I held a couple of marathon sessions over the last few of days and have thus completed American Horror Story: Coven. In doing so, I’ve come away feeling much as I did when Murder House and Asylum had concluded: entertained yet mildly disappointed. Season three succeeded and failed in much the same way that its predecessors did — highlighted by an excellent ensemble cast, high production standards, and a deluge of gore but also plagued by extraneous subplots, needless twists, and a certain disregard for continuity.
I very much enjoyed the early interaction of the four young witches. The girls resembled a bizarro group of super heroins each equipped with a unique power. I wish the writers would’ve explored this idea a bit more, there were certainly opportunities to do so, instead the audience was treated to a carousel of emotions and alliances that left a lot to be desired.
Emma Robert’s character, Madison Montgomery, was at her best when acting as frenemy but too often the spoiled socialite dominated her peers. Beauty and skill positioned her from the outset as the heir apparent to Fiona’s throne — there was little to be gained from beating the audience over the head with it.
The constant in-fighting also took the sting out of what should’ve been one of the show’s major pivots — Queenie’s betrayal. Her defection to the camp of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau should’ve sent shockwaves through Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, instead it was widely meet with a shrug of the shoulders. Such a setup only made her eventual return to the coven that much less significant.
Zoe was an interesting and likable character but the writers ultimately hedged their bets on her as the main protagonist and in the end I think this strategy diminished the overall story. She was a natural foil for Madison and the ideal character through which to guide the crux of the narrative. She displayed leadership at crucial times — first on Halloween when she single-handedly rescued the coven from a horde of the undead, displaying power that even gave the immortal Marie Laveau reason to pause and consider. It was also Zoe who persisted in finding answers when Madison had gone missing and was ultimately responsible for her resurrection.
Nan was also an interesting character but instead of making a real impact on the story, she was sent on an ill-conceived sidewinder and then unceremoniously killed by the combined efforts of Fiona and Marie Laveau in what was one of the show’s more egregious examples of lazy writing.
Much of this served only to undermine one of the central plot points — the question of the next Supreme.
By and large, I thought the love-hate relationship exhibited by Fiona and Cordelia was believable and followed a logical arc. Fiona was vain, superficial, and often ruthless while Cordelia was practical, thoughtful, and ruled by a sound moral compass. The animosity between the two was palatable with any moments of tenderness accordingly bittersweet. It was fitting that, in the end, Cordelia should succeed Fiona as the next Supreme. However, the road to such an end was filled with frivolous backpedaling. Cordelia’s blinding and subsequent Second Sight should’ve been a crucial turning point, instead it was subjugated with a bit of silliness only to have the whole sequence reset later when Cordelia purposely mutilated herself.
The backstory chronicling the rift between Fiona Goode and Myrtle Snow fit well within the context of the current story. It provided meaningful substance to the butler, Spalding and helped reveal their motivations particularly where the coven and Cordelia were concerned.
The story of Misty Day began with intrigue and mystery but by the end of the season, she too, proved to be little more than a pretty distraction. Her initial role as loner Swamp Witch with a green thumb was enjoyable and thought provoking. I think this character would’ve better served the story had this limited, subtle approach been minded. Instead she was pulled in and out of the main thread and ultimately suffered a wholly unsatisfying and undeserved death.
Other than serving as a wedge between Madison and Zoe, Kyle was a fairly pointless and depressing character. His arc was slow and plodding and I was never truly sold on the girls motivation to resurrect him in the first place. The episodes that chronicled his return home and his incestuous relationship with his mother were an excellent example of the writers penchant to shoehorn shock and taboo into the show for what felt like nothing more than kicks and giggles.
I also felt like the entire angle with Hank and the Delphi Trust was poorly constructed and served only to detract from both the drama surrounding the next Supreme and the long held feud between the coven and Maire Laveau’s lot. The notion that Cordelia, as the Headmistress of a clandestine school for witches, would in such a cavalier fashion allow any man to learn her most intimate secrets is absurd.
It is made clear on several occasions that Fiona, Laveau, and all of witchdom are aware of the presence of witch hunters and indeed the audience is led to believe that this enemy possess a serious threat to the survival of such. And yet all it took was a half-cocked plan by Fiona, Leveau, and the Axeman to eliminate the threat completely. Thirteen episodes simply wasn’t enough to properly explore this particular tangent and the end result left much to be desired.
Another element that AHS: Coven should’ve omitted entirely was the weird, jarring guest appearances by singer, Stevie Nicks. Her presence in the story was a little too unbelievable and the music video-esque sequence during the season finale some how managed to be surreal and hokey simultaneously, a rare and unwelcome mixture. That being said, I did find the use of various Fleetwood Mac songs throughout the season to be an appropriate and enjoyable theme.
GOVERNING THE DEAD
The producers and writers of American Horror Story should make more of an effort to define the rules governing the dead. It seems they simply play fast and loose with any such rules whenever it should suit their needs. The Axeman, for instance, was brought to his demise by the coven in 1919 and then lingered as a spirit in the house until he was released in the present.
And in this narrative a spirit being released apparently has the power to render them flesh and blood once more. His involvement with Fiona over the second half of the season opened up a lot of vague speculation. Supernatural elements aside, it’s just too much of a stretch for me to believe that his apartment would’ve been left untouched after all of these years.
Spalding’s supernatural interaction was another example in which a character who is dead could seemingly become flesh and blood when the moment was convenient. His ridiculous plot to rid the house of Leveau with the help of Delphine was a great illustration of this. Why go through the rigamarole that he did if in the end, as a ghost, he was simply able to bash Laveau over the head with a physical object.
It was stupid, sloppy writing and difficult to overlook the fact that dead people can, when needed, interact with other characters as if they were alive and indeed had never died at all.
A BLOODY, DISCOMBOBULATED END
Despite the numerous flaws, American Horror Story: Coven was, if nothing else, grossly entertaining. The New Orleans flavor provided a distinct and appropriate backdrop for the events of this story to play out on. The musical selections, including Lauren O’Connell’s cover of House of the Rising Sun and this season’s haunting refrain, supported and scored the New Orleans ambience quite well.
I hope that going forward the writers and producers can direct more of their creative energy into constructing a cohesive plot from beginning to end, and focus less on the myriad ways in which to cram shock value into the show. It seems to me that the final third of each installment of American Horror Story divulged into rampant butchery that ultimately resulted in an unspooling yarn.