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‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Review: “Fearful Pranks Ensue”

American Horror Story Coven Fearful Pranks Ensue
FX

On this week’s all-new episode of ‘American Horror Story: Coven,’ we meet the enigmatic and previously hidden Council of Witchcraft, who visit the school to investigate the death of Madison. Meanwhile, Fiona’s visit to Marie Laveau has rekindled a decades-old war between the Salem witches and the Voodoo queen. Also this week: Spalding attends a tea party!

First of all, we have to address Spalding. Denis O’Hare has been skulking quietly in the background for weeks now, but in “Fearful Pranks Ensue,” he finally gets something more substantial to do. The flashbacks peppered throughout this week’s episode offer handy explanations and motivations for some of our characters, but we also learn that it was Myrtle Snow’s (Francis Conroy, ripping up that scenery) truth spell that forced him to slice off his own tongue. Spalding spends this week having fancy tea parties with his collection of dolls while dressed in his finest lady nightgown and bonnet, hugging a scarecrow, and dressing Madison up like his best doll yet. It’s comedic in how off-putting and unexpected it is, but it’s also kind of sad. Spalding is real lonely, you guys. After years of watching young witches come and go (and some even die), and being abandoned by Fiona (the woman he loves), Spalding has made friends that will never leave him.

Another great flashback this week occurs in the opening scene, in which Marie Laveau summons zombies (hearkening back to their origins in Voodoo culture) to take revenge on the white men who killed the son of her coworker. The scenes in which we get to watch Marie do her Voodoo magic are intense and engaging, and she’s serious about this zombie business. It may be 1961 and JFK may be president, but racial tensions have yet to cease … and in 2013, they’re still alive and well, exacerbated when Fiona sends Bastien’s minotaur head back to Marie in a box. That zombie opening was, obviously, foreshadowing for the hell Marie unleashes later, as Fiona and Cordelia sit oblivious in a bar, drinking after their meeting with the Council.

Speaking of the Council, they arrive this week to investigate Madison’s death, and thanks to Myrtle’s history with Fiona, she’s got a score to settle. It’s great to see more of young Fiona, even if the actress portraying her has a hard time pulling off Jessica Lange (who could?!), though she feels a bit more natural this week. Earlier, we watch as Spalding rolls Madison up in the rug, her shoes sticking out like a modern version of the Wicked Witch of the East, smothered by the house. “If she’s dead, it’s probably because she got wasted and offered the grim reaper a hand job or something,” Queenie helpfully offers while recovering from her minotaur wounds. (Side note: can we give Quentin the “vicious old queen” his own spin-off show?)

The Council is pretty easy to shake off, but not so easy to shake off is the revelation that, as I previously predicted, Madison is not the new Supreme, as the Supreme would have glowing health, and Madison had a heart murmur. Flashbacks seem to indicate that I was also correct in assuming that there can be more than one Supreme candidate — I’m fascinated by the way the Supreme is elected and the “tests” she must take to win her rightful place. Juxtaposing the 1971 Miss Robichaux’s against the modern-day school shows us that while the numbers of witches have dwindled, things have grown more chaotic over the last 40 years. I’m still placing my bets on Misty as new Supreme, and I can’t wait to see how she’s further incorporated into the main story.

It doesn’t take infidelity to teach us that Cordelia’s husband, Hank, is a douche — he met his mistress in an online community devoted to people who collect Thomas Kinkade paintings. So he’s also a tasteless douche. But even worse than that: he’s a murderous douche. Either he’s a hired hitman (and why would he kill this simple, homegrown girl who loves canned soup and hates sushi? And why would he sleep with her?), or he’s just an adulterous psycho. Either way, he’s kind of a creep. We’re seeing a culmination of events that are going to lead Cordelia down a very dark path, and her husband’s affair isn’t going to stay hidden for long.

Cap that off with the acid tossed in her face at the end of the episode by a hooded stranger (a servant of Laveau? Someone else?), and Cordelia isn’t so much being pushed to the dark side as she is being straight-up thrown over the edge.

Unfortunately, the Kyle-Zoe story line gets the short end of the broomstick this week — Kyle learns to speak for the first time, bangs his head against a tub out of grief, guilt, confusion, or all three, and then Zoe tries to feed him a bowl of rat poison. Bloody Kyle runs off before she can, though, and disappears onto a street filled with trick-or-treaters. Maybe he went back to Misty, where he feels safe and protected. This story is kind of a dud this week, aside from Zoe asking if Kyle is hungry, which just seems super silly since the guy barely has motor skills.

This week’s episode is thoroughly entertaining, from Lange’s exquisite performance which volleys between sympathetic and fiercely extravagant bad-bitch, to all the sweet, sweet zombie action. I’m not entirely sold on this stuff with Hank yet (in a show that’s already weird, this feels extra weird), and Kyle probably could’ve sat this week out since by the end of the episode, even Zoe seems to have forgotten about him disappearing.

One last note: Nan continues to be really adorable, as her sexy neighbor brings over some cookies just before LaLaurie’s dead daughters — now zombies, resurrected by Laveau — show up at the door. More Nan! Always more Nan!

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