This review contains spoilers.
3.10 The Magical Delights Of Stevie Nicks
When you’re dealing with a show that uses shock the way most shows use a laugh track, the idea of giving away a big guest star in the title of an episode seems a little counterproductive. Rather than, say, surprising the audience with the presence of Stevie Nicks, the show announces, “Hey, we have Stevie Nicks on our show, pay attention!” Then, while you’re enchanted by the voice of the white witch, a relatively major character gets killed, alliances get forged, voodoo is voodone, and Frances Conroy continues to be the most entertaining person to appear on a Ryan Murphy television show.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon remains American Horror Story‘s best director in terms of his ability to bring some really impressive visuals to television. No matter the episode, he always makes it look good, but he does some particularly impressive work this week, with some of the best-looking sequences in the show’s history coming under his watchful eye. There’s a skill when it comes to making use of a city’s character, which Gomez-Rejon shows an impressive knack for in the multiple scenes this week featuring a jazz funeral procession and one of New Orleans’ famous above-ground cemeteries, but he also does a good job with the way the witches use their power and interact with beings more powerful than themselves.
Take, for example, the way he frames basically every scene with Marie Laveau’s loa of choice, Papa Legba. The character himself looks awesome; Lance Reddick is a great choice, and the way he’s filmed makes him look like a giant among the women of Coven. The character looks cool before you put him in interesting juxtapositions, like with Nan at the end of the episode as the two of them walk through the doorway into the dark room with bright light turning them into shadowy forms. Or when Legba makes himself known to Fiona as the camera rotates from four lines on a mirror to Fiona then completely all the way around to the same mirror and Papa Legba helping himself to drugs. Who would think to rotate a camera in a vertical circle, then use the camera to follow the impressive, distinctive shadow of the voodoo emissary only to shoot him in extreme, upside-down closeup?
The way the powers are shown when they’re actually used only makes the show that much cooler. The use of mice and the maze to stand in for the Delphi Trust during its raid by the SEC was a brilliant touch, and the effortless way the younger witches, Nan in particular, use their powers are a good part of what makes the idea of mind control work. Nan says it, and as the words leave her lips, Madison is snuffing her cigarette and going to turn it into a tampon (before Zoe interjects and saves her/us from another horrifying torture moment, only for another horrifying moment to come to fruition later in the episode).
One of the best things you can say about a show like American Horror Story is that it isn’t just fun to look at or full of weirdness, there’s also the occasional moment or two of deep, emotional resonance that allows its brilliant cast and crew to really do something with the words they’re given. This week’s episode featured a lot of those moments, particularly in the relationship between mother and daughter. Cordelia and Fiona have some very good interactions, and Jessica Lange proves she’s a master of ferocious outbursts once again. Angela Bassett is always great, and the friction between Madison and Misty is just delicious as the witches jockey for the position of supreme and engage in near-constant political wrangling. Plus, Lily Rabe is a great fake Stevie Nicks, and watching her fawn over actual Stevie Nicks was one of the most adorable things I’ve seen since Lil Bub first appeared on the Internet.
Rather than giving the viewer any time to get refreshed on the witchy world, James Wong just throws us in further. It’s a bit of a table-setting episode for the final push towards the end of the season, but at times those table-setting episodes are the best episodes, because it’s like waiting for a big meal. You’re sitting at the table, and plate after plate of awesome-looking stuff just keeps coming out, and while you can’t wait to dig into that turkey leg and see Marie Laveau and Fiona Goode go to work on the Delphi Trust, the idea of the two baddest witches in New Orleans teaming up is good even without the satisfaction of a payoff. Plus, Myrtle got to babble crazily while playing a theremin, which is just icing on the cake.
American Horror Story can occasionally be weird for the sake of being weird, but if we’ve come to a point in television where strangeness can’t be appreciated, then I’m done watching television. American Horror Story should be weird, and unsettling, and strange, and over-the-top, because there are plenty of milquetoast procedurals out there, and not enough shows where Angela Bassett rolls her eyes back in her head and ululates at security guards.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Head, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan believes that if there were an Emmy for best scream in a television show, tonight’s episode would sweep the nominations. That’s why it’s nice to see American Horror Story returning after a winter break. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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