In 2018, when American Horror Story: Apocalypse was announced to be a crossover between previous AHS anthology series Murder House and Coven, many were excited at the chance to see some of their favorite witches back on TV. But the real gag of the season came in episode 4, “Could It Be…Satan?” when warlocks take center stage. Survivors of the apocalypse find an underground safe haven that was once an academy for male witches–a.k.a. warlocks–and was dedicated to training young men with magical senses.
Prior to this episode, there hadn’t been much conversation about warlocks or the role they play in the Coven universe. In previous seasons of the series, we have seen several male characters use women to their devices in order to uphold their power, and witchcraft, in this series and generally in modern film and TV, has been an empowering outlet for women to even the playing field. But in this season, patriarchy has been flipped on its head completely, and now men are having to justify their actions to women who are in positions of power.
In this magical realm, warlocks are “second-class citizens,” forbidden to rise to the highest level of Supreme Elect, with no real power within the Witches’ Council, run by Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) and Myrtle (Frances Conroy). The warlocks coven, led by Behold Chablis (Billy Porter), takes issue with this slight and challenges Myrtle about warlocks being left out of the highest ranks of power.
“Men are simply not equal, when it comes to magical ability,” Myrtle reminds them, stating that testosterone is known for being an inhibitor, and that “it impedes access to the ethereal realm.”
The warlocks, of course, don’t take this treatment lying down and some of them to conspire to kill certain female coven leaders who are in charge of their livelihoods. This premise might set off alarm bells that in this world, “men are the real victims”; but far from being a Mens Rights Activist, Behold is an example of what can happen when toxic masculinity is examined and rejected.
Behold takes it upon himself to not only protect the warlocks, but act as an intermediary between them and the witches. He even lays his life on the line to protect the greater good. In episode 6, “Return to Murder House,” he voluntarily leads a mission to free some of the lost spirits who remain enslaved inside the Murder House, knowing that if he were to die inside, he too would become trapped there. Through Behold, empathy is as powerful as magic in defeating evil.
The evil warlock Michael is also introduced as a foil to Behold, and through Michael’s lust for power and domination, we see how toxic masculinity divides the community and damages men. As Behold tries to stop the evil warlock Michael from attaining unjustified power, Behold takes on the emotional labor usually left at the feet of the marginalized and Black women, in particular: processing an oppressor’s trauma in order to find safety for himself and others. Behold learns of Michael’s challenging childhood and the hardships that have hardened Michael into who he is. Behold works from a place of empathy in order to save both the coven and the world from Michael. With compassion and empathy, Behold becomes stronger, a better leader and a healer for the coven.
As a Black warlock in this Apocalypse universe, Behold continues to remind us that while the fight for equality is one that is often lonely, it is one that can make a difference. Considering that many of these warlocks feel marginalized and continue to be angry about feeling inferior to the witches, it will be interesting to see how the rest of this season unfolds and whether Behold can convince the warlocks to shed the toxic masculinity that makes them dangerous to themselves and to the coven.