American Horror Story Coven episode 11 review: Protect The Coven

Here's Ron's review of this week's AHS: Coven, an entertaining mess, with great performances from Frances Conroy and Kathy Bates...

This review contains spoilers.

3.11 Protect The Coven

There is a lot going on in this season of American Horror Story, as the coven is full of witches with their own agendas, there’s the looming spectre of witch hunters, there’s the crowning of a new supreme, and there’s all the interpersonal relationship conflicts between various witches, ghost butlers, immortal racists, voodoo queens, serial killers, and powerful supernatural figures to keep track of. Unlike previous seasons, it seems like nobody leaves the coven, or Coven, for very long, so the pressure seems like it’s going to keep on building until it blows up.

Given that there are only two episodes left of American Horror Story left for this season, it would makes sense for things to start building to a fever pitch, and this week’s episode seems to serve as a potboiler episode. The cauldron is on the fire, and it’s full of crazy people, and it’s slowly steaming. It’s been steaming most of the season, with very little boil-off. Lots of people have died, but very few have actually stayed dead. The more characters seem to die, the more they seem to return, and the more interesting they seem to get when they come back from the dead.

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Tonally, this week’s episode is more inconsistent than is usual for American Horror Story. Delphine is back in the cold opening this week, and we get to listen to her talk, in a good voice-over from Kathy Bates, about how she came about her fetish for blood and the reason she spent so many years torturing and killing her slaves. It’s not just for beauty treatments, after all; she also really, really enjoys it from a scientific standpoint. That’s only the tip of the weirdness iceberg in this week’s episode from Jennifer Salt. Things only get more and more odd from there.

With American Horror Story, trying to tell a coherent story is secondary to trying to be as entertaining as humanly possible. Given the focus for half the episode is Delphine, it’s going to be a very entertaining evening indeed. Salt gives her some great scenes this week, and Kathy Bates always delivers when given a chance to shine. But it’s not just the Kathy Bates show, as Frances Conroy continues to show that she’s one of the more entertaining people on television. Myrtle gets the best, most random stuff to say, and Frances Conroy knows how to deliver her lines for maximum effectiveness. Only one particular plot gets progressed in any meaningful way, though it’s a pretty big plot point involving the series’ main non-witch antagonist, while the others seem to idle for the week.

It’s a mixed bag of craziness, but the execution of these crazy ideas is top notch courtesy of Bradley Buecker. He’s not Alfonso Gomez-Rejon by any means, but he does a pretty good stylish episode of television, and the stand-out moments are as good as anything the show has captured on screen thus far. The stand out moment has to be the board room meeting between the newly-unified witches of New Orleans and their enemies of the Delphi Trust. The fact that the two sides are meeting makes sense from a logical standpoint, as the Delphi Trust has lost quite a bit of money and is on the ropes from a survival standpoint and the witches don’t want to be shot from afar by a sniper packing silver bullets.

One of the fun things about American Horror Story this season is that all parties know this is some kind of trap. Fiona and Marie know, the Delphis know, and the viewers know, but the question is this: which side will spring the trap first? Is there enough balanced power to prevent both sides from putting their plans into action? As it turns out, there’s not, and the execution of the bloody slaughter is absolutely spectacular. The Axeman seemed like a throwaway monster of the week a few weeks ago; turns out he’s pretty important to the plot as Fiona’s bag man (and watching Jessica Lange and Danny Huston languidly trade dialogue in a smoky room to the strains of background jazz is a lot of fun, too).

However, the real stand-out moments this week aren’t things with actors acting—though that’s up to the usual quality—but with the special effects. There are multiple impressive gore scenes this week, from the Delphine’s handiwork with a chicken to the Delphine’s handiwork with a pair of gardening shears, as well as Cordelia’s handiwork with a pair of gardening shears. AHS isn’t a show to shy away from gore and the more visceral moments of horror, and the use of actual viscera this week only highlights that. Dramatic irony is all well and good, but audiences want to see the goods, and there’s nothing that says ‘the goods’ quite like an axe to the throat shown in full view.

Given the surplus of characters and stories, I expect we’ll be seeing more of this sort of dramatic and splattery character removal in the next two weeks. Even with the distraction of human hunters seemingly out of the way—can you ever tell when a thread is officially pulled on this show?—there’s still plenty of awesome television to be mined from Coven. This week’s episode wasn’t the best of the show, but it was an entertaining mess, and sometimes that’s enough.

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Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, The Magical Delights Of Stevie Nicks, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is ready for the craziness, and the bodies, to start piling up. Bring on the new Supreme, and let’s all hope it’s not Zoe. Supreme Misty sounds pretty awesome to me. Or, perhaps, Supreme Nan, back from the grave and ready to party. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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