Michael Langdon is the devil. Or, rather, he's the devil's son — the Antichrist, to be exact. The character made his bloody, albeit short debut in American Horror Story's first season, Murder House, and has now returned for its seventh, Apocalypse, in the form of a mysterious but ultimately revered leader played by Cody Fern (American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, House of Cards).
**This story contains spoilers for American Horror Story: Apocalypse, Episode 4, "Could It Be… Satan?"**
Until Episode 4, "Could It Be… Satan?," audiences were working with very little context in regards to Langdon's story. Episode 4 delivered not only some much-needed context but also what appears to be the season's entire plot: Witches vs. warlocks and an apocalypse of Biblical proportions led by none other than Langdon.
"The thing about working on a Ryan Murphy TV show is that he has such an extraordinary collective of artists, so everyone is really like a family," series newcomer Fern told SYFY WIRE in the wake of the series' most recent episode. "Sarah Paulson and Leslie Grossman held a dinner before we even started. The ensemble of players is very close. And so they're very supportive [but] I guess I would say that I was incredibly nervous coming in. I mean, it's a show that's been going for seven years and there are many fan favorites. And to know that it was going to be the Coven/Murder House crossover, I was happy just to get a minute of screen time."
Fern names AHS regulars Paulson and Kathy Bates as his greatest sources of guidance on set. He also credits Paulson for the fear Langdon invokes in others and the authority he exudes when he walks into a room. The first scene Fern shot was the stomach-churning few minutes in Episode 2 when Langdon confronts Venable (Paulson) in an attempt to put her in her place. He seduces her with power before putting her to shame.
"It was like me discovering who Langdon was and how he operates and how alive he is or how manipulative he is," Fern says. "I got the entirety of the character from Sarah because of the power that she lent to Langdon and how she responded to him and her level of fear — it fed into my performance and it [helped] me to establish really who he was… Sarah is a real leader. She really embodies what it means to kind of lead the series. She looks out for every actor. She's always getting to the heart of the story. She has choices for every scene. She's endlessly fascinating."
Also fascinating are the details of a technically teenage Langdon's volatile nature (hint: it's a maturity thing) and his journey thus far. SYFY WIRE and Fern discussed this and much more to get to the bottom of what goes on in the Antichrist's head.
Kyle Allen told me a few weeks ago that you're one of the hardest workers on set — you learn lines crazy fast and always come prepared. What do you attribute that to?
That's very sweet of him to say. I think first of all, this is not playing the small fry, you know? You don't have time to come to set and f*** around. You need to come ready for battle. And I like to work very closely with the writers and with the directors and with the actors in the scene.
Everyone works differently. I'm somebody who really enjoys preparation, which can be very difficult when you're working at this pace because you might get the scene the night before. You may get the whole script the night before and you're making choices, you're shooting scenes that are three quarters into the script and… you don't even really know the trajectory of that particular episode yet. Um, so I like to work very closely with the writers.
How has working so closely with the writers helped you form Langdon as a character?
Knowing that we're going back and we're going to see who he was when he was younger and how he got to where he was. I think it's been important for me to kind of track his frame of mind and his motivations and really arc his journey because when we see him in Episode 4, you're landing with somebody who is 16 or 17 years old. He's a teenager... He's just coming to terms with his abilities. He's not necessarily aware of his purpose yet, y'know, as the Antichrist.
Kind of a big deal.
Kind of a big deal. He's also technically like six years old [in the timeline of the show], so he obviously grows at a very rapid pace. And although intelligence comes with that, his emotions and his ability to handle them is not fully formed yet. He's essentially got the emotional consciousness of a six-year-old. So he's volatile, very volatile.
Langdon is young but he's also inhuman and ultimately manipulative. Is he an empathetic character?
He's completely empathetic. I don't see Langdon as a bad guy. And Langdon doesn't see Langdon as a bad guy.
I'm a very positive person in my life. I'm very optimistic. I know that politically at the moment, things are... I'm not going to get political. There are things to despair about but there's also at the same time all of this magic in the world... depending on your point of view and your experience, and you shape the world.
And Langdon. He is born into something that he is not in control of. He's the polar opposite of Jesus Christ, except he is Jesus Christ. You know what I mean? They're one in the same. Light and dark.
They're two sides of the same coin.
Exactly! He is born with a purpose that he doesn't even understand, so he's got to come to terms with who he is and what his purpose is and who's to say that it's the wrong mission?
Here's the thing, when I'm playing Langdon, I don't think about destruction at all. I don't think about the end of the world. I think about the beginning. And he, Langdon, is taking the world back. Fate is communicating through him, but there is this sense that man has destroyed the Earth and… the image that God gave to man is clearly not working. People are killing each other, people are, etc. etc. And so Langdon leans into that, into the creation of that, into what's really in a man's heart, and if you ruin the world and you put everyone in a bunker and then you just slightly tempt them, how willing are they actually to survive?
And if that's their true nature, then who is to say that's the wrong nature? Only those who are strong enough to live in it will survive. And there's nothing wrong with that in Langdon's mind.
So then we get flashbacks. We learn more about Langdon and where he came from, which is a pretty dark place, right?
When you see him in the jail cell, he is a kid who has been in a lot of despair. He's been broken. He says at the start of [Episode 4] that he doesn't know how Meade found him. But she gave him a home. So there's a hint there that something has gone on in his history that he's ended up with this foster mother.
And then he has these powers that get out of control. And then instantly, he's thrown into the fire and he's used and used... These Warlocks want to be number one, and so Michael is the potential key to that. Do they care about Michael, or do they only care about their own sense of power? So I think if you look through the eyes of Michael at how people treat him and how they view him and tried and use him — I mean, even in the first three episodes — you see he tempts Venable with power and sex and charm and the ability to throw people under the bus. And then you have Gallant, who is willing to do anything just to f*** Langdon.
And when he does the big interviews, you know, everyone is complaining and this and that and the other, and "you saved me." If you really get inside Langdon's skin, everyone is projecting something onto him. They're projecting.
There's this sense of Langdon really leaning into that because it's what these people maybe really want. He's a snake on the tree of knowledge. That's what I'll say. If you look at the Biblical story, religious or not, and you remove yourself from your attachments and you look at it metaphorically, there was a moment in which a woman had the opportunity to choose between blindly following somebody who had given them life or taking in knowledge and choosing to be thrown out of the Garden of Eden, but into a world of will.
Is the snake bad in that instance?
So we'll learn even more about the snake, aka, Langdon, in later episodes?
Yes. Yes. We are.
The thing with a show like this is that fans of the show are really very strong in their opinions and what they want. It's difficult because, you know, you did one thing — like Venable is new [and there are other] and [fans] are like, "where are the witches? Where is this or that?" And then there's the other half: "Where's Venable? When's she's coming back? When are we going to find out how she got there?" All of this saying like "Where's Constance? When is she showing up?"
And it's like, okay, you know, there's a story to tell here and there are many characters along the way and there are many opportunities for profundity and entertainment and connection and just trust that roller coaster. I don't know how it's all going to happen. So I'm hoping just as much as you do that it does. They haven't been writing for seven years for nothing.