Thursday, January 9, 2014

'American Horror Story: Coven' Recap: 'The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks'

Papa Legba wants your soul!

Where do I even begin with this week's AHS recap? It's almost as if every scene was equally fantastic and seriously underwhelming.

I mean, we start with Fiona making nice and tucking Marie into bed. I love seeing enemies come together, but this one leaves me wondering too much. Sure, Fiona just wants Marie's secret to immortality, and Marie has no coven of her own left, but now they're BFFs forever? I like it, but I'm just not buying it so soon. Like, really? Hank wiped badass Marie off the map and now she needs tucked in by Fiona?

But! We hit a string of ups as we first begin to learn about Marie's backstory and how she gained her immortality, which, as it were, was by selling her soul to a kind of crossroads spirit, Papa Legba of Haitian Vodou lore, who requires an innocent soul every year to ensure her longevity.

Marie Laveau Backstory? Check. Marie-centric-ish episode? Check. Lance Reddick as Papa Legba? So many checks.

But then we get to the directing of the episode, which has lost a step. Lance Reddick can cut one of the most sinister figures on television. And in the makeup, with that accent, he was gold. But nothing about the direction of the episode supported such a feel. He was cool, but chasing shots of shadows around the walls to introduce him? Really?

Moving on. BFFs Marie and Fiona scheme toward their next step together, which seems to be cutting the head off the witch-hunter snake (speaking of, whatever happened to the pervasive snake in all those promos? Was all that hype for one scene in the premiere? Sigh). Fiona flips out on Cordelia for being a waste of life (weren't those two just getting along splendidly a few episodes ago?) for... well, really no reason. BFFs Fiona and Marie cast a spell to interrupt massive amounts of cashflow to the giant Fortune 500 witch-hunting corporation who of course are now really committed to killing the witches. For the record, I still think this giant witch-hunting company is ridiculous, but I like the whole masculine patriarchy versus the feminine coven... I just wish it felt more elegant.

And then, still anticipating Misty as the Coven's next supreme, Fiona decides to do some courting, and brings around Stevie Nicks (not sure if her witch power is singing or something else -- but it's definitely not acting). Stevie sings a song or two. Misty dances. Yay.

I'm glad to read that Stevie had some brushes with rumored witchcraft in the past, and that the episode's song, "Rhiannon", was about a "Welsh witch", because otherwise her appearance in the episode felt more like a brief interlude where everyone in the episode did a little dance and flashed a neon sign that said "LOOK STEVIE NICKS HAS STILL GOT IT," and then, well, pretty much abandoned that plot point completely.

Madison goes for a walk with Misty in one of the coolest shots of the show so far, tracking along a New Orleans funeral procession. Madison and Misty are chillin' at the end of the procession eating kabobs, which could be traditional, but strikes me as an extension of the making light of death that this show does, especially this season. Which is fantastic. Madison tries to convince Misty that being the supreme is just a way to be played. "Players only love you when they're plain'," she points out. Then, after demonstrating that she too can resurrect and enchant people, Madison bashes Misty over the head with a brick and buries her in a crypt.

This seems to bring Madison's power-count up to, what, three? Which seems to now match Nan's power-count. Getting to the hospital and learning that Luke was smothered by his mother (no, literally), Nan flips out and uses both telekinesis and mind-control over Overly-Christian-Neighbor-Mom to make her drink bleach, cleaning her out and specifically alluding to the earlier enema antics. Wait! Nan's at four. She's got pyrokinesis too. Are they counting that as separate? Aaanyway.

Fiona, still obsessive over immortality, summons Papa Legba and strikes a deal with him. She's desperate enough that she sells her soul in a heartbeat, willing to give up not just innocent people, but even Cordelia, in order to maintain her youth. But when the pact was to be sealed, the big reveal came from Papa that she didn't even have a soul to barter with.

I love that there's still tension here -- and a lot of very subtle interaction between all the characters -- about the differences between maidenhood, motherhood, crone-hood, and death. Honestly, it's the driving force of the show, and I'm still very thrilled to see how exactly it plays out for Fiona, who's seeking so desperately to avoid embracing old age and inevitable death.

And then of course, right as I'm composing my #TeamNan tweets, Nan just has to go "hear" the baby that Marie took (in another should-be scary but totally wasn't scene) for Papa Legba. BFFs Marie and Fiona decide that instead of killing the innocent child, they'd just kill mostly-innocent Nan, eliminating a potential next Supreme and pleasing Papa. Papa goes for it after some persuading, and he walks hand-in-hand with Nan to the great beyond.

We leave the episode with another reminder that STEVIE'S STILL GOT IT EVERYBODY, JUST LISTEN TO THIS SONG, SEE? SEE?!, but we also leave with the question of whether Nan is really gone, whether this truce will hold up between BFFs Fiona and Marie, the question of who the next Supreme is, how this crone business will finally play out, and, well, honestly too, the question of how disappointing this final showdown with Fortune 500 Witch-Hunters INC will likely go.

My biggest worry? That the show is losing its way this season. I'm seeing a breakdown in purpose and directing. Characters are turning to bitchy power-battles that strikes me as more reinforcing gender stereotypes than overcoming them. In terms of the directing, I feel like this focus on making the show lighter and more accessible is missing opportunities for some really dark, sexy filmmaking. You don't have to go back on the original lighter plan, but incorporate some creeps as you go. Hook people in. Show them what real stylized scares can do. Papa Legba should have been a fist pumping achievement rather than a shrug.

No, perhaps my biggest worry is that I'm this worried with three episodes left. But I've said it before and I'll say it again. I'm still feeling really good about this season, and the quickly-coming end.

But those are just my thoughts, and I'm still awfully torn. Loved this episode? Hated it? Let me know what you think in the comments down below!

"American Horror Story" airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on FX and continues next Wednesday, Jan. 15, with "Protect the Coven."


kristen jane said...

Karl, great review and I completely agree this episode fell short. With all the attention Stevie was drawing to it I was expecting a thrilling, hell yes, classic AHS feel type episode and it was definitely a disappointment in that way. Wanted to point out, if you didn't know, "Players only love you when they're playin' " is a Fleetwood Mac lyric. Stevie's performance wasn't all that though, like you said. The one thing I can't believe you didn't mention (did you?) was the mice/cops scene which I thought was shot beautifully and was almost my favorite part. Aside from, "Stick it in your vagina." :) #teamnanindeed

p.s. - unfortunately still getting into your first book and I realize after following you on twitter I'm doubly behind since you have two! I was planning to shout out once I finished it with the praise I'm sure I will have. Great to see you having success ;)