The end of the world is here and it’s — fabulous?
Even fans will admit that the American Horror Story franchise is ridiculous, sloppy and campy, but it’s also very queer viewing. Coven was basically a 13 episode Stevie Nicks music video, Hotel had Gaga playing Gaga but as a vampire, and the protagonist of Cult was a lesbian woman who suffers a breakdown after Trump is elected. The latest installment is shaping up to be the franchise’s gayest yet, and not just because Billy Eichner is there.
In Apocalypse, the stakes have never been higher (or sillier): there’s a nuclear holocaust and the only ones who survive the blasts are the rich and “chosen” few hand-picked by The Cooperative, a secret organization presumably run by the literal antichrist, who has perfectly conditioned hair, to hide out in a gothic bunker. Oh, and the witches from Coven (because of course). Four episodes in and most of the original protagonists die so that the actors playing them can reprise their roles from past seasons. Except Kathy Bates, who stays on to play a butch henchwoman to Satan’s spawn.
Actors swapping wigs mid-episode to play different characters would deter most, but after eight years of absurd plotlines, the series has groomed viewers to expect and even relish in such gags. Something the writers have embraced, because Apocalypse — with its one liners and fanfare — does not take itself too seriously.
The climax of last week’s episode saw a standoff between the Coven witches and the antichrist, in which Myrtle Snow chides, “It’s almost as bad as your dinner jacket, but at least the world can be saved.” Myrtle, with her crimped red hair and whose last word before being burned at the stake in season three was “Balenciaga!” is a conjuring by queer minds.
Before the showdown begins, a flashback takes us to Ryan Murphy’s version of Hogwarts, where a young antichrist (who Twitter quickly sleuthed is the byproduct of Connie Britton’s love romp with a ghost in season one) is mistaken for a male witch after using his magic to kill and brought to warlock school. The impeccably dressed headmasters — three of whom are played by out actors Cheyenne Jackson, Billy Porter, BD Wong — are equally impressed and wary of their new student’s dark powers. “He’s the most powerful warlock I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few,” Wong’s character suggestively tells the others at dinner AKA teacher’s lounge kiki, in a line that sounds like it came from a Halloween drag show in West Hollywood.
If that isn’t queer enough for you, later on the episode, Lindsay Lohan and Celine Dion’s names are uttered within the same minute. All of this, mind you, comes after a sequence in the second episode where Murder House’s Rubber Man tops Evan Peters while Joan Collins looks on aghast.
But so far the success of Apocalypse does not lie in its pandering to queers, but in the show’s surrender to camp. The regurgitation of beloved characters and earlier plot-points doesn’t feel tired, rather more like a return to hallowed ground when the series still felt fresh. The crux of the AHS universe has always been its willingness to paint too broadly, and it seems the creators have finally accepted the show’s position in the TV universe; if viewers want real thrills they can watch Sharp Objects or the news, American Horror Story is just zany fun.
Jacob Seferian is a Texas-bred journalist living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @disco__bitch. That's disco, two underscores, bitch.