American Horror Story Coven finale review: The Seven Wonders

Review Ron Hogan 30 Jan 2014 - 16:44

American Horror Story concludes its third season with a hellish magical trial. Here's Ron's review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.13 The New Supreme

If you properly want to depict magic on television, then American Horror Story has been a great example of just how to do that and make it look grounded and realistic (in spite of the whole magic being fictional thing). The powers put on display during The New Supreme are both impressive, and on a small enough scale that it's not approaching Harry Potter levels of magical ability. Even when the witches teleport or disappear into the depths of Hell, there's nothing quite as showy as a Patronus happening. This makes the magic more believable and it keeps the special effects budget down.

With Fiona out of the way courtesy of last week's events, the search is on for the new Supreme in American Horror Story: Coven's last moments of magical action. Misty, Queenie, Madison, and Zoe will be put through their paces by Cordelia and Myrtle, and the one who both survives and accomplishes all seven wonders will find herself crowned as the supreme witch, leading a coven that both Cordelia and Myrtle believe should probably die out, given how poorly it was managed under Fiona's reign. Basically, this allows the show's four younger actresses to have a good time with their characters and it puts the four girls in direct opposition with one another for maximum cattiness.

The script was credited to Douglas Petrie, who wrote The Axeman Cometh and was a veteran writer on Buffy and Angel, and it's heavy on character interactions and some moments of black comedy. After all, each of the witches gets to experience her personal version of Hell at some point or another, and that's after they get an earful of Madison quipping darkly about the stupidity of the tests, the fact that she didn't really like any of them, and how she feels like she's better than the rest of them, supreme-hood established or no. Myrtle gets to say funny things and display her love for drama while proctoring the test, but it's Madison who drives the show with her negativity, petty jealousy, and acid tongue.

I've been slow to warm up to Emma Roberts, but she's clearly good in this role, and of all the girls who aren't Misty, she's the one who seems most established in her character, and who has the most defined character traits—such as they are—to play off of. Madison, frankly, is a bitch on young Fiona's level. Queenie may have her pop culture knowledge and Zoe her big-eyed innocence and love affair with a monster, but Madison is the one who gets to show off the most rounded character, even if her moments of personal growth have been very limited and her emotional outbursts have all been kept intensely private. The show has done a great job establishing the fact that Madison as supreme would probably kill off the coven completely, hence the depression shown by Myrtle and Cordelia before the inevitable challenger rises to take Madison on and wrest true supremacy from her.

It seems that episode after episode, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon keeps finding new ways to make American Horror Story look good. Even on a show that places the visual on equal footing to its gloriously campy dialogue, Gomez-Rejon remains the show's most skillful occupant of the director's chair. The opening moments of the episode, which are basically a Stevie Nicks video filmed within the confines of Madame Robichaux's, is a masterful display of how to move a camera while keeping a scene framed, and Gomez-Rejon deploys some masterful use of a fish-eye lens to help emphasize the ominous, mystical nature of the Fleetwood Mac song Seven Wonders and Stevie's own peculiar style. This impressive visual skill continues throughout the episode, with Cordelia getting some interesting camera swirls and flourishes, lots of interesting shot framing, and some brilliant editing. Misty's scene in hell is just a stunning display at how to show something being repeated time and time again, without it being the same thing looped (and it really made you feel awful for Misty, whose depicted personal hell was one of the worst of the bunch because I really felt for that character due to the fact I hated and was bad at dissecting frogs myself).

It goes without saying that the most satisfying scenes this week involved the great Jessica Lange and the late, great Fiona Goode. While she never quite does the right thing, she kind of gets hers in the end, in a sense. The showdown scene between Fiona and Cordelia is pretty brilliantly executed, and the makeup job done to make Jessica Lange look like she's dying of cancer was an incredible job. Say what you will about Ms. Lange, but she's not afraid to look ugly for a role, and this is possibly the ugliest I've seen her look on the show. The shock of seeing her in such a state only added more punch to her goodbye to Cordelia; I think everyone expected something to happen between the two, and when it didn't, I was... not disappointed, more relieved. Relieved that Cordelia was able to find herself, and relieved that Fiona didn't have the energy to try any more dirty tricks to regain her lost power (and health).

Was Coven up to the standard of Asylum? No, I don't think so; the second season was much darker and more terrifying than the third. However, Coven was probably the more entertaining of the two, if only because it wasn't so downbeat all the time. I enjoyed the little shift in tone, but it might not be for everyone. Coven was closer in spirit to Murder House than Asylum; perhaps that's deliberate? A goofier version, a more serious version, a goofier version, and perhaps a fourth season with a darker setting and tone?

No matter how the fourth season of American Horror Story develops, I'll be there. I'm permanently along for this ride until the show gives me a good reason not to show back up, waiting for my dose of craziness and Jessica Lange.

Read Ron's review of the previous episode, Go To Hell, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is already looking forward to the reveal concerning the fourth season of American Horror Story, and he can't wait to actually see the show begin next October. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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I thought this season, whilst it has it's awesome episodes, lost momentum a few times along the way. It also sort of fizzled out in the end. Hope the next season is a bit better.

I thought it was a brilliant season and much superior to the second in terms of plot and pace. An incredibly heartfelt ending with the right amount of sheer batshit craziness. Bring on the next series!

Was the episode not called The Seven Wonders?

Ultimately, it was like a gory all girl version of the x-men. With all the flip-flopping each week - 'you're dead, they've written me out, she's sympathetic now and she's turned heel, see you next week', I'd occasionally wonder if I'd missed an episode. It reminded me of Heroes. The only reason I still had fun with it and didn't grow to resent it, like Heroes, was that it embraced a higher camp and didn't out stay its welcome.

I personally preferred Asylum and found Coven a mess with no story focus. I still enjoyed my time with the characters and really had a blast

To be honest, I thought this was the weakest finale I've ever seen. Well, maybe not as weak as the Dexter finale, but fairly close. The Stevie Nicks opening was ridiculous - and I'm a Music Theatre student! None of the character's decisions made sense. That weird game of teleport tag? One minute they're all desperate to outdo each other and become the next supreme when suddenly they all turn into a bunch of giggling school girls and for some unfathomable reason, Zoe impales herself. Like, where did that even come from? Very poor writing if you ask me.

Saw the finale last night and have to say I thought it was great stuff. It tied up various lose ends, brought the show to (in my view) a satisfying close and ended up with most of the truly unpleasant characters getting their just desserts. Although this season was not as disturbing or frightening as Asylum, it still managed to be unsettling and surprising. One the plus side, compared with Asylum, it seemed to have a more (for the series) logical flow, with the various ideas and threats having some common ground with the central premise (ie witches, voodoo, New Orleans), unlike Asylum which at times was like someone chucking horror tropes at the screen to see what stuck (asylums, nuns, demon possession, aliens, nazis, scientific experiements, a serial killer or two). Although, personally, I was sorry to see one of my favourite characters die the way she did, it was necessary for the rest of the episode to work. And the best thing? Although this is the last time we'll see these characters, we know that later in the year we'll get to see some (if not all) of this talented cast back again playing a whole new set of characters. That, for me, is another of this series' master strokes - it's put the idea of a company of players, who just happen to perform crazy horror-based pieces, into a TV setting, which is pretty fantastic. Can't wait to see what they'll be doing next, and who will be back (I hope Angela Basset and Kathy Bates pop up, as they were very good this season and I'd love to see them playing completely different characters).

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