American Horror Story: Coven may be losing me a bit here. After back-to-back episodes with blaringly obvious plotting problems, the initial spell Coven had over me has vanished and I’m feeling a bit disenchanted. This is the most watched season of American Horror Story yet and it’s pretty obvious to see why. After last season’s bizarre shock and awe assault of horror homage, this season plays it straighter. The toner is lighter, there are more jokes, and it’s a soapier affair. Unlike last season’s constant social and psychological scares next to conventional horror terror, this season remains content trying to go for the drama of shows like Revenge, which is probably a more commercial move, but I am having trouble ignoring some of the show’s big problems.
First off, there are absolutely no stakes, and before tonight, there was no real main conflict. It’s hard to feel any real terror for any of the main cast when everyone keeps coming back from the grave. No one can stay dead, and even the one’s that do, like Spalding, inexplicably pop back up as ghosts who somehow have the ability to administer medicine. Why should I be worried about anyone? If there they are of any real importance to the story, they’ll be back sooner or later. This even applies to characters that haven’t been killed! Cordelia loses her eyesight, but after only a few episodes, she has her eyes replaced. Boom! Problem solved!
Also, before DelPhi, the Witch Killing Frat (?), popped up tonight, there was no real conflict or enemy. Sure, many people were threatening each other and drawing sides, then switching sides, but no one was actually fighting and even the reason as to why they were fighting was unsure. For instance, why was Delphine even dug up in the first place? Yeah, I’m not really sure either. The season has been playing out more like a melodramatic soap opera, where people are fighting each other endlessly over conflicts you can’t remember that will seemingly never boil over. Oh, and occasionally you’ll have some gore splattered in randomly, like tonight when we were treated to Myrtle butchering the Witches Order spliced in with jarring sound effects then cut right back to more melodramatic odes of allegiance. At least now, everyone apparently is going to be united against the Witch Hunters, so I guess we’ll see how it plays out.
Speaking about melodrama though, tonight’s episode felt a little campier than usual to me. I definitely think it was the increased screen time we’re getting from Myrtle, who was really hamming things up. At times tonight, the show breached Joel Schumacher Batman and Robin levels of over-the-top camp. The melon baller scene reminded me of Uma Thurman’s turn as Poison Ivy, it was that exhaustingly overwrought. The only real scenes that grabbed me tonight were surprisingly Hank’s. Usually AHS is a show that doesn’t know how to utilize their utility players, but I was drawn to Hank tonight because he was the only character that seemed to have real things at stake and real motivations for his actions.
Perhaps the worst part of this episode, and definitely one of the more deplorable aspects of this season in general, is the continued botching of their race material. Along with the themes of womanhood, AHS seems to be trying to say something about race and racism this season, but boy, are they failing. The writers really don’t seem too sure with what they are trying to accomplish. Yes, they seem to grasp that slavery is unimaginably wrong and horrifyingly sickening, but they spend an awful lot of time trying to get us to empathize with the ignorance of the racist white character instead of showing us why we should understand the African American antagonist, Marie Laveau. Too much screen time is given to Delphine’s racist remarks and not enough time really saying anything insightful, and Queenie’s character is definitely an unflattering portrayal of an African American as well. I mean, this is a show where, tonight, they thought it seemed appropriate to have majority of the African American characters (who, by the way, are treated more like set-pieces) slain by a white man with a gun while Civil Rights anthems of freedom played over top. It just felt uncomfortable and in bad taste.
This was the midseason finale for American Horror Story: Coven, which will be taking a break for the holidays. Hopefully, Santa will bring the writers some better material that they can share when they return.
Den of Geek Rating: 2.5 Out of 5 Stars