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Friday, January 24, 2014

Dear 'American Horror Story: Coven', It's Time to Reel It In Now

Warning: the following contains spoilers from American Horror Story: Coven

Way back in 2011, you'd couldn't tear me away from the TV screen on Wednesday nights at 10pm. I'd be huddled under a blanket peering through at American Horror Story: Murder House, delightfully squealing in terror as the oblivious house dwellers--led by the fantastic Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott--got themselves into one creepy situation after the next. Even the opening credits were inspired:

I knew right away that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were onto something wild, daring, ridiculously fun and legitimately frightening. I love that as each season progresses, they continue to look for ways to up the ante and keep things fresh with a revolving group of characters. Which is why when season 2 (American Horror Story: Asylum) came along, I was over the moon. It took some of the elements from the first  season--fear, containment, abandonment--and added a disturbing layer of truth to its premise. By setting it in the 1960s, at the height of mental experimentation and civil unrest, the plot offered a wide view of racial, sexual and spiritual tensions. In doing so, the show challenged conventional beliefs and became more like a dramatization of actual macabre events. Remember this?

Needless to say, Asylum remains my favorite season so far. Which brings us to the craziness that has become season three, American Horror Story: Coven (or, as I like to call it, American Horror Story: OMG WHAT?). That's because this subtitle has become an every fifteen minute ritual I ask no one in particular throughout each episode. It takes Murphy's natural flair for over-the-top to a whole new level (and if you've seen any episode of AHS or Nip/Tuck, you know this is a really scary statement). It started off "normal" enough, with the ever marvelous Jessica Lange as the witch mother, if you will, of a school of witch misfits (Taissa Farmiga, Gabourey Sidibe, Emma Roberts and Jamie Brewer) in the present day. Like previous seasons, it goes back and forth in time--for Coven, we're taken back to New Orleans in the 1830s when the rivalry between Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) and racist serial killer Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is at a fever pitch. The two giant personalities meet once again in the present and realize that their feud remains and the world is not much different now (this all in a most dramatic and Ryan Murphy kind of way). Meanwhile, Lily Rabe is back as Misty Day, an increasingly wandering flower child with a flair for Stevie Nicks-a-tude something fierce.

This would all be fine if these elements were the only things going on. In fact, way more is going on all at once. What I mentioned above is only about half of the cuckooness. I didn't even bother to get into the formidable Jazz/AxeMan (Danny Huston), a character who--as I much as I love him--want ejected from the plot immediately due to his omnipresence, Spalding's (Denis O'Hare) weird penchant for baby dolls and other ghastliness, Kyle, the half Frankenstein/half lost teenage boy (Evan Peters), Coven headmistress Cordelia's (Sarah Paulson) sightless vision, her oddly effective yet inimical pretend godmother Myrtle (Frances Conroy), or the most unexpected alliance of bloody determination for respective justice that has become Queen Marie and Fiona (Lange). While the two definitely approach conflict in similar fashion (sassy, delivering the best one-liners while always wearing impeccable wardrobe), this duo has gone completely off the rails just as the season lost its focus. Some of the storylines don't even intertwine, which is especially disastrous.

It's a shame because the season was going so well in its first half, as it introduced themes of feminism, ageism, race, authority and redemption. Some of the characters--namely, Queen Marie, Delphine and the AxeMan--are even inspired by real people. Yet the story hasn't been able to find its footing these past few weeks as it took a nose dive into endless amounts of blood, sacrifice and...random babies. Each episode steadily tries to top the previous one to the point that it's become a bit of a mess that leaves you with more questions than answers. 

Hopefully next week's season finale will tie things together as satisfyingly as the two previous seasons did (especially Asylum, which rode off into the sunset with Paulson's Lana flipping us off). Here's hoping for less blood and more streamlined plots. We're counting on you, American Horror Story.


Yolanda6 said...

Thank you for writing this. I thought I was the only way over this season of AHS. I hate when there is a stellar cast, but shoddy writing. AHS lost me with the whole Frankenstein storyline with Evan Peters character. Ever since, the show has gone downhill from there. My favorite season was Murder House BTW!

s. said...

I agree the show became a mess in latter part of this season, but nothing beats last few seasons of Nip/Tuck in terms of how ridiculous the ideas were. I mean how did it even air is beyond me, such a train wreck.

Daniel said...

Couldn't agree with you anymore, the second half of the season has just become so unfocused.

Brian Whisenant said...

I totally agree. Occasionally there are fantastic moments...which makes me even more frustrated with the majority of the season.

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