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American Horror Story: Apocalypse Review: ‘The Morning After’ Pushes Things in a Wild New Direction

American Horror Story Apocalypse
Photo Credit: FX

Last week, Ryan Murphy & co. introduced us to a hellish vision of the apocalypse where, apparently, only twinks and undervalued character actresses survived. As a result, the premiere of the latest season of American Horror Story fell flat, setting up what appeared to be a ridiculously dull new season. But then something interesting happened – the second episode aired. Yes, “The Morning After” is a shockingly good episode, with the writers at their most political, kinkiest, and craziest.

After being introduced at the end of last week’s premiere, this episode put the spotlight on Langdon (Cody Fern), a high-powered representative from a governing body known as Coalition. He’s been sent to determine which of the survivors should leave the bunker with him to a special location designated for re-population. But, of course, Langdon is not all he appears to be – he is the antichrist, a fact made clear to longtime fans who remember the first season, and to new viewers because, well, he is obviously evil. But as Langdon starts to interview the survivors – specifically, Evan Peters’ Mr. Gallant – the show takes a turn for the surreal. Even with the Easter eggs for other seasons, this feels like Ryan Murphy’s decidedly campy take on No Exit.

Langdon’s mission seems simple: he wants to figure out who would be best to bring to the new world that he’s developing. But these tests involve mind games of a decidedly creepy nature. Much of the episode revolves around his “interview” with Gallant, an out and proud gay man who humorously makes a case that he could help with the procreation process due to a dalliance he had in high school with a woman. But Langdon is not interested – instead, he examines Gallant’s relationship with his grandmother (Joan Collins).

This leads the way to a fascinating debate on a particular queer issue that is rarely explored in any form of media. You see, Gallant’s grandmother parades herself around like a gay ally, but Gallant highlights the way her support is fake: she supports the clean-cut, straight-passing version of what being gay means, while being disgusted by queer culture, kinks, and especially gay sex.

This particular strand of fake ally-ship has never been explored on any TV show or movie I’m aware of… in fact, I’d venture to guess that most straight viewers never even knew about this issue, and how it’s problematic. But, by putting it through a horror lens, Murphy and his writers can have some thoughtful fun with it, without pulling any punches as to what ends up on screen.

A big reason this subplot works is because of how good Peters and Fern are in their parts. Last week, Peters really flew all over the place, delivering a performance that came dangerously close to being offensive. But, here, he finds the right balance and sinks his teeth in to the part. This is still an over-the-top persona, but he knows how to make it all feel real.

Fern, meanwhile, exhibits a hypnotic screen presence. There is something genuinely frightening about his body language and blank stare, yet he clearly relishes every chance he gets to deliver a scorching one-liner. As for Collins: she’s mostly just chewing scenery, but it works. And, perhaps most importantly, she gifts viewers with a GIF-worthy reaction that will undoubtedly come in handy sometime in the future.

There was just something genuinely effective about this subplot. It felt brave in a way that AHS never was: while the show has always been graphic, and has always provided social commentary on topical issues, it never examined an issue quite as nuanced, or as distinctly queer. It’s a breath of fresh air in a season that does start to feel stale at point. It’s just a shame, however, the other subplots don’t quite work as well… at least so far.

The worst of the bunch is the cringe-worthy love story between the star-crossed Timothy (Kyle Allen) and Emily (Ash Santos). This lame, half-baked romance feels like a CW adaptation of a C-rate YA novel, and we’re given no reason to think otherwise. Both actors deliver fairly boring performances, and their independence from the other storylines do them no favors.

It’d also be nice if Leslie Grossman’s Coco, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman’s Andre, and Adina Porter’s Dinah, were given more to do. Luckily, this week gave Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates better material than last week, though their characters still feel poorly developed. That being said: Billie Lourd is making quite the impression, without having been given a dramatic scene.

There’s something interesting going on in this Apocalypse. I just can’t figure out what. On its own, “The Morning After” stands out as a stellar queer horror short. And, when roped in with the others, it’s still more entertaining than anything from season 6 or 7. Let’s hope the writers have some tricks up their hand, because this episode works, and it’d be nice for the rest of the season to maintain this level of (near) excellence.

Overall rating 8 out of 10.


Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor is the TV editor at The Pop Break, along with being one of the site's awards show experts. When he's not at the nearest movie theater, he can be found bingeing the latest Netflix series, listening to synth pop, or updating his Oscar predictions. A Rutgers grad, he also works in academic publishing. Follow him on Twitter @MattNotMatthew1.

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