Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, and Connie Britton are among the stars slipping back into their tortured characters from Season 1 of "American Horror Story."
What a wild and strange hour of "American Horror Story: Apocalypse," as the show returns to its roots, and arguably one of its most terrifying locations, for no scares at all.
Madison (Emma Roberts) and Behold (Billy Porter) were an absolute scream as the odd couple of witches sent to investigate the haunted house where Michael (Cody Fern) was born, as the show continued its exploration of the time before the world went quite literally to hell.
While we were thrilled to return to the setting of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's first jump scares, we were surprised at how subdued the house was. Has it mellowed in its old age? Or are witches and warlocks given free reign through the house. Or perhaps the fear that the ghosts inside the house have for Michael only made them want to help.
Can the Murder House survive the apocalypse? If it did, what remains of its trapped denizens?
Unlike the crossover with "Hotel," Murphy and company went all out with cast appearances for this episode, featuring no less than eight characters from that inaugural season, including the legendary Jessica Lange as Constance Langdon.
She joined with several of the other ghosts in the house to paint a picture of Michael that filled in the rest of his backstory and reaffirmed what we already knew about him. Honestly, it would have been more effective to hear about his messed up childhood behaviors had we not already met him in the apocalyptic present, and when he was under the care of Ms. Mead (Kathy Bates) and the warlocks.
Nevertheless, it was fun catching up with the ghost of "Murder House" to see what's been going on since that first season wrapped.
As we saw then, Constance absconded from the house with the baby Vivien had in the house, dying during child birth. She was the first to open up to Madison and Behold, but only after they took care of a little business for her. It turns out that Constance committed suicide since last we saw her, trapping herself in the house with her children, but also with that damnable maid, Moira (Frances Conroy).
And so, she convinced the spellcasters to rid her of this nuisance, which they did by finding Moira's bones. As for Moira, she was thrilled, and they even did her the kindness of burying her near her mother, giving her absolution and peace after all those years. Who knew. "American Horror Story" offering happy endings, and the "Murder House" allowing it.
But before she offed herself, Constance took it upon herself to make up for her failures raising Tate (Evan Peters) by trying to bring Michael up right. Only, he showed his penchant for evil right away, killing small animals and leaving their carcasses as expressions of love.
In a trope as old as horror and science fiction, he also aged up ten years overnight, which helps the timelines of all the series. It also helps explain a lot of his brash and impulsive emotional immaturity, as he's ten years younger than he looks and skipped many of his formative years.
After he'd started killing people, including a priest she brought in after his rapid aging, Constance made the decision to kill herself, certain that Michael would do it if she didn't. And when he showed up to mourn her loss and whine that he wanted to be good, Ben took an interest.
Ben (Dylan McDermott) did for Michael what he tried to do for Tate during that first season, and it went about as well. They had regular therapy sessions and even started bonding like father and son. At least until Tate lashed out at Michael (technically his son) and rejected him outright.
As if to prove the depths to which he had sunk, when the house sold again, Michael immediately killed the new owners and even want so far as to destroy their souls, making it as if they'd never existed. He was so far beyond help at this point, and the internal struggle seemed to be ending.
After Ben told his story, Vivien (Connie Britton) picked up the tale, revealing that she and Ben had basically not spoken since he involved himself with Michael. She steps in to tell Madison and Behold that Michael is more than just some bad witch for them to take care of.
And that brings us full circle, as Ms. Mead shows up with the Black Pope of the Church of Satan, ready to declare Michael the coming of their dark lord on earth. How they knew he was there or what he was about was not revealed, but it adds credence to the claims about his lineage.
They murdered a girl for him, and as he ate her blood, the shadow of Satan grew behind him, kind of putting to rest any other possibilities as to his lineage. Vivien explained that neither Tate nor Ben were Michael's father. The way she saw it, the source of evil in the house is his true parentage.
Tate Langdon & Violet Harmon
The episode opened with another therapy session between Ben and Tate, with Tate insisting that he'd changed. By the close of the hour, Madison had a theory that he may have been telling the truth. All of Tate's evil may have been the house working through him, and when he fathered Michael, it all channeled into his progeny.
After all, it was Tate who saved Vivien when she sought to kill Michael in his sleep only to have him start to destroy her soul, too. And this did seem like a more reasonable Tate. In fact, the whole house seemed so damned reasonable, so what if the rules there have changed?
Sure, it seems the spirits there are still trapped, and it's still sitting on top of a connection to hell, but it lacked all of its previous malevolence. Perhaps the evil of the house, channeled through Tate, is what is now in Michael. Perhaps he is the embodiment of Murder House now, and what's left is but a shell of its former hell.
Madison presented her theory about Tate to Violet (Taissa Farmiga) before casting a spell on her that either opened her eyes about how Tate appears to have changed, or hid the memories of the awful things he did to her. Either way, Violet was able to give Tate a chance, and the hour closed with them kissing in the window.
And yes, Madison did that. People do change, and it looks like she's looking to make her third chance at life count. But don't worry, she's still a total bitch.
Aside from the Harmon family, Constance, Tate and Moira, we also got to briefly see Constance's other child, Beau, and even enjoyed a drop-in visit from Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson). This one was a little disappointing, though, as she didn't really offer anything to the narrative.
She also insisted she was still alive, but we're not sure we're completely sold on that. Was she only there for another cameo because Paulson was obviously available to appear? Honestly, the episode could have done without her as she seemed to serve no purpose at all and disappeared as soon as Constance agreed to talk to Madison and Behold.
In the end, while it was fun to return to the familiarity of the Murder House, it was disappointing that it had lost all of its menace. Even the "Hotel" still had its bite, but the house was completely neutered of any sense of danger. Hell, we never even went into the basement!
In fact, other than it being a house filled with ghosts, it seemed like a pretty pleasant place to spend your afterlife now. And perhaps that's the point, if Michael took the evil with him. But then why was everyone still talking like it was such a dangerous place. The house let Madison and Behold do whatever they wanted, including removing Moira's bones from the premises.
Honestly, with Emma Roberts and Billy Porter taking the lead for this episode, we knew we were going to be in for some juicy and hilarious lines flawlessly delivered. We couldn't capture them all, but here are a few favorites from them, and our favorite Murder House residents.
"What can we say. The wife’s a sucker for a farmhouse kitchen." --Behold (after they're told how many people have died in the house)
"Don’t worry, we’ll burn some sage." --Behold (after being warned about the house)
"What. A. Shithole." --Madison (first impressions of Murder House)
"Can you just talk to her?" --Ben (therapy session with Tate about Violet) "What do you wat me to say? You set fire to her mom’s boyfriend, you shot and killed over a dozen kids in high school. You helped kill her parents. Plus, you impregnated her mother." "I’m different now. Yeah, I’m-- You know, I’m dead and I’m hot and I know she has feelings for me."
"I’m Constance Langdon. And this is my f--king house."
"My real job is satisfying your husband in the basement." --Moira (still sparring with Constance)
"Such a beautiful child with such a cheerful disposition. Even when he was committing unspeakable acts." --Constance (memories of raising Michael)
"He said they were presents because he loved me. Oh and his love did flow." --Constance (Michael killing small animals)
"If my child wasn’t cool or good-looking, there’s no way I’d love it." --Madison (motherhood is not her calling)
“It was Michael who made me realize that I was put on this earth to raise the monsters." --Constance
"I was born to be a mother. Why not die to be one, too." --Constance (on deciding to commit suicide)
"Not even I could create something as monstrous, as evil as you." --Tate (to Michael)
"He was borne from the evil of this house. The source of darkness is his true father. And he is here to destroy the world." --Vivien (sounds about right)
"American Horror Story: Apocalyse" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
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