[This story contains spoilers for the fourth episode of FX’s American Horror Story season eight, “Could It Be…Satan?”]
With the death of one of Sarah Paulson’s characters, another one rises on American Horror Story: Apocalypse. And in doing so, the crossover season flashed back to both Coven and Hotel — the fifth season of the FX anthology — in episode four. Among the explosion of AHS mythology, the new developments also set in motion a supernatural gender war between the Coven witches and the Michael Langdon-led warlocks.
The setting thus far on Apocalypse has been Outpost Three, an underground shelter led by Ms. Venable (Paulson) that has been a safe haven for a small group of survivors after a nuclear missile attack. It had been said in the premiere that the outpost was formerly a a boys school that was co-opted by a group called The Cooperative in anticipation of the attack. Wednesday’s episode revealed that the outpost was actually the former home to the Hawthorne School, where a male coven of warlocks studied magic — essentially, the male equivalent to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for the female witches in Coven.
Coven, season three, saw the witches fighting to identify their next Supreme, the all-powerful witch who is born once a generation that embodies the Seven Wonders of Witchcraft. The reigning Supreme is Cordelia Foxx (also played by Paulson), who made her AHS return, along with formerly dead witches Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) and Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), at the end of the third episode.
As Ms. Venable lay dead on the floor from the poisonous apples that wiped out everyone at Outpost Three, Langdon (Cody Fern) shed some light on his sole survivor: the robotic Ms. Mead (Kathy Bates) was modeled after the mother-figure he trusted and loved. That woman, however, was not Constance Langdon, who was played by Jessica Lange in season one’s MurderHouse and who will be reprising that role in an upcoming episode. Instead, it was a woman (also played by Bates in a flashback) who worshipped the devil and who gave young Michael a home while he harnessed his satanic powers.
When the witches made their return, they quickly resurrected three guests who also have their own magic inside them: Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt (Leslie Grossman), Dinah Stevens (Adina Porter) and Mallory (Billie Lourd). The returning witches had placed an “identity spell” on the resurrected guests as protection and to keep them from knowing their true selves.
The moment sparked a face-off between Langdon, with Ms. Mead at his side, and the group of witches. Flashing back to three years before the bomb, Apocalypse then opened up the world of the warlock school to show how Langdon was discovered by the men in charge (played by Cheyenne Jackson, Billy Porter, Jon Jon Briones and BD Wong). Adding a twist to Coven’s mythology, the Grand Chancellor (Briones) explained that an “Alpha warlock” supplants the Supreme witch in coven hierarchy.
“The warlock who becomes the Alpha will have power that will exceed the witches,” he explained. Hoping young Michel is the Alpha they have been waiting for, the Chancellor’s hopes are that he will pass the Seven Wonders and allow the warlocks to “take their rightful place” at the top of the magic chain. The flashback contained a few Coven Easter eggs, including a mention that backlash from Cordelia’s publicity tour forced them to go underground, literally and figuratively.
The warlock council put Langdon through their own test, and he passed with flying colors. Despite warning signs of a darkness in his powers, the council decided to put him up against Cordelia for Supreme.
That is when another Coven witch made her AHS debut. In a flashback to before the attack, Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) and Cordelia were recognizing the power of new students at Miss Robichaux’s Academy, including Mallory, when they were summoned to meet the Hawthorne Academy council. The witches, Myrtle in tow, answered the call on warlock turf because, as Myrtle asks, “Did we really want all those men traipsing around our house?” The meeting was so the warlocks could introduce them to young Michael and challenge them for power.
“Men are simply not equal to women when it comes to magical ability,” argued Cordelia of a man never approaching Supreme status. “Not to mention everything else,” Myrtle quipped. To settle the dispute, the warlocks requested that the witches put Michael through a test of the Seven Wonders. When Cordelia refused, a third cycle from the AHS anthology — season five’s Hotel — factored.
Referencing the death of Misty Day (played by Lily Rabe) during her Coventest, Cordelia pushed back. That’s when the warlock council brought up Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), “the black girl you left behind.” Queenie survived the Coven season, but later reprised her role when she checked into the haunted Hotel Cortez in Hotel. During the crossover in season five, viewers watched as the ghost of James March (Evan Peters), Hotel’s serial killer, killed Queenie, effectively trapping her soul on the grounds forever (similar to how Murder House traps its ghosts.)
“Queenie was missing. She traveled to Los Angeles and never came back,” Cordelia explained. “I knew something awful had happened to her, her life force just vanished. So I went searching for her and when I found out she was trapped in the Hotel Cortez, I went immediately to bring her back from that monstrous place. And I had no illusions about it being easy. The Cortez is a place of evil. A hell mouth.”
Apocalypse then flashed back to the Hotel Cortez, giving Peters a chance to reprise his James March and marking Queenie’s Apocalypse debut. Cordelia tried to save Queenie from the Cortez, but she realized that they couldn’t escape and that the hotel was “an entryway to all things dark and satanic — where the devil reigns.” The dark realm, she says, extinguished the light from which they draw their power.
The Grand Chancellor tells Cordelia she is afraid of “an end to ages of female dominance,” but she stays firm in her decision. Unbeknownst to them, however, a power has awaken in Michael. He sees a vision of the Hotel Cortez and is able to do what Cordelia couldn’t and free Queenie from the dark realm. The moment also provided a fun Easter egg with Peters as James March playing out a scene with Michael Langdon, the son of Peters’ Murder House character Tate Langdon (who will also be appearing later in the season).
Telling Queenie they had one more person to get, Michael then travels to Madison’s hell, answering a burning question as to how the dead witch has been resurrected. As shown in Coven, when the witches die and go to hell, they live out their own version of eternal suffering on loop. Madison was discovered working in customer service at a department store — a cursed existence for the once-famous Hollywood star. The moment provided for a comical reunion between Queenie and Madison before Michael brings them back to life to prove the point that he is the new Supreme.
When exiting the Hawthorne School, Cordelia sees that Michael has resurrected Madison and Queenie and falls unconscious. Michael, now cloaked in black, stands over her smiling.
Scenes for the fifth episode show Cordelia predicting the apocalypse, telling the witches and warlocks, “The only hope we have of surviving depends on what I do next.”