American Horror Story: Coven Season Review

Feb 05, 2014 No Comments by

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Another season, another delirious and delicious entry into the American Horror Story vault.  First, there was a haunted house.  Then there was an asylum of horrors.  Wrapping up season three last week, we were smack-dab in the middle of the only known modern-day Coven in the world.

There are many who will argue this past season of AHS was the best of the lot so far, and who am I to argue?  I will admit I’ve yet to see the first two seasons of the series.  However, there’s no denying good television.  So while I’ll let the AHS aficionados proclaim which season reigns supreme thus far, I will tell you why I thought American Horror Story: Coven was one of the best shows on television this year.

There seems to be a sudden boom in witchcraft throughout the country.  Young women are discovering they aren’t quite the same as their peers and there just so happens to be a looming mansion in N’awlins that would make a great boarding home for them.

We first meet Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga), a young lady who quickly learns that she causes any guy she has sex with to die a horrible, nasty death.  Her boyfriend hemorrhages horribly and dies, prompting Zoe’s mother to contact the coven to take her daughter.  Then there’s Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a Lindsay Lohan clone Hollywood star who’s rolling off the rails and just so happens to be able to move things with her mind.  Nan (Jamie Brewer) has Down syndrome and can hear the thoughts of others.  Season-stealer Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) is a human voodoo doll and the last descendent of one of the very few African-American witches from Salem.  Enter Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) who offers a safe haven for these young girls.

The girls are introduced to one another and it’s pretty clear from the get-go that there’s going to be plenty of drama boiling over throughout the season.  It all starts when it is discovered that a young woman named Misty Day (Lily Rabe) is burned at the stake by her own religiously fanatical town for possessing the ability to raise the dead—in her deadly case, a bird.

The rumors of witches in America are making the public nervous, thus bringing the coven’s supreme, the ultimate witch, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) to the coven to ensure the safety of the young witches.  It also happens that Fiona is Cordelia’s mother.  Of course, Fiona’s got an ulterior motive—a desperate struggle to regain her youth.  Rumor has it she can get it by killing her successor.

From there, the season spirals into a stairway straight to Hell.  The infamous Delphine LaLaurie (aced by the show-stopping Kathy Bates) is introduced as a woman who delights in mutilating and draining her slaves of their blood some 175 years ago.  Check it out—there’s a lot of factual detail fleshed into this character.  When LaLaurie is cursed by the heartbroken voodoo queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) and buried alive for all eternity, it’s Fiona who manages to locate the buried retch and dig her out with the hope of finding out just what has kept LaLaurie alive and preserved for so long.

Zoe and Madison attempt to become friends by going to a frat party one night.  Madison is gang-raped after being slipped a roofie and Zoe is clearly out of her comfort zone amongst macho college dudes.  She also knows what will happen if one of them tries to get too close. Following a very uncomfortable to watch rape of Madison, the frat boys attempt to ditch the party, only to have their bus flip thanks to Madison’s rage-infused powers.  All but one of the boys die—and he just so happens to be one of the rapists.  The frat leader, a handsome young fellow named Kyle (Evan Peters), had caught Zoe’s attention for being a well-grounded and respectful guy but he died in the accident.  This prompts Zoe to guilt Madison into performing a revival spell on Kyle’s mangled corpse at the morgue.  Thus, we have a teenaged Frankenstein who’s made whole by the torn limbs of his dead buddies.  Zoe does away with the lone survivor of the accident by riding him in his hospital bed until he basically implodes, blood pouring from his orifices and his heart monitor flat-lining.

Kyle is an interesting character in this season—he’s introduced as a warm-hearted guy who’s playing the macho card for his frat buddies and then becomes a mumbling, enraged zombie who slips in and out of the season.  We discover that his mother sexually molested him throughout his childhood, which prevents him from trusting Zoe but has his mind thinking it’s okay to be sexually ravaged by Madison until Zoe instills enough language skills and memory into him for the two to fall in love.

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Meanwhile, LaLaurie is brought into the mansion by Fiona while the supreme decides exactly what to do with her new 225-year old roommate.  Queenie discovers the racially insensitive and bigoted LaLaurie and Fiona punishes the slave-murderer by making her Queenie’s personal maid.  Watching LaLaurie suffer through current television reports of President Obama speaking during a State Of The Union makes for some comedic relief to just how ridiculous people’s mindsets were back then.

Cordelia means well but is struggling to maintain order within the coven, as she constantly fights to get out of the suffocating shadows of Fiona.  Cordelia is heartbroken when she learns that she’s unable to get pregnant, even with the aid of witchcraft and we soon find out that her husband Hank (Josh Hamilton) is traveling the country on business, cheating on his kind-hearted wife.

Alas, Hank isn’t just having sex with these women, he’s also killing them.  Why, you ask?  Oh yeah, because he’s the latest in a long line of witch hunters whose sole purpose in this day and age is to wipe out the remaining lineage of Salem and purify the Earth once and for all.  His adulterous targets are all witches that he’s assigned to kill.  Cordelia, of course, knows nothing of this somehow (I guess you never truly know your partner) and while Fiona has never liked Hank, even Fiona never seems to grasp the fact that Hank means serious business against her daughter and her coven.

Fiona eventually suspects that the spoiled starlet Madison is indeed the new supreme.  With a slice across the throat, Madison is killed and Fiona summons the help of awkward butler Spalding (Denis O’Hare) to get rid of the body.  Following the sudden disappearance of Madison, The Council of Witchcraft pays a visit to the coven to get to the bottom of the mystery.  This is where we’re introduced to three quirky witches, led by Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), who has a long-lasting grudge with Fiona.

Bad blood between Laveau and Fiona boils over when Laveau finds out Fiona has broken LaLaurie out of her coffin and Laveau declines to help Fiona with her quest for eternal youth.  It’s a fun, smarmy bitch-fest between two fantastic actresses who truly own their roles.

Meanwhile, Cordelia gets blinded in a heinous act of violence and the Council of Witchcraft returns to get to the bottom of the latest drama unfolding in the house.  It’s during this time that Fiona persuades the Council to conspire against Myrtle, charring her to a crisp at the stake.  It isn’t long before Myrtle is resurrected by the resurrected-herself Misty and the former Council member returns to the house to make sure Fiona gets what she deserves.

Zoe, Queenie and Nan decide to set aside any differences and use their powers to locate Madison.  What they do instead is summon the spirit of notorious real-life serial killer The Axe Man of New Orleans (Danny Huston).  Not only is this one of my all-time favorite real-life horror characters, but Huston absolutely stuns in the role. The Axe Man and Fiona develop a relationship, with The Axe Man not having been with a woman for over one hundred years and Fiona desperate to indulge in one last lustful affair before her inevitable demise.

When she learns that Fiona killed Madison, Zoe retrieves Madison’s body and reanimates her.  Thus, the awkward love triangle between Zoe, Madison and Kyle begins—because zombies need love, too, right?

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Queenie and her maid, LaLaurie, surprisingly begin to develop a softer relationship and LaLaurie convinces Queenie that she’ll never be fully accepted by the all-white coven.  Queenie decides to meet with Marie Laveau and aligns herself with the voodoo practitioners after naively handing LaLaurie back over to Laveau.

Hank the Witchhunter is stalking all of them giving Laveau and Fiona finally common ground on some sort of truce—all witches are targets of the witch hunters.  Meanwhile, Myrtle gets her brutal revenge on her fellow Council members by plucking out one eye from each of them and presenting them to Cordelia bestowing her sight back.  Sure, Myrtle is an undeniable murderer now, but at least Cordelia as her sight back, right?  Wrong!  Because with the new set of eyes comes the loss of Cordelia’s awesome power of being able to see people’s pasts simply by touching them.  D’oh!

Hank stomps into the wrong hair dressing shop and opens fire on the voodoo witches who work there.  Laveau escapes easily, and while Queenie is shot in the stomach, she manages to use her voodoo doll powers masterfully and shoot herself through the mouth, thus killing Hank mid-fire.  Hank’s father, the patriarch of the witch hunters, is devastated and declares all-out war on both sects of witches.

Around this time, we get a cameo appearance by musical icon Stevie Nicks, who has dealt with rumors of her being a real witch for almost as long as she’s been in the national spotlight.  Here, she’s the ultimate white witch who convinces Misty, a Nicks-fanatic, to stay at the coven and see if she is the next supreme.

Fiona and Marie Laveau agree to meet with the witch hunting council, led by Hank’s father.  While they seemingly talk business, Fiona and Marie unleash their surprise—the Axe Man is in the room as a waiter and hacks and slices his way through the witch hunting order, leaving Papa Witch Hunter to Fiona.  With one whack of the axe, the witch hunters are completely gone and there’s little else keeping the witches from ruling the world.  This is also around the time we’re introduced to Papa Legba, the voodoo god who controls Marie Laveau’s eternal fate.  It’s a quick introduction and far too big of a storyline to start so late in a season, in my opinion, but it makes for some creepy scenes and juicy cause and effect.

With the season winding down and storylines still very much alive, the final two episodes of the season begin and end explosively.

Fiona has accepted her fate and admits she’s dying of cancer.  When she gives her daughter Cordelia a family heirloom, Cordelia suddenly regains her special sight power and sees that Fiona intends to destroy the coven, one witch at a time.  Refusing to allow such an act of selfishness, Cordelia meets with the Axe Man and convinces him that he must kill Fiona for his own good and that of the coven.  Meanwhile, Queenie kills LaLaurie for her lifetime of cruelty and bigotry and she kills Laveau as well.  Papa Legba terminated Laveau’s eternal life when she failed to bring him a baby as part of their agreement from years past.  The two are sent to Hell, where Laveau tortures LaLaurie for all eternity in LaLaurie’s own torture chamber.

Shit has long since gotten real and now with no supreme to announce a successor, the remaining witches must take on The Seven Wonders, a test of powers that will reveal who truly is the next supreme.  The competition consists of Zoe, the resurrected Madison, Queenie, Misty and Cordelia.  There is no try and fail with this test—if you don’t pass a test, you’re killed.

Misty is the first to go when she is unable to pull herself out of her own personal hell—she’s doomed to spend the rest of eternity killing a live frog in high school biology class.  Serious stuff for a witch who cherishes life and has the sanctity to resurrect it.  Next to go is Zoe in a breathtaking demise.  During Transmutation (teleporting), Zoe accidentally impales herself on the wrought-iron fence of the academy and dies.  Madison refuses to resurrect her and this is when Cordelia enters the race.

Myrtle convinces Cordelia to enter the contest because Madison as the supreme is just as bad as Fiona as the supreme.  Cordelia gracefully conquers the first four wonders with ease, causing Madison to doubt whether or not she is truly the supreme.  When Madison fails miserably at Divination (mind reading/seeing), she storms upstairs to pack up and ditch the coven, vowing to inform TMZ all about the house.  Kyle the zombie, heartbroken over the loss of Zoe, takes a life for a life, strangling Madison on her bed. Meanwhile, downstairs, Cordelia brings back Zoe to continue the tests.  With this act of selflessness, Cordelia has completed the Seven Wonders, thus becoming the new supreme and following in her mother’s footsteps.

With the coven in good hands (and the supreme turning out to be exactly who I thought it would be after episode one…just sayin’), Myrtle demands to be burned at the stake again for the murders of her council witches earlier in the season.  Cordelia tearfully complies and appoints Zoe and Queenie to be her new council.  Kyle needs to figure out what to do with Madison’s twice-dead corpse and good ol’ Spalding The Ghost offers his assistance, because as he states, “I am the help.”  In the new regime, Kyle is the help for Cordelia, Zoe and Queenie.

Cordelia has it all figured out until she realizes she has one last issue to take care of.  It turns out Fiona turned the tables and devised a plan to have the Axe Man help her fake her death.  When the Axe Man tried to kill the witches in the coven, they destroyed him, believing they were avenging Fiona’s death.  Mother and daughter meet in a bedroom upstairs and finally have a heart-to-heart.  After nearly thirty-five years, Cordelia finally makes peace with Fiona-the-mother and persuades her to let go of the anger and selfishness—to finally give in and pass away from the cancer with ease.

Fiona does so but wakes up to find herself in a farmhouse.  Not knowing where she is but quickly understanding something is very wrong with this picture, the Axe Man enters the farmhouse and tells Fiona that she wakes up every morning unsure of where she is and pleading that she doesn’t belong there.  The Axe Man strikes Fiona and proceeds to dance with her, telling her neither of them are going anywhere.  Off in a corner of the room, we see Papa Legba smiling and chuckling, having imprisoned Fiona in her own personal hell for trying to trick him into giving her eternal life when she didn’t have a soul to make a deal with to begin with.

american-horror-story-coven-posterCordelia makes it her first task to publicly expose the coven, ensuring young women around the world that it’s okay to be different and there is a home for them if they choose.  Hundreds upon hundreds of young witches travel down to New Orleans to join the coven, thus infusing much needed new blood into the ancient order.  The season ends with the house brimming with new witches and Cordelia smiling beside her new council.

It may suffice to merely state Jessica Lange-meets-Angela Bassett-meets-Kathy Bates.  But there’s so much more to this show than simple star power.  While we’re on the topic, the acting was impeccable as it has been since AHS first started running with the three ladies mentioned above along with Sarah Paulson really owning the series.  Enough can’t be said for the likes of Lily Rabe, Gabourey Sidibe, Frances Conroy, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare and Danny Huston who absolutely killed it with their portrayals throughout the thirteen-episode run.

If I had to pick one real issue I had throughout this season, it was the feeling that the stories were bleeding into one another just a little too much.  Simply “forgetting” about Kyle the Zombie for an episode or two every once in a while didn’t sit well with me.  Neither did the quick and decisive “death” of Queenie by self-inflicted gunshot wound or the sudden and head-scratching death of Nan and the too-little-too-late (in my opinion) addition of the voodoo god, Papa Legba.

Technically speaking, this series has never lacked in creative and high production value.  Our time in the coven was no different.  Topsy-turvy camera angles, fantastic color pallets and hawkeye attention to detail took the show over the top.

As far as script writing goes, you’d be hard pressed to find a smarter and more sharp-witted series on television.  The characters’ side stories and dialogue make the show succeed just as much as the actors themselves do.

Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have a real monster on their hands and I absolutely cannot wait for the already hotly discussed season four, due out sometime in 2015.

Movies & TV, TV Reviews

About the author

Justin Hamelin hails from Waukegan, Illinois- home of Ray Bradbury. He has published a collection of short horror stories and has been featured in Sanitarium Magazine, among other publications. He runs a blog, Mangled Matters, and also regularly contributes to the Women In Horror Month websites and movement. When he isn't writing horror, he can be found collecting books or watching horror movies at his home with his wife and three black cats. Justin has been a RavMon contributor since 2011.
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