Everybody Suffers

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American Horror Story: Coven, “Go to Hell”

Everybody has to pay for their sins, Papa Legba tells us, and is there a greater sin in television than being boring? American Horror Story: Coven has had flashes of brilliance (about 80% of which involve Frances Conroy and a theremin), but more than anything, it’s felt incredibly boring. By the end of “Go to Hell,” the central story of Coven is exactly the same as it was at the end of the first episode, even if we didn’t realize it yet: the old Supreme is out, and the hunt for a new Supreme is on. And while Murder House similarly never really moved forward with its story until the very end, the insanity and search for pathos in all of the terrible people inhabiting the story at least made it moderately exciting. Asylum succeeded because, for much of the season, its central story was essentially abandoned, allowing the bizarre tales and tangents that made the season so great to flourish. Coven has been so bogged down by the battle for Supremacy, while barely servicing its tangential themes of race relations and female empowerment (hey, remember when female empowerment was a theme of this season?), that the whole enterprise feels stiff and lifeless.

“Go to Hell” seemingly exists mostly to tie up the various loose ends, killing off almost all of the older characters, regrouping the Supreme hopefuls (with the glaring absence of Nan), and setting the stage for the Seven Wonders Showdown in the finale. There’s a strange time jump at the beginning which adds to the season’s pacing problem. Cordelia—who, let’s remember, has lost her eyesight twice this season—regains her sight power, except now she sees… the future? Her first real vision occurs when Fiona puts a necklace on her (apparently her power now only reacts to personal objects, as opposed to touching the actual person), a decently eerie tableau showing that Fiona plans to murder the rest of the coven. But the second major vision, involving my Most Hated Character the Axeman, is dimly lit, shifting in and out of focus, and I guess it’s supposed to be from the Axeman’s point of view, but the vision makes no sense–not only is it a vision of the future, but there isn’t enough context for what we’re seeing to have any effect—and the superhero mask eye holes make it laughably incomprehensible, as opposed to just incomprehensible. In a third, lesser vision, Cordelia finds out where Misty Day is and rescues her, with Queenie’s help. Sarah Paulson is also given the thankless task of exposition dumping re: all these new powers, explaining that all the witches manifest new powers in times of crisis. Which, really, makes almost everything that’s happened thus far in this race for Supremacy ultimately meaningless.

The most interesting parts of the episode fall in its first third. The cold open, shot in the style of a silent film, finally details the Seven Wonders, and while the scene is visual exciting and helpful narratively, it’s undercut by how long overdue it is. The stuff with Queenie, Papa Legba, Laveau and LaLaurie is interesting conceptually (Coven‘s version of Hell, while not very original, is fun in its own way), but its only real purpose is to take the pieces for Laveau and LaLaurie off the table, and even the last scene, where Legba introduces Laveau and LaLaurie to their shared Hell, never hits the kind of high insanity needed to come together.

But “Go to Hell” isn’t entirely a slog. Frances Conroy continues to be Coven‘s MVP, no matter how little screentime she gets, and she and Lance Reddick seem to be the only ones having any fun with it all anymore. I’m glad Misty Day is back, because Lily Rabe is a treasure and has proven to be one of the Ryan Murphy American Horror Story Repertory Players’ strongest assets. The Axeman is finally dead, and while I think I’m in the minority, I was unashamed to dance a little jig as the young witches slasher film’d all over him.

So what else to say? I guess I’m interested to see what exactly happens in the finale, though the chances of Coven sticking a landing on a season that’s gone this far into nosedive are slim at best. Mostly I’m just ready for this season to be over. The tiny pleasures have held me over while watching each episode, but the collective shrug of a plot finally caught up to me, casting the whole season (except for those theremin scenes, God bless you Frances Conroy) in a bad light. But then again, maybe they pull it off. I just hope that Asylum wasn’t a fluke, a season that careened so sharply that it became something better altogether. If Murder House and Coven are going to be the gold standard of American Horror Story going forward, it’s going to get very old very quick. So no pressure, “Seven Wonders,” you’ve only got a whole season of television to save. Kathy Bates’ talking head needs you.

Stray Observations:

  • Fuck you, Axeman.

  • No seriously, fuck you Axeman.

  • Oh yeah, and Zoe and Evan Peters come back. They get literally nothing to do except help kill the Axeman, so there’s that.

  • No way Fiona is actually dead. I hope there isn’t some stupid scheme she and the Axeman went in on. Uuuggghhh.
  • Final Bet on New Supreme: My heart cries out for Nan, but I’m gonna go with the more viable option of Madison. With all this talk about how the next Supreme has to be better than Fiona, it only makes sense that it ends up being the most awful of them all, right?
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What Would Stevie Do?

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American Horror Story: Coven – “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks”

It seems Coven is finally turning its back on the magical race war, and we’re all better off for it. “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” is as close to “classic American Horror Story” as the season has gotten, a good balance of insanity and silliness that takes the story into new, potentially interesting places.

Probably the most notable aspect of this episode are its two guest stars. First, Stevie Nicks shows up as a “fictional” version of herself—because if anyone actually is a witch, it’s Stevie Nicks—to give Misty Day some clothes and perform not one, but two musical numbers for us. Also appearing is the nigh-unrecognizable Lance Reddick as Papa Legba, an actual voodoo figure the show reimagines as a cocaine-guzzling, soul-buying, innocent-soul-sacrifice-requiring demon in creepy-ass makeup. Turns out he’s the reason for Laveau’s immortality, as she sold her soul to him for it. His innocent soul requirement is also annual, meaning Laveau has to steal a baby for him early in the episode. Fiona tries to sell her soul to him, even offering some primo blow and to murder the people she loves (a reasonable offer, if you ask me), but he turns her down because—surprise surprise—Fiona doesn’t actually have a soul. Poor Fiona.

With the magical race war off the table thanks to Hank, the world’s worst witch hunter, Fiona and Marie Laveau are now teaming up against… everyone? In this episode alone, Hank’s dad and his witch-hunting cover business are shut down due to some bizarre spell involving a rat maze full of rats and traps and surrounded by wads of cash and the two drown Nan in a tub as a switcheroo sacrifice to Papa Legba in place of the baby Laveau stole. While this story is moderately confusing and difficult to follow, watching Lange and Bassett play off each other more is worth whatever contortions the plot must go through.

Madison spends her part of the episode with Misty Day, as the two tag along to a jazz funeral and discuss the politics of being Supreme. But things go sideways in a fun scene where Madison, in a show of her own budding powers (more on that in a second), traps Misty Day in an empty coffin minutes before it goes into its tomb. Zoe, on the other hand, accompanies Nan (pre-drowning) to the hospital, where they finally learn of Luke’s death. The two then hop over to Patti LuPone’s house, where she reveals that Luke is now a vase of ashes and therefore un-resurrectable. Nan immediately knows Patti LuPone murdered Luke because clairvoyance, then uses her new-found mind-control powers to force LuPone to down a bottle of bleach.

The battle for Supremecy is one of the more confusing elements of Coven. Of course, simply revealing who it is would be too simple for Murphy and Falchuk, but the rules of the young witch’s powers and how the Supremecy is determined—just like the rules of life/death/resurrection—are basically nonexistent. Misty Day, Nan, and Madison all started show new powers, which is exciting, but they’re all the same powers, which is too easy narratively and lessens the uniqueness of their individual powers. Besides, it seems more and more it’s just going to end up being Zoe anyway, which would be a disappointing and predictable end to the story.

And speaking of disappointing, both Queenie’s physical absence (Gabourey Sibide is one of the most electric performers of the season) and the rest of her sister witches’ complete lack of interest in whether or not she’s still alive was an odd element of the story that I couldn’t just ignore. Sure, it creates “tension” to keep a character off-screen after a possibly fatal moment, but it’s not like the events of the salon are completely ignored here. Laveau doesn’t just move into the school, her presence is known and accepted by those living there. And yet no one is worried about poor Queenie? I call bullshit.

But for the little problems, “The Magical Mystery Tour of Stevie Nicks and Lance Reddick’s Rob Zombie Cosplay” delivers the kind of fun, creepy energy American Horror Story can at its best. The changing tides bode well for the end of a shaky season, and a good ending could save even the most problematic parts of Coven.

Stray Observations:

  • Some solid laughs courtesy of Frances Conroy: we cut to Fiona working in her greenhouse, creepy theremin music in the background, only for the camera to pull back and reveal Myrtle Snow playing an actual theremin in the greenhouse. When Fiona insults the instrument, Myrtle replies with one of Conroy’s best lines of the season: “Don’t be a hater, dear.”

  • Besides Queenie, Kathy Bates’ head is also notably absent from this episode. Poor gal is probably tired of the DVD menu from that Civil Rights documentary.

  • The logistics of almost all spells used in this season make zero sense, though I admit that my knowledge of various types of witchcraft is very small. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon did a bang-up job filming that mouse spell though.

  • I’m taking bets on how far into next week’s episode we get before Misty, Nan, and Patti LuPone all reappear. Heck, I’ll throw Luke and Hank in there for good measure.

  • Oh yeah, no Evan Peters this week either. Probably too busy humping something wildly.

  • Fuck you, Axeman.