American Horror Story: Coven: Boy Parts Review

Two episodes in and American Horror Story: Coven is already casting a spell of Salem Heritage and ghastly Frankenstein pop culture stiching. Plus, is it really trying to tackle race through the wide world of witching?

Call it voodoo, magik or hocus pocus, but American Horror Story: Coven is off to an enchanting start after two back-to-back freak shows. Granted, said enchantment could be used to “marry the devil,” as tonight’s Zoe Benson briefly dreads, but all the better to hone our craft! Indeed, for a series that was already well reviewed in previous seasons for its strong female leads, by circling witchery in America, Ryan Murphy has created a season that is a cable drama all-stars edition of boo scare estrogen. So much so that it is somewhat surprising that the second episode is titled “Boy Parts.” Well beyond the wonderfully adolescent double entendre. As it turned out, “Boy Parts” is just what the doctor ordered when Zoe and Madison became a pair of regular Frankensteins. In keeping with American Horror Story’s classic sense of horror movie tropes being stitched together, the girls who bonded over revenge on a gang of fratty date rapists last week grew tighter than rigor mortis when they played god in a field far closer Mary Shelley’s vision than any actual film version of the Prometheus allegory (Greek not Greatest Disappointment 2012TM). The meat of the episode began after the local New Orleans authorities decided to investigate the Coven House (think House of the Rising Sun meets Hogwarts). Hilariously, Zoe crumples like a Haitian Voudou under a line of questioning that Jessica Lange’s wonderfully Queen Bitch-Witch Fiona called, “[Unable to] toast a piece of bread with the heat they were putting on you.” Fortunately, Fiona is there to give the first real thrill of the night when she spits into two cups of water for the detectives, and goes all Centaurian Slug on their wee brains. This sequence raises two intriguing questions: What exactly does the spit do besides make men pliable to her command? I ponder if there are any intriguing side effects considering “innocent” daughter Cordelia was so opposed to the exercise of such witchcraft. Could the detectives’ brains be on the path to massive aneurisms? Also, is it me, or are the witches defined heavily by race, considering the heritage of both detectives? More of that in a minute. In any case, after Fiona’s Jedi Mind Trick, our main young witches in training go to the local morgue. As a thank you gift for literally fucking her rapist’s brains out, Madison decides to reward Zoe with the gift of life: Kyle’s life. She is going to bring Zoe’s “boy candy” back from the grave. Faster than you can say bloody pentagrams, they’re chanting to the “Lord of the Underworld.” I am going to take this moment to say that I am LOVING the chemistry thus far between the Taissa Farmiga and Emma Roberts. As a pair of bewitching roomies, these two play the typical odd couple formula—the uptight straight girl and the wild, extroverted ball of energy. However, this partially works because no matter how “mild,” Taissa’s Zoe is, she is still a witch on a Ryan Murphy FX collaboration. Hence, being able to grind two different boys to death in the span of an hour last week is on the “tamer” side. And avoiding her from ever appearing too earnest is the terrific deadpan Emma Roberts is bringing this season. Despite being an “It Girl” on the cusp for the last several years, Roberts gets to return to her ultimate Mean Girl camp horror highlights that were only gleamed in Scream 4. As the best part about that horror reboot, she played (spoiler) the killer who did it all for fame and fortune. Now on American Horror Story: Coven, she plays someone almost as completely vacuous as a movie star with that said fame and fortune, but who still treats her life like the renewal line at the DMV. Some may not like her sardonic camp, but in a series where Jessica Lange can suck the youth out of younger men, and where aliens can share screentime with devilish nuns, it’s par for the course. It’s a credit to this “golden age of TV” we hear talk about when a would-be movie star would rather play broomstick-ing Regina George than the latest superhero girlfriend in a summer blockbuster. And why not when you can play with this kind of sorcery? Finding that Kyle has been cut apart into about a dozen pieces, Madison suggests that they simply pick and choose their favorite body parts from the corpses to make the ultimate boy toy; Zoe protests. Oh Zo, your lips say no but your beating conjury says please.
 In one of the best American Horror Story moments to date, the two bring Kyle back to life in a way that would have made Shelley proud. For those who remember their 19th century literature, the scene Percy’s literary muse set was quite a bit different from James Whale’s lightning bolts and electrical rods from 1931.
 It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
 The intentional ambiguity of her prose suggests a lack of scientific pretense (or early science fiction), and something more primordially affecting within his tampering of the laws of nature and God. And much like the narrating Victor’s (black?) candle, the girls unleash an unholy sight when they resurrect a now lumpy armed Kyle from the Great Beyond. Through convoluted means, Madison shows her Regina streak again when she abandons Zoe at the morgue, but Kyle proves to be quite the Boris Karloff to Zoe’s Colin Clive, allowing them to escape into the arms of…Misty Day? In a surprise for no one, Lily Rabe, the breakout of American Horror Story: Asylum, is doing fine and well as the witch with the gift of resurrection. Rabe’s earthy smile and good nature underscores a “that’s cute” bemusement with what Zoe and Madison have wrought upon Kyle. And besides a cheap, but enjoyable opening, she at the moment seems to be an enigma on the show. Besides teaching a woefully uneducated Zoe about what real music is through the “magic” of Fleetwood Mac, Misty Day further acts as both blind man and Dr. Pretorious to Zoe and Kyle. She seems to long for companionship and, strangely, kind Zoe chooses not to invite Misty into the fold of the coven back in the city. Perhaps she senses something “off” about the hermit enchantress? However, by leaving Kyle there, she may be facilitating a connection between the two. They could just stay up all night drinking soup and praying, yet somehow I imagine that Misty’s influence on the very confused Kyle could prove dangerous down the road. Still, I again must salute the show for completely subverting all the initial shipping expectation from “Bitchfest,” when Murphy and Brad Falchuk teased another Tate & Violet love story to the Fan Fiction set. At this rate, I see Kyle and Zoe sitting uncomfortably on an iceberg as a fire burns… Yet, for all this talk of boys, this is still the season of the witch. And when even cable television is dominated by “the dick show,” it is wonderful to see the women letting it all hang out too in various stages of cattiness, as well as the flexibility of witches. With movies like The Conjuring, Oz: The Great and Powerful and the Paranormal Activity film franchise all sending conflicting messages of what it is for a witch to twitch in the zeitgeist, this show intentionally is calling them all out. As Queenie defiantly declares, “I grew up on white girl shit like Charmed and Sabrina the Teenaged Cracker. I didn’t even know there were black witches.” And there is no denying that not only are non-white witches rare in popular culture, but that few look like Queenie. Yet, for all of her posturing as being a descendant of “Tituba,” it is unclear whether she is really an equal in this tribe. The show is increasingly drawing an implicit line of racial conflict between two clans of witches. Besides the subtext-laden opening credits beginning on a cult-like group of witches in black, hooded robes (which still in silhouette could pass for white), it seems that often Fiona is lording her power over those of slightly less western European ancestry. This comes to a head when we finally meet Angela Bassett’s character proper in the 21st century narrative. When appearing at an admittedly black beauty salon (one stylist states she has never seen a white person in this neighborhood), Fiona proves to be quite the blonde hair and blue-eyed devil by confronting the modern day Marie Laveau. The seeming mythical combination of both Marie Laveau I and II (19th century Creole practitioners of Voudoun), Laveau is apparently alive and well in the seedier side of the Big Easy. It is there that the two witches try to out-bitch each other in a series of barbs too good to simply list out. But through all the great line readings between two of the most underrated actresses working today, firing them off in a way that Gryffindor alumni could only dream, a curious bit of historical debate is infused into the story. “Everything you got, you got from us,” Laveau insists to Fiona. She is speaking of a witch mentioned earlier by Queenie: Tituba. Though the racial heritage of the historical Tituba has been questioned (some argue that she was of American Indian persuasion), she was one of the first scapegoats fingered to be a witch by Betty Parris and Abigail Williams at the dawn of the Salem Witch Trials. Tituba is even more famous for quickly confessing to have spoken with the Devil and practiced the art of the witch, anything to save her neck. Her mindful pliability turned out to be in her favor, because despite confessing her supposed sins, she was spared from being hanged while white men used her coerced “testimony” to single out old political enemies in need of a neck stretching. Fiona fires back. “[Tituba] couldn’t tell a love potion from a recipe for chocolate chip cookies if she had to read it…You want to tell me some illiterate voodoo slave girl gave me my crown?” Fiona smirks. The racism in their back-and-forth is palpable. However, in this show’s reality, Laveau is insistent that before she was a slave, Tituba learned from shawmen a 2,000-year-old practice of necromancy, which she “gave to your girls of Salem.” The implication is that all witchcraft in North America could thus be sourced back to the Salem Witch Trials, with the descendents of the white women who “got out of Dodge” (Zoe’s words) ruling as an aristocratic tribe in New Orleans while the original masters stayed in bondage through the centuries, including of the economic variety suffered by Laveau today.