American Horror Story: The Axeman Cometh

Posted on November 14, 2013

AHS+S3E6+3Danny Huston in FX’s American Horror Story

Now comes that moment of panic that all AHS reviewers experience at least once a season; that “Oh, shit” moment when they have to point out that a universally loved and ridiculously-difficult-to-critique show just put out an episode that simply isn’t very good by any standard. Cue the “Just enjoy it!” “It’s not meant to be analyzed!” responses. To which we pre-say: Feh. All art and expression – even the shittiest of TV shows – can and should be analyzed. It’s up to the receiver/viewer/reader/audience member to determine how far they’re willing to go in their critical analysis (and that determination is entirely personal and distinct each time), but we strongly reject the idea that any expressive/creative piece stands apart from or above (or even below) standard critical analysis.

Having said that, we’re still not going to go too deep into the weeds on our complaints. It essentially all comes down to this: the writing, as always, is uneven, muddled, and poorly paced. Half  the characters have paper-thin, summed-up-in-one-word motivations (Revenge! Power!) while the other half have no motivations at all, leaving them free to act wildly inconsistent from scene to scene. The plot stagnates to the point of growing algae on it, then it lurches forward unexpectedly, scattering the players to the wind or suddenly mashing them up together, as if a toddler got bored with a set of toys.

In other words: It’s a typical American Horror Story season.

Really, our current fit of critical pique comes down to the fact that, six episodes into the season, it feels like the story finally got started last night. But because there’s been so much dawdling and ambience-setting in the first five episodes, the writers really had to churn things up in order to get things started. The result was a scatterbrained episode that wasn’t the most entertaining hour in the show’s history (because there was so much plot to pack in), but left us looking forward to seeing the story progress further and this world open up a little wider. You could argue that’s a good thing, but applying just the tiniest bit more thought into the writing would allow the creators to let this story unfold a little more organically and consistently. It feels like the previous five episodes of this season were all acting and art direction.

Which brings us to our next point: this season looks fantastic, no doubt about it. And by adding Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates to the AHS Repertory Players – and giving them both the meatiest damn roles they could ask for, literally tailored to their strengths exactly – it’s definitely one of the best-acted shows on television right now. It’s all divas tearing up scenery and scenery that looks like a Vogue editorial. But it’s lacking something the last season had in spades; something that allowed the show to deflect any criticism: boldness. When nothing made sense last season and it all started looking like a spastic fever dream instead of a story, the very least you could say about it was that it sure was bold in what it was trying to do; addressing old school Catholicism, anti-gay conversion therapy, alien abductions, serial killers, abortion, Satan, medical experimentation and Nazis, with an extra special appearance by an adult Anne Frank and an unexpected song and dance number just for the hell of it. This season: bitches be crazy. That’s about the gist of it. Fun bitches, to be sure. Campy bitches. But the story so far is entirely about women with power, fighting other women with power, usually in order to secure or gain power. Sure, there’s been some tips of the hat to examining the racial history of this country, and an attempt to cast this story as a response to patriarchy, but for the most part, it’s Alexis and Krystle slinging spells instead of Champagne glasses at each other.

And that’s fine, for the most part. It’s been fun. But we’re on the sixth episode of the season and we feel it’s safe to say it has nowhere near the depth or boldness of seasons past. There’s plenty of time left for that to change, but we realized with this episode just how much time has been spent on ambience and quips and how little has been spent on storytelling or even envelope-pushing.

And can we just say? Much as we love Danny Huston and even the character of the Axeman, a woman-hating ghost serial killer sure feels like a warmed-over concept on American Horror Story. There’s plenty of time to surprise us with this character, but his introduction felt a hundred percent been-there, done-that.

Also: If Zoe’s the next Supreme, she’s at least as murderously negligent in her own way as Fiona’s been. She unleashed FrankenKyle on his mother and the rest of the world and then unleashed a demonic serial killer with little more than a shrug. We find ourselves wishing more and more that Nan winds up Head Bitch in Charge when this is all over.

Also-Also: Now that all has been revealed about Cordelia’s husband, we find it a little hard to accept. Marie Laveau is in cahoots with a white, male witch-hunter? Sure, you can argue that war makes strange bedfellows, but this guy represents every single thing she despises about the world.

Also-Also-Also: Has there truly been a horror moment this season? Some shocks and grossouts, sure. But real horror that made you actually feel fear, the way a horror story is supposed to work?

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  • SeppiChicago

    I actually liked this episode more than last weeks because it felt like they at least moved the plot forward. I missed LaLaurie, though Angie Bassett had a great scene however brief it was. I liked that the Axeman, like LaLaurie and Leveau, are based on real events and people. The weak link, really, is Zoe and Kyle. They be boring, yo.

  • Annaline39

    I noticed that Cordelia went from wearing white a lot before the acid attack to wearing black after. And if she freaks out after touching her husband and mother just what the heck is going to happen if she touches Delphine?

    • Danielle

      Heh, I thought about that too, when Fiona said that she’d be sending up Delphine to check in on her.

    • SeppiChicago

      Or masturbating Queenie? “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID!”

  • Sobaika

    I had issues with this episode. I suppose the goodness of the season was too good to last.

    When did Oatmeal Barbie grow a pair? Some consistency would be nice. Even if she had a woosh of power when they were bringing Kyle back, or had shown any critical thinking skills ever before in her entire life, last night would have been much more believable.

    So Marie is the Big Bad?? Because if she hired a hitman 6 years ago, it was during the truce with the coven and before LaLaurie had been dug up. She had no reason to start up the war again. She must have felt itchy or something. There’s A WHOLE lot to be said that she is shaping up to be a villain when her arc has been so tied to blackness. And Kathy Bates (the real devil in this story) is simpering along as a reformed slave-owner – no. Nope nope nope nope.

    • tereliz

      Same issues here. Kind of a slow burn on Marie’s part. She just wants them all killed off because…reasons? And I’ve been trying to be less critical of Zoe since we really didn’t see much of her personality before her world was turned upside-down by her gift, BUT. Her actions are all just too convenient and just don’t seem proactive enough to be satisfying for the audience, especially if she’s the new supreme.

    • SassieCassy


    • RectPropagation

      “There’s A WHOLE lot to be said that she is shaping up to be a villain when her arc has been so tied to blackness.”

      I’m sure it will be weird to get a reply to this two months later but I’m just now catching up with this show. I am *SO* glad you said this because even though T&L predicted that race would be handled badly here I’m irritated by how much it has had me cringing, particularly from that first salon scene. Just…UGH.

      I suspect (I haven’t seen past this episode yet) that she started up the war covertly because Fiona let the council think Marie and/or her people were responsible for the death of the last supreme. We did see the council question her on that point though I (we?) haven’t seen the fallout of it yet. I’m willing to be at this point that the council blamed them and probably retaliated in some way.

  • RussellH88

    My thoughts:

    1. I’m glad Zoe is being a bit more proactive, even if she’s being kind of dumb about things. If she’s going to be the next supreme then I’m glad the show is at least giving her more to do.

    2. Madison is back and I love it.

    3. I wonder how much the writers knew about a possible Stevie Nicks appearance, because I can see Misty rejecting the coven only to be taken away by Stevie Nicks.

    4. I don’t think we need another serial killer.

    5. I’m surprised that Marie would hire a witch hunter. I think that the show worked better with Fiona being the one violating the truce between the two groups and ultimately making her responsible for all the damage and carnage around her as opposed to Marie acting behind the scenes to kill witches.

    6. They’re really setting things up for a big showdown with Madison, Myrtle and (according to the preview) Cordelia coming after Fiona.

  • Annaline39

    Re: the horror element: ouija boards freak me out

  • JustSayin’

    Man, I love Misty Day. Her beautiful spirit is such a contrast to the viciousness of Laveau and Fiona. I predict that all the witches end up either dead or scattered to the four winds except Misty, Nan and Queenie. The final scene should be them closing the door to the outside world as they live the maiden/mother/wise old woman Trinity of Hecate, interchanging roles as needed. Something Fiona, Myrtle and Cordelia should have done but were unable to pull off.

    I find Laveau’s character confusing. Wouldn’t you expect someone who has lived for centuries to be a little more enlightened? She even threatened to hex her friend in the last episode just for expressing doubt about starting a turf war. Very odd.

    Hope Madison remembers how she died and the first thing she asks, “Is where are my shiny shoes?” It would be so Wizard of Oz.

    • tereliz

      From the promo for next week’s show, it looks like Laveau is going to try to steal Queenie away from the coven. Can’t wait to see how that turns out!

      I’m a little frustrated by Laveau’s motivations. Is her hatred of the “Salem” witches just an old rivalry gone too far? Before Fiona dug up Lalaurie their differences seemed pretty petty. I’m wondering if something specific happened six years ago to make her want them wiped out. And why hire a witch-hunter to do it if he’s going to take almost a decade? Couldn’t Laveau have taken care of things in other ways?

      • notterriblybitter

        The ONLY thing this show does consistently is mislead the viewer with the scenes for next week’s show. Next week, we’ll find out that Queenie went to Laveau’s salon for some hard-to-find haircare product and the conversation between Laveau and Queenie will turn out to be completely inconsequential. Or something equally stupid.

      • SassieCassy

        so i am thinking – remember how fiona blamed the supremes death on the voodoo witches? maybe it wasnt a peace so much as a cold war. and marie finally had it and decided to kill them all and be done with.

    • PeaceBang

      This is why I hang out here. Because you referenced the Maiden-Mother-Crone trinity. *sniff*

  • I barely watched, as I fiddled around on line. That is never a good sign. A good show will keep me off of my electronic devices while the hubs snores beside me.

    Again last night, as it became clear that Cordelia’s husband is under the same roof as Nan from time to time, him being an undetected serial killing witch hunter is just too hard to accept. Also, six years? That officially makes Cordelia a fucking idiot. I admit to half-assed watching, details could have been missed, but he is hunting girls that have come through the school? So Cordelia has met a bevy of witches and not followed up with them after they didn’t come to stay with her? Weaksauce.

    Six episodes in and I can tell I am only really watching for all that fantastic scenery chewing by stellar women I’ve admired for years. I’ve never really been into gory effects, so at best I am only creeped out because I’m squeamish to that stuff. I am not horrified or afraid to turn out my lights when the show ends. It’s not fucking with my head the way I’d expected it to.

    • Joe J

      Seriously, if Nan doesn’t turn out to be some mega-mastermind with her own agenda then I’m going to be hella pissed. She can hear people’s thoughts, and in a house of about six people it’s not like she’s hearing a party-level-cacophany 24-7. Why was she not saying anything about Spalding hiding Madison’s corpse weeks ago? Or that Fiona killed her? Does Fiona have the power to block her thoughts from Nan? Or as you said, how the fuck did Hank avoid being detected by her for six years? Did she just recently come to stay at the school?

      If you’re going to write a character with this power, then you better lay the ground rules out for said power from the get-go so we’re not getting annoyed by the plot holes. See also: “Heroes” and time travel. Or better yet, don’t.

      • Chevalle

        Hank doesn’t live at the school. Cordelia tells him in episode 2 “You shouldn’t be here.”

      • Terrie_S

        I’m seriously going to cry if they don’t so something awesome with Nan. A great actress playing the one character I really like. Great, big sobbing tears will appear.

    • Danielle

      Also, it just seems like lazy writing that Cordelia’s new flashback gift is only showing her husband to be a cheating asshole, and doesn’t show that it was with someone she knew (albeit briefly), or that HE’S A FUCKING WITCH HUNTER!

    • Victoria

      I’m not sure he’s around the girls very often, and, as we saw with Spalding, when you know someone can read minds, you just have to train yourself to think certain thoughts whenever that person is around. He’s deep under cover. Plus, while Fiona knew something was up with him but didn’t quite know what, she didn’t have the power of telepathy until this episode, and it’s unclear it stayed with her after the drugs wore off.

  • tereliz

    Well, when that dead redhead witch told Delia in the flashback that she was working out and had joined a fantasy football team to get a husband–instead of wanting to be a WITCH!–I was pretty horrified. Does that count as horrific enough?

    • Chelsea

      HA – I was DYING. Also, how the hell did the redhead and Hank “meet online”? Did he join every online dating website to find her? “Redheads who heart Fantasy Football”, perhaps?

  • Danielle

    So it seems like Misty was the wisest person of the episode saying ‘There’s something not right here, I’m taking some bagels and getting the hell out.’ Who knew?

    • tereliz

      So true, lol. She was like, “This place stinks and it ain’t your friend who was dead in a box for three (?) days.”

      • Louise Bryan

        Had to be a lot longer than three days. I find Misty intriguing as the antithesis of Francis Conroy’s Angel of Death in the last season.

  • In_Stitches

    It seems more likely than ever that Cordelia is headed for both a breakdown and Supreme-ry. Wait…supremacy? I wonder if they’ll play on that little bit of word play…

    Also wondering if perhaps Leveau IS Tituba. She is currently immortal, so there’s no telling when she was born. Maybe her resentment runs even deeper than expected.

    • Sobaika

      Ooooh yes, let her be Tituba! That would be great.

    • tereliz

      I was about to lay down some history but screw it. You’re probably right. Marie is Tituba. yay

      • SassieCassy

        didnt tituba disappear though. its more plausible than some other stuff on this show lol

        • tereliz

          It was Laveau’s history I was thinking of. The myth of her immortality dates back to her own time, but the fact is that Marie’s daughter Marie took over after her mother got too old. I hadn’t thought Murphy might try to extend her immortality backwards in time to Salem. It kind of demeans the historical Laveau family’s diaspora. But this is American Horror Story, so…

          • Chevalle

            Good fucking god I hope not. There’s no real evidence that Tituba was African. All the documents of the time ascribe her as Native American. Her ethnic background has been in debate for 150 years.

          • Chevalle

            And, contrary to popular belief, Tituba wasn’t executed during the Trials. She was jailed and later released…

  • Fordzo

    I experienced shear horror when Misty’s 8-track player got smashed. That thing was awesome. I can’t be the only person who started trolling eBay for one?

    • SassieCassy

      it was rollin when she started wailing about how he killed stevie. dead.

  • indigospade

    to be fair, none of the seasons have ever been that scary (though season 1 is probably the most tame of the 3)

    • Chevalle

      The point of the show is to depict things that Americans are afraid of against a backdrop of supernatural horror tropes. Mental disability, conversion therapy, religious authority, infidelity, abortion, yada yada.

  • Victoria

    How does the husband represent everything Marie hates? He’s a witch hunter – he kills witches. Seems like pretty solid common ground to me.

    • Sobaika

      Laveau’s character is very much steeped in black womanism and presented as a reaction against America’s white patriarchal history (everything fromTituba to Angela Davis) – so no, she would not trust a white man to do her dirty work. Especially since, as a witch hunter, he’d probably want to kill her too?

      • Victoria

        I get that her attitude is against patriarchal history, but I don’t think that negates her using him to get to the witches during a supposed peace treaty. That’s probably the most successful way (and has been bc no one in that house has a clue) to kill them, using someone they wouldn’t suspect. Just because she’s against it, doesn’t mean she won’t manipulate things to get what she wants. She’s using him not the other way around. And no, he wouldn’t kill her bc she’s a voodoo practitioner, not a witch

        • SassieCassy

          like i really think that there the same thing in the shows mythology just with competing histories and covens. doesnt make her any less a white that hed want to kill

          but the coven was dying off over the years right? before she hired him. so what is up with the salem descendents that they are dying off all the time

          • tereliz

            Maybe this isn’t the only witch hunter she’s hired over the years? I’m more interested in Marie’s motives for wanting the witches all dead than what made her hire a white witch hunter, strange bedfellows and all that.

          • BayTampaBay

            Wrong place

          • tereliz

            Right. Marie would know this. But why she would choose that strategy, and what drove her to these lengths feels tenuous. Unclear at best. I know I’m over analyzing this show but as TLo said it hasn’t given us as many meaty issues as previous seasons to mull over.

          • Victoria

            I disagree. I don’t think the show has established they are both witches with different lines and histories. Witches seem to possess innate powers but are not too skilled at potions, even if they specialize in them (see Cordy and her infertility), while voodoo practitioners are highly skilled at rituals, potions etc. they don’t have to be in the same room to accomplish their goals, but I haven’t noticed any of the witches use their powers in places they physically aren’t located or can’t see

          • Sobaika

            Wasn’t the original argument that the Salem witches stole techniques from Tituba? This supports the idea that they’re all supernatural/witches with different histories and cultures.

            Either way, I don’t see how that’d make it any less weird for Marie to hire a witch hunter.

          • Victoria

            YMMV, but I don’t think that’s evidence to support that they’re both witches. I think it just implies that the Salem witches stole techniques (e.g. potions etc) and they are not very good at them. Whether they are both supernatural, I think, is an entirely different question. They can be both supernatural and not both be witches.

          • Chevalle

            No, American witches have genetic powers. Voodoo has thus far been represented as “traditional” academic ritualism.

          • This story would have to work overtime to convince me that a witch-hunter would see any distinction between the two. As it is, the story itself barely differentiates between the two covens, except in racial or stylistic matters.

          • Chevalle

            I wasn’t arguing that he would :). I definitely don’t think a witch-hunter would see a difference between the two without an explicit reason. However, they are different. Whether from a viewer’s standpoint, a practitioner’s standpoint, or an academic standpoint, there is a difference. Witchcraft is a practice. Vodoun is a very deep religion. Wicca is a religion that incorporates witchcraft, but witchcraft in and of itself is not a religion. Vodoun does not incorporate witchcraft. Vodoun rituals involve appealing to spirits (the loa) to invite possession that expands the mind of the individual and joins it to a greater cosmic consciousness. It also involves appealing to spirits in the form of sacrifice and gris-gris to cause supernatural change in your favor. Witchcraft is causing supernatural change through your own actions, the evocation of power, or invocation of natural forces.

            There are some really neat videos on the American Horror Story Youtube channel that scratch the surface on the misconceptions of Vodoun (“voodoo”) and how it differentiates from “traditional” European witchcraft or American folk magic, colloquially called “hoodoo.”

          • “I wasn’t arguing that he would :).”

            I didn’t say that you were : )

  • Tricia

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Over the past few episodes I’ve been thinking, “This isn’t as good as Asylum… but be patient! Be patient!” But we’re halfway through now, and I still feel that way.
    It’s still fun as hell (and pleeeaase more Denis O’Hare), but yeah, I’m not nearly as compelled by the story as last season. I’m SO bored with Zoe/Kyle. The Axeman thing feels contrived and familiar… although the very end with him & Jessica Lange making eyes at each other in the bar was delicious.

  • notterriblybitter

    So, Fiona is now clairvoyant (How did that happen, by the way? Did I miss something?) and sitting in a bar with the Axeman but doesn’t know who he is? And Nan, who’s always been clairvoyant, didn’t realize that Cordelia’s husband (he and David Tate from “The Bridge” are vying for the title of least interesting serial killer ever) was a witch hunter, or that Spaulding had hidden Madison’s body in his room, or that Fiona killed Madison and Anna-Leigh. Then there’s Zoe, the likely supreme, setting two monsters loose on the streets of New Orleans. Apparently, common sense and good judgment are not on the list of seven wonders but perhaps they should be. Queenie is so starved for love that she lets anyone manipulate her. Cordelia is finally cluing up to what’s been going on RIGHT UNDER HER NOSE for all these years and will probably spend the rest of the season cringing under the table because every time she touches someone, she’ll realize that they’re just awful. Madison is back (OH MY GOD YOU GUYS A BUG CRAWLED OUT OF HER MOUTH) but she’s as self-absorbed as Fiona. At this point, I hope Cordelia’s husband (so dull I can’t remember his name) succeeds in killing them all, burning the house and salting the earth. Then Misty, Myrtle and Stevie Nicks can form their own coven in the swamp, where they stomp around in their platform boots singing “Stand Back”.

    As for the acid thrower, this week’s most likely candidate is the Truman Capote-esque character, by process of elimination.

    • Sobaika

      Speaking of, I lost it at “Do I look like the Taliban to you?” These actors take even the most ‘meh’ lines and spin gold.

      But yes, Truman Capote is the only other option.

    • Eric Stott

      As Zoe put it, Spaulding has been living with witches long enough that he’s learned how to block his thoughts.

    • I think, Spalding and some other characters have certain mental shields against reading their thoughts. In the episode Nan only heard what Spalding wanted her to hear. So Fiona can guard her thoughts against mind reading, and so can the others. Cordelia now has the Sight as they put it, a similar but also different power. I think she catches only the most emotional moments, and f*cking the girl was more emotional for her husband than killing her.

  • Courtney Cne’

    Snoozer of an episode, but Angela Bassett’s soliloquy was so good, I had to rewind and watch it twice. “She made you hard. You got soft…When I plant a fat cracker bitch I expect her to stay planted.”

  • Chevalle

    Ryan Murphy said last year that Coven would not be as deep or horrific as Asylum. He was “surprised at how dark” Asylum got and wanted to wheel it in this year.

    If you’re looking for examples of horror, I think the gang rape scene in episode 1 was pretty horrific.

    • Shug

      It was triggering. Wish there would have been a warning. For me, the most horrific scene of the series. Ugh. I got really upset.

  • Shug

    With respect to Marie Leveau employing Hank as a witch-hunter…I can still see it. No, white males are definitely not her natural allies; however, it seems to me that she can delight in using him as a pawn, and what more convincing mole for the Voodoo Queen to have than a douchey white dude? She could wipe the floor with him if he doesn’t give her what she wants, and she would probably wipe the floor with him even if he did deliver. Because she can. Angela Bassett.

  • Eric Stott

    I see this for the ending: Fiona gets her wish of immortality, but Marie Laveau shuts her up in a box before she gets cured, so she’s down underground living forever – with Cancer.

  • Julie Parr

    I keep hoping that Marie and Zoe join forces by the end of the season. Neither is evil and I can’t get behind them taking each other down.

  • quiltrx

    I don’t watch the show, but I come by to look at the pics (not that I don’t want to watch…I’m sure I’ll catch eventually, I just don’t have time these days). Just had to say, I squee’d a little when I saw Danny Huston. I have an irrational love for him, and I’m glad to see my Uncles love him too! (best thing in 30 Days of Night!)

  • Kristy Sheldon

    Yes, I agree, but I still love this campy shit. What else is there to watch right now?

  • e jerry powell

    Well, if everyone can hold on until episode ten (which is, alas, after the winter break), at least there will be a fairly large payoff.

  • Claudia

    I think the LaLaurie attic of victims was pretty horrific. And also a person being burnt alive. But horror is pretty subjective. Maybe those aren’t out and out tropes of horror. And its certainly not been as psychologically damaging as many of the scenes in Asylum.
    I’m inclined to agree with many of your criticisms to an extent; particularly the argument about this being a seemingly “Woman Power” type of storytelling that’s, instead, stripping the female character down to power hungry, jealous, vain, conniving, and/or pretty stupid. The Kyle storyline is without merit. Also, I’d like maybe a bit more/better commentary on the racial relations and their implications. But for some reason, I’ve really enjoyed this series – more than the previous. Its been typical AHS in that its thrown LOTS at us, however maybe not AS much as in previous seasons? Perhaps its the trifecta of divas that’s blinding me to any flaws, but I’ve just found it so enjoyable and really intriguing. And I’m not even rooting for anyone in particular because all the characters are so deeply horrible in some sort of way, but we’re given enough not to hate them outright. Anything could happen (and often does) because I have no preconceived ideas about how the storytelling should go; ie – good guy v. bad guy.

  • Echo4Sierra

    but Stevie Nicks is coming! I can forgive a LOT for that. And Diva Bassett strutted her stuff.

  • Mike S

    I enjoyed this episode a lot more than you guys did. Know what helped? I read the Wikipedia entry for the Axeman of New Orleans before this episode. He’s a real life serial killer–the letter he read at the beginning of the episode is a real letter he wrote and he just disappeared in 1919. That added an entire layer of creepieness to me.

    • tereliz

      Eh, I don’t know. New Orleans is chock full of stories like this; Murphy and Co had plenty to choose from. The source material is excellent. But how the creators choose to weave these stories together feels a little contrived to me.

      • Chevalle

        I agree. The world-building of this show is interesting in concept but is poorly explored and very inconsistent so far.

  • Steven Thomas

    have i lost it or was that meryl streep in the opening scene?

    • It’s her daughter, Grace Gummer, so, close!

      • Steven Thomas

        OK thanks. Just too much of a resemblance.

  • No way Cordelia still has eyelashes.

  • Claudia Fernandes

    I think queenie/minotaur scene wasn’t pure horror, but caused very uncomfort. Maybe this season is about that