How 'Apocalypse' Finale Sets 'American Horror Story' Universe on Altered Path

[This story contains spoilers from the finale of FX's American Horror Story: Apocalypse, "Apocalypse Then."]

American Horror Story: Apocalypse ushered in the end of the world and, after 10 time-jumping episodes with enough crossovers to satisfy the most diehard of viewers, the FX horror anthology reversed course.

The eighth season of the Ryan Murphy series laid the groundwork for the 11th-hour twist to reveal itself in the penultimate episode, when Apocalypse all but confirmed that witch Mallory (Billie Lourd) is the key to saving the world — and the AHS universe.

Ever since the plot of Apocalypse was revealed, questions loomed about how the supposed world-ending nuclear event that kicked off the season muddled the timeline of the interconnected AHS cycles. Even though the series is an anthology, all cycles are linked — as Apocalypse clearly proved with its many Easter eggs and callbacks to earlier seasons, Murder House and Coven most prominently. The wrinkle in the timeline occurs when lining up Apocalypse with season five's Hotel: The finale of Hotel flashed forward to 2022, but the apocalypse supposedly happened in 2019.

The Apocalypse finale, written by co-creators Murphy and Brad Falchuk, solved that problem by revealing Mallory as the all-powerful next Supreme. She traveled back in time to kill Michael Langdon (Cody Fern) when he was still a growing boy and living under the care of his grandmother Constance Langdon — which welcomed back former leading lady and returning guest star Jessica Lange. In 2015, years ahead of the would-be Armageddon, Mallory killed Michael. She ran him over in the street, stopping his timeline of destruction before it even began. Michael died in Constance's arms and his grandmother denied his dying wish: Instead of letting him die in Murder House so his soul could live on for eternity, she told him to go to hell.

"Nothing ever truly dies," Mallory explains when she reappears at Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, the Coven academy for all the familiar witches, in 2015. Though none of her fellow witches know what happened, she is aware that she has set the world on a new path. "We are all made of energy and energy can neither be created or destroyed," she says in a voiceover. "It can only be transferred from one form to another. The trick is to be able to go back and pick the right moment in time and let it play out from there."

Mallory had been exhibiting magical powers unlike any the most experienced of witches had seen, including a time-warping ability so she could, in theory, go back or forward in time to prevent the apocalypse from happening. After successfully time-traveling in the penultimate episode, Mallory finally took her place as the next Supreme, succeeding Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) in the magical hierarchy. In the postapocalyptic timeline, Cordelia killed herself during a final battle with Langdon. Her death allowed Mallory to rise so she could travel back in time to effectively blow up Michael Langdon's own weight in the AHS universe.

In fact, her course-correcting move erases the entire trip back to Murder House in season eight, and all those happy endings. AHS viewers first met Michael Langdon in season one's Murder House. Michael was a 3-year-old who had been prophesied to be the Antichrist, the son of the devil who would bring about the end of the world. When he emerged seven seasons later on Apocalypse, he was invoked as the Antichrist by the warlocks, witches, Satanists and The Collaborative, aka the Illuminati, who all tried to, as Fern put it, "use and abuse him" for their own gains throughout the season. Fern, the actor who plays Langdon, didn't see his character as the ultimate evil. And, as it turns out, that was a hint to viewers all along.

By design, mystery still swirled around the man at the center of the season even as it barreled toward its conclusion and the promised "battle royale" between Langdon and the witches. The final showdown invited back former star Angela Bassett as Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (despite the actress saying she would not return) and Jamie Brewer's witch Nan, who had sold her soul to Papa Legba and resided in hell. "He's drawing [the evil] out; he's not putting it there. It's not something that he's done, it's something that he's revealed," Fern explained of the version of Langdon who exists in the Outpost 3 timeline after the apocalypse hits. "So in that sense, he's a very righteous character. He's just carrying out the work of his father, which is to bring about what I would say is the proper mode of humanity, in his eyes."

As it turns out, even though Mallory went back in time to kill Michael, the Antichrist was still reborn. "Changing the past. A part of me will always wonder what it truly means for the future," Mallory warned before AHS: Apocalypse flashed forward to the year 2020, when two key players from the beginning of the season returned. Emily (Ash Santos) and Timothy (Kyle Allen) represented Adam and Eve-like figures in the Apocalypse timeline. They seemed out of place at Outpost 3 in the first few episodes, when it was explained that they were there because of their special DNA. Now it's revealed that the pair were Satan's backup plan.

In the new 2020, Emily and Timothy are two youths fighting for change who bump into each other during a protest. They fall in love and start a family, but when their 3-year-old is left to his own devices, they come home to discover the same circumstances in which Constance found Michael in the original timeline. Their son had murdered the nanny and, with bloodied hands and rocking in his chair, laughed at what he did. Biblical signs of murderous crows surrounded their house and at the door appeared Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey (played by Carlo Rota) with his two recognizable cardinals, Ms. Mead (Kathy Bates) and another played by Freak Show star Naomi Grossman.

The year is now 2024 and Anton proclaimed, "We've been waiting our whole lives for this. We're here to help."

In the end, the witches got their happy ending. Mallory's time-traveling event saved almost all of them, including Cordelia, Misty Day (Lily Rabe), Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) and Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe). Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), however, was never brought back from the dead, since Cordelia didn't need to resurrect her for the apocalypse, and Mallory promised to retrieve Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) from her department-store hell sometime soon. Mallory continues to alter the AHS timeline by telling Queenie not to stay at the "hotel downtown" — presumably the Hotel Cortez — when she goes to Los Angeles. Queenie was trapped in the Cortez in Hotel, before she was brought back in the earlier Apocalypse timeline. (Her disappearance from the Cortez would presumably also shift elements of how Hotel played out.) Lady Gaga's original Supreme witch never showed up and the random Satan spawn birthed by Emily certainly takes away some of the truly evil lore that has encompassed Murder House for all of these years.

Perhaps the takeaway is that even AHS can't stop the apocalypse. American Horror Story has already been renewed for two more seasons, which means the universe that Murphy and Falchuk created truly isn't going anywhere. But as this season proves, anything can happen when it returns in 2019.