American Horror Story is back, and it’s the end of the world! One thing I love about this show is that for me at least, its premieres signal the beginning of the Halloween season. The highly anticipated Apocalypse season begins with chaos as cities are blown up, sending everyone into a panicked attempted to escape. Only a chosen few who either have the money or the good genetics to save themselves are sent to fallout shelters where they dress up for dinners, listen to the same song all the time, and struggle to stay sane while unable to leave the building. Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates rule over the (mostly) voluntary inmates as Ms. Venable and Mrs. Mead. Those housed in the shelter include more series veterans like Evan Peters, Adina Porter, Billie Lourd, and Leslie Grossman. Joan Collins also joins the group, with Cody Fern showing up in the end.
“The End” is a roller coaster ride from start to finish. Being a season premiere, it naturally sets up a lot of interpersonal relationships and plot elements. American Horror Story is all too familiar with campy humor and unlikable characters, and based on “The End,” this season is likely to be swimming in both. Grossman’s Coco is understandably shaken up when she sees her family die, but she then abandons her husband to the same fate, telling him he is “released” from their monogamous union. She proves to be an entertaining character, but not one with whom you can sympathize. I was particularly looking forward to seeing Jessica Lange, Lily Rabe and Taissa Farmiga again, but their characters don’t appear in “The End.” It’ll be interesting to see how their stories tie in with the fallout shelters and the people residing there.
As usual, the show’s production value is incredible. Once in the shelter, everyone has beautiful, unique costumes and intricate hairstyles. The shelter is a former boys’ school, and has all the creepy atmosphere fans of the show will expect, and wardens Venable and Mead are very mysterious. They do mention breaking the rules of the Collective, but at this point, we can’t be sure what exactly that entails, aside from what they’ve already done. I also found “The End” very funny at times, such as the “The stew is Stu!” scene. The dark color palette in “The End” is appropriate to the situation, but I wonder if it’ll be this way all season. The returning performers are all great as usual, and Joan Collins is hilarious. The music isn’t anything that’ll blow your mind, but it’s atmospheric and goes well with what’s happening on-screen. At times they use music, songs in particular, ironically; the cheery song the survivors are forced to listen to is completely at odds with their situation, and it later changes to “The Morning After” by Maureen McGovern, giving everyone a false sense of hope. It’s hilarious when the scene cuts and it’s 18 months later, with everyone still trapped underground for survival.
There is one scene in this episode that kind of confused me: when Mss. Venable and Mead meet in the bedroom of the former, they reveal that they’re wearing fancy, Victorian-style dresses. Their interaction throughout this whole scene, especially the way they look at themselves and each other in the dresses, is very uncomfortable and cryptic. At first, I thought the implication is that they’re secretly a couple; this would explain their behavior, the glances, and their talk of all the rules they’re breaking. But after seeing the rest of the episode, I don’t think that’s right. American Horror Story has always been blunt, even to the point of grotesqueness, with regard to sexuality. I don’t know what’s up with these two, but if they’re supposed to be lesbians, I’m sure it would be more obvious.
Aside from Coco, “The End” focuses a lot on Kyle Allen’s character Timothy and Ash Santos’ character Emily. These two do pair up but aren’t allowed to consummate their union by the rules of the Collective. All we know about them is that they were forced into the program for having desirable genetics; we see Timothy unwillingly yanked from his family and dragged away. They aren’t despicable like Venable and Mead, or even annoying like Coco, but so far they’re not doing much for me and I’m not invested in their relationship. They’re going for a lot of overt Biblical symbolism this season, so I do wonder if, after all is said and done, the world will start over with them as Adam and Eve.
The episode ends with a happy song juxtaposed with the arrival of the Antichrist, played by Cody Fern, who was also in season two of American Crime Story. He’s somehow related to season one’s Tate and Constance Langdon; I think he’s supposed to be Tate’s son, but that will surely be explored later in the season. This is just one short scene at the very end of the episode, but it is fittingly creepy and unsettling. He tells Ms. Venable that he’s come to judge who deserves to survive, and move them to a safer Outpost, as the existing Outposts, even hers, aren’t as secure as they had originally thought. I have a feeling Coco and Andre may be the next to die because they’ve been causing problems for the wardens and don’t seem likely to cooperate with whatever is to come next.
Overall, “The End” is a pretty good episode. It sets up a lot of interesting ideas and characters for the rest of the season to explore, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with them. I’m even more curious to see how they’ll bring in the characters from earlier seasons, how they’ll interact with these new people (especially since some of them will be the same performers), and how that will all play out. The acting, atmosphere and tone of the episode are fantastic. There are also several ironic moments that are absolutely hilarious. At this point, most of the plot is a mystery, but I’m invested enough to keep watching and see what the answers are.