American Horror Story S8E1: The End

by thethreepennyguignol

Ah, yes, we’re back: another season of TV’s bizzaro sideshow act, American Horror Story. And this is a show that I will always come to with great interest, because, no matter how bad it’s gotten (and it’s been bad), there is always something there to keep me engaged: the camp, the gore, the gleeful evil, the talented actors, the magic direction. I’ve reviewed the last couple of seasons (Roanoke and Cult), and really enjoyed writing about them week to week, because trying to make sense of this screeching mess of a show is just – well, it’s the kind of pointlessly difficult task I like to throw myself into for my own masochistic sense of self-brutality. This season, Apocalypse, brings together seasons one and three, with the promise of a post-apocalyptic nightmare drenched in Ryan Murphy’s inimitable sense of camp horror fun (oh, and since you’re obviously the kind of deviant who would be into that kind of thing if you’re here reading these recaps, check out ALPHA FEMALE, my new femdom erotica series that’s available for download right now!)

Look, I find the notion of a nuclear apocalypse one of the most singularly terrifying things in existence: I read On the Beach by Nevil Shute when I was a teenager, and it scared the fucking bejeesus out of me and ever since then I’ve had this pure nightmare terror of the impossible, endless destruction of a nuclear war. So the first seven minutes of this episode, as a number of major cities are destroyed by nuclear bombs, pushed those buttons in me and aren’t too bad – the panic, the terror, the brutal suddenness of the crashing end to society works well enough. But what follows, as the survivors of the attacks retreat to a mysterious, gothic outpost and attempt to survive the aftermath? Nah.

It’s really hard to put my finger on exactly what I didn’t like about this episode, but there were really lots of little niggles that irritated more than enchanted here. I mean, the best part of these season premiers is getting to see who our favourite performers are playing this time around. And look, I love this cast. But this is about as far removed from what I like from them as I can imagine. Evan Peters, fresh off a killer performance in American Animals, wafts with camp innefficiency around the background of this episode as a celebrity hairdresser. Cody Fern, who put in a beautifully tender and human turn in American Crime Story earlier this year, is channeling Poundland Lestat. Sarah Paulson is the tap of a walking stick and a sneer, while the fantastic Adina Porter never gets away from two-dimensional, though I’m willing to give both of them time to breathe given their exceptional performances in this show to date.

Leslie Grossman doesn’t really work as Coco, socialite and social-media star, the central character to this episode – no matter how much I like her, she is limited, and hyper-vapid doesn’t suit her given the lack of depth to her performance in the first place.. Kathy Bates, as the butch lesbian gothic sidekick of my DREAMS, is solid, but she couldn’t just act her way out of a paper bag but method into making you believe she had always been the paper bag, so. Joan Collins is my least favourite addition to the cast, mainly because the show seemed determined to write the most Joans Collins-y role they could for her and her shctick has never really appealed to me in the first place, so turning it up to ten is just needling more than anything.

And the new cast is – well, we do have Jeffery Boywer-Chapman here, which I’m delighted to see, since I reviewed him and his committed and emotionally literate performance in the dire UnREAL earlier this year, and I’m so happy to see an actor of his evident talent getting an airing on a wider stage. But we’ve also got a couple of younger additions, in the form of a couple of teens who are acquired by a mysterious organisation in the face of the apocalypse thanks to their apparently resistant DNA. And honestly, both the characters and their dull, dull romance story feels like something plucked straight from a YA drama that I never wanted to read in the first place, neither of them delivering on the charisma or the camp that most of the actors in this show glide by on.

More than anything, this opening feels threatless. Despite the actual nuclear apocalypse and some, you know, apparent cannibalism, there was no “oh fuck!” moment that hooked me into the conflicts or characters presented here, everything feeling more by-the-book than rewriting it. It felt lazy, a little dull, setting up the basics without really striking out into anything truly compelling or new. Even the arrival of the long-awaited Michael Langdon, the antichrist baby born at the end of the first season, feels more like a sigh than a gasp. Yes, this is set-up, but there’s little here to give the show a real pulse. With nuclear zombies in the woods, I fear that Apocalypse could be less the end of the world and more the end of what little creative spark American Horror Story has left.

And that’s where we leave off for this week! If you want to read some of my other recaps, I’m also looking at the first Harry Potter book chapter by chapter right now, and recently finished reviewing Sharp Objects episode by episode. If you enjoyed this recap and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon! You can also find more of my writing on my film site, No But Listen.