12:20 am EDT, September 13, 2018

‘AHS: Apocalypse’ review: To build a world, you must destroy one

Our AHS: Apocalypse episode 1, “The End” recap features a few surprising tunes about the end of the world. Plus, a terrifying look at Michael Langdon.

The premiere episode of AHS: Apocalypse took the better part of 40 minutes establishing the new world order. World War III is tossed around, a news anchor floats the phrase, “I can’t believe we did it.” But the facts are that London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and more have been annihilated by nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.

10 outposts were pre-established across the globe. Candidates were screened, identified, and observed until the time presented itself. Others prepaid upwards of $100 million for tickets to their closest minimal fall out zone. Our gateway characters are Emily and Timothy — two young adults chosen by their genetic makeup as optimal candidates for the mission of the organization known as “The Collaborative.”

Sarah Paulson’s Ms. Wilhemina Venable, and Kathy Bates’ Ms. Miriam Mead head up Outpost 3, a subterranean former boys school. And this is where a hairdresser, a billionaire’s daughter, her assistant, an older Hollywood starlet, an actress, and a couple we do not get to know very well.

The first episode requires much more observation than unpacking, but let’s do a bit of both.

Related: The most important things to remember from Murder House and Coven

There are two striking elements of AHS: Apocalypse episode 1, “The End.”

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The passage of time and use of music

When will the bomb hit? How much time will it take for the nuclear winter to arrive? Once inside the walls of the outpost with no connection to the outside world, it would seem that time wouldn’t matter.

But structure is how things remain in order. Cocktails are at 6:30, formal dress is required. There is no excuse for being late because there is nothing else going on. The sudden abundance of time leads to a total loss of time. The scenes bleed in and out, while guests who have been there presumably less than a week are introducing elements of the flow of things to our gateway characters Emily and Timothy.

The same Carpenters song plays for two straight weeks, “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft.

“We’ve been observing your earth
And one night we’ll make a contact with you
We are your friends
Calling occupants of interplanetary quite extraordinary craft”

As two weeks pass, the song abruptly stops and so does the orientation period of Outpost 3. The initial observation period is over.

The silence does not last forever, and soon a new tune, one of hope fills the room — “The Morning After” by Maureen McGovern.

“There’s got to be a morning after
If we can hold on through the night
We have a chance to find the sunshine
Let’s keep on looking for the light”

But nothing is getting better. 18 months go by in the blink of an eye and the nuclear winter arrives. Any hope of outside survival is all but gone. No one inside the walls has grown or developed. Those who were consumed with the ideas of fame and self-service remain stagnant, held prisoner by the the loss of distraction that the outside world held. If they make a spectacle of themselves, what audience will care?

There is something to be said for Evan Peter’s Mr. Gallant who appears to have more going on than the rest. Hopefully, that will be explored in the next episode.

But, two people stand apart. As Timothy’s now aged and more confident voice-over indicates, something else is born.

The Story of Timothy and Emily

Arguably the newest and least well-known faces of the AHS cast, serve as the guides for this season. While we get about as much time with them as any other character in the premiere, I found myself leaning more into their stories than the others, wanting to watch how they weave around the more familiar guideposts (the Paulsons, Bates, and Peters of the series).

AHS Apocalypse Emily

Timothy’s opening scene, surrounded by his family opening his college acceptance letter online gives us the sketch of a scared kid being ripped away from the security of his family well before he’s equipped to be in the real world alone. Emily’s introduction in the holding cell, as an isolated girl who was just tasting her first bit of freedom protesting on campus.

When the bomb hits, they are alone, isolated by metal from each other and nuclear fallout all around them. As they walk outside for the first time towards the shelter they witness two people being murdered. Timothy falls to the ground in shock, Emily takes a few staggering steps backwards, but remains upright.

The rest of the characters “chosen” to be included as the pool of Outpost 3 elites are little more than caricatures. Purples, as they are known on the show, wear purple. The Grays, or servants, wear gray.

Timothy and Emily look out of place in their nightly overcoat and gown. They feel more like they are performing in a play as the others in the room appear to wear the clothes with ease. And so as the time moves forward, sideways, and stands still they begin to slip right in and play the roles in which they are cast — star-crossed lovers.

AHS Apocalypse timothy

Stealing kisses once per week to break the rules just enough, but not enough to get dragged out into the field and shot. Eighteen months after the song switch, food rations, and loss of two residents, the group seems to be a more solidified mass. But Timothy and Emily have something the others have lost — human connection.

Even Ms. Venable and Ms. Mead, remove their uniformed frocks in favor of casual wear and unwind over a game of cards.

But here’s where the mystery of the season kicks in — is Ms. Venable who she says she is? Probably not, since the Antichrist shows up in the final moments of the premiere to take a good-hard look at the group in her care. Michael Langdon is revealed to be a leader of the Collaborative.

Overall, the premiere was did not make a huge splash. But rather dropped a tiny pebble in the AHS pond, the ripples of which are going to be far more interesting to watch as the season moves ahead.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5)

A few other takeaways:

• Billy Eichner’s collective 2 minutes on screen were incredible.

• Who was whispering at Timothy and writing ‘666’ on his mirror?

• How did the plane make it to Outpost 3 with no pilot?

• “Hazmat, but make it fashion,” is what I assume was said when the production design team met to create the outpost fashion boards.

• Is Paulson actually playing Cordelia Foxx playing Ms. Venable?

AHS: Apocalypse episode 2, “The Morning After” airs Wednesday, September 19 at 10:00 p.m. ET on FX.

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