American Horror Story Coven episode 9 review: Head

Ron salutes American Horror Story: Coven's determination to be brain-meltingly crazy. Here's his review of Head...

This review contains spoilers.

3.9 Head

One of the more interesting aspects of this week’s episode of American Horror Story is behind the camera, and I’m not talking about another great, demented script from Tim Minear. I’m talking about the presence of director Howard Deutch. The name won’t be familiar, but for most people who grew up in the 80s, you know his movies. In three years, he did three classic John Hughes movies: Pretty In Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and The Great Outdoors. He also did The Odd Couple II with Neil Simon (as well as The Replacements with Keanu Reeves), so he must be nothing but a comedy guy, right? Well, as seen in this episode, very wrong.

Deutch has a couple of episodes of Tales from the Crypt to his name—a true horror classic in that it could either be scary or cheesy—and he shows a pretty skillful mastery of tracking shots and framing for this episode, which turned out to be a pretty eventful one. There’s a particular shot of a gloriously giddy Myrtle playing with a blood-soaked pile of body parts that comes after a stellar eyeball removal scene that’s just classic early 90s HBO in a really glorious way. The long tracking shot of Zoe and Madison going to get Nan at the hospital is also really well done; I love a good tracking shot, and this one was just off kilter enough to work within the confines of the show while still being really well-executed, particularly the turn of the corner.

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As for one of the show’s more controversial moments, I loved the episode-ending montage in which Hank finally makes himself a useful character by storming into Marie Laveau’s stronghold, guns literally blazing, to get revenge for the awesome voodoo doll scene from earlier in the evening. The musical cue was a bit heavy-handed, but I don’t think it’s quite as racially-charged as some will. I see it more as a reminder of, say, Willem Dafoe’s classical music gunfire ballets in Boondock Saints or every John Woo movie involving slow-motion doves. It was a spectacular orgy of violence from an otherwise worthless character, punctuated in one of the more graphic moments of the night that didn’t involve a melon baller. It was definitely over the top, but this is also a show where a severed head gets a lesson in black popular culture from a human voodoo doll.

I thought those scenes, with Queenie and Delphine, really worked. It gave Kathy Bates an excuse to really do some facial mugging to hilarious effect, and it showed some insight into Queenie’s character. She’s someone who has, without a doubt, watched a ton of television and movies and the like. She’s the character who makes pop culture jokes. She’s the character who makes references to other metatextual sources. It only makes sense that she thinks the best way to reform an ignorant old racist head is to expose it to Roots and The Color Purple and BAPS.

Since I mentioned Tim Minear, it should be remarked upon that he’s got a pretty good script here, book-ended as it is with father and son moments between Hank and his father, who just so happens to be the man in charge of a witch hunter organization/massive investment firm. He nails the big moments, and Myrtle Snow remains one of the show’s go-to characters to be crazy and funny at the same time, but it’s the little things that make his script so good. The little throwaway line from Cordelia about people moving things around too much for the house’s blind woman, the whole scene where Misty and Cordelia bond over their love of herbology, the confrontational scene between Laveau and Fiona about their mutual enemy and I don’t mean Delphine, though her few lines in that scene were guaranteed laugh lines.

Some of the stories, like Luke and Nan, don’t hit home for me. Patty LuPone has mostly been wasted, as has Jaime Brewer (who has done a really good job with the material she’s gotten, even if Luke is basically worthless as a storyline right now). The show always takes on a lot more than it really needs to, which was a complaint about last season as well, even if it eventually kind of made sense despite leaving some plot threads hanging. I’m sure the show will come back around again and start tying things up neatly—err, neatishly—when it comes back in January, but until then, it feels like there’s a lot still to resolve in New Orleans.

Even if American Horror Story: Coven remains a big mess right until the finale, in which Jessica Lange reasserts herself as TV’s top actress and the whole world goes crazy with witch civil war or whatever Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have planned, I have no doubt it’s going to be a really enjoyable ride. Even if some elements on the show don’t work for everyone, there’s something to be said for the intensity with which it tries to entertain.

Coven is one of the hardest working shows on television in that respect. It may not make sense, and sometimes it may not be very good, but it’s consistently aiming to be brain-meltingly crazy, and that’s part of its charm. There’s a lot to be said for eager and willing to fall flat in the name of taking huge risks.

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Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, The Sacred Taking, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan loves a good eyeball gag, and when it’s done by Frances Conroy dressed like a crazy woman, so much the better! Lucio Fulci could have used a melon baller for his eye torture scene. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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