'American Horror Story: Apocalypse'
Courtesy: FX

Television

It Takes an Apocalypse to Put Women in Power on 'American Horror Story'

Last year, American Horror Story ended its most political season with an audacious take on the 2016 elections—in which an alt-right poster boy was shot dead on a debate stage, and his nemesis, an out lesbian in a tailored pantsuit, won her Senate campaign in a landslide. But the show's vision for the country doesn't end there, and after this week's premiere of the show's newest season, now we know: It doesn't end well.

Because, while America gears up for its first major trip to the polls since the surprise victory of Donald Trump, American Horror Story is upping the ante by imagining that this election will be our last. In this version of America, there is no victory for Democrats in 2020. There's no 2020 at all.

The titular apocalypse of this season's AHS takes place within the first minutes of the premiere, as cities all over the world are suddenly wiped out by ballistic missiles. The show never explains just how or why World War III has broken out, and it all happens so shockingly fast that none of its characters bother to ask—and yet, there's a big clue right up-front as to how the end began. A stunned newscaster who's just announced the incoming attack looks into the camera for what he knows will be the last time, and says, "I can't believe we actually did it."
This might seem like a throwaway moment, except that we see it twice. Just a few minutes later, the show flashes back to show the same news report being watched by a stunned family who've just learned that they're all about to die. I can't believe we actually did it.

Nobody ever says the name "Trump," but it's not hard to fill in the blanks. In this particular horror story, it seems that the un-popularly elected buffoon in the White House went from bragging about the size of his nuclear button to actually pushing it. Goodbye, world!

And hello, Apocalypse—where a shadowy collective of survivors sets out to establish a new order. And this is where things get interesting: In sharp contrast to the pussy-grabbing administration that oversaw the end of days, this new society is a twisted subterranean matriarchy ruled by a vampy, sadistic schoolmarm named Wilhemina Venable (Sarah Paulson).

It's a remarkable aspect of the new AHS that, contrary to most apocalypse dramas—or even to last season's American Horror Story, which featured a veritable army of alt-right bros amassed in its cult leader's basement—there's nary a stubbled tough guy among the surviving men. Venable and her assistant, Mead (Kathy Bates), employ a support staff of androgynous goths, and the sanctuary's group of elite "purple" male guests is distinctly anti-macho. There's a platinum blond hairdresser (Mr. Gallant), a baby-faced teen dreamboat (Timothy) and a nouveau-riche gay couple named Andre and Stu (the latter only lasts long enough to hand the show its best cannibalism punchline when he's killed off and cooked into a dish that sounds just like his name.) Even this season's highly-anticipated Big Bad, the surviving child of an unholy Murder House union who may or may not be literal demon spawn, is a soft-skinned pretty boy with long, flowing, shampoo-commercial-worthy hair.
Rather than setting democracy back on course, we swagger into a nuclear sunset that leaves everything in ashes, from which a new kind of leader can rise: the Anti-Trump.
Even for a series that wouldn't be described as all that testosterone-driven, the men of AHS have never been as neutered as they are in Apocalypse. (See Timothy—who is, by all appearances, a red-blooded and heterosexual American male—keeping his romance with a fellow survivor limited to a single chaste kiss per week, in compliance with the house rules.) And with big-deal crossover appearances from some of its fiercest women still in store—series grande dame Jessica Lange is due for a cameo as Constance Langdon this season, along with Connie Britton and all the many witches of Coven—the new world order that's emerging here is as matriarchal a system as any the show has ever seen.

On the heels of last season's political hysteria, this all feels like a grand experiment for a series that has always loved playing with the notion of female power. Women of all ages dominate the cast, and past story lines have offered a whirlwind tour through all sorts of girls' clubs, from the catty elegance of Coven to the radical rage of Valerie Solanas and SCUM. And it's certainly timely now, when it's become more common (and oh-so-tempting) to wonder what the world might look like if it were blown apart, then reassembled, with women at the top of the food chain.

But if American Horror Story is testing that theory this season, then so far, there's no utopia in sight: only the kind of corruption and desolation that suggests the wide-eyed anarchists among us should be careful what they wish for. In this timeline, America's future is dark, indeed. Rather than setting democracy back on course, this story imagines us swaggering into a nuclear sunset that leaves everything in ashes, from which a new kind of leader can rise: the Anti-Trump, an elegant patrician in dark lipstick and high heels. An un-elected official who operates somewhere in the murky territory between dictator and dominatrix. A softer kind of power, but no less dangerous … and maybe far more wicked.

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