“You got a death wish, Johnny Truant?”

American Horror Story: Coven – “The Replacements”

The best episodes of American Horror Story are designed to leave your head spinning. They burn through plot faster than the first two seasons of Homeland combined, and throw as much insane shit as possible at you, hoping something will be ridiculous enough to make you overlook any deficiencies or less-than-tasteful moments.

So when the camera panned in on Kathy Bates’ Madame LaLaurie sobbing in front of a television showing Barack Obama giving a speech, unable to accept that there could possibly be a black president, I knew “The Replacements” was kicking into classic AHS mode, and it didn’t let me down.

So much kooky stuff went down in “The Replacements,” the most grounded plot was the one about a frankenzombie. Zoe visits Kyle’s mother (Mare Winnigham, recently giving a brilliantly campy turn on the turdnugget Under the Dome), who’s smoking a lot of pot and generally very depressed. After having his wounds healed by Misty Day in her Stevie Nicks-soundtracked swamp shack, Zoe comes to take Kyle home, and leaves him on the doorstep like a package. Kyle’s mother is relieved, but becomes concerned when he won’t speak, and even more concerned when she sees his penis in the shower and realizes it’s not his. Oh, yeah, it seems Kyle’s mom was sexually abusive, masturbating him while he lies in bed and trying to convince him no girl could ever please him like her. In his first real act of agency, Kyle finally lashes out, beating her head in with a trophy, leaving her there for Zoe to find when she comes over later for dinner. (NOTE: my cable cut out for a good twenty seconds or so right after Zoe found the body, so if something happened after that I didn’t catch it. Sorry.)

Cordelia and her husband Hank are still trying to get pregnant. It seems the sexy blood magic from last episode was unsuccessful, and when she visits her doctor, he tells her that she can’t get pregnant at all. Her blood work was very disturbing, and makes it impossible. She visits Marie Laveau to ask her to perform a voodoo spell, one creepily played out for us that involves two ounces of semen, a ridiculously hot pepper, and Cordelia rubbing goat’s blood into her vagina. Oh, and $50,000. But when Fiona agrees, Laveau laughs in her face, telling her that she’ll never perform a spell for her, not only because they’re from different tribes, but also because Laveau and Fiona are arch-enemies. Cordelia is shocked to learn that Fiona has visited Laveau at all.

And speaking of Fiona, she too visits a doctor (a plastic surgeon) who tells her that her blood work is unsettling. It seems her body is literally shutting down, and she knows what this means. In the cold open, we learned that when a new Supreme emerges, the former begins to waste away, and Fiona knows that’s what happening to her. (She also slit the former Supreme’s throat while Spalding watched.) After Madison and Nan visit new uber-religious neighbors Joan and Luke Ramsey (Patti LuPone and Alexander Dreymon, respectively) and accost Joan’s delicate sensibilities (and fling a knife at her and set her curtains on fire), Joan visits Fiona, bringing a Bible and telling her of the horrible things Madison’s done. Fiona finally realizes Madison is the new Supreme, and takes her out drinking, eventually revealing Madison’s true nature to her. Fiona gives Madison the same blade she used to slit the former Supreme’s throat and begs Madison to do the same, but she resists, and in the struggle, Fiona–in a twist I saw coming the minute the struggle started but loved all the same–slits Madison’s throat instead. Of course, Spalding stands in the doorway, handkerchief ready. “This coven doesn’t need a new Supreme,” Fiona opines nonchalantly, “It needs a new carpet.”

And then, there’s Queenie. Madam LaLaurie has had a difficult time adjusting to the modern world, especially the non-enslavement of black Americans, but Fiona assures her that she will not tolerate racism, and forces LaLaurie to be the house’s maid and tend to Queenie’s every want and need. But when the two are in the house alone, Queenie requesting peach cobbler and telling LaLaurie about her desire for love, who should come aknockin’ but the Minotaur himself. LaLaurie breaks down and tells Queenie what she did to the man and begs for Queenie’s help. Queenie agrees, gets some of LaLaurie’s blood on a rag, and uses it to lure the Minotaur away from the house. Out in the shadows of the yard, she tells the Minotaur that she understands he was only acting out of love, and asks him to love her as well. She begins to masturbate in front of him, and he moves behind her, rubbing his horns gently on her face, but suddenly grabbing her and dragging her away.

So, yeah, pretty bonkersawesome. Wacky plot twists, bizarre character moments, big, campy acting, these are ingredients that go into great episodes of American Horror Story. But what really put me at ease in this episode was a lessened focus on the magical race war. Even the scene showing the voodoo spell Cordelia asks for is allayed by Angela Bassett’s reactions to Cordelia’s request. The show also gives a peek at what’s really going on in these stories, and it seems less about a magical race war than about the oppressive white witches receiving comeuppance for their actions. It’s a much more interesting angle than just pitting the two tribes against each other, and the show doesn’t seem interested in questions of guilt, only punishment. As I’ve said before, the oppressed defeating the oppressor is a long-standing trope in fiction, and it makes me feel better about the racial elements of Coven knowing that’s the direction it’s going.

Lots of insanity, great performances, and too many Dutch angles to count all contribute to the first truly strong installment of American Horror Story: Coven. Patti LuPone is a fantastic addition to the cast, and the unexpected death of Emma Roberts’ Madison puts a fun new wrinkle into the plot. Of course, there’s no way she’ll be dead for long, which makes it even more exciting. Coven is finally kicking things up a notch, and it’s all the better for it.

Stray Observations

  • Ghoul Tunes: With all this talk of Minotaurs, it’s Poe with “House of Leaves.”
  • Seriously, the directors for this show bust out every single trick they can. The amount of different shots, angles, and filters in any given scene is dizzying.
  • Nan doesn’t do much in this episode except brag about how much she gets laid, but that’s okay because that scene was fantastic.
  • This was the first episode of Coven that’s made me laugh heartily out loud and throw my hands up and yell “What?!” at my television, and on a base level, that’s all I really want out of this show.
  • More Lily Rabe please.
  • Speaking of, let’s get Frances Conroy back in this mother as well! Her bizarro mix of Hagrid and Professor Trelawney was amazing.
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