‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Review: “The Seven Wonders”
Tonight brings the season finale of ‘American Horror Story: Coven,’ as the girls embark on the long-awaited and highly-anticipated Seven Wonders test to finally discover who will be the new Supreme. Given the wishy-washy nature of this season, it really is anyone’s title at this point. Just give it to Myrtle already.
Of course Myrtle would organize an extravagant Last Supper with caviar on dainty little blinis. You know, as much as I’ve enjoyed the fierceness of Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett, and the beautiful presence of recurring ‘AHS’ stars Lily Rabe and Sarah Paulson, I have to say that Frances Conroy is probably this season’s MVP. She just understands the campy qualities of this season like no one else, while younger stars like Taissa Farmiga sort of stumble through it a little too earnestly. Conroy gives a master class in eccentricity and high camp, and later when she’s asked to be burned at the stake for murdering her fellow council members and her final word is a robust cry of “BALENCIAGA,” I think that just about sealed the deal for me. Frances Conroy for season 4, please.
Anyway! You’re all here to talk about the Seven Wonders, which were actually sort of fun. The finale opens with a cheesy montage in the vein of a 90s TV show (this season has sometimes fallen back on that tone — look no further than Zoe’s ‘Blossom’ hats), as Stevie Nicks sings a “Seven Wonders” tune and wanders through the house as the girls study and perform little magic tricks before wishing them “good luck.” It’s seriously like a dream sequence Ryan Murphy must have had in 1992.
The girls go on to participate in the tests, which start out simple enough with telekinesis and mind control, getting in little feisty jabs and playing pranks on each other, releasing all those pent-up frustrations. But things take a turn when we lose poor Misty, who gets lost in her own personal Hell during the Concilium test. Hers is perhaps the saddest of all, giving us a final peek into her history where she brought a dead lab frog back to life in school only to be forced by her teacher to kill it — and in her version of Hell, she must relive this moment over and over again for eternity.
But the big twist of the night is that — surprise — the real Supreme was Cordelia all along. When Madison refuses to revive Zoe (whom she likely killed during the transmutation test anyway), Myrtle insists that Cordelia take the Seven Wonders herself. Madison fails at Divination, and Kyle kills her for letting Zoe die. But it’s ‘Coven,’ so people only really die half the time and Zoe is back in no time. There’s a throwaway bit where Murphy and Co. seem to remember that, oh yeah, the Supreme is supposed to have perfect, glowing health, so Cordelia’s eyes are magically restored when she revives Zoe because hey, magic or whatever.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ‘Asylum’ finale, which I felt was a little limp in comparison to the episodes leading up to it. In contrast, the back-half of this season of ‘Coven’ hasn’t quite matched the first half of the season in terms of imagery and tone. ‘AHS’ isn’t a show that’s consistent (and if you’re looking for consistency, Ryan Murphy is not your man) in terms of structure, tone, narrative, or quality, but that’s part of what makes it so damn fun to watch. While I love witches and I love the campy qualities of this season, part of what’s made it so great to watch is the performances from the older actresses, not so much the themes, which are weaker in comparison to those of ‘Asylum,’ which felt like it was actually saying something more meaningful (at times. I do remember the aliens, okay?). ‘Coven’ shoehorns some stuff in the finale about being “born this way” and women who have been suppressed, and I suppose those themes have always been at the surface all along, but Cordelia delivers them in an interview to a TV crew (“Up Next: Liza Minnelli Talks About Her Hip!”), which also calls to mind the wrap-up from ‘Asylum.’ It’s a platform within a platform, as if to make sure we know this a moment where a a message is being delivered in a tidy little package.
The best stuff, by far, is the final moment between Cordelia and Fiona, who makes a haunting reappearance. Their dialogue contemplates a mutually exhaustive relationship between mother and child: as children we fear repeating the mistakes of our parents, and as they get older they remind us of our own mortality, but that road goes both ways and can often create a toxic environment. We all love to believe that when a baby is born it’s this beautiful moment where a new life is created, but there’s a duplicity in that moment as it’s also a reminder of our eventual death. A mother gives so much of her life both figuratively and literally so that a child can exist, and ‘Coven’ contemplates a more magical interpretation of that concept, which has often been intermingled with notions of the young replacing the old, and the increasingly limited space there is for older women in pop culture.
The final moment between Cordelia and Fiona isn’t exactly subtle (but when is ‘AHS’ ever subtle?), but it is beautiful, and Lange gives it her all before slipping away to reveal that this is her personal version of Hell — a Hell where every night she dreams of making peace with the daughter she pushed aside, and awakens to life in a country shack with the Axeman, who brings her fresh catfish and smothers her with love (after smacking her around a bit). It’s a more fitting conclusion for Fiona than simply being murdered by her suitor, and meanwhile, the Coven does more than survive, as Cordelia says: it’s thriving. Miss Robichaux’s has opened its doors to tons of new witches (or girls auditioning to members of Haim), and Cordelia reigns Supreme.