Last night around 11:20 p.m. PST, 28-year-old former Marine David Long walked into the the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California an opened fire with a handgun, killing 12 people and injuring 25 more before taking his own life. Just hours before the murders, this week’s penultimate episode of American Horror Story featured a mass shooting.
The sheer volume and frequency of American mass shootings has made it very common for television shows involving the acts of terrorism to be pulled before their scheduled airing times because of their chronological proximity to actual shootings taking place in the real world. Because of this fact, there’s never a “right” time for TV shows to depict mass shootings or even really comment on them. But, because it’s impossible for a television network to foresee when a terrorist will decide to open fire on unsuspecting public, that’s what American Horror Story did this week and the series is stronger for it.
In the wake of the witches’ attack on his most trusted advisor, the Antichrist Michael Langdon is now on the warpath, in addition to his quest to bring about the apocalypse. Though the latter of his goals requires a long process of steps he can’t quite figure out on his own just yet, exacting his revenge on the witches is a far simpler task that he carries out in a brutally human, though nonetheless monstrous way. With the android Miriam Mead by his side, Michael descends on the witches’ home, interrupts them while they’re performing a ritual of protection, and proceeds to murder them with a gun built into Miriam’s arm.
Though they themselves are armed with an array of magical powers, being caught completely unaware in what they assumed was the safety of their home makes the witches vulnerable. One by one, they’re gunned down; upstairs, Cordelia, Myrtle, and Mallory quickly realize what’s happening on the ground floor. Michael isn’t just killing the witches, he’s also taking the time to completely destroy their souls, making it impossible for them to be resurrected through traditional magical means. Michael’s attack on the witches is devastating in a way that many of American Horror Story’s murders haven’t been in the past for a number of reasons, chief among them being that it’s an all-too-realistic kind of terrorism that takes more lives here in America more than it does anywhere else in the world. Psychopathic clowns and hotel-bound vampires are not problems that people have to be concerned about here in the real world. Mass shootings are.
Losing so many of their sisters forces Apocalypse’s surviving witches to consider that they’ve truly lost the war to save the world from destruction despite their best efforts. But, this being the season’s second-to-last episode, they’ve got one last method of action at their disposal that might be able to turn the tide. In the time since the witches have determined that Mallory might actually be their next Supreme (and not Michael as they’d previously assumed), the women have come to accept that she might be capable of feats that only a witch coming into her power in response to the impending apocalypse would be. While the ability to project one’s self through time is a long-rumored magical ability that witches have reasoned might be possible, Myrtle explains that all previous attempts have resulted in death. But, considering the circumstances the witches find themselves in, sending Mallory back in time to prevent the shooting is their last ditch effort to put things right.
This is not the first time American Horror Story has centered on gun violence; Tate Langdon (Michael’s biological father) shot up his high school in the show’s first season. But what makes this week’s episode so difficult to grapple with is the uniquely unfortunate timing of events. It’s more than likely that had the Thousand Oaks shooting taken place any time before American Horror Story’s most recent episode, FX would have simply delayed airing it out of respect for the victims. It wouldn’t be the first time the show changed in response to real world events. Last year, during the season’s seventh season, Cult, an episode featuring a mass shooting was altered at the last minute to be less gruesome following the shooting in Las Vegas.
Given American Horror Story’s propensity for camp, it would have been easy for the show’s handling of a mass shooting to come across as tone deaf and glib. The witches might have had an all-out battle with the Antichrist and his android henchwoman to make the ham-fisted point that the key to stopping gun violence is to simply be armed with someone to protect one’s self. Instead, though, the show makes the point that the best and most effective way to fight gun violence is to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the first place by making sure that a shooter never has the opportunity to carry out their plans.