American Horror Story season 8 episode 9 review: Fire And Reign

Time travel, machine gun arms and a meeting with the Illuminati highlight a jam-packed American Horror Story. Spoilers...

This review contains spoilers.

8.9 Fire And Reign

One of the complaints about Coven was the lack of stakes. After all, this was a show in which people were brought back from the dead, and without death, was there any real risk for the witches? Not especially, though being banished to Hell for failing the Supreme test was pretty unpleasant for those involved. Still, when death isn’t permanent, does it really matter if you get poisoned, stabbed, or shot up by the cyborg partner of the Antichrist? It doesn’t.

Unfortunately for the coven, Michael Langdon has the secret of final death at his disposal, and no amount of witchery can bring back that which has been erased from existence. So, as it turns out, Michael’s invasion of the coven’s plantation house has real consequences, unless Mallory is able to tap into her power, stop pressuring herself and do something that no witch, warlock, or Supreme has ever done and change the course of history. As Madison so deftly puts it, the bitch can travel through time, albeit with a good chance of dying, so there’s an out to the whole apocalypse thing which can be exploited.

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In a way, it’s necessary, because the end of the world was established in the first half of the season. Cordelia and company might still be around, but aside from them, everyone else is either dead or wishing they were. Magic might be able to revive the dead, but there’s a difference between bringing back one dead person and bringing back an entire dead world. Mallory, no matter how powerful, won’t be strong enough to do that if she’s still struggling to bring back birds.

Myrtle can attest that people come back from the dead fairly often in this world, but it takes effort, and even bringing one person back doesn’t always work out. Still, it takes a lot of the sting out of the events of the episode because, at least for the moment, it seems like everything was just a misdirect.

Despite my issue with that particular development, the episode itself is has a lot of positives. The scenes with Mutt (Billy Eichner) and Jeff (Evan Peters) are broad, but they’re a funny exaggeration of tech bro culture. The two actors have a solid delivery of big comedy lines, and they’re a good counterbalance to the more unpleasant aspects of the episode. Billie Lourd is exceptional this week, and her screaming fit after being dragged from Tsarist Russia back to the present is powerful. She’s in a full-fledged shrieking panic, and it’s a great cap on a very interesting flashback scene.

Director Jennifer Arnold has a solid hand with the actors, but a better hand with the action sequences that take place this week. The opening shot, of a hand firing a revolver, is a good portent for what takes place later, when Michael and Miss Mead walk into the coven, Mead removes one of her arms, and opens fire with a machine gun hidden within her body. The witches try to fight back, but Michael is too powerful for them, reversing an attack using jagged crystal shards with a wave of his hand in a beautiful sequence that leads to a lot of deaths (including the sassy Bubbles) before the shooting starts.

The attack goes into slow motion at times, but it doesn’t overuse the trope; there’s just enough to see key members of the witch team shot down, then a few shots of Mead finishing off the work she started at point blank range. It’s cold-blooded and fittingly robotic (and the shot of her neck spraying white synthetic fluid after Queenie uses her voodoo doll powers on her looked amazing).

Asha Michelle Wilson’s script also had elements worthy of praise. I enjoy the thought of Mutt and Jeff manipulating the Antichrist via Mead; they just can’t help themselves, and considering Jeff’s disappointment with Michael, it makes sense that they’d push him in the right direction. That Michael is getting his Antichrist clues from The Omen III (a.k.a. The Final Conflict) was a reveal that made me laugh out loud, and that naive nature allows people to take advantage of him, guiding him in directions they feel he should go.

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Michael isn’t clueless—we’ve seen just how brutal he is and how good he will be at playing the political game—but he seems easy to point in a particular direction, and once he has the idea, he runs with it to its logical conclusion, taking a nudge from Mutt and Jeff and scheduling a meeting with the re-branded Illuminati, The Cooperative.

Michael has been used by people throughout his rise to power. Miss Mead (the human version) seems to be the only person who didn’t try to use Michael for some grievance or another. Everyone else asks for something, or wants something, or simply has a direction they want to point him toward. They all have something to gain by the end of the world, and Michael is simply not given any other outlet for his anger and powers. Even the metal-masked, robe-clad Cooperative see the end of the world as an opportunity to make themselves even richer by selling places in their fallout shelters.

Of course, this will probably all be reversed next week. Cordelia has a plan, Mallory has the abilities, and Michael will be too blinded to see it happen before it’s too late. You can’t build a shared universe if you nuke the planet that shared universe is based on. It will get worse before it gets better, but after Mallory’s display of power, Cordelia and company seem to have faith that they can undo the devil’s work. They just have to pull a fast one on him.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Sojourn, here.