Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange in FX’s American Horror Story: Coven
Ah, there’s the American Horror Story we know and love; the one that has us muttering “Oh, shit. There’s no way to critique this without looking like you Just Don’t Get It. Goddamn you, Ryan Murphy. Goddamn you to HELL.”
Look, when you make a commitment to write about this show, eventually the conflict between “By any metric, this is bad writing. Raaaar.” and “Don’t sweat it. Just let this shit wash over you” arises and you wind up wondering which version of yourself is going to write the latest review. We’re going to attempt to split the difference. The more laid back sides of ourselves are willing to admit that even when a AHS season is all wrapped up, it’s hard to really come to terms with the story you were just told and figure out a way to talk about it. It’s near-impossible to do when you’re only two episodes into it so why bother trying? Someone asked Jessica Lange “Are you in charge here?” and she responded with “I’m in charge everywhere.” That alone makes the hour worth sitting through. Best not to think too much about the rest of it.
Except – and this is where the more uptight sides of our psyches rear their pointy little heads – this is a Ryan Murphy show dealing with themes of patriarchy and exploitation. Ryan Murphy, regardless of any of his other talents, has a bitchy gay man’s view of women, which means he almost never writes women characters with any nuance. Entertaining as hell, but not particularly like any real woman anyone knows. It’s drag writing. We point this out because with this episode, the story arcs are starting to form around the major characters – all women – and their needs and desires. And what do these women want? Eternal youth. A boy. A baby.
Oh, sure. There are the other AHS mainstays of characters of great (or indeterminate) evil plotting revenge, but right now, the story is moving along solely on those three desires: Beauty, Boy, Baby. That’s womanhood, according to Ryan Murphy. We wouldn’t care if this was some CW soap opera or something, but Murphy’s got the greatest ensemble of female actors on television all on tap for this season and this is what he’s decided is going to motivate them all. It’s disappointing.
But not a dealbreaker; let’s get that out of the way. We will always vehemently maintain that one simply has to let certain expectations go if you want to enjoy this show. So what if the actions of most of the characters don’t seem to make much sense right now? Stitching together a boy out of bodyparts in the morgue makes no sense at all for anyone involved, but who cares? It’s more important that Angela Bassett looks amazing in a turban. It’s more important that scenery gets chewed up and spit out in every single scene. It’s more important that you say at least once each episode “Oh. My. GOD.” as if you can’t help yourself. Because you can’t.
So yeah. We had some problems with the writing this week. Alert the media. We still loved the hell out of the hour.
Since this doesn’t lend itself to much in the way of analysis, we present bullet points instead.
- Lily Rabe is the unsung treasure of the AHS ensemble. We’re loving Misty Day and we can’t wait until she and Fiona come face to face. Is she a good witch or a bad witch, though? She can’t be all bad. Her taste in music is great. Which leads us to…
- If Stevie Nicks appears on this show playing herself as a White Witch, we are going to shit ourselves. We hope Ryan gets her to sing.
- We have no idea where the FrankenKyle thing is going.
- What are we saying? We have no idea where ANY Of this is going.
- Interesting take on the competing histories of American witchcraft. Apparently, African-American witches all believe that Tituba is the mother of American witchcraft. We’re holding our breath regarding this direction. Murphy’s clearly going to tackle race in a big way, including the idea of competing racial histories. That’s pretty damn volatile a topic and we don’t have much hope that he’ll bring any nuance to it.
- Discussion topic: Real people (mostly women) were executed in Salem and not because they were witches, but because ignorance, paranoia, religious mania and institutionalized misogyny ran rampant. Isn’t it a little on the offensive side of things that fictional stories around witchcraft inevitably start from the point that the Salem “witches” were actual witches? Doesn’t it do their memory a disservice? Isn’t it sort of like portraying Native Americans as brutal savages, preying on the white man?
- Basic cable finally managed a sex scene weirder than anything on Game of Thrones. High fives all around, guys. Good job. Creepy as shit.
[Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/FX]