The previous Halloween episodes of American Horror Story have always been a treat. It’s when the series really comes out to play.
In The Murder House, the “Halloween” two-parter showed us the real consequences of the house, as well as giving excellent story and character development, particularly with the death of Addie and the ghost-aided disintegration of Zachary Quinto and discount Alexander Skarsgård, one of the best gay relationships I’ve seen on TV.
In Asylum, it wasn’t actually Halloween themed. “Nor’easter” was still an excellent episode though, cementing the characters, including Briarcliff itself, and ending on one of the most viscerally chilling moments of the series with Shelley and Dr Arden.
So what did Coven have to offer to the pantheon?
Well, first off it was Halloween-themed. Hardly a surprise, really, given the witchy subject matter. I half wonder if it was entirely so that they could stick a witch’s hat on Jessica Lange and have her ask LaLaurie “Who’s the baddest witch in town?”
Which isn’t a criticism. Hell, it’s as good a reason as any…
After slitting Madison’s throat at the end of the last episode — which I’m now less sure was deliberate rather than the beginning of her losing the plot — Fiona seems to have gotten away with it. When the witches’ council (or their representatives? The narative was unclear) popped up to investigate her disappearance, a combination of Spalding’s unwavering loyalty and a curve ball from Cordelia (Madison, apparently wasn’t the next supreme), got her off the hook for the time being.
Can we focus on the witches’ council for a moment though? From this episode it seems to be comprised of matron, a tiny man who Fiona described as “vicious old queen“, and Francis Conroy looking like an explosion in a charity shop. Which works perfectly on paper, but in practice Conroy’s Myrtle Snow was a little too shrill and hysterical — and easily led into obvious rhetorical traps. Perhaps it will improve in time. I certainly hope so, as Conroy’s performances in The Murder House and Asylum were fantastic.
I’m not sure where the Kyle storyline is going at the minute either. When he escaped, semi-mute and covered in blood — at the beginning into a ready-made camoflauge of trick-or-treaters, I was expecting Zoe to spend the episode searching for him. But no, she’s back at the school a few scenes later, discussing Madison’s “disappearance” with the other girls. So Kyle is out somewhere gorging himself on sweets and beating people to death?
One of the things that this episode did get deliciously right, though, was the voodoo stuff. It laid down more of the background — there’s been a truce between the witches and Marie Laveau for the last few decades — and had a lot of fun playing around. The opening scene of a young black boy in the sixties being lynched by racists was deeply moving, and what followed set Marie as a vengeful character. So when Fiona sent her the decapitated — BUT STILL BLINKING! — minotaur head of Bastiene there was no doubt what was going to happen.
And what happened to Cordelia right at the end was…eurgh. I’m not entirely convinced that was Marie Laveau, though.
Spalding also got a characterisation episode, which is nice for him. And yes, he’s every bit as disturbed and disturbing as he looks. The tea party (reminiscent of Steve Buscimi in Con Air, anyone?) was bad enough, but the lengths of his obsession/devotion to Fiona and the last Madison-themed revelation should leave nobody in any doubt.
Hank? I’m not sure about that one. I’d initially written Cordelia’s husband off as just a plot-convenient minor character, but now he’s off Bloodyface-ing (Asylum reference) girls in hotel rooms, so who the hell can say with this show? And where was he hiding the gun?
Overall I didn’t feel this episode had quite the punch of the previous three. I still enjoyed it, and it still had the joyous “what-the-f*ckery” that has become a trademark of the show, but…I don’t know. A worry has awoken in my mind; some of it is starting to feel familiar from previous series. Spalding is similar to Larry in The Murder House (both played by Denis O’Hare), and Hank is feeling very reminiscent of Asylum‘s resident serial killer nutjob(s).
But maybe I’m talking out of my arse. The previous three episodes were outstanding, and the fact that “Fearful Pranks Ensue” wasn’t doesn’t stop it from still being excellent. As the credits rolled, I commented aloud that when an episode of Coven finishes “it’s never enough, you always want a bit more“, so it can’t be getting anything too wrong.