Joan Collins
Image: FX

American Horror Story is down to its final four episodes, and so far this season is proving to be a kind of enjoyable mix tape. There’s plenty of greatest hits that while enjoyable, don’t really add up to a cohesive whole.

The addition of Bubbles McGee (Joan Collins, resurrected á la Sarah Paulson) was welcome, but an extended clip from her Christmas themed horror movie was so long there must have been some viewers who had to channel surf just to make sure they hadn’t accidentally turned on Santa’s Slay. It wasn’t this week’s episode’s only foray into different forms of storytelling—there was another call back to the Seven Wonder’s silent film style, but at least that’s grounded in the show’s overall mythology. With only three episodes to go season eight should be finally connecting the dots, but instead more dots keep getting added through flashbacks and new characters

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If the episode has any real through line, it’s characters making bizarrely bad decisions in service of the plot. When Coco chokes on a snowball (only 80 calories if someone has already nibbled) it is sort of comical to watch three powerful witches freeze when they realize there’s no heimlich spell (witches, it would seem, have spent too much time on revenge spells and not enough on first aid incantations). And while it’s possible the show runners were trying to illustrate just how helpless these women are without the help of magic...Queenie and Zoe are smart, resourceful, and have proven they can perform just fine under pressure. Still, neither of them could take the lead and remember the life guard training class they took that one summer? Of course, the show needed Coco to die (or at least, stop breathing for a moment) so Mallory could show off her supreme worthy powers of emergency tracheotomy(and, as shown later, rising the very, very dead). But making the other witches freeze in the moment does a disservice to the characters who have obviously only grown more powerful and poised since season three.

But that’s not the only convenient uncharacteristic lapse in judgement made by AHS characters this week. The deeply suspicious warlocks break bread with Myrtle and Bubbles, unaware Bubbles is able to pick their brains, literally. Why these two men would eat anything prepared by two people they think of as the rival team is puzzling, as is the fact that word of Bubbles’ rather unique power hasn’t reached them. There’s no coven Wiki that lets everyone keep track of who can manipulate who, and in what way?

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With this episode, AHS has answered many of the big questions of the season, but somehow it still doesn’t feel like it’s moving towards a satisfying wrap up. We see Cordelia refuse to sell her girls’ souls, but then resurrect Myrtle knowing the terrible cost of bringing her back. There’s a moment of sweet witchy bonding as Coco develops a new “Weight Watchers app,” power that feels both short and shoved in. By the time the witches fall into their classic slow motion, black draped walk from the burning bodies of their enemies, a sense of finality is palpable, but no solution has been found, and even the end of the world can’t produce a sense of urgency.

In an episode free from Michael (if not from his shadow) there is plenty of room for some of the entire AHS’ series’ most likable characters to revisit and strengthen relationships, which will always be more entertaining to watch than a bunch of underdeveloped characters stuck in an end of days bottle episode with just enough period costuming to remind viewers they really need to catch up on Westworld. Now the question for Apocalypse’s final quarter is, can it create a story that stands on its own, or will it go down as a fun, but watery Coven epilogue?

Next week for the very special Halloween episode, Michael gets closer to embracing his Satanic duties, and Evan Peters will have a truly horrific bowl cut.

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Stray observations

  • Coco is a great calorie counter, but even better bait. It’s worth noting that while she has the world’s least exciting power, her witchy sisters are still 100% supportive of her magical status and encourage her to develop her skills even more. It might not be the safest group living situation, but it’s a strong sorority.
  • Nan is back for a cameo! Though Cordelia is there to remind viewers it’s sad that a witch has been permanently placed in hell (a much more likable witch than Madison), it’s hard to feel too concerned when she seems so happy to be chilling out with Papa Legba.
  • Tumblr is about to be bombarded with Myrtle/Bubbles fan fiction, and that’s not a bad thing.
  • If the mouthless warlocks looked familiar, it’s because almost the exact effect is used in a season one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“The Witch.”) Most special effects have advanced since the late ‘90s, but there’s no reason to mess with a classic.
  • If Bubbles can look into someone’s soul, that on-set worker has the saddest soul on the entire show.

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