Around the Water Cooler: “American Horror Story,” The Season 3 – “Coven” – Recap (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “American Horror Story” currently airs on cable TV, specifically on FX, Fall Wednesdays at 10:00 PM.

What: “American Horror Story,” a horror drama from creator Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip/Tuck) that tells a new horror story each season while featuring recurring actors and ensemble players.  This season is subtitled “Coven” and centers on witchcraft.

When: The Season 3 finale aired on Wednesday, January 29, 2014, on FX at 10:00 PM.

Where: Each season focuses on a different locale.  This season, the action is set largely in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Why:  I was originally convinced to watch American Horror Story by friends.  I caught up in the first season, which was truly a creepy, scary affair, and I was glad to have taken the advice of my friends, even though horror is not my preferred genre.  The show is well written and lives up to its name.  The second season, “Asylum,” was disturbing and horrifying but not necessarily frightening.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

For this viewer, “Coven” rings true as the second best of the three seasons, after “Horror House” (the colloquial name for Season 1), because it was a well defined story with a beginning, middle, and end.  The story didn’t always resolve its plot threads, and there are many potholes and glitches in continuity, not to mention the fact that the entire season was tonally inconsistent, but this season offered a much more satisfying resolution in the end than “Asylum,” which played the crazy card, even in its execution, to the point of being old.

When Coven began, it seemed as if the producers/writers were trying to draw parallels in persecution – witches are persecuted and persecute, in turn.  It also appeared to align the history of racism in this country with the evolution of the power of witches, beginning with Kathy Bates’ Madame de la Laurie, the torturer of slaves, buried alive as an immortal by the Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) in revenge for the murder of her lover.  These larger societal subtexts seemed to seep into the background, however, and became secondary to the larger plot thread: which of the members of the coven would become the next Supreme witch, after Jessica Lange’s Fiona Goode lost her power and eventually succumbed to the cancer with which she was diagnosed.  This contest, pockmarked by Fiona’s murderous desire to prevent her downfall by murdering Supreme candidates, culminated in the season finale, in which each of the witch novitiates who remained, alive and well, would be subjected to the “Seven Wonders,” a test of the major non-spell magical abilities each witch is supposed to be able to manifest.  Thankfully, a couple of guest spots by Stevie Nicks, a real-life witch in the fictional show, hit that one over the head a few times:

To cover the territory of this season, one would have to be intimately involved with the characters, for it is the witches, budding women aiming to responsibly assume their strength and power, who anchor this season.  The story itself was a bit of a mess, meditating on side plot threads that bore little fruit, when, in the end, all that mattered was the ascension of the new Supreme.

Speaking of The Story, it began with Zoe (Taissa Farmiga), a witch who discovered her power by giving an aneurysm to the boy with whom she was having sex for the first time.  Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), the headmistress of a school for girls, the legitimate front of the Coven, and the Coven’s protector, recruited young Zoe to join her school, where also lived Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), a girl from Detroit with the power to use herself like a voodoo doll; Madison (Emma Roberts), a washed out starlet with advanced telekinetic powers; and Nan (Jamie Brewer), a clairvoyant with Downs Syndrome, who could also hear and see thoughts. Delia aimed to empower these witches, while her mother, recognizing the waning of her own power and her deteriorating health, aimed to destroy them, as she destroyed her relationship with her daughter, being ultimately too vain and power-drunk in the end to sustain any loving intimacy.

Delia had support with Myrtle (Frances Conroy), Fiona’s chief rival; Myrtle looked after the Coven, as Delia’s surrogate mother and head of the Coven Council, the body of government who enacts punishments of Coven members gone awry.  A necessary step, for the young witches in the current class, were a bit out of control, particularly Madison.  When she dragged Zoe to a frat party, she was gang raped by friends of Kyle (Evan Peters), so she telekinetically rolled their ride and killed them all, nice guy Kyle included.  Yet, Zoe and Kyle had an unmistakable spark, so, naturally, Madison decided to Frankenstein them all back together and resurrect them.  Zoe’s soft spot for Kyle was clear, but he was a shell of the boy he used to be, being cobbled together from mangled pieces of his friends.  These two girls spent the majority of the season fighting over Kyle, who Zoe first tried to hide with Misty Day (Lily Rabe), a witch with the power of resurrection, who was burned at the stake by her bible-thumping brethren only to return, alive, in a swamp, where she channeled her favorite singer, Stevie Nicks, and twirled to her heart’s content to eight-tracks of the songs of Stevie and spawning group Fleetwood Mac.  Misty helped Zoe nurse Kyle to health, after she tried bringing Kyle back to his sexually abusing mom, who he subsequently man-slaughtered.  Then, Zoe tried to hide Kyle at the school, and he became a source of sexual exploration and then competition between her and Madison.

Of course, Madison is a very powerful witch, which did not go unnoticed by Fiona, who murdered her straight on.  Fiona then proceeded to falsely place blame on Myrtle, with Queenie’s misguided help, and she burned at the stake for it.  Yet, when Misty emerged from the swampy shadows, she saved both Madison and Myrtle, but not without cost.  This was after Madison’s corpse had been treated like one of the porcelain dolls cooed over by Spalding (Denis O’Hare), the mute butler, who had an unnatural obsession with pretty things, including Fiona, until she slayed him too.

Then, there was Nan, the feeling clairvoyant, also an empath, who could sense and channel thoughts and emotions.  She fell in love with the new neighbor boy, but Patti Lupone’s neighbor mom, a strictly religious woman with dubious interpretations of the Bible, had no patience for a freak from next door, from of an obvious school of witches and abominations.  She suffocated her own son in the name of the Lord, and Nan learned mind control in time to induce Patti’s character to drink bleach.

Queenie, as the only black witch in the coven, felt like a fish out of water.  This was more apparent when Fiona resurrected Madame de la Laurie, the racist slave-owner who liked to torture and dismember her slaves, as a means of throwing a gauntlet at Marie Laveau.  For the voodoo sect and the Coven were enemies of magic as they always have been of race, and Fiona aimed to throw Marie off her guard, at least at first.  Though the Madame was buried alive, sentenced to eternal damnation as an immortal by breathing in nothing but earth and rot, Fiona found her and made her the School’s maid.  Twentieth century living turned out to be overwhelming for Madame, particularly when she had to serve Queenie, a black girl who also happened to sympathize with the voodoo Queen enough to seduce her one-time lover, made into an abomination by the sadistic Madame.  Queenie also defected for a time, until the witch hunters had their say.

Ah, the witch hunters.  Marie was no fool and enlisted the help of one of them to infiltrate her enemies’ coven.  Yet, he fell in love with and married the impressionable Delia, until she was blinded long enough to gain the second sight and visions of his infidelity, including complex seductions of other witches he ultimately murdered.  His attacks on the coven reached up to his father, the head of his order and of a major corporation with resources enough to hunt witches for centuries.  Fortunately, Fiona had the presence of mind to call a truce with Marie and forge an alliance for the purpose of overtaking the hunters once and for all.

Also fortunately, at least for Fiona, a spell by one of the girls resurrected the long-dead ghost of an ax murderer of sorts, a serial killer with ears only for jazz, who terrorized New Orleans at the turn of the twentieth century.  She did not know who he was, but it didn’t matter.  The chemistry between them was unmistakable, and, hey, she enjoyed a little recreational murder herself.  The Jazz Man was only too happy to help aid her campaign against the witch hunters, though Delia’s ex-husband took out all of Marie’s voodoo hair salon.

In return for Marie’s services, Fiona begged for the spell of immortality that allowed her and the Madame to live so long.  Marie revealed her secret: she made a Faustian deal with a servant of Satan, who required her to perform a “favor” for him each year, beginning with the sacrifice of her own child to his whims.  This same spell was extended to the Madame, though Madame de la Laurie was not above sacrificing her own daughters to her magical whims and pursuit of long life.  When Marie shared the price, and Fiona summoned the spirit that would grant her life eternal, the spirit rejected her advances at first, claiming she had nothing to offer.

In the end, Fiona withered, planting visions in her daughter’s head, making Delia believe that she had succumbed to her lover’s violent impulses.  Because she failed to name a successor, Delia challenged the remaining girls to take on the Seven Wonders in order to attain the Supremacy.  By the season finale, Nan had been drowned by Fiona and Marie in sacrifice to the spirit.  Queenie came to life by the grace of her power.  Though Madison tried to bury Misty Day alive, Delia espied Stevie Nicks’ number one fan in her vision, and with Queenie and Zoe’s help, rescued her.

The student witches were powerful, but Madison couldn’t master divination and became Kyle’s final victim, spurred by Madison’s constant aim to make everyone as unhappy as she was.  Misty succumbed to the trip to hell, fading into dust.  Only Zoe and Queenie remained, but Myrtle had a revelation: Delia, meek and helpless though she has always seemed, has “royalty” in her blood.  Myrtle urged Delia to undergo the trials, and it was Fiona’s only daughter who succeeded in the end.  Fiona came to her daughter in the end, a helpless thing, begging for euthanasia, while Delia had regained her sight and had attained all the good health owed to the Supreme Witch.  Delia was not willing to grant her mother’s request, but allowed her to pass away in her arms.  Unfortunately, it appears that Fiona’s afterlife is the hell she was willing to sacrifice herself to in the beginning.

Delia asks Queenie and Zoe to form a new witch’s council with her at the helm.   And so it ended.  The Coven was saved, the witches’ wars with hunters and voodoo priestesses were ended, and Delia even found the strength to recruit, coming out of the broom closet in an effort to grow the coven’s ranks.

In the end, Coven spiraled into something saccharine as it was searing: a commentary on the strength of women, regardless of the adversity, while abandoning the commentary on racial inequity, forcing Marie and the Madame to an eternity of vicious hatred toward each other.  The end of the season also borrowed liberally from True Blood, even if most of the threads were resolved.  Kyle became the new Spalding even, while Spalding’s ghost cooed over Madison’s corpse once more.

This viewer enjoyed the season and didn’t enjoy it at times but felt it was better done than Asylum, which clubbed viewers over the head with its examination on the definition of insanity.  Still, there is nothing quite like American Horror Story on television right now; a slightly inferior season of this show is going to be far more riveting than most offerings elsewhere.

Additionally, not only was the show renewed for a fourth season (which Jessica Lange claims to be her last), the title has been released: Freak Show. Carnies truly are horrifying.  This viewer can hardly wait.

Old Questions, New Answers

1) If Kathy Bates’ witch is alive, is Angela Bassett’s?  Let’s hope so!

Answer: Yes!  And now they are doomed to live in hell together, the price of immortality and immoral choices throughout their exceedingly long lives.

2) Are Taissa Farmiga and Evan Peters a thing in real life?  If not, they should be.

Answer: I don’t think they are, though apparently Evan dated costar Emma Roberts (Madison), at least in 2013.

3) Is Jessica Lange’s character good or evil?  She’s narcissistic and a terrible mother, sure, but what’s her endgame?

Answer: To continue living.  I think she was evil in the end, ultimately too wrapped up in her own vanity and selfish aims to be good or good-hearted in any way.

4) Is the “sex curse” Zoe’s only power?  That would suck.

Answer: Nope.  She developed others as did the other students. That was one of the weaknesses of the season: when in hell did they learn these powers?  It was never shown.  Horrors were shown, sure, but not all of the Hogwarts learning that probably should have been happening.

5) What’s up, Precious?

Answer: She lives! And Gabourey Sidibe is someone to be admired.  Queenie was a great character.

6) Lily Rabe’s character has got to be alive; If she can bring other things back to life, she probably doesn’t die, or stay dead, too long herself.

Answer: It’s true.  She brought herself back to life and lived for the whole season until her run-in with the ability to spiritually go to hell during the Seven Wonders.  RIP Misty Day.

7) Where is this all going to go?  Since the story started over again…

Answer: See above.

8) Is Zachary Quinto going to show up any time soon?  Or did he need a break after the whole serial killer/psychologist thing?

Answer: Apparently, he needed a break.  Quinto didn’t come into play during Coven. Mr. Spock probably took up lots of his time. Hopefully, he’ll be back for season 4.

PARTING SHOTS

American Horror Story continues to fire on all cylinders because each new season and story refreshes the creative energy, while the consistency of using the same actors in different ways provides some continuity for the loyal viewer.  This season was better than last: good if not great.  The opening credits and theme music remain the most chilling on TV by far, at least.

LOOKING AHEAD:

American Horror Story was renewed!  Freak Show, season 4, premieres fall 2014.

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