'American Horror Story: Coven' Review: "The Sacred Taking"

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'American Horror Story: Coven' returns from its brief Thanksgiving hiatus tonight with an all-new episode -- in "The Sacred Taking," when a new enemy emerges, the coven rallies with Misty to perform a ritual that will hopefully allow them to defeat Fiona and crown a new Supreme. Meanwhile, Queenie continues to align herself with Marie Laveau, whose rivalry with Madame LaLaurie comes to a bloody head. 

Tonight's episode of 'Coven' apparently comes in fits from the 90s. There's the weird 'New Jack City' showdown opening between Queenie and the white witches as Queenie cuts out the heart of a vagrant rapist, promising -- like they're street gangs, and I'm into it -- that New Orleans is only big enough for one magic crew.

And then there's the plot from which the episode takes its title, which calls to mind the climax from 'The Craft,' in which a few witches gang up on one of their own in an effort to get her to go nuts and kill herself. When a mysterious killer (it's Hank, obviously) scares Misty and Myrtle out of their Stevie Nicks Swamp Sanctuary (patent pending), Cordelia uses the opportunity to rally the girls together for a ritual known as the Sacred Taking. There's a great black and white flashback to Salem, where we get to see the ritual as it was used for the first time. We find out that it's only called upon in dire circumstances, a form of early retirement for an acting Supreme in which she is sacrificed so that the new Supreme can take the throne ahead of her scheduled time.

And oh, Myrtle Snow, please don't ever leave us again. It's only Myrtle who can imagine the plight of the poor Salem witches, traveling by covered wagon down to New Orleans without the luxury of charcuterie platters and bidets. These things matter!

For all of its weird, regressive 90s moments, "The Sacred Taking" features some real delightful stuff from our actresses, which proves once again that, if nothing else, Ryan Murphy and Co. know how to write for these women. Even at its worst, 'American Horror Story' is an actress' show, and scenes like Madison tricking Fiona into believing she's the new Supreme are so fun to watch. Emma Roberts just relishes those lines with an old fashioned movie star quality that plays especially well off of Jessica Lange.

We also get a return visit from Spalding this week, whose spirit (and voice) are sticking around to let Fiona know she was tricked. You know Fiona isn't going to go out with some weak suicide business, though the somber moments between her and Myrtle, as she contemplates the reality of what life she has left, are quite striking. Look, it takes a lot each week to buy into the way these characters flip their alliances on a dime, and by the end of the episode, Cordelia and Fiona are laughing off the murder plot over a cup of coffee like it's no big deal. And I get it to an extent -- Hank and Laveau are a much bigger threat, and one that needs to see them as a united front, but the threat of Laveau has been working against them all season. What 'Coven' has lacked is some consistency, and I think part of that problem has been in some basic character writing. Fiona and Laveau have remained our only real, consistent characters, while girls like Queenie and Zoe are shifted around like malleable pieces from week to week.

And poor Nan! Losing Luke (and his mom, but whatever) to the mystery sniper (again, this is obviously Hank -- no idea why they are hiding it) just when she found someone who accepted her. Poor Nan who just doesn't understand why she can't be the Supreme -- talk about outcasts. No one gives Nan the time of day around that place. She's the most tragic character on 'Coven' because she has the biggest heart, the most understanding and empathy, and she's smarter than any of them realize. They take her for granted so much, but she's worth more than all of them combined. Just because she's not as powerful as them doesn't make her any less relevant. I think the way Nan is written might be some of the better, more subtle writing Murphy has produced this season, and I hope Jamie Brewer is able to return for future 'AHS' outings.

As for Queenie, she's unfortunately become a weaker character than I had hoped. She sneaks LaLaurie a hamburger this week and LaLaurie tries to appeal to their once-budding friendship. "What did I ever do to you," she asks, "Did you not like my chicken pot pies?" Well, maybe it's all those slaves you tortured and murdered, and no amount of chicken pot pies and peach cobbler is going to make up for that. Of course, when Laveau enters the room, the old LaLaurie returns with her racist language and mocking tone, defying the voodoo priestess. You can't help but wonder: did she ever really change, or is she simply just trying to get Laveau to kill her once and for all by pushing her over the edge? I'd like to think it's the latter. I think Queenie hopes for that, too. As for LaLaurie, her head winds up in a box, delivered to Miss Robichaux's, but since this is 'AHS,' I'm sure her head's going to keep on livin'.

One last thing: Did Luke's mom seriously give him an Ajax enema? Is that a thing? Or did someone come up with that idea? What kind of research went into this?! Of all the horrors on 'AHS,' this might be the worst in the show's history. The worst.

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