American Horror Story: Coven – the autopsy

Did the writers go astray, or was the whole show a goof?

What was it with American Horror Story: Coven? I could never look away, as much as I wanted to. It was like driving past an accident where you hope to get a glimpse of the burning wreckage.

CovenThe show had a lot going for it. Top-notch cast. Heavy buzz. Solid premise: a coven of witches under attack in New Orleans. That premise alone is overflowing with possibilities.

But sadly it failed to live up to its promise.

The finale gave us a glimpse of what American Horror Story: Coven could have been. The finale involved the selection of a new supreme witch after the reigning supreme, the narcissistic and evil Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), was supposedly chopped up by her demonic lover and fed to the swamp creatures. After the selection process, the new supreme turned out to be none other than Fiona’s weak-willed daughter Cordelia (Sarah Paulson).

In one of the final scenes Fiona returns. It turns out she faked her death to draw out the new supreme and then hopefully kill her. But Fiona was by then severely weakened. This scene between mother and daughter relayed a complicated, damaged dynamic. If only the show had focused more on this, it would have had a solid footing. It could have been a case study of power, family, good vs evil.

But what we got instead was some unholy mess that bordered on farce.

Exhibit A: next-door-neighbor Joan Ramsey, a religious cliche who gave her grown son bleach enemas (?!?)

Exhibit B: Madame LaLaurie, a sadistic southern slave-owning madam from the 1800s, lalauriecursed to eternal life, who at one point was just a severed head singing (the context doesn’t make it better). LaLaurie goes from rich woman to prisoner to maid to severed body parts, and is then magically reassembled by Queenie, only to have her immortality revoked by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Everything about this character was a fail.

Exhibit C: Young witches Madison and Zoe resurrect Kyle after Madison kills him and his date-rapist fraternity brothers. Kyle spends the rest of the season moaning Frankenstein-style, eventually becoming the Coven’s attack dog/butler. What was the point?

Exhibit D: The previous butler, Spalding, collected dolls and likes to dress as a doll. Oh, and he was missing his tongue for the first half of the season. It was hidden in a box in a closet.

Exhibit E: Cordelia, the witch who became supreme, was so weak and pitiful throughout the eyescordshow that she stabbed her own eyes out (well, not her own eyes…long story) to regain powers that never materialized. Then, in the space of ten minutes she’s suddenly the most powerful witch.

Exhibit F: Death? What’s that?

–Madison: throat slit by Fiona, and resurrected by Misty, then strangled by Kyle

coven–Zoe: impaled on an iron fence and resurrected by Cordelia

–Kyle: killed in a horrific bus crash thanks to Madison and resurrected by Madison and Zoe

–Misty: burned at the stake and resurrected by her own self, then buried alive by Madison, then resurrected by Queenie (sort of — it was unclear how dead she was), then turned to ashes

–Queenie: killed by her own hand (long story), then somehow resurrected (she just shows up alive again and rattles off a 3-second explanation)

–Myrtle: burned at the stake by Fiona, then resurrected by Misty, only to be burned at the stake by Cordelia (after insisting on it (!?!))

–Joan Ramsey: gunned down as collateral damage by the witch hunters, then resurrected by Misty, then killed by mind-controlling Nan (forced to drink bleach) after smothering her enema-clean son (whose ashes told Nan what happened)

Exhibit G: Stevie Nicks showed up for a couple of episodes, as herself, a white witch. She sang and she twirled around. Whatever.

I could go on and on. I won’t. The bottom line: American Horror Story: Coven could have been great. It had an award-winning cast and a solid premise. But the most promising subplots (the witch hunting group, the Axeman) were pushed aside or minimized. Instead, the writers chose camp over coherence.

American Horror Story: Coven — the last gasp

Is it a good TV show gone bad, or was it never as good as the hype?

American Horror Story CovenOnly one episode left in this season of American Horror Story: Coven. I’ve seen every one. The first few game me some hope. The series had a top-notch cast, some clever ideas, and, most importantly, it is one of the few shows that focuses on horror.

But, the writing… boy oh boy. Sometimes you need to just give up¬†on a TV show. I didn’t.

It’s not all bad. Jessica Lange’s Fiona Goode, the supreme witch, the head of the coven, is lucky. Her character has the best storyline. Her path through villainy is compelling, and Lange is skilled enough to underplay the camp that weighs down the series.

Fiona’s relationship with her daughter Cordelia, a witch who is much weaker than her mother, is compelling and complex. Watching Fiona battle cancer, the loss of her power, mortality, all the while remaining a villain is the highlight of the show for me.

There are several other characters on American Horror Story: Coven who are rich enough to keep my attention: most notably fellow witches Misty Day and Myrtle Snow, and Cordelia’s duplicitous husband Hank Foxx. Even the Axeman, a murderous musician, is 3-dimensional enough to keep me interested.

Most of the other characters, however, are either flat or downright annoying. There’s Madame LaLaurie, the psychotic noblewoman played by Kathy Bates (annoying), and Angela Bassett’s Marie Laveau (one-note). Though their final (joined) fates were well done.

The plotting is a lesson in absurdity. Characters die and are brought back to life. When death is not final it holds no power to shock or disturb. Fiona was supposedly killed. I’d be shocked if she didn’t reappear¬†in the final episode.

American Horror Story: Coven is a show with no internal logic. From the beginning of the season it was emphasized that witches were in danger of dying out — they were being killed off. But in a recent episode, supreme witch Fiona claimed that the process to identify the new supreme would inevitably kill some of the girls. How does killing witches help strengthen the coven?

That is bad writing.

During the course of the season we got to meet the group responsible for hunting the witches down. With just one episode left, I would be rooting for them to kill every last one of these witches, even the so-called good ones. Unfortunately the writers screwed up again. An organization that spent centuries hunting witches had no way to protect themselves against witchcraft, and they were wiped out in the course of a single episode. you would think that such a group would know how to protect themselves.

Logic be damned. Then again, maybe I was expecting too much.