Thursday, December 12, 2013

'American Horror Story: Coven' Recap: 'Head'

Courtesy: Collider
BY KARL PFEIFFER

Given the driving sexual nature of "AHS", particularly this season with Coven, I was a bit surprised to find the title of this episode altogether literal. In fact though, I have to say that my biggest loves and concerns have to come down to expectation. There were too many "wait, what?" moments this episode, which is a problem. You want your audience's understanding to be smooth with your characters' experiences.

That said, it was freaking great in so many other ways. So let's start breaking it down:

It's an episode that starts with a witch hunt, and ends with the rushed, less-resonant, Coven-attempt at the Red Wedding. The episode more-or-less hinges around emotionally-torn Hank Foxx, estranged husband of Cordelia. We're teased first with a flashback, which revealed in a surprise-to-no-one twist that young Hank was on a witch-hunting trip with his pop. We learn that young Hank has a heart as he struggles with killing a witch, which results in his father nearly burning to death. This later comes to light as Hank meets with his father, who is apparently the head of a giant multi-million-dollar corporation that's really just a front for killing witches (uh. wut?).

In what seems a somewhat startling turn of events, the hard, badass Hank that did away with Ms. Breckenridge in the hotel room has been swapped for a clumsy, sniveling Hank who's really good for nothing in terms of killing witches as it turns out. His father and right-hand-man poo-poo Hank's plans to knock out both the Coven and the Voodoo by first teaming with Laveau, and they encourage him to return and make nice with Cordelia, (who, we learn, was blinded by directive of Hank's father) in order to continue to gather intelligence.

Meanwhile, Myrtle Snow takes pity on Cordelia and calls a meeting with her old council, who take Myrtle's resurrection very lightly. In gruesome fashion, Myrtle digs out their eyes with a melon baller and, with them, restores Cordelia's sight.

Zoe and Madison wander over to the hospital to find Nan (because Zoe and Madison are pretty much only good for wandering around talking to AWOL witches these days, I guess). In a well-executed (if cliche) bit of editing, HotNeighborBoy communicates through clairvoyant Nan to Overly-Christian-Mom (all that was missing was the potter's wheel). Overly-Christian-Mom has an odd change of heart, bringing Nan snacks (and hugs!) for her help. But then HotNeighborBoy reveals that his Overly-Christian-Mom actually killed her husband (because if you're not a witch in AHS: Coven, I guess you must be a murderer). She wigs and sends Nan away. When HotNeighborBoy wakes from his coma and sobs about his new revelation, his mother decides it's better she smother her son with a pillow (you know, the Christian thing to do).

In the meanwhile, Fiona seeks an unlikely allegiance with Laveau (whether this allegiance was intended as a double-cross, we've yet to see, but I like seeing these two witches team up, even briefly), but Laveau shuts Fiona down fast.

After trying to actually make nice with Cordelia, Hank, rejected, loads up his arsenal, but instead of going after the woman he apparently still loves, he attacks the Voodoo ladies, unleashing a massacre. Queenie had been upstairs trying to teach disembodied LaLaurie a bit of compassion before burning her to death on Laveau's orders, and we get a haunting blend of Queenie's suffrage video soundtrack, "Oh Freedom" by Bob Singleton & The Golden Gospels, as Hank murders everyone in sight. It's hard to tell who all are witches he's killing and who all are customers, but he gets a shot off at Queenie and possibly one at Laveau before Queenie Voodoo-Doll-Suicides Hank. She doesn't seem to stay injured when working her magic in the past, but whether the wounds will be too much, we'll see in January when the show returns.

We wrap on Laveau breaking down and visiting the Coven, and we linger on Fiona's mischievous grin.

It was a big episode, and I'm all over the map in terms of how I feel about it.

What I like? I like how Hank went balls out and had to struggle deeply against some hard allegiances. But I don't like that any part of that emotional struggle was a surprise. I wanted to be with him more, emotionally, as an audience member. I also don't care for the lack of style of his "brotherhood." They're over the top, unbelievable, and nonsensical. Rogue hunters with weapons arsenals? Sweet. Giant Wall Street corporations hunting witches? I'm not buying it. So I hope this is the last we see of them.

I'm also annoyed that Overly-Christian-Mom is just a boring serial-killer now. I know Asylum hit the religious themes hard, but Coven seems to be skating any compelling religious tension with the coven by masking it with unnecessary murder. It feels like a cop out.

Twisted as it sounds, I did love the massacre scene. It was horrific and tragic and shocking, and so elegantly presented. But I'm not on the edge of my seat about it because of the way nothing sticks this season. It lowers the stakes. What's dead doesn't stay dead. And what's blind doesn't stay blind. Between that and the lack of inherent creep-factor, there's no real escalation happening here as we get into the final four episodes.

Granted, a LOT will happen in those four episodes and I KNOW it's going to be big. I trust there will be a showdown. But right now it just feels a bit melodramatic. Laveau visiting the Coven doesn't feel like pavement for a showdown, it feels like we're set up for just another episode of these two witches trying to dialogue each other to death.

And I just want some creepy AHS punch.

But I'm not afraid. Next episode, we're finally getting some Stevie Nicks! And, rumor has it Fringe-alum Lance Riddick will be stepping in for the final episodes too. Why he hasn't been in since the start, I don't know. But I can't tell you how excited I am to watch him work some magic.

Are you worried or confident that AHS is going to pull this season end off well? Hit me up in the comments below.

"American Horror Story" airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. EST on FX and continues after the holiday break, on January 8 with "The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks."

Here's the promo:


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