American Horror Story: Coven sends Fiona (Jessica Lange) to the brink of suicide and back, but with the war between voodoo and witches looming, it’s all hands – and heads – on deck.
Let’s bitch it out…
Oh it is ON. I’m talking war, baby because this voodoo vs witches smackdown has moved past the hairdo and trash talking stage and into severed head in a box territory (again – RIP Minotaur). So you know that the time for unicorns and kittens has come to an end.
The episode begins and ends with acts of physical aggression by Team Voodoo (TV?). Queenie (Gabourey Sibide) kicks things off by mauling a homeless man with a stick in front of Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) and Madison (Emma Roberts). It’s totally cool, she reassures her former “classmates” as she digs into the man’s chest cavity. See this guy was a rapist, so bashing his head in and stealing his heart is totally copacetic. The whole scene is typically over the top, but as filmed by series MVP Alfonso Gomez-Rejon there’s a gritty seventies crime film sensibility to it. Compare this to the white picket fence vibe of the final scene as Fiona discovers the severed head of Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) in a box on the doorstep. Knowing that LaLaurie is immortal takes some of the surprise out of the final image of her eyes popping open, but it’s still a significant moment for the message it sends: Laveau (Angela Bassett) is done f*cking around. War is coming.
Before that can happen, though, Fiona and the coven need to heal their division. Essentially this is the “rock bottom” episode for Fiona, who nearly offs herself following a deception by daughter Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) and the other lesser witches. I’ll admit that after watching Jessica Lange pretend vomit for 20 or 30 minutes I thought that perhaps creator (and episode writer) Ryan Murphy might actually kill his muse. By no, Spalding (Denis O’Hare) shows up before her moment of martyrdom, bitches her out and pretty soon Fiona’s back rocking the one-liners over a cup of joe in the kitchen. The unexpected result: the attempt on her life makes Fiona respect her coven more; she now thinks that they’ve got “grit”. Which is good, because they’re going to need it if they want to beat Laveau (Side Note: this confusingly suggests we want them to. Do we? The racial [under]tones continue to make me wary as the battle lines are drawn, but do we legitimately want one side to “win” at this junction?).
The visual aesthetic of the episode elevates it above some of the recent outings. Gomez-Rejon has directed some of the most visually compelling episodes of the series to date, including 3×03 ‘The Replacements’ (Fiona murders Madison), 2×13 ‘Madness Ends’ (Lana Winters confronts her Satan spawn) and 2×11 ‘Spilt Milk’ (a gross episode which nonetheless features stunning split-screen work). Here Gomez-Rejon appears to be channeling his fever-dream circular tracking shot approach from 3×03, particularly in the extended sequence as Fiona is “haunted” by Madison and Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy). I like the early portion more as Madison is shot in a hazy focus that makes it seem as though Fiona may be hallucinating her presence. Things firm up a great deal more when Myrtle enters the picture and although it’s much more clearly reality, I do like the way that the two rivals interact (Myrtle helping Fiona prepare her death outfit before stealing her jewelry is amusing and a bit sisterly). While the deception isn’t quite as engrossing as the screentime dedicated to it, Lange kills her performance as usual (Side Note: This episode = another Emmy submission for Lange?)
- Whose presence is less warranted on the show this season, Evan Peters or Kathy Bates? Both have been criminally underused, but Bates is pulling ahead simply for the fact that it’s freaking Kathy Bates. Consider this: ‘The Sacred Taking’ has her cower in a cage for a few minutes and then blink her eyes in a box. I’m pretty sure she’s capable of much more than this!
- Love how moments after finding out that the new Supreme may be Misty Day (Lily Rabe), the “swamp witch”, Fiona forces her to resurrect religious zealot Joan Ramsey (Patti LuPone) and then comically rolls her eyes when Misty passes out afterwards. What is this: Revenge?
- Can’t unseen: grown men having enemas administered by their mothers <gag>. Poor Luke (Alexander Dreymon), the guy just can’t catch a break. He finally stands up to his mother and declares that he’s leaving with Nan (Jaime Brewer) only to end up shot by Hank (Josh Hamilton) as witch hunting season begins
- The spell that the coven casts in anticipation of Fiona’s death is called ‘The Sacred Taking’. It’s kind of an interesting idea, but – as usual – Ryan Murphy’s ADD approach to screenwriting drops the ball. We’re told that the spell has been cast three times, but only one of those times is elaborated upon (Salem, 1692). Also, how does blowing kisses and slitting fingertips help elevate the new Supreme? Does the spell actually mess around with Fiona more, or does it only affect the incoming candidate? The whole idea is really poorly explained, which frustratingly makes it feel like it has been included because it “looks cool”.
- Hubbie: “So is that Axe guy (Danny Huston) done?” Me: “Oh, honey, you obviously haven’t watched enough American Horror Story. They always bring people in for a few episodes and then we never see them again.” Danny Huston appears on the screen. Me: “Dammit!”
- The recurring ringing doorbell (heard throughout the episode) is a great way to remind us that both servants are otherwise indisposed (Spalding’s dead and LaLaurie’s kidnapped). I love how both Fiona and Cordelia comment on their absence in exasperation, as though having to answer the door is the greatest imposition
- Finally, which disgraced Russian witch’s portrait is hidden in the basement? There’s a basement at Robichaux’s? I know it’s a throwaway line, but now I want to know more!
- Zoe (trying to recruit Queenie back): “We know our coven’s a shit show right now but things are changing”
- Myrtle (when Nan asks how her hair grew so fast): “Oh little bird, I’ve been buying it in bulk from Korea for years”
- Madison (suggesting Fiona’s going to be burn): “You’ll be hash browns by this time tomorrow.”
- Fiona (when Myrtle tells Fiona that she will die alone): “You are nothing but an envious, old bitch”
- Myrtle (describing how being a Supreme starts): “I’m told it begins with a tingle in the cooch” Frances Conroy saying “cooch” is totally my new favourite thing ever
Your turn: did you take note of Gomez-Rejon’s distinctive direction? Did you think that Fiona might actually off herself? Were you expecting LaLaurie to lose her head? Do you think the show is using its large cast appropriately? Is Luke dead? Will anyone ever actually just, you know, die? Add your two cents below
American Horror Story: Coven airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST on FX