Note: Do not read on unless you've seen "American Horror Story: Coven," Episode 11, titled "Protect The Coven."
Sometimes when I settle in to watch "American Horror Story: Coven," after the first few major developments of each episode, I feel like I've returned to the start of the show. It's like I forgot to save a video game and I'm back several chapters and achievements, with all that time wasted. In other words, nothing that happens on "Coven" has any consequence; the words "dead," "alive," "magic," and "witch" basically have no meaning. Queenie's alive? OK. She was dead (at least gone for us) for quite some time. Kyle's here! Where has he been? The Axeman? Ugh, you're still here? You girls have what magic now? I can't even keep track. Spalding?! Spalding's ... er ... still dead, but alive in the attic?! Everything is just so nonsensical and convenient that it can be downright infuriating.
OK, whew, I had to get that out of the way. Now, if I look at tonight's episode in a completely detached manner, I have to say I enjoyed it way more than last week's mediocre midseason return. This week had gore (and plenty of it), scenes that were actually difficult to watch (some for a bad reason), and several great lines of dialogue. Approaching "Coven" as a series of insane vignettes is really the only way to do it justice. It simply cannot be judged as a normal TV show would. With that in mind...
Madame LaLaurie and her bloodlust are the obvious focus of this episode. Is she truly a monster? Yes, it turns out she is. This passive housemaid of the past few episodes is nothing like the LaLaurie we first met on "Coven," when she was torturing her slaves and daughters down in the cellar. We flash back to 1830 and witness her moving to New Orleans from Paris, and see how her penchant for cutting off limbs and disemboweling living creatures has manifested. By cutting a head off a chicken (nice, cute touch: my thoughts immediately went to her head in the box), LaLaurie's remorseless violence is unleashed. She finds an injured slave and, well, does what she does.
(This is a total aside, and probably best to discuss in a bigger forum, but two things really bothered me about the slave/gardener torture sequences in this episode. One, they were really gratuitous, and this is coming from a horror fan. Slave torture isn't something I'm comfortable watching. Ever. And to draw it out, showing most of it, is tasteless. Which leads me to the second thing: in this particular climate, where the issue of slavery is very prominent in current pop culture, I'm having trouble understanding why Murphy & Co. are so blatantly displaying slavery torture. It's almost like a slap in the face to the seriousness of it. Also, if you've recently watched "12 Years A Slave," as I have, the torture scenes will be just unbearable in the context of a campy, oft-comedic show.)
Thank goodness there's nothing but levity in between the gory bits, or else this would have been a really tough slog. Indeed, the greatest ability of "Coven" is to push you to the brink (i.e. - turning your head away from the screen) and then back again (i.e. - your face hurts from laughing at Angela Bassett's latest remark). Even at Nan's funeral, all the players get together and say goodbye at what's supposed to be a grim occasion. Instead they barely care about Nan's passing (Madison: "Have you met me?"), and Queenie interrupts whatever actual mourning is going on when she arrives with LaLaurie on a leash. Queenie has also somehow gotten LaLaurie's head back on, which is a new power she seems to have attained, among others that we're not aware of yet.
Back at Robichaux, LaLaurie is forced to return to her housemaid status. In one of my favourite scenes so far on "Coven," we take a delightful romp through the house with LaLaurie as she takes care of each of the houseguests, cleaning, cooking and tidying. It's fun to watch her deal with each character's eccentricities and attitude, and then watch it come to a head when the poor gardener cuts his hand with shears. LaLaurie sees his bleeding, dripping hand and it all comes back to her: the torturing, slicing, the thirst for blood. She tells Cordelia that she'll take care of the gardener, and proceeds to take him upstairs to Spalding's doll room and basically mutilate him. Again, sorry, this scene I couldn't watch.
When she looks up from her dirty work, there's Spalding. Dead? Yep. Alive? Yep. I can't tell you what's going on with him. No idea. Regardless, he's there, and he admires LaLaurie's work, calling it "art." Hmm, OK. In exchange for her retrieving him a rare doll from 1895, he tells her he'll give her pills to make Marie mortal, so LaLaurie can kill her. When he busts out the Benadryl and LaLaurie couldn't possibly know what the pills actually do, I thought Spalding was punishing her for her gruesome act. But no, he was just doing that so she'd get Marie out of the way. He knocks Marie out, she falls down the stairs, and advises LaLaurie to bury her. The cock of her eyebrow indicates that that's probably exactly what she's going to do.
Queenie has moved back into Robichaux, but you'd barely know it (where was she as Marie was being attacked by Spalding and LaLaurie?). After she tells off Cordelia in a very harsh way (and might I add, undeserved), she doesn't appear again. I guess she's on reserve for next week, when her random powers will come in handy. Straight-up, I hated Queenie in this episode. How does she have any reason to be angry at anybody? She abandoned the coven. Ugh, she'd better not be Supreme. Anyway, her vitriolic chat with Cordelia sends the headmistress over the edge. She takes a pair of gardening clippers to the eyes, re-blinding herself so she can regain her second sight. For future reference, Cordelia, there has to be a better way -- couldn't you just ask one of the other witches to put you into a deep sleep and do it humanely? Geez.
In another part of town, Delphi is pissed. Hank's father is certain the witches are behind his company's disintegration, and he's right. In what isn't the best move in these circumstances, he vows to make a deal with them, and when they finally trust him, kill them all. Talk about gross underestimation. These guys are the worst witchhunters ever! When he and his partners meet with Marie and Fiona, it's clear that it's he and his business buddies who'll end up dead, not the witches. In a "fun" gore scene (this is the kind of "AHS" I love), the witchhunters get picked off by Fiona's lover, The Axeman, while Marie texts on her phone and Fiona sips a filthy martini. I always enjoy a good boardroom killing scene. Nothing says love...
And speaking of love, what in the hell was that end scene? We're supposed to believe that Zoe and Kyle are some star-crossed lovers, fated to be together. Why? Because she kills every man who sleeps with her, and Kyle is the only one who can survive it? Because she accepts the fact that he's already died, and now he's not all there? I don't know where this suddenly came from, but when Myrtle was talking about their pure and true love, I was trying to think of where and when Zoe and Kyle ever outwardly displayed it. It's been lukewarm in public at best, right? Anyway, Myrtle gives them bus tickets to Epcot (classic), and they're on their way in a bizarre episode-ending running shot as they get on the bus to Orlando. Not like it matters anyway, because you know those two will be back next week. As much as I want to believe it, we're not going to see them enjoying the World Showcase at Epcot.
Witch, Please: (every week I'm going to award the witchiest witch of them all) This is a tough one, since no one really used their powers this week. I guess it has to go to Madison for fighting with Zoe and knocking stuff off the wall, and nailing Zoe in the head with a light fixture. Say, were there any repercussions from that? Guess not. Also, Madison had some amazing lines this week.
- The plotline involving Fiona and The Axeman is too boring for me to get into. They were talking about moving to some farm or something, to be free from his axe and her coven. I sincerely hope the last scene of "Coven" isn't the pair driving out of New Orleans in a pickup or sitting on the farm's porch. Oh God, that's totally how it's going to end, isn't it?
- The second-last scene, of Spalding back in his nightie holding the baby Marie was supposed to give to Papa Legba, was so disturbing I think I repressed it. I don't care if a man is obsessed with dolls, but there's a creepy line to cross, and "AHS" spewed blood all over that line. It's also clear what'll happen here: Spalding will be left in the coven with the little girl to raise, ensuring the coven lives on.
- When Myrtle is explaining that Zoe must leave, Zoe's quote is the best: "I'm so lost here." Yes, we know. That phrase works on so many levels.
- When Spalding turned the 1895 doll around in his hands and smelled its bum, I didn't know whether to laugh or cringe.
- Madison: "You flush my shit, bitch."
- Come to think of it, LaLaurie's preceding comment, "You left your dirt in the commode," is actually funnier.
- Myrtle, who's writing your dialogue? "In the fall, the rotting leaves smell like an Olympian's ejaculate!" I've never heard anything like that -- ever -- in my 30ish years of TV watching.
- LaLaurie: "Well, turds on that!"