Thursday, December 5, 2013

'American Horror Story: Coven' Recap: 'The Sacred Taking'


Another winner! Good to see "AHS" consistently in its stride a bit past its halfway point for the season.

We kick this week off with another great cold open ... though it had its shaky moments. We follow Queenie as she wanders a sketchy (but way cool and well-filmed) highway underpass, where she turns the tables on a would-be assaulter and hacks him to death before ripping his heart out. But, in an initially-oddly-out-of-place moment, she's interrupted by Zoe and Madison, who try to convince her to return to the coven. Queenie balks and asserts her new voodoo allegiance, warning of a coming war and declaring the coven's comparative weakness. Queenie's steadfastness seemed a bit unearned, but it works well to foreshadow the coming showdown and works nicely balancing the eventual re-uniting of the coven by episode's end.

Just the same, the episode kicks off with the coven in tatters. Fiona begins with a fantastic voice over monologue that works so nicely alongside Madison's from the episode prior. It's tinged with an added bit of darkness by the comparison. Where Madison's monologue is about what it's like to be dead and hollow, Fiona waxes elegant about the agony of cancer treatment as she vomits and writhes. Fiona's theme is pain, Madison's is emptiness. But they both straddle the concept of death in a deep way. Where last episode focused on death, this episode focuses on resurrection.

But first the living must brush death. Fiona does so as her cancer consumes her. It's another brush of "American Horror," as is the point of the show. The horrors aren't supernatural; they're all too natural and all too common. By third season, Murphy and Falchuk are finally tackling that great horror, cancer. But in a wise move, they're not dwelling on it. "AHS" isn't about to fall victim to the now-pervasive cancer genre. In fact, they avoid it so deftly, they make "Breaking Bad" look like "50/50," but they don't skirt the horror or the pain and they appropriately weight the seriousness of it.

Before we track Fiona's descent, we first must set the stage. She's still sleeping with the Axeman -- thinks it may even be love, in fact. Meanwhile, Cordelia and what's left of the coven plot to end Fiona once and for all before they're interrupted by Misty (yes!), who's on the run from a masked gunman (angry poacher? witch-hunter?) alongside recently-sprouted Myrtle (yes!). Cordelia welcomes them both back to the coven, and together the witches implement the "Sacred Taking," in which the Supreme commits ritual suicide to pass along her power to someone more capable (an event that's only happened thrice in the coven's history). How to best remove Fiona? By convincing her to do the deed herself, already at the end of her leash due to the cancer.

Over the course of the night, Fiona is visited by threeee ghosts! It's no Christmas episode, but there's a pretty distinct odor of some Christmas Carol here. First, Madison returns, spinning about the room in a red dress (which might have been implied as coming from Fiona's closet -- another allusion, this time to Lange's red dress of season two?), teasing that she was indeed the Supreme, resurrecting herself and returning to haunt Fiona to an early grave. Myrtle arrives second to put the nail in the coffin, and the two play nice as Fiona finally submits, wrapping her head in a shawl and taking a handful of pills. But the ghost of Christmas future (no really, this time it's actually a ghost, but once-dead just the same), Spaulding (yes, yes!), returns to set the record straight about the subterfuge taking place before feeding Fiona a spoonful of ipecac syrup to induce further puking (my own personal horror) to rid herself of the medication.

But the shit continues to hit the fan. Frustrated that her fellow sisters don't respect her enough by ruling her out as a potential next Supreme (we can still hope!), Nan bails on the Coven to steal away HotNeighborBoy from his cruel hyper-Christian mother (who it seems decided to literally clean him of his sins by giving him an enema of, what? Baking soda? A bit of a religious potion of her own, as it were). But in so doing, Nan and HotNeighborBoy run into Hyper-Christian-Mom who tries to foil their plans before she's shot by that-asshole-Hank with a high-powered rifle. HotNeighborBoy takes a bullet for Nan, but he's not dead yet.

Fiona follows Misty to the neighbor's home because she wants to see the extent of this swamp witch's skills ("She's brought back more people from the dead than Jesus Christ!" Myrtle points out), a swamp witch who, as it were, Myrtle has now declared the next Supreme (at this point I'm starting to wonder if I might even be the next Supreme. Really it just seems up for anyone's grabs by now). Fiona challenges Misty to resurrect Hyper-Christian-Mom (Oh, I do hope she gets a Jesus-complex now!), and she does before passing out. Meanwhile, Nan runs out with HotNeighborBoy on the stretcher, and meanwhile still, Cordelia discovers a blessed silver bullet and intuits Hank's true motivations.

Cordelia and Fiona make a delicate peace the following morning, with Fiona praising Cordelia for the balls it took to attempt the coup (even though Fiona juuuuust confessed to Spaulding that she meant to avenge her own almost-death...).

In bit roles, Kyle learns a bit of English and confesses his love to Zoe (much to the upset of Madison, who was eavesdropping), and Queenie plays nice to LaLaurie by bringing her a fast food snack before Laveau swoops in and slices off LaLaurie's hand, threatening tortures, all the more enraged by LaLaurie's trash-talking and overt racism. We end with a cardboard box (WHAT'S IN THE BOX?) on the coven's doorstep, a box containing LaLaurie's still-living head. (Well Fiona, I think you've found your servants).

This week had all the great plays that's been making this season wonderful. As per my usual, I'm still loving the thematic dialogues about death, the musical score, and the excellent reappearances by wonderful once-dead characters. I love the way death is both rendered meaningless in terms of plot by now, but also deeply realized and meaningful for those characters yet to experience it.

Which could in fact lay the groundwork for the upcoming twists I expect we should watch for. Fiona, though toeing the line of death, finally seems to have hit rock bottom, and may have begun her ascent to cronehood. I'm still maintaining that you should watch and wait for her to flip this and embrace her age and wisdom, especially now that death is taking more and more of a backseat plot-wise to suffering.

We've also been hinting how much we'd like to see Nan wind up as Supreme. I don't think I'm alone in hoping for that -- if even expecting! We did get a hint of a second power -- telekinesis -- that we saw from her for a split second tonight.

I like seeing the coven start to come together. These women have deeply flawed relationships, but I want to see them empowered, especially against Laveau. Not that I'm not rooting for Laveau to kick some epic ass down the road, but I want it to be a grand fight indeed, and the coven should be a powerhouse by then.

Will they come together? Time will tell. Five episodes left.

"American Horror Story" airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. EST on FX and continues, before a brief mid-season finale, on Dec. 11th with "Head"