All the promotion for the eighth season of American Horror Story, dubbed Apocalypse, has promised the show’s most ambitious and craziest storyline yet. Sadly, the only thing notable about the premiere episode is how extraordinarily boring it is.
The network ads have also hyped this season as being a big crossover event with the characters and storylines from Murder House (Season 1) and Coven (Season 3), if not more. The premiere has almost no hint of that at all. In fact, the alleged crossover tie-in is so lame I completely missed it and had to have it explained to me afterwards.
To be fair, the episode actually does seem halfway promising for a few minutes. The theme this season is, per the title, the end of the world – specifically, nuclear armageddon. We’re introduced at first to bitchy billionaire heiress Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt (Leslie Grossman, playing a character that would normally go to Emma Roberts if she weren’t scheduled to show up later in the season in another role). While in the middle of a typical Beverly Hills shopping spree, Coco’s day is rudely interrupted by emergency broadcast news alerts of a ballistic missile threat warning. Just as she scoffs her disbelief, her daddy immediately FaceTimes her to confirm that it’s real and instructs her to get to the family’s private jet, which will take her to safety.
Before you know it, Los Angeles is in total chaos, with people murdering each other in the streets. Coco and her entourage – including beleaguered personal assistant Mallory (Billie Lourd), flamboyant hairdresser Gallant (Evan Peters), and Gallant’s wealthy grandmother Ms. Evie (Joan Collins, making her debut on the series) – board the plane and take off just before nukes wipe out L.A. and every major city across the globe. In his final moments, a newscaster repeatedly laments, “I can’t believe we actually did it.”
So far, so good. Unfortunately, this all happens before the opening credits and everything afterwards is all downhill.
We next flash back 40 minutes to meet our presumptive hero for the season, seemingly average suburban teenager Timothy Campbell (Kyle Allen). Almost within seconds of the first missile warning, black SUVs rush up to his house and armed soldiers forcibly pull him from his parents. The Men in Black types in charge claim to be from something called “The Cooperative” and briefly explain that Timothy was identified by a DNA test as a perfect genetic candidate. He has been chosen to be among humanity’s designated survivors.
Before he can even understand what’s happening, Timothy is locked up in a cage in an underground bunker to ride out the devastation. There, he meets Emily (Ash Santos), a girl his age who’s just as confused as he is. After two weeks of waiting, the pair are transported to an outpost in a minimum fallout zone, where the few people outdoors wear hazmat suits and the first thing they witness are two people being executed on the front lawn. It’s not a very welcoming place.
Inside the fortified building, they’re introduced to stern headmistress Ms. Wilhemina Venable (Sarah Paulson) and her henchwoman Ms. Miriam Mead (Kathy Bates). It becomes clear quickly that this Cooperative seems to be some sort of weird religious cult that believes the apocalypse is a cleansing purge that will restore natural order to the world. This outpost is the third of an unspecified number. The kids are forced to dress in ridiculous 18th Century clothing and are informed that the social strata inside the outpost is divided between the elite class “Purples” and the worker class “Grays.” Fortunately, both of them enter as Purples. Nonetheless, the rules of the outpost are strict, and the punishment for violating any of them is death.
Rule No. 1: No unsanctioned copulation. That’s a bummer, because Timothy and Emily have some chemistry.
Ordered to attend a formal sit-down dinner, Timothy and Emily meet the rest of the Purples, consisting of Coco, Gallant, Ms. Evie (poor Mallory has been designated a Gray), and a few other new people including a guy named Stu. They all express their boredom and dissatisfaction with the accommodations. Coco is as much an entitled bitch as ever. The meal they’re served is a tiny, flavorless nutrient cube, and Ms. Venable warns them that they only have an 18-month supply.
A message delivered by carrier pigeon relays the news that all the governments of the world have fallen, and three other Cooperative outposts have been overrun by desperate rioters.
On the charge that one of them allegedly snuck outside and brought radiation contamination back in with him, Venable pulls Gallant and Stu away from the group and has them brutally scrubbed and beaten. Protesting his innocence, Stu is named the culprit and is immediately shot in the head. Later, we’ll learn that Venable and Mead fabricated the accusation in order to thin the herd of one member. The two ladies have been making up their own rules and get their jollies by terrorizing their guests. This hits its apex when, the night after Stu is killed, they serve a special meal of meaty stew, and the evidence of the meat’s origin is not well disguised. As the others freak out, Ms. Evie doesn’t care and happily chows down.
Eighteen months of tedium pass. Rations are cut back to one meal a day. Unexpectedly, a horse-pulled carriage arrives, driven by a man who introduces himself as Michael Langdon (Cody Fern), a representative from the Cooperative. He informs Venable that three more outposts have been overrun and most of the others (including hers) will fall eventually. He, however, can lead them to an impregnable facility with enough supplies to last a decade. Not everyone is invited of course, just those he deems worthy after conducting an evaluation.
Did you catch the stunningly dramatic crossover reveal? No? Me neither. Apparently, if you’ve memorized the last names of all the supporting characters from Season 1, you might recognize Michael Langdon as the evil half-human/half-ghost baby from the finale.
Yeah, that’s it – a character introduced in one episode seven years ago, who was last seen as a toddler and (obviously) is played by a different actor now. That’s the extent of the crossover so far.
In addition to how anticlimactic that is, the episode is a tedious slog from pretty much the second the opening credits end. The impressive scope and audacity of the pre-credits teaser shrinks down to nothing as we realize that the rest of the plot will be a bottle episode trapped in a single, nondescript location. Performances across the board lack any trace of energy. You can practically hear all the returning cast members sighing, “Ugh. Do we really have to do another one of these?” That’s a huge problem for a series that has already been confirmed for renewal through at least Season 10.
The script and dialogue are dull. Practically nothing of interest happens. It’s not scary, and beyond the stew scene, most of the attempts to be satirical or funny fall flat. It feels like the show has not only run of ideas, but isn’t even trying to disguise it anymore.
I’ll give the season one more episode. If the next one is as brutally boring as this one, I’m out. It won’t be the earliest I’ve given up on American Horror Story (I bailed on last year’s Cult after the first episode), but this could very well signal the end of my attachment to the show. As much as I used to love this series in its early seasons, I’m not sure it’s worth coming back anymore.