As we cross the mid-season point of the third season, American Horror Story: Coven ruminates on what it means to feel as our characters begin making life and death decisions.
Let’s bitch it out…In many ways, ‘The Dead’ feels like a series of vignettes: intimate moments, often with characters in pairs or groups of three, talking (and occasionally f*cking) in and around death. The episode contains a number of focal points that will drive the second half of the season, but I can already imagine that many viewers complain that this is one of the slower, less exciting episodes of Coven.
A lot of the time American Horror Story goes for the jugular. Its main purpose is to shock and awe its audience with audacious and disgusting content. Last season that began to give way to increasingly deep and thoughtful conversations; in between the splattered bodies, Nazis, aliens and serial killers, there was an existential examination of evil and salvation. Coven has proven to be far more concerned with power: acquiring it, keeping it, preventing others from rising up and vanquishing those deemed inferior. ‘The Dead’ is interested in examining the fall-out of all of those machinations, and how hollow the quest has become for many of these characters.
Fiona (Jessica Lange), Madison (Emma Roberts) and Kyle (Evan Peters) in particular are deeply affected. All three spend the majority of the episode on some kind of quest for meaning: Fiona acts on the strange connection she made with the Axeman (Danny Huston) at the end of last week’s episode and allows herself to be seduced to avoid her fears of her own mortality. Madison and Kyle, on the other hand, have no mortality: as resurrected monsters they lack the ability to feel and so find solace in the comfort of each other’s bodies.
Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) is the lone wolf, acting independently to pursue her own agenda. Originally she assumes her traditional caretaker role for Kyle, trying to coach him back towards acceptable “human” behaviour, which only makes matters more difficult for him. The cards she constructs for him are exemplary visuals of this pair’s inability to communicate: she uses the flashcards to educate him as you would a child, failing to comprehend that he isn’t “stupid” but rather his inability to speak is due to the spell she cast as well as grief (and likely disgust) for his absent friends whose bodies he now wears.
After Madison takes over (she immediately understands how to connect with Kyle: through death and sex), Zoe visits the only other solitary character, Cordelia (Sarah Paulson). There’s a necessary amount of exposition required to catch Zoe up on the danger she’s in, but the threat is enough to prompt Zoe into action: she secures Spalding (Denis O’Hare), re-attaches his tongue, learns the truth about Fiona and kills him. It’s a key moment for Zoe because she’s crossed the threshold from “wallflower” to “likely Supreme”. She’s got the “hot witch” skills to do what Mrytle Snow (an unseen Frances Conroy) could never do, and she’s savvy enough to recognize where Spalding’s allegiances lie should he escape his restraints. And just in case viewers don’t get the message that our little girl is all grown up, the writers throw in a threesome. Because hey, why not?
That just leaves Queenie (Gabourey Sibide), who makes the other significant power play when she delivers LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) to Laveau (Angela Bassett). There’s a really interesting, possibly contentious use of racism here as Laveau clearly manipulates the young girl into doing her dirty work. I don’t doubt that Queenie feels justified serving up LaLaurie on a silver platter because of her terrible past, but the circumstances around which Queenie is swayed introduces a topic that has otherwise only been hiding around the fringe of the show this season. I hope that the racial overtones between the witches and the voodoo is explored further so that race isn’t simply something that was used to con Queenie. This show is far too self-aware not to tackle the subject now that it’s been raised.
Regardless of what happens moving forward, this is a nice emotional pay-off for the relationship between LaLaurie and Queenie. The only question is what happens to LaLaurie now that Laveau has her right where she wants her and the racist immortal can’t die?
- I was uncertain where the Axeman storyline was headed when it was introduced last week, but I certainly didn’t anticipate this. The entire sequence in which Fiona and the Axeman dance around their attraction and he woos her with suggestive descriptions of playing the sax feels like a Southern Gothic. I’ve hoped the show would do more with its New Orleans setting and this vibe feels more in tune so I hope we’ll get more
- Zoe is on her way to being a badass witch, so can we please get her into clothes that don’t look like someone raided Blossom’s closet? It’s a bad sign when the most horrific part of the episode is her black leather overalls. Genuinely terrifying
- Kudos to the writers for not giving in and simply fixing Cordelia’s eyesight with magic (though I’m still not sure why the characters haven’t raised it as an option). I honestly figured Sarah Paulson would be back to normal by now
- Quick insert of hubby Hank (Josh Hamilton) surrounded by a huge caché of guns. This is a great way to remind us that Hank is still in play without dedicating a significant amount of screentime to him
- Finally, there’s something inherently awesome about watching Gabourey Sibide and Kathy Bates hit the drive-through at 3am for burgers, fries and shakes
- Laveau (when Queenie mentions she’s never had Gumbo): “Not surprised, you living over there in Wonderbread Land. Probably feeding you Shake & Bake and watermelon for dessert”
Over to you: did you enjoy the contemplative tone of ‘The Dead’ or were you bored? Are you excited to see Zoe become more assertive? Was the threesome shocking? Are you enjoying the Axeman now that he’s outed himself as a former obsessive ghost? And what will happen to LaLaurie now that she’s imprisoned in the beauty salon? Speculate away below
American Horror Story: Coven is taking two weeks off and will return on Wednesday, Oct 4 at 10pm EST on FX