Review: American Horror Story has much to prove, little time to prove it

All things must come to an end, including the end of days itself. 

FX’s “American Horror Story: Apocalypse," which will air its final episode Nov. 14, opened quite literally with a bang when a series of nuclear missiles ushered in the end times. Paired with the highly anticipated crossover between past seasons “Murder House” and “Coven," and featuring the Antichrist Michael Langdon, portrayed by Cody Fern, the season was set to be the best yet. 

But was it?

"Apocalypse" undoubtedly had its strong points. For one, Frances Conroy dominated every scene in which she appeared, mastering not one, but two roles: “Murder House” maid Moira O’Hara and “Coven” witch Myrtle Snow. The contrast between Myrtle’s feistiness and Moira’s soft-spoken demeanor showcased Conroy’s impressive versatility as an actress.

The crossover also made good on its promise to feature the returns of beloved former cast members, and their many guest appearances lent a reunion-like atmosphere to the season. Connie Britton, who reprised her role as “Murder House” matriarch Vivien Harmon, tops the list of notable returnees, having made her first return to the series since leading its inaugural season. Jessica Lange, who won two Emmys during her time on the show, also made a welcome, albeit unexpected, appearance, having previously announced that she had no intention of returning to the series.

Britton and Lange were far from the only familiar faces to return for “Apocalypse," however, and among the ranks of other notable returnees were Lily Rabe and Stevie Nicks. Rabe reprised her role as Misty Day, a Stevie-idolizing witch who was turned to ash at the conclusion of “Coven." Misty’s return signified a highlight for two reasons. First, it reversed the rather grim fate of a fan-favorite character. Second, it paved the way for Stevie Nicks to once again grace our screens with her presence. 

Nicks returned as a fictionalized version of herself who, upon hearing of Misty's return, performed an enchanting rendition of her hit Fleetwood Mac song, “Gypsy." Granted, the scene may have been a bit campy, but it was nonetheless a wonderful way to welcome back Misty’s gentle soul and take a breather before the battle against the Antichrist truly began.

Indeed, “Apocalypse” did an excellent job of reversing unsatisfactory endings. Aside from Misty Day, Conroy’s Moira also had a tragic story that resulted in her eternal entrapment within the walls of the Murder House. In addition, the romance between the spirits of Violet Harmon (Taissa Farmiga) and Tate Langdon (Evan Peters) ended bitterly. Fortunately, upon revisiting the Murder House, Moira was freed from the confines of the house and reunited with her mother and Violet overcame her lingering resentment toward Tate.

Even with so many exciting developments, “Apocalypse” still had its fair share of disappointing fumbles. 

First, the season moved along at a shambling pace. For every episode that lived up to the crossover hype, there was at least one other that left the audience in a state of lethargy. The inverted storytelling that opened the season with the apocalypse and worked backwards only served to further bog down the story since the audience already knew that the end was imminent but was nonetheless force-fed an extended flashback sequence.

The first three episodes also hindered the flow of the story. Following a small group of survivors cooped up in an underground bunker, these episodes focused heavily on characters who have up to now been irrelevant to the plot. What’s more, the witches were almost entirely absent from the first three weeks of the crossover, so viewers were left waiting in vain for the season to truly get into the swing of things. In short, nearly a third of the 10 episode season felt unnecessary and uneventful.

Although some characters saw their ill-fated fortunes reversed, others had their happy endings snatched away from them. Zoe Benson, also played by Farmiga, was one of few witches left standing at the end of “Coven," but she met a sudden demise at the hands of the Antichrist this season. Not only was she murdered, but her soul was incinerated, leaving no trace of her being and erasing her from existence in any form.

No ending was more confusing and unnecessary than that of Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), though. Having survived "Coven" only to be killed in a later installment, Queenie was revived earlier this season. Unfortunately, her new lease on life would not last long as she would soon meet the same fate as Zoe: Her soul was destroyed. Her character, then, was revived only to be murdered and completely erased from existence.

The most egregious folly of “Apocalypse” lies in its jovial mood. The season is nearly unrecognizable from earlier, more popular installments. Take, for example, "Asylum," which was characterized by such dark topics as wrongful institutionalization, attempted coat hanger abortion and scientific experimentation on humans. There was little room for jokes — there were comical moments, but not many. 

“Apocalypse” is plagued by its habit to make light of bad situations. “Coven” had its fair share of comedy infused throughout its episodes, but its characters had depth and complexity. Most of the characters introduced this season are nothing more than caricatures. 

The billionaire Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt (Leslie Grossman) is a witch whose power is to detect gluten in baked goods, and satanists Jeff (Evan Peters) and Mutt (Billy Eichner) are the cocaine-snorting, satirical joke-slinging scientists that contributed to the apocalypse. While these characters are brilliantly portrayed and quite entertaining, they nonetheless curtail drama within the show.

“Apocalypse” has the potential to either make or break its reputation with the finale. A successful episode would feature more guest appearances (we have not heard from Stevie or Misty for a while), a reversal of the apocalypse (and maybe even the revivals of Zoe and Queenie) and perhaps a second appearance of the murder house and its inhabitants.  

Most importantly, a successful finale would see more action. The characters this season really love to talk and talk and talk. The action has come in fits and starts all season long. Rather than having one single, exciting, action-packed scene per episode, it would be nice to see a non-stop, hour-long thrill ride to conclude the long-anticipated crossover.

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