Wednesday, November 14, 2018

REVIEW: 'American Horror Story: Apocalypse' - Cordelia and Mallory Make Sacrifices to Save the World in 'Apocalypse Then'

FX's American Horror Story: Apocalypse - Episode 8.10 "Apocalypse Then"

At the start of this season, I mentioned that it had been awhile since I was a regular viewer of American Horror Story. Over the years, the show always just piqued my interest at the start of the season but never required me to actually finish the entire story. That did change with Apocalypse. Not only did I watch every episode of this season, I reviewed all of them as well. That was something I wasn't expecting. And yet, it actually became quite intriguing and compelling to watch as the show played with the mythology established in Murder House and Coven in order to tell this new story. Those were two of the seasons I actually saw all the way through. Even the other references to other seasons weren't that difficult to follow - like the introduction of the Hotel Cortez or the mentions of the blood moon. Of course, all of those details from past seasons ran the risk of creating a season that was nothing more than fan service. A certain plot point would happen only because it would be rewarding to the fans who have been on this journey every step of the way. And yes, that was a significant portion of this season as well. Sure, it was still badass whenever the witches walked in slow-motion to do something incredible. But it also means the return of Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau here even though she really doesn't have much purpose in the overall story. The coven claims that they need the magic of voodoo in order to pull off their latest attack against Michael. However, Marie mostly shows up in order to kill Dinah. Yes, that's a shocking moment. It proves that she is the true Voodoo Queen who deserves to be amongst the living. But it was also a moment that the witches wanted to happen as well. They wanted Dinah dead because of the attack she mounted alongside Michael against the coven. And so, they brought her back from the dead just to kill her again. Plus, that doesn't explain why she had a son in the bunker at the start of the season or why she has a talk show that seemingly made an impact despite only airing a few episodes before the apocalypse. Those moments continue to be annoying. And yet, the season overall was able to craft a new story with familiar characters while getting the audience to feel invested in the outcome.

Of course, the first portion of "Apocalypse Then" has to continue to catch up to the moment that occurred at the start of the season when the apocalypse had happened and everyone in the bunker was killed. That moment brought Mallory, Coco and Dinah back to life and proved that they were witches. Here, it is explained that Dinah got into this bunker as an additional part of the deal that she made with the devil. Even though Michael was surprised to see her again in this place, this is exactly where she wanted to be given the end of the world. Moreover, it's the exact position that the coven wanted Mallory and Coco in as well. They were placed under a concealed identity spell in order to ensure that Mallory's powers kept growing. The previous episode proved that she was strong enough to actually travel back in time and hopefully change history. But she wasn't powerful enough to stay for a long time. The introduction of all of these new powers for her even led some to speculate that she is more than just the next supreme as well. She could be the child of God to confront the child of the devil. Or she could even be an angel. And yet, no such reveal happens here. She is a witch just like so many in the coven. She just happens to be one of the most powerful supremes in the coven's history. She needed to be in order to defeat the looming apocalypse. Michael believes he has won because it was all a prophecy. He achieved his grand goals because it was written that all of this was inevitable. There was no escaping it. That may still be true by the conclusion of this episode as well. But right now, it's all about getting back to that moment in the bunker. This is a crafty plan that Cordelia has put into motion. She survives the apocalypse alongside Myrtle and Madison because of the power of swamp soil. It's then that they return to the bunker in the hopes that they can cast this spell so Mallory can go back in time to defeat Michael when he is younger.

It's a very perilous journey though. Once Mallory actually travels back to 2015, it is actually pretty easy for her to strike Michael and ensure that he never becomes powerful enough to end the world. Getting to that point is incredibly dangerous. Sure, all it takes is a few words to completely destroy the Mead robot. The witches planned for that as well knowing that she too would be in this bunker to rule by Michael's side. But Michael is strong as the Antichrist. Bullets and stab wounds can only delay him for so long. Moreover, there is the surprise of Brock still being in the bunker. He too has a personal history with Mallory. He sees her as part of the reason why he wasn't able to avoid the apocalypse entirely in the bunker with his girlfriend. He already killed Coco. Now, it's Mallory's turn. That's a move that ensures this portion of the episode is very tense. Michael isn't the only threat that the witches have to worry about. It also sets up Cordelia's grand sacrifice. She understands and upholds the power of her girls. She believes in them so fiercely. She knows that they can survive in this world even if she's gone. She may be marked for death because of all of this. She may be destined to die. And yet, it's a choice that she makes in order to ensure Mallory is strong enough to cast this time travel spell. Cordelia kills herself to ignite a new surge of power for the next supreme. As such, Michael doesn't get the satisfaction he has always wanted in killing all of the remaining witches himself. He isn't even the man who designed the apocalypse. He was simply a pawn with no other choice than to be carried around to bring about the end of days. That was his only purpose in life. But it has also made him a hollow man who is defeated by a group of very powerful witches who easily outsmart him.

Of course, Michael's death is equal parts because of Mallory and Constance. Mallory is the one who runs him over multiple times to ensure that he dies before he has a firm grasp on what he is and what he is destined to do. Constance always knew that he was capable of becoming the Antichrist. She's not the one who encouraged those impulses though. She just saw him as the latest troubled child that she would have to deal with in her life. He was just more powerful and dangerous than any of the others she has raised. Here, she is terrified of him and can still call him a coward. He doesn't have the strength to kill her. She has the strength to rid him from her life though. In the original timeline, she lacked that. She went over to the Murder House to kill herself and refused to present as a ghost when Michael came over. She lorded that power over him. And now, she's the one who decides whether or not he will live for all of eternity in that same prison. She could take him to the Murder House where his ghost could live on. She doesn't. She understands in that moment that this is for the best. The darkness inside him can't be allowed to exist in any portion of this world. That means the final portion of this episode is this sweet epilogue in which Mallory has full awareness of the other timeline but is living life over again with her friends who have no recollection. Cordelia is powerful enough to have a sliver of deja vu when seeing Mallory. But she remains in the dark about the apocalypse they all endured and the brutal choices they each had to make in order to survive. The world is saved from destruction because of Mallory's action. She doesn't get the credit for it. She just has the satisfaction of knowing that her actions have shaped lives for so many people. She knows some. She is able to have new dynamics with Cordelia, Zoe and Queenie. She is able to return Misty to Cordelia. But mostly, she was able to save the world. Her supreme believed in her and she was able to get it done.

And yet, the final sequence of the season proves that Mallory may have only delayed the inevitable. She still exists in a world in which this prophecy exists. Michael has died but the devil is bound to try again. It only takes a few more years before that becomes a reality as well. The season closes by returning to Timothy and Emily. Those two seemed like the most ancillary characters throughout this entire season. They had importance in the opening episodes only to be killed off and never mentioned again. Kyle Allen and Ash Santos didn't get to play multiple characters this season. Everyone else who was in that bunker had the luxury of doing so - even though it threatened to confuse some of the viewers. That's what makes it sweet and easily understood when they bump into each other again in this new timeline. It seems so convenient. They too may be fated to be together. They defied Venable's rules because their love was so strong. And now, their love has created the second incarnation of the Antichrist. Michael failed but the devil is trying again to end the world. The pattern may be the same the second time around too. In 2020, Timothy and Emily complain about how rambunctious and aggressive their son is. Then, they return home to see that he has killed the babysitter. Then, they are immediately interacting with the representatives from the Church of Satan. Anton LaVey, Samantha Crowe and Miriam Mead are still loyal servants of the devil. They have found the new Antichrist. And so, this could be the show setting itself up to launch yet another season in which these characters are the prominent focus. Or it could just be a tragic ending that no matter what anyone did this cycle is destined to repeat itself. That may be up to the audience to decide. It ensures that things have a complicated ending while still giving Mallory and Cordelia the satisfaction of this victory.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Apocalypse Then" was written by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk and directed by Bradley Buecker.
  • Even though the timeline has been reset, the underworld is still aware of what happened previously and that Mallory prevented all of that from happening. As such, she has a lot of credit and appreciation from those who seem like strangers and demons. It means that she is easily able to make a deal in order to return Misty to the coven. Cordelia may know that something more is going on. But right now, she is simply overwhelmed by seeing two of her girls again.
  • Mallory is also aware that she has to rescue Madison from Hell at some point. Otherwise, she is stuck in that department store for the rest of eternity. But she doesn't see the urgency in doing so. That comes after Madison posed as the worst Uber driver in order to send Coco and Mallory into their fake lives and fought off the Antichrist to give Mallory enough time to work the time travel spell.
  • Marie is seen torturing Delphine LaLaurie in Hell. Those are the roles that they have forever been trapped in. Moreover, Marie isn't even good at torturing people. It's not one of the skills that she excels at. And so, Papa Legba is more than happy to make this deal with Cordelia because it means trading one voodoo witch for another. Perhaps, Dinah will be better served in the underworld.
  • There is no update as to what happens to the warlocks when the timeline is reset. It's expected that they continue teaching the next generation hoping that one will become the supreme eventually. And yet, Mallory has no reason to visit them again to see how their lives have been changed because of her meddling. Of course, that also means that there was no real reason for Cheyenne Jackson to be a series regular this season.
  • Is this the only season of American Horror Story that will incorporate elements from past seasons? It was a solid experiment that worked because it established its own sense of story. But other seasons could be worth returning to. The show has been renewed for two more seasons after all. But it would also be intriguing to see what new premise the creative team can come up with. This season got me invested in the show again. So now, it's time to see if a new status quo can hook me once more.