On this very special Halloween episode of American Horror Story, it’s all about Satan. People are very excited about Satan. And the worst circle of hell. Or the best. Satanists, AHS would have its audience believe, are not really up on the details of their eternal damnation. What they are sure of is how much they want the Antichrist to rise and bring about the end of the world. Be careful what you wish for?
Centering this week on Michael means the episode is full of more questions than answers. Or, more accurately, more slightly quizzical dramatic sighs than answers. Kicking things off with his hunger strike induced fever dream does nothing for the episode’s momentum—hallucinations are never as interesting on screen as show runners think they will be, even if they involve a snake-stuffed goat. There are reminders he feels guilt over Ms Mead’s death, reminders that Michael’s rise marks a change in the celestial balance (hello, Angel), and some symbolism with an apple, but ultimately it’s a collection of snap shots from a troubled mind in real need of a granola bar. Visions, even trippy visions can work if they’re letting the audience, or even the character themselves understand something new about themselves, but everyone knows Michael’s not in a good head space.
Micheal’s further, or at least different descent into the world of Satanism made his character a little more interesting still even as the blood red world of the church of the Dark Lord (a name that has been forever intertwined with Voldemort, sorry Satan) stays bland and boring. In the wacky upside down world of Satan worshipers, sin is in, and the bigger, the better. Sandra Bernhard is always a welcome cameo, but her frustration with her less than demonic flock reads as boredom bordering on indifference. It’s hard to get invested in whatever might be going down below (in the basement, that is) when their high priestess seems so blah. The most effective moment in the church is the explanation of the human sacrifices. At first, it seemed like rattling off the unlikely pairs’ resumes was just another way to highlight the group’s heartlessness, but by saying the world would be a worse place with the two do-gooders dead a clear picture is painted of what the Satanists really stand for.
There’s a bigger question that might be weightier than the show would want to tackle that still seems to haunt tonight’s narrative. If things are so good for the loyal servants of the Dark Lord, if they’ve got premium cable and Ryan Reynolds on Wednesday nights, why are they so anxious for the world to end? Sure there might be some appeal for the pentagram crowd for the initial death and destruction, but once the radioactive dust has settled, would things really be better for them? The motivation, or journey towards motivation for Michael is more obvious-with the end of the world comes the fulfillment of his destiny, and maybe finally some peace.
Michael might be finally ready to fully embrace his demonic identity, but the character’s strongest moments are always the moments he’s forced to tell the adoring fans around him he has no idea what he’s doing. There’s something so grounded, in a way AHS normally avoids, about Michael telling his poor man’s Ms Mead lasagna is the next item on his to do list when he knows she’s looking for evil plans. He might be a little removed from the incredibly moody teen he was in the murder house, but he’s still an adolescent, looking for answers, super pissed that his dad isn’t answering his calls.
The heart of the episode, and the heart of Michael’s desire to even start to work towards his destiny is his beloved Ms Mead. But it’s still unclear what she gave him that his grandmother didn’t. Was he looking for someone loving and nurturing with just a little bit of satanic spice that made him feel at home? It would be more compelling to have her as his personal savior if he wasn’t cared for before, but his Grandma, for all her hang ups, did obviously love him and dote on him.
Michael’s trip to Silicon Valley read as more of a rejected SNL skit than a scene to take the episode to any kind of satisfying conclusion. From the punchbowl full of cocaine to the suggestion the founder of Facebook is about to get an unwelcome surprise in the mail, his visit with Evan Peters and Billy Eichner in what are truly the series’ worst wigs seemed like a bundle of jokes supporting the one plot point the audience needs on their journey back to the start of the season—Ms Mead is resurrected in the robotics lab, instantly ready to serve and support Michael. Now the larger question becomes, what exactly will her surrogate son need from her to start the end of the world?
- Bowl-cut Billy Eichner makes an excellent point—a scalp tattoo does not an Antichrist make. Definite satanic points for making the woman burst into flames, but it seems like Michael got further away from establishing his prince of darkness street cred with the spooky Instagram filter face effect.
- The Satanist Choir is a little on the nose with their Carmon music selection. They couldn’t have at least gone whimsical with “Devil Went Down to Georgia?”
- Is that really what old Fanta cans looked like?
- Ms Venable is a lilac dream with the season’s best line, “I am HR, bitch.” Could it be this year’s “Surprise, bitch?”
- Is there any kind of supernatural clean-up after a witchy execution, or are the charred but still somewhat intact bodies of Ms Mead and the warlocks going to chill in open air?