This review contains spoilers.
3.12 Go To Hell
A true testament to a great television show is that it turns the viewer into a time traveller. You sit down at 10pm to watch the adventures of some witches in New Orleans or some crazy people in a 1960s insane asylum or Dylan McDermott crysturbating his way through the Great Recession in a house full of ghosts, and usually you come out of a trance-like state with about ten minutes left in the episode. Typically, that return to reality comes side-by-side with surprise, confusion, and dismay that so little of the episode remains when all you want to do is binge-watch the rest of the season.
Of course, with only one episode remaining in the third season of American Horror Story: Coven, it’d be a pretty short binge, but with the pace at which this week’s episode moved, it’d be a pretty awesome back-to-back event. From the very beginning and the cold opening of a silent film strip explaining just what the Seven Wonders are and what a witch must do to accomplish them, all the way to the hallucinatory end scenes, this was an exercise in how to do great television. While last week was a bit of a disappointment, especially when compared to Go To Hell, the payoff is more than worth the wait.
Coven is a violent show—good luck finding an American Horror Story season that isn’t violent either physically or psychologically—but rarely is the show this overt with its depictions. The special effects are great no matter what’s being depicted, and the show never shies away from scary or cringe-worthy moments, but wow, this week is the brainchild of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk at its most Grand Guignol. Or, given the presence of Jessica Lange and its general focus on aging this season, Grand Dame Guignol. This week was a phenomenally splattery thing, with multiple people being dispatched in a seemingly permanent manner. Throats are cut, axes are buried into skulls, kitchen knives are buried into torsos, and every one of these moments is accompanied by some dramatic blood spray. The red stuff spurts and pumps and trickles and splatters over every inch of the screen, and it seems that the more desperate the character, the more violent the ending moments.
The violence, both real and imagined, was impressively depicted courtesy of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the unsung hero of this year of AHS action. The multiple scenes of Cordelia’s visions were really well done, with some cool color wash action on the Fiona/Axeman scene in particular. His camera movement was also stellar, with some great Dutch angle during the initial moments of the Fiona/Ax confrontation, and an impressive whip-pan during the scene in which Madame LaLaurie is taking visitors on a tour of her own house only for Gomez-Rejon to show us Queenie outside of the mansion, lurking, plotting, and slowly approaching the Delphine’s domicile. (Queenie’s astral projection and her dream sequence with Papa Legba were also really awesome to look at.) Gomez-Rejon is on a show full of talented visual artists, but he persists in going above and beyond, quite literally as shown by the way he basically put a cameraman into a tree for one cool overhead shot.
The script, from Jessica Sharzer, was full of shocking moments that added to the visual trickery. At a crucial point, a character’s story gets interrupted quite brutally. The recovery and return of Misty Day to the programme leads not to catty commentary but a cat fight that devolves, or perhaps evolves, into one of the most brutal physical confrontations in the show’s history. I expected the slapping, but to have Madison tossed bodily into a support column, followed by a pretty thorough thrashing at the hands of Misty? And to have Misty say one of the baddest-ass lines in the entire season before actually using her hands to fight rather than witch powers? It’s a scene that works really well, and rather than making us wait for this to bubble over, we jump right into it and it’s worth every impressive second of the well-choreographed fight. Even the political references to things like Paula Deen’s racism allegations and Anthony Weiner’s underwear sexts were handled pretty well for a show that likes to beat viewers over the head with its politics at times. It’s a clever montage, and it gives Kathy Bates some fun stuff to say about modern hypocrisy and the like that worked really well and made sense for the character, especially considering how LaLaurie had her chance at redemption taken away pretty forcefully by Queenie and Laveau.
American Horror Story: Coven is about as subtle as an axe to the face. The violence is excessive. The dialogue is campy and usually clever. The acting is either masterful or hammy with very little in between (and sometimes it’s both at once). The show doesn’t so much as say its points as express them as spittle-flecked screams, yet somehow… it also never stops being really, really fun. If you can appreciate its particular brand of insane craziness, that is.
Even at its worst, American Horror Story is still a crazy ride. The end of one ride is only a precursor to the beginning of a new ride next year. Bring it on, 1950’s alien-infested carnival or whatever’s really up Murphy and Falchuk’s sleeves!
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to see that his desire for piled-up bodies from last week has been granted to him, chopped into pieces, and scattered across New Orleans. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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