It’s funny what you wind up obsessing over. Of all the things going on in last night’s episode – and there was a whole hell of a lot going on – we couldn’t help but focus on one question: Just how did Zoe re-attach that tongue? Sure, we saw her read a spell and do some … things, but how did she ever learn to do that since there hasn’t been one scene depicting any of these young witches actually being taught anything? That may be one of the biggest problems with this season; its reluctance to truly explore the world of witchcraft. These witches, unfortunately, are pretty much from the Samantha Stephens school of Hollywood Witchcraft where you wave your hand, say something that rhymes or something in Latin, and whatever the plot needs to happen, happens. Witches with no training suddenly become nearly all-powerful because that’s where the story needs to go, and witches with extremely useful powers are shuffled off-stage because they’d end the story in a second if they actually used them (Nan, the mind-reading, and now apparently invisible member of the coven, who couldn’t tell that Fiona murdered Madison or that Cordelia’s husband was a witch-hunter).
And while this might seem, at first glance, to be merely a criticism of stylistic choices, we think Zoe re-attaching that tongue is an action that sums up how poorly written this season is. Think about it: what would season one have been like if the ghosts had all been largely undefined and we didn’t know much about how they work or what their motivations were? What would season 2 have been like if the denizens of Briarcliffe were as vaguely written as the members of the coven this season ? Although granted, the aliens take the prize for least developed concept in the history of the show. But “Coven” is in the title this year, so we would assume the show would take some time to develop the idea of witchcraft in this world. Most magic-based stories have to do that on some level. Everything from Harry Potter to Bewitched had ground rules for their magic. There’s a little more effort put in to showing how Voodoo works, but even then, it’s not particularly consistent or enlightening. It just makes for a great visual to spill goat blood on Sarah Paulson’s crotch or have Angela Bassett levitate.
Having said that, Denis O’Hare was deliciously creepy in the scene where he spoke for the first time in 40 years. Once again, the show works only because it has an amazingly talented cast who can make you forget how badly written it is. Similarly, it was fun (for a bit) to watch the great Danny Huston and Jessica Lange practically lick their lines of dialogue off each other’s body, but their scenes seemed to drag on a bit too long and felt like an attempt to shoehorn some sort of connection between Fiona, the outgoing Supreme and Zoe, the Supreme Apparent. ”Sex with monsters” is a defining characteristic of witchcraft, according to many of the world’s cultures and myths, so we got Fiona sleeping with a ghost and Zoe having a threeway with a Frankenstein’s monster and a zombie. We actually like that the story went freaky all of a sudden, but that was mostly because this was a pretty dull episode, otherwise. And we’re saying that about the one episode with the most plot advancement this season.
But we get it. Or at least we think we do. These are the kinds of “setting up the pieces on the board” scenes that really should have played out in the first several episodes of the show, but since so much time was spent on great visuals and giving great actors room to really knock one out to the cheap seats (which is nothing to complain about, we might add), the pacing and storytelling is suffering, and we’re stuck with a lot of quick movement by a lot of characters, with little time to explore the whys. Cordelia is murderous, Zoe actually murders someone, Queenie betrays the coven and Delphine. Why? Because that’s what needs to happen for the next thing they’re planning to have happen.
Having said that, we are actually happy with the direction the story’s going in. We have a sneaking suspicion that, much like her previous two AHS characters, we’ll be seeing at least a little bit of redemption for Fiona down the line. When the Axe Man admitted he knocked over that cabinet, we wonder what else he may have done to protect her and whether or not it was really Fiona who slit Madison’s throat. And we’ve been waiting all along for Queenie and Laveau to have their first scene together and it did not disappoint. What’s so wonderful about Angela Bassett’s performance is not only that it taps into a fearsome rage and displays it gloriously, but it also gives her quiet, intense moments where she’s capable of hypnotizing anyone who’s listening to her. You seriously can’t take your eyes off her. In an ensemble as ridiculously talented as this one, she’s doing the best work. Although much credit has to be given to Kathy Bates, even if her character’s arc is fairly deeply disturbing. The immortal racist torturer is getting a redemption arc and the angry black lady is largely being positioned as a villain. Or as one of them, anyway. It’s tough to tell what the writing wants us to believe but that’s probably by design. Whatever we think we know about the characters and the direction the story’s heading is likely to be completely upended before this is all over. Could you have predicted Sister Jude’s sad and peaceful death scene given how she was acting in the first half of last season? It’s that unpredictability that helps us get past things like poor pacing or shallow writing. We’re in it for the long haul because we know it’s going to surprise us. And besides, there hasn’t been a season of this show yet where the writing didn’t disappoint, especially around the middle of the season.