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‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Review: “Head”

American Horror Story Coven Head
FX

On tonight’s new episode of ‘American Horror Story: Coven,’ Fiona reaches out to Marie Laveau to repair their truce and unite against a common enemy, while we get to learn a little bit more about said enemy’s history. Meanwhile, Cordelia takes Misty under her wing, Nan uncovers a dark secret about Luke’s mother (big surprise there), and Myrtle makes excellent use of a melon-baller. Also, there is a dog.

We’re at the point with ‘Coven’ where each episode is introducing new elements that just raise more and more questions about the logic behind them — and this is a show that doesn’t really run on the same kind of logic mechanics that other shows do, which is kind of why it succeeds, but also why it sometimes fails. File “Witch Hunters Corporation” under “Uh, what.” Like last week’s Ajax enema, I have many questions about this witch hunters corporation: How does it make money and remain financially viable? Are we to assume that a bunch of rich dudes are just throwing money at this thing because of tradition? I mean, if so, stranger things have happened when rich folks get together with a bunch of money. What is the purpose of killing witches? Since all of the witches are dying out, what will they hunt when witches are extinct? Werewolves? Oh god, please don’t make that the next season of ‘AHS.’ I’d rather watch one about evil mermaids living in gothic underwater sea castles and fighting inbred snake-people (Ryan Murphy, talk to me. I have ideas).

I guess it seems pretty obvious from Hank’s dad that this fight against witches has been going on since Salem, when their ancestors founded this business, which has now grown into a giant corporation with mahogany desks and corporate policies and handbooks and structure, Hank, damn you. I bet they even have a human resources department. I’d love to know what those complaints are all about.

But what I really love this week, in a mournful way, is how the privileged white man with the daddy issues (don’t they all) is the common enemy, which is how I felt way back when it was revealed that Hank was working “for” Marie Laveau. He could never truly be working for her, and as much as it seemed like a clever idea that a black Voodoo priestess would use a white man — whose people have subjugated her people in both race and gender — for her own purposes, turning him against a group of white women, who in turn had also done Laveau and her people wrong … he’s still who he is: a man who had his mind made up for him long ago. Whether it’s to prove his worth to his father or because of his nature or because of both, Hank’s gun was already locked and loaded, both figuratively and literally. Do I think this is sly social commentary about sexism and prejudice in privileged white men, both innate and nurtured?

Not particularly — it’s about as subtle as Myrtle serving melon balls to the council members before using the melon-baller to yank their eyes out to gift to Cordelia. I’m going to kind of miss Cordelia from ‘The Beyond,’ and although she lost her awesome second sight power, she still gets to keep those rad scars. And this week she gets to hang out with Misty, listen to Stevie Nicks, and play with herbs and potions in their own little Hogwarts greenhouse.

But that’s just a brief moment of respite in an otherwise bleak and mournful episode. Tonight we say farewell to Queenie, who sacrifices herself with a gunshot to the head when Hank — in a last-ditch attempt to prove his masculinity, and his worth as a son and a witch hunter (and also, in part, to prove himself to Cordelia when she rejects him one last time) — barges into Marie Laveau’s salon and starts shooting everyone. It’s an infuriating sequence for a few reasons, both as a narrative choice and as a piece of fiction.

It’s frustrating because the white guy walks into Marie Laveau’s beauty shop, just hours after she had the upper hand, using a Voodoo doll to torture him, and yet he somehow wipes out a bunch of her people. If only Laveau’s Voodoo group and Fiona’s coven could overcome their differences for the sake of a common enemy who has been screwing both of them over for centuries. Like, maybe they need Oprah.

As a narrative choice, the editing for this sequence is kind of uncomfortable, and not in the way that ‘AHS’ usually makes me so gleefully uncomfortable (like last week’s Ajax enema — words I will never stop delighting in putting together, and am now able to understand how someone could possibly come up with that idea) — using Odetta’s post-Civil War song  ”Oh, Freedom,” the scene cuts back and forth between Hank shooting up Laveau’s shop and Madame LaLaurie’s head on a table, where Queenie has left her to watch a montage of Civil Rights videos set to this very song after an eight-hour marathon of ‘Roots.’

We’ve been meant to sympathize so much with LaLaurie this season, and we shouldn’t. And I think Kathy Bates is doing incredible work at making us sympathize in some small measure with someone with whom we would never, in a real-life scenario, ever be able to sympathize. Bates is good at these difficult sorts of characters, and it’s exactly why only she could play this part and no one else. So I don’t fault her, but I do fault the writing for asking us to sympathize with her at all in the first place, and I think they’re trying to do an about-face here in the back-half by showing us that she could never really change who she is, no matter how many fast food burgers Queenie shares with her or how many hours of ‘Roots’ she’s forced to watch. Watching the tears roll down her severed head as she listens to “Oh, Freedom,” I think we’re meant to understand that it’s finally starting to sink into her thick skull, but there’s just no way that LaLaurie — after all the atrocities she’s committed against people in her lifetime and all the prejudice she’s cut so deeply into herself — is going to ever fully change.

But having this horrific scene cut back and forth to this absurd severed head with this very important piece of music playing, while Laveau’s people are being murdered, and LaLaurie’s head is sitting there on a table, crying … is all of this supposed to be deep and contemplative? Because it’s just kind of silly with Bates’ head there, undercutting everything else. Especially when Angela Bassett gives one hell of an incredible “Did you seriously just shoot me in the arm” face.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this big climactic sequence, but there were other things that happened because this is ‘AHS’ and it’s not an episode unless at least 16 different things happen. Nan seems like a miracle to Luke’s grieving mother when she can tell her what Luke is saying and feeling in his coma, until apparently God tells Luke (God. Tells. Luke.) that his mom killed his dad with bees (‘Wicker Man’ deleted scene-style). It’s all really sad because it seems like Nan might have been able to find some common ground with this woman and finally have some small measure of happiness, but then Luke has to go and wake up and open his mouth and now he’s been smothered by a pillow. Bye, Luke. At least we’re starting to trim some of the excess fat. It’s just too bad that it has to come at Nan’s expense because I love her so, so much.

Also, Fiona brings a guard dog home, which Franken-Kyle promptly kills with excitement and love. But Fiona fixed him for the most part so now she has someone to play cards with, but also he can be their guard dog. A sexy guard dog that Zoe and Madison have a three-way relationship with, but at least now he can spell … so, what’s worse? Having sex with a kind of dead guy with the mental faculties of a three year old with PTSD, or having sex with an intelligent family pet?

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