This review contains spoilers.
3.7 The Dead
Over the course of the season, Madame Delphine has changed herself from a horrible, evil person to a source of comic relief to one of the more interesting characters on the show thanks to the skill Kathy Bates has at delivering this dialogue, and I had really invested myself in the budding relationship between her and Queenie. In fact, their late-night fast-food binge was one of the funniest, sweetest scenes of the night, and Gabourey Sidibe seems to rise to the occasion when she’s put across from Kathy Bates. They’re great together, and while I appreciate from a drama standpoint that Queenie would want to seek a place where she belongs—both Delphine and Laveau agree that the white witches will never really accept her—I can’t help but feel conflicted. Is a bad woman getting her just desserts, or did a woman who was trying to become a good person just get pushed really far back into the realm of evil?
Tonight’s episode was jam-packed with great things, weird things, and all the fun things we’ve come to expect from American Horror Story, and the script, from writer and creator Brad Falchuk, pulls all the elements together pretty efficiently and very effectively. Madison Montgomery hasn’t been the most relatable of characters this season, but she’s showing some serious signs of life (err, undeath?) since she returned to the mortal realm thanks to Misty Day’s deus ex-machina. Not only does she manage to bond with FrankenKyle over their collective deadness, she also doles out some really effective one-liners in between credenza-humping a dead man and making obscene hand gestures at her pseudo-virginal roommate.
All the comic elements on the show crackled tonight, every joke and pop-culture dialogue reference landed solidly, and the show seemed to keep a sustained momentum no matter who was involved and who they were interacting with. Queenie and Delphine, Zoe and Madison, Axeman and Fiona… everything seemed tight and suitably clever. While I don’t care about everything that’s happening, as I’m pretty tired of FrankenKyle even given tonight’s weird episode-ending twist, I like that everyone gets to have a signature moment or some personality quirk to really dig into.
One of the show’s most clever moments took place between Axeman (a top-notch performance again from Danny Huston) and Fiona, as Axeman goes into detail about how he spent his undeath watching over Fiona. There’s a great flash-back scene featuring an uncanny 8-year-old Fiona (and a great 8-year-old Myrtle Snow). From the sight of the Axeman watching a little girl sleep to a teenager getting out of bed, a young woman getting dressed, and Fiona as we know her putting on her finishing touches, it’s one of the most impressive visual scenes in the show from a sheer continuity standpoint, and the editors are to be praised for the deftness at which they matched and combined these scenes together without any seams.
The whole episode was full of cool little choices by director Bradley Buecker. From the aforementioned Axeman/Fiona montage onward, there were some great creative choices made. The shot blocking and scene composition in Queenie and Delphine’s fast-food trip is really cool and makes great use of both how similar they are and how different they are; the heart-breaking hard pan in on a screaming LaLaurie trapped in her cage at Laveau’s Voodoo Hair-Dos is only the icing on the cake. There are some very cool camera moves—starting from an overhead shot then slowly dropping down to tracking shot from behind—when Zoe leaves her meeting with Cordelia to discover FrankenKyle and Madison hooking up (there’s a similar shot of Fiona primping in the bathroom until we find out just what happened to the real owner of Axeman’s borrowed apartment). Even the Axeman’s adventures in the jazz club are really interesting to look at, shot just strangely enough to look simultaneously goofy, cool, and vaguely menacing.
Speaking of goofy cool menace, Denis O’Hare hasn’t gotten a lot to do this year, but when Spalding shows up, it’s a sign of great things to come. Not only has he hugged a scarecrow and kept a dead Hollywood starlet as a my-size doll, now he’s gotten his tongue back. His tongue, as you might remember, that has been cursed to tell nothing but the truth. They’ve held him back, but when he gets a chance to let loose, he really lets loose. Not only does he do some great physical work—just Spalding enjoying his returned tongue in spectacularly gross fashion—he does some great vocal work as he tries, and fails, not to speak the truth only to have his body betray him against his will. It may be the most effective use of spells this season, and O’Hare sells it like nobody’s business, really bringing the magic to life so to speak.
That’s the thing about American Horror Story. It can be too broad, too goofy, too dumb, too… Ryan Murphy, but the actors are the ones that really make it work. They bring it back when needed, go huge when needed, and generally make the show work much better than it should simply by talent alone. There’s a reason basically every person in the cast has been nominated for various television awards (current cast members Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Denis O’Hare, and Frances Conroy have all been nominated for or won Emmys in conjuction with the show). When it all comes together, it’s brilliant television with memorable characters and legitimate emotional impact; even when it doesn’t pull together, it’s still spectacularly entertaining.