In its opening sequence, the first episode of American Horror Story Apocalypse titled The End, references a movie only a true horror fans could identify: As a private jet ascends above Los Angeles (by magic, or remote control perhaps?) Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt (Leslie Grossman) looks out the window at a billowing mushroom cloud. It's a nod to the brutally nihilistic bomb shelter horror movie The Divide, directed by "extreme" French director Xavier Gens and released in 2011 (trailer at the bottom of the article). If it's meant to hint at the horror that's coming in Season 9, then we'll be going to some extremely dark places.
For a season whose hype was built primarily around the fact that it's a mashup/crossover of Murder House (Season 1) and Coven (Season 3) it's nothing but new characters, tropes, and settings for 99% of The End (which is actually just the beginning, according to stern Ms. Wilhemina Venable, played by Sarah Paulson).
Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt is a billionaire's daughter and budding social media star; Billie Lourd plays her assistant Mallory and Evan Peters is her stylist, the fabulous Mr. Gallant. When everyone on the west coast gets a text message warning that ballistic missiles are inbound, the unlikely trio scoop up Mr. Gallant's grandmother Evie (played by Joan Collins) and are spirited away to Outpost Three.
Simultaneously, high school senior Timothy Campbell (played by Kyle Allen) is wrest from the arms of his panicked family by militant members of The Cooperative, a shadowy organization we learn is funded by the world's elite and populated by its greatest visionaries. Timothy's DNA has been identified as genetically extraordinary, so he's tossed into the holding cell of an immense underground bomb shelter. He meets Emily (played by Ash Santos) moments before a violent impact rocks the surface.
Two weeks later, Timothy and Emily are also transported to Outpost Three and escorted through decontamination by some exceptionally creepy enforcers dressed like biomechanical plague doctors. They join Coco and her crew, along with a couple (Stu and Andre played by Chad James Buchanan and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and talk show hostess Dinah Stevens (played by Adina Porter). Outpost Three looks like a cross between an underground monastery and a 5 Star hotel. We soon learn this society is divided into groups of elite "Purples" and utilitarian "Grays".
Ms. Venable is in charge and Ms. Miriam Mead (Kathy Bates) is her military attaché (gothic and vamped out like she walked out of an Underworld movie). They don't take shit, enforcing rules under threats of lethal consequences. Mead's no stranger to violence, but she respects the chain of command whereas Venable is a remorseless sadist who gets a tingle doling out corporal (and capital) punishments.
Despite the fancy attire, tensions quickly boil over. When Mr. Gallant and Stu suddenly sets of one of the facility's Giger counters, their given the Silkwood treatment but good. When Stu turns up "dirty" after a sever scrub down, he's eliminated. Whether or not he Stu becomes stew is open to debate, but the "Soylent Green is made of people" spoof was both grim and hilarious.
When a radio begins to broadcast Maureen McGovern's The Morning After the residence of Outpost Three hope it's a coded message from The Cooperative encouraging them to hang tight, that the cavalry is coming. 18 months later, rations, and nerves, have worn dangerously thin.
On the verge on an internal coup, a newcomer arrives at Outpost Three and, finally, we have a connection to Murder House: It's Michael Langdon (played by Cody Fern) the child "born of human and spirit" that medium BIllie Dean Howard (Paulson), had warned that "will usher in the end of times." He's all (or mostly) grown up, which means Apocalypse didn't begin in the present (2018) as the antichrist tyke would only be seven-years-old today. Taking the in-episode time jump into account, we can deduce, then, that we're somewhere around the year 2030.
Langdon warns that all the other Outposts have fallen (or will soon) and he's arrived to save some or none of Outpost Three's residents, depending on unknown criteria that haven't been explained. Salvation will come in the form of an impenetrable sanctuary stocked with enough food to last a decade. Sound like Heaven, but it could be Hell (depending on your perspective).
The opening credits for American Horror Story: Apocalypse are super cool and creepy; a personal favorite so far. It's a hallucinatory mix of woodcut depictions of Hell juxtaposed against images and scenes of nuclear annihilation. It's like Dante's Inferno meets 2006's The Hills Have Eyes. It was a strong start for the new season, one that may prove to be the darkest chapter of American Horror Story yet.
At the time of posting, we've yet to see a preview or synopsis for next week's episode, The Morning After, but check back next Thursday for another recap. American Horror Story: Apocalypse airs on FX.