them.
Apocalypse has been advertised as a cross-over between Murder House and Coven, but that isn’t apparent from this episode, which is disappointing. It’s only in the beginning and end where references to either season appear. The opening credits borrow imagery from both, and more importantly, the episode ends with the arrival of Michael Langdon (Cody Fern), a Lestat-looking Collective bigwig who has come to judge who at Outpost 3 is worth saving in the long run. For those who don’t remember, Michael Langdon was the name of the baby Connie Britton had with Rubber Man in Murder House. Oh, and he’s also supposedly the Antichrist, so that’s fun.
You can’t really judge any season of AHS by its first episode, but I still feel let down by “The End.” I wanted spoopy, outrageous things, but there was only the implication that they might be coming in future episodes. On the bright side, the Mayans MC promo that aired during the episode let me know that show is a “badass biker drama with heart,” and I’ve decided that’s my new favorite genre.
Cake rating: They only really eat weird little vitamin/nutrient cubes in the episode (aside from one serving of Stu stew), but this is the apocalypse, so I think you have to go with a whole bunch of Twinkies.