Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology is often hailed as equal parts horrific and campy, though some seasons lean more toward campy (I’m looking at you, “Hotel”). As each season has a different theme and characters, the question of “Which season is the best?” is surely a subjective one. Nonetheless, earlier seasons, before the iconic Jessica Lange left the show, tend to be held in higher regard.
The latest season of “American Horror Story” is set more or less in the present, when the outbreak of World War III threatens the lives of people around the world. A select few are picked to survive in Outpost Three, a bunker headed by illusive organization The Cooperative, as the rest of the world is doomed to die either from blasts or nuclear fallout. The inhabitants are selected based upon wealth, status or genetic makeup.
Despite only being two episodes in at the time of this article, the eerily foreboding “Apocalypse” holds promise, between its realistic horrors in a dark, ambient setting, arresting new characters and revival of past memorable characters.
Rooted in Reality
Despite the campy and shock-value mentality attributed to “American Horror Story,” the show doesn’t shy away from real-life issues. In “Asylum,” Sarah Paulson’s Lana Winters was involuntary committed to Briarcliff for being gay and forced to undergo gay conversion therapy.
The first episode of “Apocalypse” sees two gay characters being stripped and painfully sprayed down in a cleaning chamber until one is deemed clean and the other too dirty to survive. Although the leaders of the bunker claim the punishment was for going outside and becoming contaminated, more malicious motives are soon revealed, and savvy viewers are likely to notice the sickening parallel to certain societal and religious beliefs that gay sex is taboo.
In the era of the Trump presidency, the possibility of a third world war is looming in many people’s minds, especially after nuclear-weapons-based interactions between Trump and other countries, such as North Korea. Personally, I’ve spent a good hour googling where to take shelter in the event of a nuclear blast affecting my city.
Last season’s “Cult” also played on viewers’ actual political fears, but the whole season was almost too grounded in reality, as it tackled political manipulation, cult behavior and gas lighting.
It occurred to me during the premiere episode of “Apocalypse,” while my heart was competing with my upstairs neighbor’s bass-heavy EDM music, how feasible such an attack is, as opposed to a plot about aliens or vampires (not that those aren’t cool in their own right). The new season’s reality-based fear, combined with its gothic/minimalist fantasy atmosphere, has created a spookily poetic cocktail that’s perfect for Halloween.
People of the Bunker
No season of “American Horror Story” would be complete without veterans Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson, whose characters are the most interesting thus far, aside from the potential exception of Kathy Bates’ hardened Ms. Mead. Paulson delights in her role as the macabre and stoic leader Ms. Venable, who is a far cry from the often-distressed heroines Paulson is accustomed to playing.
Peters plays Mr. Gallant, a flamboyant hairdresser whose grandmother (played by Joan Collins) is also in the bunker. As a gay man, Gallant resents his grandmother’s wishes for him to be a perfect gay and “married with a pair of Yorkies and a collection of Wedgwood dishes.” Gallant brings appreciated humor to this season, along with an apparent dark side.
For those who need a quick refresher, Michael Langdon (Cody Fern) is the Antichrist baby from “Murder House” and the result of ghostly Tate (also played by Evan Peters) raping Vivian Harmon (Connie Britton), his girlfriend Violet’s (Taissa Farmiga) mom. Well, Langdon’s grown up to be quite the charmer, between his striking eyes and long blonde hair. Langdon is tasked with evaluating everyone at the Outpost to determine who is worthy of accompanying him to The Cooperative’s main headquarters. In the brief amount of time we’ve become acquainted with Langdon, we’ve already seen him manipulate Mr. Gallant and Ms. Venable. And he’s just getting started.
The moment loyal viewers have been waiting for will occur at some point this season — the multi-talented Jessica Lange will return to reprise the role of Constance Langdon, aka the grandmother of Michael Langdon. I, for one, am looking forward to the bound-to-be-unique interaction between the family members. Honestly though, as much as I love Lange’s voice, I hope she doesn’t spontaneously break out into song this season. It likely wouldn’t fit the somber vibe of “Apocalypse.”
“American Horror Story” creator Ryan Murphy had been hinting at a crossover season for almost two years, causing fans to wait impatiently. As many viewers know, new characters from “Apocalypse” will comingle with characters from “Murder House” and “Coven,” and the show is no stranger to having actors play multiple characters within the same season.
In addition to Peters’ Tate, the ghostly Harmon family will return, with Taissa Farmiga playing both her “Murder House” and “Coven” characters. Most of the “Coven” witches are also returning. As is, of course, the legendary Stevie Nicks who had a “Coven” cameo. We’ve already seen a hint of this tri-season fusion with the full-body leather suit from “Murder House” making an ominous appearance in the second episode.
Other subtle references have been sprinkled throughout the beginning of the season as well. The second episode’s snakes appear to be referencing “Coven,” and when Langdon declared everyone would be evaluated, it reminded me of the grueling tests to find the next Supreme.
In terms of musical references, a song monotonously plays in the study of Outpost Three, much like the eerie “Dominique” that played on repeat in “Asylum.” A Stevie Nicks song also plays at the end of Episode 2. These references are creator Ryan Murphy’s bread and butter, as he effortlessly weaves an interconnected, mysterious meta-web that he’s likely been planning since the inception of “American Horror Story.”
Although it’s a bit early to tell and the true crossover has yet to begin, “Apocalypse” is shaping up to return “American Horror Story” to its former ghoulish glory.