Thursday, November 7, 2013

'American Horror Story: Coven' Recap: 'Burn Witch Burn'


We kick off this week's episode by dealing with the cliffhangers of part one (echoing the two-part Halloween hijinks of "Murder House" and the two-part Anne Frank storyline of "Asylum"). Zoe dispatches the zombies with some classic "Evil-Dead"-esque, chainsaw-wielding Ash-action, but not before the introduction of a new (and quickly forgotten about) power... I'm not really sure what it is, but it snuffed out a zombie and blew Marie Laveau's hair back a bit, forcing her out of her astral-levitating-zombie-puppeting-spellwork.

Meanwhile we have a bit of a strange tension between old-LaLaurie and the new. In our opening teaser, we get another cringe-worthy dose of old-LaLaurie's pure evil as she throws her daughters in her torture room for a year to teach them a lesson about conspiring against her. But now, in the present day, she's all kinds of weepy over her zombie-daughters and saving Queenie. (No fear, though, I understand we're still promised a severe turnaround between LaLaurie and the coven -- I just hope it gets here soon. Kathy Bates needs to turn on the jets).

All the while, Fiona is drunkenly dealing with Cordelia's attack and recent blindness. Wandering the halls in the drug-and-drink induced stupor, Fiona brings a stillbirth back to life for a grieving mother and suspects that she's seen council-witch Myrtle Snow creeping about in an outfit decidedly similar to Cordelia's attacker.

Then Fiona gets into it with Cordelia's husband, Hank, and leaves before Cordelia wakes. But, while Cordelia's eyesight might be gone, the second sight is now strong with this one, as she comes-to with a violent vision of Hank's recent brutal indiscretion, left to be followed upon next week.

Back at home, Nan and Zoe burn the leftover zombie bodies. Inside, Queenie continues to recover, along with neighbor-stud Luke, who took a beating in the zombie attack.

The episode gets dark when the "council" arrives for the second time, fully prepared to oust Fiona as Supreme because all control is going to the dogs, but not before Fiona pulls a fast one and turns the proceedings around on Myrtle Snow. She calls out Snow on being in town before the inquisition -- when Madison was killed -- scheming against Fiona, and (with some help from pin-cushion Queenie), Fiona frames Snow for the attack on Cordelia. The council quickly turns on Snow and sentences her.

In a trying-to-be-lighthearted witch-burning scene, the coven rolls up to a stake in the middle of nowhere and proceeds to burn Snow to death.

The episode wraps with a nod to Spaulding's escalating problem (his newest doll, dead-Madison, seems to be starting to stink), and, of course, we see Misty Day work her resurrecting magic on a quite-charred Myrtle Snow.

Overall though, I can't say that a lot was working for me this episode. It had a lot of filler, with the first half of the episode wrapping the zombie storyline, and the second half just wrapping up the council plot.

Which all fits together in a nice, back-to-back episode arc, but I wasn't feeling anything fresh in this one. Where "AHS" is known for fresh twists on classic tropes (consider what's been done with the ghosts in the attic, the aliens, monsters in the woods, possessions...), here our zombies were pretty much classic Thriller-video zombies. And Zoe's dispatching, while a nice classic nod to the Evil Dead franchise... was pretty much just that, a five-minute allusion that didn't really do much.

The witch-burning fell flat for me too. I loved the incorporation of some Dr. John's "Right Place, Wrong Time," but it just didn't work. It was almost too lighthearted for one thing (the disparity has worked all season until this), and a lot of that fell on the directing, which just didn't have any bite. The whole moment came off very flat (not to mention the CGI fire looking far too fake).

And, to continue to harp, I know we're only five episodes in and still building the slow-burn, but dammit! I need more Evan Peters and Angela Bassett!

It seems to me that about five episodes into each season, "American Horror Story" seems to hit a bit of a slump. Last year, with "Asylum," it was around the two-part fourth and fifth episodes that I started to become overwhelmed with the abundance of plot tropes we had thrown at us, and it's this season with "Coven" that I'm feeling the same wariness, only in a more... underwhelming way.

But if I've learned anything from the breakneck start of this season, as well as the fantastic recovery of season two, I have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Will next week be better? Absolutely. It sounds like we might be seeing a new season's take on the old spirit-in-the-attic trope, and, one of these weeks, we'll be set up for Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett to get some primo screentime. Not to mention, while we might be itching for something a bit spookier, this season absolutely still promises going very big before it goes home.

"American Horror Story" airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. EST on FX and continues on Nov. 13 with "The Axeman Cometh".