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‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Review: “Burn, Witch. Burn!”

American Horror Story Coven Burn Witch Burn
FX

On tonight’s all-new episode of ‘American Horror Story: Coven,’ Marie Laveau does a mean cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” inspiring Zoe to discover a new power — could she be the new Supreme after all? Speaking of which, Fiona and Myrtle continue their fierce battle over control of the coven following the zombie outbreak and last week’s attack on poor Cordelia. “Burn, Witch. Burn!” is a sloppy hour of ‘American Horror Story,’ but even the lackluster episodes provide some shining moments — and I’m not just talking about more of Spalding’s delightfully wacky attic adventures (Denis O’Hare’s reaction to the suggestion that they hide in the attic during the zombie siege is priceless).

The stuff in the hospital as Fiona sits by, helpless to heal Cordelia is great and only marred by some misguided direction this week. Any time Alfonso Gomez-Rejon isn’t at the helm this season, I find myself longing for his dizzying, gorgeous camerawork. Seems that every other director this season is married to the haphazard tilt shift that makes most shots look like the camera lens is smeared carelessly with grease. I digress. Fiona, by her own admission, hasn’t been the mother Cordelia’s needed, and as her powers dwindle so do her selfish distractions. It nicely reflects the way that, as we get older and our life force (or power) slips away, we start to see what’s truly important. And so Fiona, in a prescription pill-addled haze, does a good witch deed and revives the stillborn baby of a hospital patient (played by former ‘Boardwalk Empire’ star Meg Chambers Steedle — hasn’t Billie Kent suffered enough?). Also, having the lights flicker in the hospital wherever Fiona went was a nice touch.

Similarly, Madame LaLaurie wasn’t the mother she needed to be to her own daughters — though her deeds were far more horrific than anything Fiona could inflict on Cordelia. Via flashback we visit LaLaurie’s house of horrors on Hallow’s Eve and watch as she forces one of her daughter’s suitors to endure true horror (the eyeballs and intestines culled gruesomely from her slaves), inspiring her daughters to toy with the idea of committing matricide — and gosh, you kind of don’t even blame them at this point. But of course LaLaurie sees and knows all, and sends her daughters up to the attic to be tortured alongside the slaves. So it kind of makes sense that they’d still want to kill her, even if they are brain-dead zombies now.

I love the work Kathy Bates is doing even if this whole zombie attack is a little unfocused. Bates strives to find humanity in LaLaurie, which isn’t an easy feat given her incredibly inhumane past. Can someone like that ever find redemption? No, probably not, but she can try, and she does find some small sense of peace when she kills her zombie daughter in the “only act of kindness” she ever bestowed upon her.

Also great this week is the discovery of new powers! Zoe is able to stop Marie Laveau’s voodoo trance over the zombies, unwittingly discovering a new, cool power in the process (and giving us some ‘Evil Dead’ homage action with that chainsaw), but I’m more interested in Cordelia’s new power — especially given that Zoe manifesting new powers and becoming the Supreme is kind of expected by now. In the real world, when someone is blinded, their other senses are heightened — that seems to work in interesting ways when you’re a witch. Now that Cordelia has lost her sight, her mind’s eye is wide open, creating a sort of telepathic connection and allowing her to see Hank’s transgressions. We also get the hint that maybe Fiona doesn’t really know the extent of what he’s been doing on his little work trips because if she did, there’s no way he’d be breathing right now.

What doesn’t work in this episode is the showdown (yet again) between Fiona and Myrtle and the witch council. As much as I love seeing Francis Conroy and Jessica Lange tear into each other with their little snipes, and as clever as Fiona’s was in framing Myrtle, there’s something disjointed about this scene — actually, the whole episode is a little disjointed. Cutting away from the zombie action to visit Cordelia and Fiona’s story takes the sense of urgency right out of the whole thing, so that when we do get back to, say, Nan trying to bravely rescue Luke, it’s a little clumsy.

Also clumsy this week is the use of Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” as Myrtle is being led to the stake to burn for her crimes — the scene is shot beautifully, and just about better than anything else in this episode (until we get to the horrible CG fire) with its stark desert setting and so much light, open space, which contrasts nicely against all the tight, dark stuff up until that point. The song choice feels like a joke, like we’re watching the Quentin Tarantino version of a witch story (which, actually, I would totally be into).

Of course Myrtle won’t stay dead for long, as Misty’s emerged from her Stevie Nicks swamp to revive her. How does Misty know where they are? How does she sense that some wrong has been committed? I’m telling you guys, Misty is definitely a contender for Supreme. I just wish she’d quit hanging around the fringes (with all her fringe) and showing up sporadically to do cool stuff.

Noticeably absent this week: Franken-Kyle. But do we really care anymore?

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