Although trailers and pre-season interviews broadcast the crossover well in advance, last night’s episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse saw the long-awaited return to Murder House — and Jessica Lange’s return to the series.
Lange appeared in seasons 1-4 of American Horror Story, taking on central roles in each, before parting ways after Freak Show. Lange reprises her season 1 character Constance Langdon, grandmother of Michael Langdon, as the show returns to where it all began.
The episode was a dense one, folks, expertly directed by Sarah Paulson. Let’s take a closer look.
[Ed. note: The rest of this post contains major spoilers for AHS: Apocalypse through “Return to Murder House.”]
Earlier this season, apocalyptic events destroyed most of the earth, and the lone survivors were ushered to safe houses. Michael Langdon (Cody Fern), the suspected Antichrist, arrives to one bunker to decide who is worthy enough to make it to his “Sanctuary.” Everyone died, except not really because Cordelia Goode (Sarah Paulson) and her coven arrive to resurrect three of the Safe House occupants, Mallory (Billie Lourd), Coco (Leslie Grossman) and Dinah (Adina Porter), who are powerful witches.
The last few episodes of the season have played out in flashback mode, as we learn just how Michael got in his position of power. A school of warlocks discovered him and took him in. Amazed by his power, they hoped he would rise as the first male Supreme. He brought back Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and Madison (Emma Roberts) and then during his trial of the Seven Wonders, rescued Misty Day (Lily Rabe) from her personal hell. While he successfully showed off his power, Cordelia is suspicious of the darkness surrounding him — she suspects that he’s the one who may usher in the apocalyptic events she saw in a vision.
The witches must learn everything they can about his past, so she sends Madison and Chablis (Billy Porter) to the place where it all began...
Here’s where things get interesting. As part of the pre-apocalypse series of events, we see Madison and Chablis successfully trick a realtor into thinking they’re a hopeful married couple and buy the house. The realtor does warn them that the house comes with some heavy baggage, namely that 36 people died on the property.
Despite the brutal murders, Murder House had a quasi-happy ending: the Harmon family was dead, but together; Violet (rightfully) banished the sociopathic serial killer Tate from interacting with her; Moira the maid (Frances Conroy) dubbed the newly born Harmon baby’s godmother. What’s happened in the last seven years?
The first thing Madison and Chablis do after settling in is perform a seance to draw out the spirits. After brief encounters with some of the other ghosts in the house, they run into Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) giving a therapy session to everyone’s favorite bad boy Tate Langdon (Evan Peters), which Ben says they’ve been doing for years. Things have clearly regressed since we left them: Ben says he and Vivien (Connie Britton) aren’t talking, Tate has been ignored by Violet (Taissa Farmiga) for years. Madison has the urge to help Tate — a first indication of a softer side of her — but the duo knows they need to focus on the real goal at hand: finding out everything they can about
Sarah Paulson’s third character of the season, medium Billie Dean Howard, makes an appearance — she’s the only living soul that the ghosts welcome in the house. And finally, at long last, we get Jessica Lange’s Constance Langdon, who descends down the stairs, cigarette in hand.
Constance says that she knows Michael better than anyone, but refuses to speak to the witches until they do something for her. She wants Moira out of sight. Though Chablis says he can simply banish Moira to the closet, Madison is determined to find her bones and bury her somewhere else so that the maid can find peace. They’re successful, and Moira is buried in the cemetery where her mother rests and the two ghosts reunite, before walking into a misty dark night. That’s check one for Murder House character closure.
With Moira out of sight, Constance tells Madison and Chablis about Michael’s childhood. Ever since he was little, Michael had a violent streak of murdering small animals. Constance — already the mother of one school shooter, Tate — accepted this and thought she was simply raising a “run-of-the-mill serial killer.” Even after he killed his nanny, Constance did not waver. Everything changed, however, when she walked into Michael’s room one morning to find that he had grown nearly a decade. It’s a quirk people noticed first episode, when Michael was significantly older than the seven years that had passed since his birth at the end of Murder House and the start of this current season.
Michael then tried to kill Constance herself, though he broke down in tears and was unable to complete the act. Constance tried to get a priest to talk to him, but Michael gleefully slit the man’s throat. Feeling defeated, Constance decided that she wasn’t going to let Michael have the satisfaction of killing her. She walked over to the Murder House, took her own life, then reunited with three of her other children, Tate, Rose and Beau. She never wanted to see Michael again.
Having gleaned everything they could from Constance, Madison and Chablis seek out Ben Harmon, who tells them the next chapter of Michael’s life.
After Michael discovered Constance’s dead body, Ben was the one who comforted him. He took the boy under his wing, hoping to curb his violent urges. It made him feel like a father again, especially since Michael was very much alive and had the capacity to grow — unlike Violet and the Harmon baby Jeffrey, permanently frozen in the ages they died.
Michael explores more of the house, discovering the infamous Rubber Man suit, before Tate finally confronts him. The two argue and Tate calls Michael evil (a big deal coming from the guy who murdered almost everyone currently dead in the house), causing Michael to slip into more despicable acts. Ben tries to dissuade him, but it’s a lost cause.
Eventually, the house is bought by a couple and the two barely move in when Michael attacks them in the Rubber Man suit. Not only does he slit their throats, but he completely and utterly burns their souls from existence. At this point, Ben too has realized that Michael is a lost case.
Madison and Chablis are rightfully horrified at this point, but the story’s not over yet. Vivien — Michael’s birth mother — comes in to tell the last chapter of Michael’s time at the Murder House. She briefly confronts Ben about why she’s not talking to him (he ditched their real son in favor of Michael), before firmly confirming what we all suspected: Michael is indeed the Antichrist.
Vivien says that sometime after the brutal murder of the couple, a cult of Satanists (including the woman who would be Michael’s foster mom, played by Kathy Bates) showed up at the door, claiming to be led there by a prophecy. They say that there is a portal to hell beneath the house and that they’re here to show Michael his true destiny.
They kidnap a girl and complete a very gory ritual, stabbing her in the stomach and ripping out her heart. The leader of the group presents the heart to Michael, who ... takes a bite out of it. The shadow of a devil-like figure appears behind him and the Satanists bow.
If there was any doubt that Michael was the personification of evil, it’s definitely gone now.
Vivien reveals that she tried to kill Michael, but he blasted her with that same fire that totally wiped the couple from existence. Tate, she says, saved her in the nick of time. She’s convinced that it wasn’t Tate who fathered the child, as they all thought, but some source of darkness that just used Tate as a vehicle.
Madison and Chablis realize that the witches have majorly screwed up, considering they just put an unholy demon spawn in their most powerful position. They need to leave immediately and find Cordelia.
But before they leave, there’s one last thing Madison does for Violet Harmon (and everyone who’s shipped Violet and Tate since season one).
She tells Violet that she’s not wrong for still loving Tate despite the terrible things he did (murder, more murder while he was dead, rape, burning a living man, etc.) because it was the darker, malevolent force of the house that compelled him to do these really awful things. Any evil inside of Tate left and manifested itself in Michael.
It’s a rare happy ending: Madison blows some magic dust on her, undoing Tate’s banishment; Violet runs into Tate’s arms and the two kiss, Violet presumably forgetting that this man had sex with her mom.
It’s the perfect way to end the episode for Murder House fans: closure for the fan-favorites, answers to some burning questions, and most importantly, the return of AHS Queen Jessica Lange.
The threat of Michael looms, though, and it looks like next episode returns to the Voodoo practitioners of Coven. Is the Satanic cult behind the mysterious Collective? What is their ultimate goal? We just saw Michael eviscerate people from existence — what’s the extent of his powers?
We can be pretty certain that it wasn’t Tate inside the Rubber Man suit that appeared in the season’s second episode, but we’re not sure if it’s some conjured demon of Michael’s. The only thing we really know is that his power is only growing from this moment on.