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.
The 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, cursed 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 show 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
–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.