Linking all the seasons of American Horror Story is a repertory company of actors who portray different characters in each series, yet in its latest installment, Apocalypse – which has just started airing on Fox in the UK – they’re also reprising their ‘greatest hits’ characters from Murder House and Coven. You might say it’s creator Ryan Murphy’s equivalent of Marvel’s universe-shaking Infinity War, and here’s why:
***Warning: contains spoilers for the first episode ****
It’s the greatest threat the show has faced
No shilly-shallying in the opener. Within eight minutes, the world has ended.
Venal Instagram-influencer Coco St Pierre Vanderbilt (Leslie Grossman) has escaped on a private jet with her personal assistant Mallory (Billie Lourd), her hairdresser Mr Gallant (Evan Peters) and his grandmother (Dame Joan Collins). But rather than be an end-of-days misery fest, the tone is played for laughs.
Two weeks later, we’re in a colour-coded nuclear fallout bunker for plutocrats – one that requires them to dress in purple Victorian period costume and listen to the same song by The Carpenters repeatedly – presided over by the sadistic Ms Venable (Sarah Paulson) and her right-hand-henchwoman Miriam Mead (Kathy Bates). Larks abound as a survivor’s boyfriend is served as food, prompting episode one’s best line – “Stu is stew!”.
Eighteen months elapse and, with resources dwindling, a stranger called Michael Langdon (a bravura performance from AHS newcomer Cody Fern) arrives and announces he’s here to judge who will be relocated to a more secure facility – and who will die. Which leads us to…
It’s a fanwank crossover Battle Royale season
Last time we saw Michael Langdon (Cody Fern) was as a Rosemary’s Baby-style child in the first series, Murder House, where he had just gleefully murdered his babysitter. Now he’s all grown up and looks like he owns a lot of prog-rock which, frankly, you imagine the spawn of Satan would. As this season is a mash-up of Murder House and Coven, it means the return of fan favourite characters. There’s an embarrassment of witches: including quotable Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) who’s essentially a walking meme, Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), last seen shouting “Balenciaga!’ as she burned on a stake, Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga).
Never mind that they all perished on screen, as it’s been established that the Supreme Cordelia Goode (Paulson again) has the power of reanimation. Not since ITV’s oldies-fest Benidorm or BBC’s New Tricks will you spend such an hour boggling the words ‘I thought he/she was dead!’ at your TV. Even Stevie Nicks is back. Also returning are the ghosts of the Murder House – Evan Peters’ Tate Langdon (the one with the penchant for dressing in a rubber suit, like he’s just wandered in from the Folsom Street Fair), Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) and her husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) – again, all deader than Theresa May’s eyes.
It sets things up nicely for a witches v ghosts v the Anti-Christ battle royale and, as with the Avengers franchise, raises the possibility of witnessing established protagonists in playful new configurations. Plus, with most of the actors playing more than one character, if somebody tells Evan Peters to “go fuck yourself” – he literally can.
It’s hella camp
Unlike the leaden and spinning-its-wheels-while-straining-for-political-meaning last season AHS: Cult (which along with Hotel, represents the show’s nadir), Apocalypse’s first three episodes urgently zip along with a lightness-of-touch and zingy dialogue. It’s so outré, you expect to see the Horsemen Of The Apocalypse rocking up played by Bananarama.
The early MVP is Ryan Murphy newbie, 85-year-old Joan Collins – whose wigs were designed to withstand a ballistic missile strike – as glamourous Evie Gallant (the first of at least three parts she’ll play), swanning around like the shelter is Sunset Boulevard. You can imagine her imploring, ‘I’m still big, it’s the population that got small!’. It probably helps that in real life, Collins is a woman so effortlessly camp, when she enters a room, poppers’ bottles probably open themselves. Whether it’s referencing iconic Dynasty lines (“The champagne’s burnt again!”), name-dropping (“You don’t know what disappointment is until you’ve slept with Yul Brynner”) or cheerfully tucking into human flesh like it’s something recherché prepared by Heston Blumenthal , she steals scenes in big bag marked ‘SWAG’.
AHS legend Jessica Lange is back
Clear a gangway to the award podium! The imperious Emmy-gobbling grande dame of American Horror Story, Jessica Lange – who spent three seasons practically flossing pieces of scenery out of her teeth before leaving in 2015 – will return for one-episode as Constance Langdon, the Blanche DuBois-esque grandmother of Michael.
Hopefully it could signal the start of further Murphyverse cross-pollination
Sightings of Emma Roberts wearing a pink costume reminiscent of Chanel Oberlin on set has fuelled internet speculation she could be reprising her Scream Queens alter-ego, which would raise the possibility of further Ryan Murphyverse crossovers. Here’s hoping for a Marvel team-up of all his franchises. Who wouldn’t want to see Feud’s Bette Davis’ and Cuba Gooding Jr’s OJ Simpson (Of American Crime Story fame) leading the Gay Men’s Health Crisis organisation (from The Normal Heart) in an epic deathmatch against AHS’s Twisty, while the cast of Glee krump to a remix of ‘Send In The Clowns’?
Yes, American Horror Story usually starts off strong and then has a tendency to veer off in all directions before missing the landing. Yes, a lot of it doesn’t make sense – there’s only one thing more threatening to Ryan Murphy and co than Killer Clowns, snakes and Satan: logic. But so far the omens for this being a banner year for AHS are promising – it’s a nimble, witty, romp. Plus – and most crucially of all – Kathy Bates isn’t attempting an accent.