American Horror Story S8E8: Sojourn

by thethreepennyguignol

The question I think I have after this episode, Sojourn, is (for once this fucking season) not about the quality of the episode as a whole. It’s why, eight episodes in, Apocalypse has decided to tell its story the way it has.

Okay, let’s get the review of this actual episode out of the way, because it was actually one of the better episodes of the back half of this season. Perhaps that was because we were focusing on the genuinely new for a change – aside from a couple of brief appearances from various Sarah Paulsons, the land we were tracking over here is previously unmapped, so at least I’m coming to all this fresh. And, you know, it also happens to be pretty fun.

This episode follows Michael (a pre-Lestat Cody Fern, my favourite kind) as he tries to find his place in the world following the murder of his caretaker, Miriam, last week. And somehow, the show manages to wring a lot of entertainment value out of the youthful Antichrist finding his place: from some existential snake-spewing mind journeys (and you know I love me some of them) to fucking Bebe from Frasier (my own and only true Antichrist) turning up to take in the errant Michael and show him his people in her Satanist church, this was an episode flailing, but having a lot of fun doing it.

A pitch-perfect Sandra Bernhard as the head of the Satanist church, irritatedly imploring her worshippers to commit more sin to make way for the Antichrist, was a hoot, Fern was working it as a man searching for his place in the world (and apparently finding it), and Evan Peters and Billy Eichner as bowl-cutted tech bros were so cringy I could hardly look at the screen when they were on it. Which was the point, right? For once, it feels as though the show and I are on the same wavelength. I’m laughing with them, not at them for a change. For an episode, at least.

But the question I have, at the end of this, is really: why did they choose to tell the story this way? This season, unarguably at this point, is the story of Michael Langdon and his rise to power. But I’ve always been a little wrong-footed by that story, given that we had three whole episodes where he was just a background player – hell, even if that. My partner has been catching up on the series this week, and he pointed out, five episodes in, that there’s no real good reason that the show couldn’t have just followed Michael from the chronological start of his story in this season.

Sure, bring in the witches and the Murder House if you have to, but why give us three episodes that are honestly, truly, nothing looking back on them? I mean, I guess they’re…backstory? For Mallory and the other witches? But we’ve had that backstory in the Michael storyline by now, so…what was the point of it? It’s like tacking Notes from the Underground as the prologue to the fucking Harry Potter series. Why? Why would you do this? What’s the point? What do these, aside from some highly tenuous connection that’s covered better elsewhere, have to do with each other? And fuck, can they actually give Evan Peters a substantive role instead of just chucking him a bunch of bit-parts? And can Cheyenne Jackson stop being in the main cast when he’s only in forty combined seconds of screentime?

Ahem, anyway. Back to my main point. I often find AHS and its choice of storytelling lacking (Roanoke suffered badly from a first half that felt enormously inessential compared to the second), but this really just feels like they plotted the Michael story and realized it was three episodes too short so tagged on some shit at the start to pad it out. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong with this, as the season draws towards its conclusion – maybe it will all become clear and everything with slot satisfyingly into place and I’ll walk away satisfied. Or, more likely, maybe the first three episodes were puff and an excuse to fill out an already overstuffed season.

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 picked up on my Riverdale recaps for the new season.. If you enjoyed this recap and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon! And if you’re in a horror mood, go check out Halloween season on my film site, No But Listen

(header image courtesy of Variety)