Going into American Horror Story: Apocalypse, there was so much to look forward to. The witches! American Crime Story breakout Cody Fern as the antichrist! The long promised AHS crossover season, finally coming to fruition! But, one small detail continued to put a damper on what should be a celebratory television event: the return of Tate Langdon (Evan Peters), the definition of a problematic fave.
In the beginning of American Horror Story: Murder House, Tate seemed like a classic troubled bae. He was emotional and took love interest Violet (Taissa Farmiga) on a sweet date to the beach, and his hair fell over his eyes in the dreamiest way. Then the midpoint of Murder House arrives, and you realize Tate isn’t a cute boy battling demons with therapy. He’s a high school mass shooter who died in the '90s and is now a ghost. The Tate situation devolves even more when you find out Tate isn’t just a mass murderer — he’s a rapist, too. Episode “Rubber Man” confirms ghost Tate raped Violet’s mother Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton), leading to the birth of Michael (Cody Fern), the antichrist.
For many, it was difficult to reconcile all the feels Tate elicited at the beginning of Murder House and the reality of his many monstrous acts. So, it was easier to let all of that internal chaos over a fictional character slowly disappear as many more wild AHS twists piled up over the years.
Then Apocalypse had to go and bring back all those complicated feelings, and in a world where #MeToo is a constant topic of conversation no less. Yet, the season also goes out of its way to find a trick to make it palatable to like Tate again. It’s in a literal ghost out of the machine move.
When we see Tate again in Wednesday night’s “Return To Murder House,” something feels different about the forever sullen forever teen. He seems truly invested in his therapy in a way that lacks the manipulation and recklessness from his prior Murder House sessions with Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott). It probably helps that everyone is dead now and in on Tate’s many violent secrets. There’s an honesty here.
But, a little bit of thoughtful self reflection isn’t nearly enough to absolve Tate of his many horrifying sins. Ben reminds Tate of as much, going down the list of his patient’s terrible deeds, reminding us Tate also killed his mom Constance’s (Jessica Lange) boyfriend. Too many bad things have happened for Violet, the object of Tate’s obsessive affection, to forgive him easily.
However, Apocalypse subtly spends the rest of the episode setting the stage for one such reconciliation. The first key is the fact that the satanists who come to worship Michael Langdon as the antichrist say the Murder House is built on the portal to hell. Then there is the black mass, where Michael eats the fresh heart of a kidnapped girl and the shadow of Satan, in all his winged, horned glory, appears behind him. “Father,” Michael sighs to the devil (despite the fact his “father” is supposed to be Tate).
Even Tate tells his supposed son Michael during a flashback, “Not even I could create something as monstrous, as evil, as you.” Tate goes so far as to claim the boy didn’t “spring from [his] nutsack,” raising ghost biology questions no one should ever answer.
That is why the crux of Apocalypse’s Tate Langdon Character Rehabilitation Program is to allege Tate isn’t Michael's biological father and was never a monster — the house, which exists right above hell as that satanist (Naomi Grossman, who previously played the iconic Pepper) says, simply used him as a tool. In fact, Satan himself manipulated Tate to birth his antichrist son into the world. Therefore Tate isn’t evil. Rather, he’s as much a victim of Murder House’s devilish horrors as anyone else.
Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts, real-life on-again, off-again girlfriend to Tate’s Evan Peters), breaks the entire thing down for Violet, who still rightly can’t forgive Tate. Before leaving the cursed Murder House, Madison tells a sobbing Violet of her own personal bad decisions. “But those were my choices. I think what happened to Tate was different,” the reformed mean girl actress explains. “He wasn’t the real evil here.” Instead, Madison says, the house used Tate as a “vessel” to “create something way, way worse:” Michael. Any evil lurking in Tate — the kind of evil that leads to mass murder and sexual violence — “left with Michael.”
Apocalypse drives Madison's point home by revealing Tate saved Vivien's life when a fully satanic Michael tried to eradicate his own mother's soul.
So, the Tate moping around the house at this point is actually a good guy who loves Violet. While Madison is technically telling Violet all of this, director Sarah Paulson’s zoomed-in camera angles makes it feel like she’s reminding all the viewers at home they’re allowed to love Tate again, too. “He’s good now, everyone! You can ship these two again!” Madison practically screams at us. Our final look at Murder House features Tate and Violet happily making out next to a bright, cheery window.
After years of complicated opinions about Tate, it’s reassuring to have a neat and tidy explanation for all the ills the teen heartthrob released into the world. But at a time when we’ve learned many of the men formally labeled allies and feminists — from the complicated sexual exploits of the Aziz Ansaris of the world to the serial misconduct of men like Louis C.K. — Apocalypse doesn’t need to be explaining away the behavior of someone like Tate Langdon.
Rather, it would have been powerful to leave Tate’s story as is, no matter how painful it happens to be. Because even the baes of the world can be monsters.
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