Thursday, November 21, 2013

'American Horror Story: Coven' Recap: 'The Dead'

Courtesy: Collider

This week's "American Horror Story" was an episode of a show in its groove!

We kicked off the episode with another extraordinary teaser, bringing Evan Peters back to the limelight in a flashback to a fraternity field trip in a tattoo parlor. In it, we showcase both Kyle's hopes and dreams: to be the golden boy, to prevent tragedy, to live, richly. Which made the segue to present-time Franken-Kyle all the more tragic, as he understands that he's now both un-alive as well as an amalgamation of his disappointing fraternity brothers. If it wasn't clear before, I'm loving the balance between he and Zoe, as he was the head of his own fraternity of brothers, and Zoe will soon be the head of her own fraternity of sisters.

From what seems first like an underwhelming title, "The Dead", we get a brilliant episode that focuses in on that balance between life and death and a dissection of what it means to live. Though not an oversight of the first season, this study is a direction that was never deeply explored with "Murder House", despite its attention to murder, death, spirits, sex, and abortion.

Here, we kick off the episode after the teaser (which ended again on Zoe's attempt to put Franken-Kyle out of his misery) with a monologue narration by recently resurrected Madison, reflecting on the hollowness of her newfound undead state. The entire scene is both deeply realized and deeply satisfying, and puts Emma Roberts' talents on a fine display. The monologue is truly a brilliant point in the show's history, if I do say so. In it, the writers link her undead hollowness of emotion to the Millennial Generation (as Madison so clearly embodies).

"I am a Millennial. Generation Y. Born between the birth of AIDS and 9/11 give or take. They call us the 'global generation.' We are known for our entitlement and narcissism... But it seems that our one defining trait is a numbness to the world, an indifference to suffering."

Madison's unfeeling seems at odds with Franken-Kyle's hyper-feeling. Where he seems to feel almost everything (frustration, fear, and despair), Madison only knows emptiness. The undead pair come together while Zoe is off speaking to Cordelia (who's learned with her second-sight that Fiona was Madison's murderer), quite literally. Franken-Kyle finds calm in Madison's understanding, and Madison finds feeling in that same understanding. Zoe, however, is left abandoned until the end of the episode, when Madison talks her into an undead threesome, likely a temporary solution to this unlikely new love-triangle.

Meanwhile, the sexual play between the undead and the living continues with the Axeman's seduction of Fiona. It's a flavor that ignites on a show of already charismatic and screen-dominating actresses. And I'm happy ... if gleeful ... to see Danny Huston's presence meshing so well with Jessica Lange. The two have a wild chemistry on the screen. That chemistry is broken as Fiona discovers, not that he's hiding a dead body in the bathtub of the apartment he's jacked, she was fine with that, but instead that he's been haunting the Academy since she was a little girl, watching her grow up as he gradually falls in love with her.

By the end of the episode, after nearly shaving her head (something I oddly hope we see by season's end), Fiona caves and returns to the Axeman. Where that relationship will go? I can't hazard a guess. But I'm so on board.

Despite the rich thematic intertwining between the living and the dead in such a charged sexual nature, the driving force of the plot in this episode is between Queenie, Madame LaLaurie, and Marie Laveau. Just as Queenie seems to be reaching an understanding with the easily-forgotten-but-still-repulsive LaLaurie (they go out for burgers after Madison binged on all the food in order to find some kind of feeling). But after Queenie makes a visit to Marie Laveau that's been a season in waiting (didn't see it coming -- totally should have), Laveau makes Queenie an offer: join our voodoo tribe for bringing Madame LaLaurie.

Queenie balks that she didn't want to join, but it's a hollow thought. She's built for it. She's black, and as a human voodoo doll, she's got it in her blood. It's a tension I'm excited to watch unfold. After hinting that she and Queenie may have a "true friendship" and relating a touch of remorse over another brutal history, (LaLaurie killed the baby of her slave, who'd slept with LaLaurie's husband, and used the blood as an immortality facial), Queenie cons LaLaurie to visit the hair salon, where Laveau locks her up and takes her blood for her own immortality facial.

The flip is fantastic. I want to see more use from Laveau than a convenient antagonist, but watching her apply the blood facial in the final moments of the episode, before muttering "beautiful" put her on exactly the same level of disturbing as LaLaurie. Whether acceptable because she's earned the revenge (not so different from LaLaurie, after all, revenge is revenge), or not, we've got a brilliant play of dramatic tensions and good with evil. Who do we root for when it seems everyone is as flawed as the other?

Perhaps the only person we have left to root for is Zoe, who, between trying to teach Franken-Kyle to speak and being seduced by the recently-resurrected, meets with Cordelia (who makes it very clear that Zoe needs to kill Fiona in order to protect herself) and, after witch-crafting his tongue back into place, interrogates Spaulding (verifying that Fiona killed Madison) before driving a knife through his chest.

It seems everyone is toeing the morality line.

So. This week. What's working for me? Everything. It was good to see more use from Bassett, Peters, Roberts, and Bates. And I loved the gothic-candlelit-ghoulish academy cinematography during Madison's monologue.

What's to come? Bad shit going down between the Coven witches and the voodoo ladies, that's for sure. With Kathy Bates at the center of it. And, if leaked teases are any indication, it won't be before the end of the season that we'll see some Stevie Nicks as a witch herself. And that's gonna be golden.

"American Horror Story" airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on FX and continues after a week off on December 4 with "The Sacred Taking".