There’s a yearly routine that every American Horror Story fan seems to follow: anticipation for the upcoming season, excitement as the season goes on and finally, once it’s all over, disappointment. The show has a bad habit of cramming too many big ideas into its relatively short seasons and even shorter cast list. ‘Apocalypse’ features characters from previous seasons of the show and might be the most ambitious idea American Horror Story has attempted. While the show’s penchant for over-the-top madness is still present (particularly in fueling the flames of the Kathy-Bates-is-a-robot debate), this year has seen a surprising amount of restraint.
I wouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief yet, though. We’re six episodes into the season now: it’s usually around this time that the writers lose sight of their original intentions and go off the rails. It’s a worry that lingers every year, but there’s more at stake this time around.
Attempting to draw connections between previous stories is a tall order, especially as they were initially conceived as separate from one another. But ‘Murder House’ and ‘Coven’, from which most of the returning characters are coming from, happen to be two of the show’s most beloved seasons, let alone Hotel, which reared its delightfully ugly head in the most recent episode.
Perhaps there’s hope, though: the season seemed to find its footing as it approached the halfway point. Episodes four and five return to the settings from ‘Coven’ that fans have sorely missed, punctuated with an unexpected musical number from Stevie Nicks. It was a real treat to see the personal hells each of the dead characters from that season have been subjected to. An utterly bone-chilling example is Madison, who has been banished to an eternity of working retail. If that doesn’t cut it for you though, perhaps finally finding peace with Misty Day’s (Lily Rabe) previous demise will. All in all, seeing these characters come back feels like meeting old friends again and the show has done the perfect job of capturing that effect.
As good as these episodes are though, they only serve to highlight the fact that this season’s unique setting and new characters have been somewhat forgettable. The only noteworthy new character is the Antichrist himself, Michael Langdon (Cody Fern). Even then, his noteworthiness is mostly due to his plot significance (as the bringer of the End of Days), as well as how much screen time he hogs. As the child of two characters from Murder House, his presence could have been pretty exciting. Alas, his character feels like a hollowed vessel of failed potential. Possibilities for the storyline feel limited when one all-powerful character is consistently a step ahead of everybody else. What’s worse is that even he weren’t so overpowered, he’d be a pretty dull character. But it’s not as if the other have much to offer, especially when paired with the colorful ‘Coven’ characters. If it wasn’t for the old characters being a part of the season, there would be nothing memorable to it.
‘Apocalypse’ largely feels like a vehicle for fan service. As fun as it is to see what became of past characters, that doesn’t amount to a story and what’s there drones on quite a bit. Once again, I find myself asking the same question: where’s the horror? While the sixth season Roanoke was divisive, it inarguably brought genuine, eerie horror back to the show, last seen in the second season. So far, ‘Apocalypse‘ has taken a step back into a character drama with an occasionally creepy aesthetic.
It’s an enjoyable nostalgia watch, but this isn’t a great starting point for newcomers to the show, especially as it feels so pointless in the grand scheme of things. The final episodes could change that completely, but in the past that’s been where everything falls apart.