This review contains spoilers.
One of the defining traits for American Horror Story: Apocalypse has to do with the fact that Ryan Murphy’s love of using the same actors repeatedly allows viewers to see just how actors transform themselves into different characters using everything from accents to make-up and costumes. For example, after a cold opening involving Dinah practicing her voodoo skills in the wealthy hills of Los Angeles, there’s a 70s-style cinema bumper, and then we get the feature presentation: Bubbles McKee in A Christmas to Dismember.
Perhaps it’s my failing eyesight, or perhaps it’s a general unfamiliarity with Joan Collins, but when Bubbles appeared on screen, reenacting my favorite episode of Tales From The Crypt, I had no idea that it was the same person who played Eve Gallant (and who originally starred in And All Through The House in a beautiful tie-in). It took until the movie broke due to a coughing fit that I realised that I was seeing Joan Collins playing a second role, which was unexpected to say the least. Perhaps, given her advanced age, I was making the same mistake Madison does in the episode: she underestimated Bubbles, who is both a powerful witch and an accomplished—albeit clearly B-movie level—actress. As it turns out, she’s got a very special skill (like Coco, but more useful) and it’s up to the witches to use her to her full potential to try and circumvent the end of the world.
Of course, as we know, Cordelia has some standards; she’s horrified by the revelation that Nan (Jamie Brewer) was given over to Papa Legba (a returning Lance Reddick). She might strain her powers to bring Myrtle back from the dead—as opposed to how effortless the same task was for Michael—but she won’t sacrifice the lives of her coven to save the world. Dinah, of course, isn’t exactly thrilled with this choice, but she can understand refusing a deal from Papa Legba, as she herself might be the Mambo of the voodoo set, but she’s also not in the business of immortality, considering how it went for Marie Laveau and the high cost it took to keep living forever. Fortunately, Cordelia has other options, and she’s slowly working her way through Michael’s conspirators to try and stop his plans before they develop fully.
The scheme Cordelia hatches in Adam Penn’s script is multi-faceted and requires a surprising amount of coordination and trickery on her part. It helps that she’s got the mind-reading Bubbles on her side; she and Myrtle invite themselves into the warlock coven under the guise of making peace, and after many drinks and a spectacular dinner, Bubbles is able to read the thoughts of the men and put together that they’re responsible for John Henry’s smoky demise. They bring him back to life and he proceeds to throw Miriam under the bus, too, which means that Cordelia has to send a witch to confront her, but not a witch who is particularly good at this kind of thing.
It’s a clever use of Coco, who is one of the new season’s most funny characters. The scene in which she tests her growing powers with the help of Queenie, Zoe, and Mallory is very much a cute character study, and it’s useful to help her build her confidence in herself and her abilities to give her good reason to undertake her part in Cordelia’s plot. If she thought she was just being fed to the wolves, it wouldn’t work, as she’d refuse to cooperate, but given a little buttering up, well… anyone who is feeling confident and powerful is willing to take on any kind of job, especially if it requires your particular set of skills. There are a lot of funny exchanges, particularly between Madison and Bubbles, who enter into some sort of catty bitch-off from the very moment they meet on set. That level of amusing conflict only grows during the dinner party, with Ariel and Baldwin smiling with their faces, but savagely running down the witches behind their grinning, personable faces.
Jennifer Lynch, in the director’s chair this week, does wonderful work with the witch sorority segments, and the scenes in which the girls bond—and support one another—are surprisingly sweet. Nan’s return is also handled very well, and it’s clear that Nan is somehow having a great time in Hell, unlike Madison and Misty. Perhaps it’s being given over to Papa Legba, and not necessarily killed, that makes all the different. The stylistic choices—especially the 70-style film segment and the voodoo-themed cold opening—work really well. Lynch has a great eye, and she’s adept at the house style of American Horror Story, particularly the newsreel of John Henry’s resurrection. She also has a great handle on the actors involved, and the choice to have Miriam face her fiery death with a gleeful grin was a brilliant one. She might not have magical powers or be the child of Satan, but there’s something truly evil about her that gives her true power that the others cannot replicate.
Miriam has a mission, and nothing is more important than her mission. The witches have their own mission, but there’s not a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the mission accomplished. They have to go the longer route, and it’s showing as they’re in a rush to try and bring down Michael before he brings about the apocalypse. It’s a bit of a watched clock situation; we know how it ends, but the rush is to get there in the hopes that it might change somehow.
There’s also the rush to end the story before the end of the season, but that’s a much different struggle. There still seems to be a lot of ground to cover, but things don’t feel rushed (yet). Given that next week’s episode seems to be more filling in the gaps between Coven and the drop of the atomic bomb, it’ll be interesting to see just how much breathing room is left for actually stopping (or reversing) the apocalypse. That said, I’d rather a show rush to get to a logical end than try to stretch material out to fill a longer season order.