Few do pilot episodes as well as Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk — I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one I didn’t like. They have an uncanny ability to create insanely compelling, addictively enjoyable opening episodes. It’s the follow-up where they falter. I’ve seen every AHS pilot, but I’ve only watched three seasons to their conclusions, and it’s been roughly the same percentage with all of their other series (Scream Queens, Glee, etc.), so I’ve learned to enjoy them while I can and cut bait as soon as Ian McShane shows up as Santa Claus.
AHS: Apocalypse is no exception. It sets out an intriguing premise, crams five episodes into one, and leaves viewers excited for what’s to come, even though most of us know there’s a 70 percent chance we will ultimately be disappointed.
This season begins with Armageddon because f—k it: Murphy is going to cut straight to the chase and bring to the screen every worst fear we had while Trump was taunting North Korea on Twitter. Almost the entire population of the planet is gone within the first ten minutes of the pilot episode, and sadder still is the fact that so is Billy Eichner’s character. How will we ever make it through 10 episodes without Billy Eichner?
Nuclear annihilation looks exactly like you’d imagine it would look on a Ryan Murphy series: There’s a few touching heartfelt moments (a newscaster saying goodbye to his children), and a wealthy narcissist, Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt (Leslie Grossman), ditching her husband and grabbing her hair stylist and assistant and escaping in a plane before the bomb falls.
Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt, Mallory (Billy Lourd), Mr. Gallant (Evan Peters) and his grandmother, Evie Gallant (Joan Collins, essentially playing a campy version of herself) all find themselves in an elaborate, gothic, mansion-esque underground bunker for which they paid handsomely. They are joined by a few others who were selected based on their genetic profiles (collected from Ancestry.com!) Timothy Campbell (Kyle Allen) and Emily (Ash Santos) and all the rest find themselves in an outpost managed by the cold and ruthless Ms. Wilhemina Venable (Sarah Paulson) and Ms. Miriam Mead (Kathy Bates).
The people inside the bunker are separated into the elites (who wear fancy purple suits) and their servants (who wear fancy grey servant outfits). The rules are strict, the food is scarce, and as we learn early on, theirs is the last remaining outpost, the only piece of civilization remaining on Earth. Venable and Mead rule with an iron fist, less out of necessity and more out of selfish delight. They love to deliberately torture the other survivors, and they are terrific, seemingly created from a combination of the styles of Guillermo del Toro and Tim Burton.
In the bunker — a boy’s school converted by the visionary Cooperative — there is no technology (because technology is what destroyed the world); no one is allowed to leave; and those who “copulate” get a bullet in the brains. So, it’s like Seinfeld’s “The Bet,” only instead of masturbation, it’s “sex,” and instead of losing a bet, those who fuck will die. That creates quite the predicament for Timothy and Emily, who fall in love over the course of 18 months.
By the end of the pilot, the food is gone and at least one character is dead (and eaten), and that’s when the series next big development arrives in the form of Michael Langdon (Cody Fern), who shares the name of the baby born in the opening Murder House season of the series, a baby born of human and ghost who is thought to be the Anti-Christ (this also explains why Connnie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Tessa Farmiga and Jessica Lange will all be reprising their season one roles in Apocalypse). Michael Langdon has arrived to determine who is worthy of living and who is not, so it’s like Survivor in a nuclear fallout shelter, and this creepy dude is Jeff Probst.
It’s a promising premiere, though it’s not exactly clear where it’s heading. But that’s part of the appeal of AHS. How effectively can Murphy and Falchuk steer its viewers through a variety of plot twists and deaths before the series becomes unmoored from its premise and the stakes are rendered meaningless? With Britton, McDermott, Gabourey Sidibe, Emma Roberts, Francis Conroy, Lily Rabe, and Stevie Nicks (as herself!) still held in reserve, AHS: Apocalypse might be the rare Murphy season that goes the distance.
But I wouldn’t count on it.
Header Image Source: FX