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Sunday, March 26, 2023

'American Horror Story: Apocalypse' Is Ryan Murphy’s 'Infinity War'—Here's a Primer

Young, passionate men in form-fitting costumes; folks who go by the name "witch"; monsters gleefully planning the end of civilization. No, this isn't the Marvel Cinematic Universe—it's the weird, twisted world of American Horror Story. It may not be as intricately plotted and intertwined as the MCU, but the world of Ryan Murphy’s FX anthology series is full of enough recurring themes and characters to fill whole racks full of comics. And the latest installment, Apocalypse is as close to Infinity War as anything in the Murphy-verse to date.

So, does that mean that if you haven’t watched the seven installments leading up to tonight's Season 8 premiere you’ll be totally in the dark? Probably not. AHS is still an anthology show, after all, and each season typically manages to stand on its own. But all of the seasons do share a common mythology and Apocalypse is being billed as the long-awaited merging of the show's premiere season—later named Murder House—and it’s Heathers-with-witches season, Coven. So while some seasons may have referenced others—Murder House foreshadowed Roanoke, for example—this one should have far more connective tissue than most. (We say "should have" because, frankly, it’s hard to know anything for sure; Murphy loves to tease, but he hates to spoil.)

What do you have to know going into the new season? It’s impossible to know for sure, but there are a few things to keep in mind as you sit down to watch Apocalypse.

Character Connections

Since the latest season of AHS is a crossover, there are a few faces definitely returning. For one, we know that Ben and Vivien Harmon (Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton, respectively) will be back as the family who initially moved into Murder House in Los Angeles in Season 1. Also back for more is Taissa Farmiga, who played the couple’s daughter, Violet, but based on photos posted to Instagram from the set, she'll be back as her Coven character, Zoe Benson. She could, however, play multiple roles. Murphy-verse stalwart Sarah Paulson has appeared in every season of AHS, and according to the teasers for Apocalypse will be leading the current one, so actors taking on many characters will likely be standard this time around.


Speaking of, what is the plot of Season 8? Little is known (well, Murphy did say it would be like The Love Boat, but that wasn't meant to be taken literally), but the essential premise seems to be that some mushroom-cloud type event has left the world in disarray and Paulson's Ms. Wilhemina Venable has created some sort of bunker where she's rebuilding civilization in her image. Then there are the witches from Coven—Paulson's Cordelia Foxx, Emma Roberts as Madison Montgomery, Gabourey Sidibe as Queenie, Lily Rabe and Misty Day, Frances Conroy as Myrtle Snow, Stevie Nicks as herself, the aforementioned Taissa Farmiga as Zoe Benson—who are likely there to either help or stop the antichrist.

Yes, the antichrist. So, at the end of Murder House Vivien Harmon had a baby. Well, two babies. One was stillborn (though kinda came back as a ghost?) and the other was super-cute and perhaps fathered by Rubber Man—the guy in the BDSM outfit in all the posters who audiences later found out was Tate (Evan Peters), the one-time perpetrator of a school shooting who had been dead for years and might be some sort of embodiment of evil. (Watch Murder House’s ninth episode, "Spooky Little Girl," for an explanation of the antichrist thing.)

At the season’s end, that baby was adopted by Constance Langdon (Jessica Lang), who was the reason behind a lot of the deaths at Murder House and discovered, when the boy was just three years old, that he’d murdered his nanny with a smile on his face. Rumor has it that Cody Fern (American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace) will be playing the grown-up version of that baby in Apocalypse, and unsurprisingly is the one Kathy Bates’ Ms. Miriam Mead says "hail, Satan!" to in the show’s trailer.

Also of note are the name connections. The original residents of the Murder House, back in the 1920s, were Charles and Nora Montgomery. She was an East Coast socialite; he was a "surgeon to the stars" who went a little mad and Frankenstein-ed their dead son. Also named “Montgomery”? Emma Roberts’ witch Madison, who in Coven was a Hollywood starlet. Currently, there is no established connection between her and the other family, but of all the names she could've been given, it doesn’t seem that "Montgomery" would be an accident.

The Rules

Throughout its many seasons, American Horror Story has established some rules that, even if not wholly consistent, remain more or less true throughout the universe. For example, if someone dies in a place, their ghost is confined to it—except on Halloween, natch. Everyone who lingered in Murder House, including the Harmons, met their end there at some point in the past. Same goes for various folks who haunted the Hotel Cortez in AHS: Hotel. (Note: Coven's Queenie died in the Hotel Cortez. Told you this show was twisted.)

Another recurring motif/rule: It is possible to create Frankenstein-esque people sewn together from the parts of others. (See: Dr. Montgomery's son, who was brought back to life with someone else's heart.) The most obvious case of this is Kyle Spencer, who was sewn back together and revived thanks to the Lazarus powers of Misty Day (Rabe) on Coven.

Another thing about ghosts: If you tell them to "go away," they do. At least temporarily. As Billie Dean Howard (a medium also played by Paulson) explained in Murder House, the Native Americans were able to cast out the ghosts of the lost colony of Roanoke in the late 16th century by burning their things and saying the word "Croatoan," but that had little to no effect on the ghosts in Murder House itself. (Also, speaking of the colony, Scáthach—the witch from Roanoke and Roanoke—is believed to be the first Supreme, aka the queen of all witches. This may not have significance. Or all the significance! Who knows!)

Oh yeah, witches! So, here’s the thing. There are a lot of rules of witchcraft in the Murphy-verse (like Highlander, there can only be one Supreme, that Supreme must master the magical abilities known as the Seven Wonders, etc.), but if an entire season of Coven taught viewers anything it’s that some things can just be fixed with witchcraft. It’s, you know, magic. Thus, a lot of occurrences—deaths, hauntings, colicky babies, whatever—can be undone or righted with just a few spells. Rules apply in AHS stories, but Apocalypse’s inclusion of a literal coven might mean they’re easily broken. Bottom line: Assume no one is dead; accept that anything is possible.

The End?

Will any of this be relevant once American Horror Story airs tonight? Hard to tell. The only thing that’s predictable about AHS is that it’s unpredictable, so there's a very real chance that while the characters crossover, their plotlines don't. Yet, it doesn't seem likely. Murphy made that Love Boat comment because he was teasing the fan service that would be coming in Season 8. Now is not the time for him to bring together his dream team and not let them play. He's also promised that there's a big"hook" to this season that makes it unlike anything AHS has ever done before. So expect surprises and the return of a lot of familiar faces—just don't be surprised if someone snaps their fingers and kills them all off again.

[#video: https://www.youtube.com/embed/xKrpgJTS-Vg

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