'American Horror Story: Coven' Review: "The Axeman Cometh"

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Danny Huston guest stars on tonight's all-new episode of 'American Horror Story: Coven' as an axe-wielding psychopath whose spirit still haunts the academy. But that's not all -- Kyle finally returns, and so does Madison (in a way), as the Stevie Nicks-obsessed Misty is finally integrated into the group. Meanwhile, Cordelia's jerk of a husband has yet another secret. Does this guy know how to quit? 

Hey, someone finally cleaned all the grease off of the camera lens this week! Gone is that troublesome, hack-y tilt shift, so we can focus on all the craziness with real clarity this week. Danny Huston just sort of makes sense in the world of 'American Horror Story' -- the guy can pull off some serious camp, and his portrayal of a jazz-obsessed axe murderer is pretty snazzy. Unfortunately, the flashback to 1919 (as much as I enjoy this show's flashbacks) doesn't cohere with the rest of the episode, and the resurgence of the Axeman serves only to further highlight both Cordelia and Zoe's powers. While there is a nice dichotomy at play (Cordelia's second sight can puts her in a terrifying position with the spirit, while Zoe intuits the correct vanquishing spell from a shelf of books), I'm not sure what the endgame is with this character -- is this a set-up for something more long-term? Do we really need another psycho on the loose? We don't even know who really blinded Cordelia yet!

But let's talk about the really cool stuff this week -- turns out jerk-face Hank is even more of a jerk than we thought. He's been working for Marie Laveau as a witch-hunter, using Cordelia and the academy to track down the descendants of Salem and murder them. (Getting laid seems to be just one of the perks.) This development transforms Hank from a simple adulterer and murderer into a more important piece in an overall plot -- an overall plot that this season has been lacking. But this bit of treachery involving Hank and Marie is also brilliant, and one of the few times that 'AHS' doesn't feel the need to do some thematic head-bludgeoning. The world of 'Coven' speaks to the persecution and marginalization of women (witches), racism, and this excellent struggle going on within those margins as a black woman fights white women for supremacy. It's been kind of amazing, and I only wish we'd get more of Laveau. But back to Hank -- in this world, as a reflection on our own, who's more powerful than the privileged white male? So how delightful is it to see Laveau exploiting such an average, privileged white man like Hank? And then she sets him against her enemy -- the white women -- when Hank is for all intents and purposes their common enemy due to his inherent privilege.

Look, I'm not saying 'AHS' is that deep, but it is definitely a clever little maneuver and I have no doubt that Ryan Murphy and Co. know exactly what they're doing by having Hank work for Laveau this way. It's not a show about subtlety, that's for damn sure, and I wouldn't put it past them to have Cordelia or Fiona give some speech summarizing the thematic purpose of this ploy when Hank's true agency is revealed -- after all, this is a show that's had to remind us twice of the thematic importance and irony of Cordelia losing her sight only to gain a "second sight" power.

(We also learn more about the redhead, played by season 1's Alexandra Breckenridge -- she was a witch who declined attending the academy; she thinks she has a good shot at finding a husband and having three kids because she works out and plays fantasy football.)

Misty finally gets more integrated into the show, and I love to see her at her swamp-home, smearing mud on things and watering Myrtle back to life like she's a garden. Franken-Kyle also returns (but does anyone really care anymore?) and has a PTSD freak-out when Misty tries to bathe him, smashing her stereo to pieces ("He broke Stevie." Poor Misty). When Zoe and the girls find Madison's body in Spalding's tea party attic, they have Misty come over to revive her, but Misty declines Zoe's invitation to stay at the academy because she gets "bad vibes" from the place. I'm even more into Misty when she raids the fridge and stuffs some bagels in her purse on her way out the door of the Bad Vibes Academy for Girls.

So now Zoe is stuck with the useless Kyle, Spalding's secret attic is no longer a secret, and Madison is alive and looking more so by the minute -- though she's having a hard time recalling just how she died. And Myrtle should be healed up pretty soon thanks to Misty's magic swamp restoratives, which she should probably start bottling and selling on the roadside with some peaches or something.

In other news, Fiona has started her cancer treatment, hoping to put her cancer -- as well as her own bad vibes -- into remission, and make up for lost good-mothering time with her daughter. Unfortunately, the end of the episode finds her in a bar with the Axeman himself, but I'm not too worried about her. She's a tough old broad.

One last thing: what kind of New Orleans jazz music is this? I didn't think Kenny G. was even allowed down there.

 

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