American Horror Story: The Sacred Taking

Posted on December 05, 2013

AHS-S3E8-1

Gabourey Sidibe in FX’s American Horror Story: Coven

It’s interesting. Roughly speaking, AHS is suffering from a lot of the same problems that The Walking Dead is currently, but our reactions to each show couldn’t be more different. To us, The Walking Dead is a promise that has never been kept, leading to enormous frustration as we watch the show spin its wheels through its fourth consecutive wheel-spinning season. American Horror Story is more like watching a once-good (if not occasionally great) show decline in front of our eyes. Actually, it’s not “like” that; it is that. But we’ll get to that in a second. We find that people get very panicky when we start off a review with our bitching and moaning, so we’ll say this: AHS, unlike The Walking Dead, is still a very easy hour to sit through for us. What we mean by that is we can and do still enjoy every episode because it’s kind of hard not to when you’ve got these ladies tearing up the screen.

But it’s bad this season. Really bad. If you took away all the boldness and innovation the first two seasons demonstrated while at the same time abandoning any attempts to tell an actual horror story, all you’re left with is high style and great acting. Fun up to a point, but after a while (i.e., right around the midpoint of last night’s episode) you start asking yourself if this thing’s ever going to have a point or a direction to it. This episode impressed us on one front: it somehow managed to fit in an appearance by every single character in this bloated cast and reminded you of every single plate the creators have got spinning on a pole right now. But when you pack all those characters and competing storylines (all of which feel equally directionless, from the Supreme ascension to the witch war to the various boy/husband subplots), we’re struck by how much of a nothing it all is. Put more directly, these episodes feel like the same kind of narrative wheel-spinning The Walking Dead tends to do; characters constantly circling each other but no real plot movement or motivations explained until the very end. And that’s us being optimistic, since the show, at its best, never did manage to stick the landing in its previous two seasons.  It’s just a lot of characters wandering around, their motives either unexplained or shifting wildly from scene to scene, the stakes of the story hand-waved away. After all, does it really matter who the Supreme is? Does Marie Laveau have any other character traits other than a constant fury? Is there an outcome you’re dreading in this story?

But it’s fun! Really! Frances Conroy gets our Chewing The Scenery Award for the night!

Back to complaining: The “diva” thing is getting completely out of hand under Ryan Murphy’s guidance. We’ve said before that these are all essentially drag queens in his eyes, and while that’s fun and campy and bitchy, when we got to the second mother in the story sexually assaulting her hunky son we rolled our eyes at how facile and silly it all is. The first one was a white trash pothead and the second one is a rigid fundamentalist. How very original. You’re not John Waters, Ryan Murphy. Your skills at dark camp only extend so far. Sure, we clapped as loudly as any two queens can when Jessica Lange puts on a turban, 4-inch heels, and a mink coat in order to whoop some ass, but EVERY female in this story is some form of drag queen diva bitch type. That’s all the story is; diva bitches baring their claws at each other while raping, killing and mutilating any man who gets in between them. That would probably be fine way to tell a witch story except for two things; one, there’s simply no horror in this story, no moments of true fear. Just a couple mild grossouts, but nothing memorable. And two, Murphy set this up as a story of the disenfranchised grabbing onto power and using it, specifically referencing slavery and the subjugation of women as driving character forces. If you’re going to make the attempt to delve into these topics, by all means, do so. But when the result is a cross between Bewitched and Dynasty on a drag revue stage, no amount of style or great acting can make that story function.

We’re in it to the end because we love watching these broads have fun, but the storytelling has utterly collapsed this season and we don’t find ourselves invested much in the outcome. Remember how much you were rooting for Kit and Lana Banana to escape the horrors in their lives last season?

Tags:

  • Paigealicious

    I was absolutely riveted by this point last season. This year, I keep wondering when the story is going to start.

    • cooperalden

      I so surprised by this blogs reviews this year. My friends and I watch every week, laugh and keep guessing wtf? WE LOVE IT! The cocktails might help, but I’m not going to read this AHS part of T&L anymore. It depresses me…but I agree on all other TLO things Biel and Lawrence etc..

  • SeppiChicago

    Y’know, the show is just capital “F” Fun to me. It just veers from one WTF moment to the next and I love it. Is it wildly different from the previous two seasons, sure. But I love style, the camera work, the set decoration. The only weak links are Zoe and Kyle – I openly groan at their “Flowers for Algernon” BS, so frickin boring.

    At what point do we all acknowledge that, as good as Jessie Lange, Angie Bassett, Kathy Bates and Frannie Conroy are: Lily Rabe is the most consistently wonderful thing in the entire series. Now? Do we do that now? Cuz I’m doing that now.

    • boweryboy

      I’ve grown to appreciate the awesomeness that’s Lily Rabe. She has managed to convincingly play three radically diffferent characters in each season.

      Now, as much as I love Jessica Lange, she’s basically rehashing the same character in each season with only minor tweaks here and there.

      • SeppiChicago

        Every season Lily plays a different fully defined character and nails it.

    • jen_vasm

      Lily Rabe is a fine actress, but until I see Lily go toe to toe with Jessica or Angela in this season, I reserve judgement. That is also an annoyance with this year – the siloing of the divas. I’m betting on a season-ending big throwdown, but this season could’ve done with some minor skirmish teases. Kathy Bates, Frances Conroy and Patti Lupone are there to move the story (Conroy most successful, Bates’ character is too erratic in her monstrosity and Lupone’s divatude has been squandered), but this season could’ve more successfully built the J&A tension.

      • boweryboy

        I’m in total agreement with everything you wrote.

  • Danielle

    With all the scenery chewing last night, Queenie’s ‘I’m with team voodoo now, a war is coming’ speech just was super weak. I’ve seen more enthusiasm from people talking about going to the store to pick up milk.

    • Sobaika

      You said it. I’ve been really rooting for Queenie this season (rooting for her to… what, exactly? No idea!) but it’s mostly because I want to see one of the least likely characters persevere. She has zero character development and while Gabby Sidibe is a capable actress, you can’t spin gold out of shit.

      • Chevalle

        Root for Nan!
        “You guys suck balls!”

        • Sobaika

          I was, until the third or fourth time she whined about Supremage.

          #TeamMisty

          • Chevalle

            Yeah, wanting to be taken seriously by your peers who think you’re not their equal sure is whining.

      • Inspector_Gidget

        I’m not sure what would be worse: Zoe doing a personality 180 so they could make her the supreme, or Zoe doing a personality 180 so she could be a red herring as a fake supreme for a couple of weeks.

    • jjtxgrrl

      I agree. Does Queenie EVER do anything but unenthusiastically recite her lines and repeatedly and lamely (IMO)use her voodoo doll powers in the most dull way possible??? Seems like that power could be used in a more interesting way than just stabbing herself in the hand!!

  • MilaXX

    I never had high expectations for this show. I mostly just strap in and go for the ride. However, despite the cast, this is the weakest season for me. Nonetheless I’m not as disappointed as I get with The Walking dead, because my expectations are lower. My biggest gripe is the Queenie/LaLaurie relationship. I simply do not get why Queenie would be ready to leave the home she shared with the other girls forever at the drop of a dime, but still give a damn about some racist old lady she only met a few days ago.

    • muzan-e

      Yup. Do not open your show with scenes of incalculable cruelty, only to give that monster a sympathetic friend five episodes later. It’s not even that LaLaurie hasn’t earned it – and she hasn’t, of course. It’s that it’s not morally possible for her to earn it, unless under the most extraordinary and self-sacrificing circumstances – and she’s had plenty of opportunity, at this point, to demonstrate that there’s not a self-sacrificing bone in her undead body.

      My god, how much has there been? Mouths sewn closed, dismemberments, flaying of skin, murder of newborns, knives twisted in their mothers’ hearts – you cannot answer this with An Unlikely Friendship. Unless your plan all along was to illuminate the hollowness of those old, rote lines that habitual racists always spout (“it was a different time back then”) or how a person can become slowly seduced by same.

      And they’ve accomplished the former, but they’re not writing nearly well enough to manage the latter.

      • Eric Stott

        It’s perfectly possible for Queenie to feel guilt (with a lot of self pity) while she’s powerless, but to forget all about it later. She could also be quite convinced that she’s friendly with Queenie – women like that would have favorites who’d be half companion / half pet. Might even cry if a favorite died- just like a favorite cat dying.

        • SassieCassy

          Ummm thats not a good thing

          Marie thinking of her as a pet doesn’t track like that scene

        • SassieCassy

          Umm her thinking of her as a pet is not a good thing or even a decent rationale

          Like that scene of them at the drive thru was ladies bonding not a master and a plaything

    • gailfl87

      I think Queenie, by leaving a group of girls she has lived with but never felt a part of the group, is being a pretty authentic teenager. It’s easy to forget that she’s dealing with teenage drama on top of the witch vs voodoo thing. She is easily swayed because she is desperate for a mother figure, look at how easily Fiona, then LaLaurie, then Laveau have had them do their respective bidding just by the promise of a sense of belonging and power, either as Supreme, or a surrogate daughter, or a more powerful Voodoo witch. She is still torn between all 3 “mothers”, not sure which one will pay out and feeling guilty for betraying each one in turn. I’m sure if at this point Fiona confronted her, she would be as penitent as she was with feeding LaLaurie or murdering for Laveau.

  • TrixieConQueso

    The only thing that will excite me now is if Queenie pops out a Baby Minotaur, and that is the New Supreme.

    • Brandon Taylor

      Genius. Love it.

    • dashransome

      EEek!

    • Inspector_Gidget

      Actually, the only thing that would really be icing on the High Camp cake at this point would be to reveal Diana Ross as the Supreme.

      • jjtxgrrl

        Best comment ever.

      • Allie

        I have never wanted anything as much as I want this.

  • boweryboy

    I couldn’t agree with you guys more. It’s silly but not scary.

    It’s as if the opening credits are for a completely different show. If the show itself matched the freaky, creepy, scary, uneasy, winged skeletor demon in a forest sense of dread and fear that appears in the 30 seconds of credits I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

    I feel bad because I talked the show up so much to my partner that I finally got him to start watching with me. He loves Lange, but he’s all, “This isn’t scary.”

    I’m in it for the long haul because it’s still an entertaining hour of television, an unfocused hour of television, but entertaining nonetheless.

    • Dennis

      I dread the opening credits because of that stick demon. That is the thing of nightmares.

      • boweryboy

        Right? And that guy with the white eyes who is evilly grinning. I was hoping for that kind of horror this season.

        • Eric Stott

          I bet that turns out to be some sort of nightmare or flashback.

          • boweryboy

            It’s a great image. I hope it’s actually used in the show. I wouldn’t mind an appearance by the forest demon monster and the hovering hooded figures as well.

    • jjtxgrrl

      Yes!! WHERE is the fright and nervousness I got from the other seasons!!?? Ive covered my eyes or turned away from what what was on the screen almost every episode of previous seasons…it used to be my mid-week scare….I miss the horror of AHS.

    • marlie

      This week’s episode of Sleepy Hollow was scarier and more suspenseful. I still love AHS, but after we got past the first episode, the suspense and scariness evaporated.

  • notterriblybitter

    It’s hard to believe I ever thought Nan was the Big Bad, manipulating everyone around her. She’s turned into a mopey, lovesick teenager. When she’s not pining for Luke, she’s stomping off to her room and slamming the door because she wants to be the next Supreme. What a waste of a good character.

    On the other hand, I love the Myrtle and Misty as a team and hope the two of them get lots of screen time for the rest of the season. I’m a little confused about what happened in the swamp. I know the two of them showed up at the house after being attacked by a man with a gun. Was that Cordelia’s husband or some other mystery witch hunter? Frankly, Cordelia’s husband doesn’t seem competent enough to find them without Cordelia’s unwitting help. Also, he seems like a lousy shot since he managed to miss Misty, Myrtle and Nan.

    • tereliz

      If Nan doesn’t get to be the next Supreme, I hope to God Misty is. Because I couldn’t give a shit about anyone else.

      Where’s the horror, American Horror Story? Where’s the good-old fashioned scary horror that made previous season so good? It wasn’t the ghosts or devils or aliens, it was the horrifying “medical practices” used to “turn” Lana straight. It was Sister Jude torturing herself for sins she didn’t even truly commit, and then later, it was Jude being committed without just cause, imprisoned for years until she became a shadow of herself. It was muthufuckin sadist Santa. That shit was scary because it was REAL!

      “…Murphy set this up as a story of the disenfranchised grabbing onto power and using it, specifically referencing slavery and the subjugation of women as driving character forces.”

      ^THIS^ what I was hoping for with this show, and I’ve been severely disappointed so far. Particularly since the characters have been so poorly fleshed out. God Bless Kathy Bates as an actress, though, because she at least makes the redemption arc of a slave-mutilating, baby-murdering youth and beauty obsessed bitch more sympathetic than TWD’s Governor’s.

      • Sobaika

        To you last point, a part of me knew the show would disappoint. Ryan Murphy thinks simply bringing up a ‘controversial’ topic is provocative enough.

        As for Kathy Bates, she was all simpery with Queenie but then started up with the darkie talk. She didn’t change, doesn’t have it in her to change, she is a monster, and I hope it all comes blowing up in Queenie’s face.

        • Eric Stott

          Her being nice to Queenie might have even been genuine, but it doesn’t mean she’s really changed.

          • boweryboy

            Her being nice to Queenie might have even been genuine, but it doesn’t mean she’s really changed.

            Right? It’s like when racists say: “I don’t have a problem with black people. I work with them, but I wouldn’t want to hang out with them.”

          • Terrie_S

            Or the people who say things to their black associates (I’m not gonna use the word friend here) “Well, you’re not like other black people.”

          • boweryboy

            I get that all the time (from black and white people alike) – as if there’s only one way a black person could possibly act.

            Heck, my mom once said to me I was her white son in a black man’s body. I was all, “What does that mean?” We had a fairly interesting conversation after that.

          • Terrie_S

            When I hear “You’re not like other [whatever]” I always think “Well, they’re not like other [whatever] either. They’re all individuals.”

          • Allie

            It’s essentially just “I have some ridiculous prejudice against [group], but it doesn’t apply to you, so instead of revising my ideas and confronting my prejudice I’m just going to act like you’re not part of that group.”

          • marlie

            Someone once told me that I was the “whitest person they knew.”*

            *I’m not. At all.

          • SassieCassy

            Yeah those are our modern day racists not slave owning torturers

          • Sobaika

            Compared to the torturing slave owner from hell and the narrative mess that is Fiona? There’s plenty to like about Marie, and in the early episodes her anger was presented as justified.

      • tereliz

        Replying to myself here, but okay, I did do some thinking about this episode and there was some REAL horror when Jessica Lange is suffering the effects of cancer and chemo. THAT is some real shit we all have to worry about. But the way they keep framing it in her desire for power and her supremacy, it loses some of the impact.

    • Chevalle

      “because she wants to be the next Supreme”
      Or maybe it’s because she wants the other girls to take her seriously despite the fact that she has Down’s Syndrome. The fact that they automatically disregard her as a candidate has to be incredibly hurtful. She “wants” it because she wants to prove them wrong, that she’s just as good as they are. If there is ANY character to root for in this series, it is Nan.

  • MitzyG

    I think it is pretty obvious many of us are only hanging out waiting for the promised Stevie appearance.

    • BayTampaBay

      Stevie will make a cameo in Episode 10, that may be next week.

      • jjtxgrrl

        Ohhh gosh. I hope so. That would be EVERYTHING.

  • pherociouscake

    >>when Jessica Lange puts on a turban, 4-inch heels, and a mink coat<<

    little edie realness

  • Hetha Innis

    I tuned in last night for the first time. I couldn’t find anything to watch and decided to give it a random shot to see if it would be worth starting on Netflix. I expected some horror/fear and there was none to be had. The head in the box was unbelievably predictable! Disappointing.

    • Chevalle

      The head in the box is a direct reference to what happened earlier in the season, when Fiona sent Marie her lover’s talking head in a box. It’s supposed to be predictable.

      • Hetha Innis

        Ah…okay.

    • notterriblybitter

      From a getting revenge point of view, it didn’t make any sense. Marie cared about her lover so receiving his head in a box would have been horrifying. Fiona didn’t care about Delphine at all so her response to getting her head in a box would be annoyance at having to find another maid.

      • gailfl87

        I think the head in the box is just a return shot to let the Coven know the Voodoo mean business. The Coven didn’t even know LaLaurie was missing, so the’re saying we captured your pawn, since that’s all Fiona thinks of LaLaurie.

  • hellkell

    “a cross between Bewitched and Dynasty on a drag revue stage”

    I would go see the shit out of this.

    • Sobaika

      I loved the Endora reference. For all of its flaws, this show is mighty quippy.

      • hellkell

        I know! They do get off some great lines.

  • Eric Stott

    You’re right – the plot and story are crap, but I AM enjoying the style, especially with Francis (“I wasn’t aware of him until he stepped on my face”) Conroy back in the picture. Would not surprise me if she’s trying to kill everyone.

    • BayTampaBay

      And the line about “buying hair in bulk from Korea for years” was hilarious and taking Fiona’s jewelry had me rolling on the floor.

      • Eric Stott

        I bet Myrtle runs a string of high couture sweatshops.

  • Inspector_Gidget

    Jesus, can you say Mommy Issues? Copping feels, giving Ajax enemas, plotting to kill each other, etc etc etc. Is there one mother/child relationship that isn’t twisted as hell? I agree that the crazy fundy mother is a bridge too far.

  • muzan-e

    The headphones. They won me back for a moment when Whatsit dashed back into the room she’d just left, purely to give Kyle her headphones. His face, stunned and delighted. The sheer, sweet thoughtfulness of it all. Absolutely beautiful.

    A few minutes later, mind, they’d thrown all that renewed good will away.

  • hellkell

    OK, kittens, where I do get the hat/turban thing Lange rocked when she picked up her box full of undead racist head?

    • jjtxgrrl

      Your grandmas top drawer of her bureau.

      • hellkell

        She’s dead.

  • Alexis Boucher

    Admittedly, this is the first season of the show I have watched. Largely because I thought it would be too frightening for me to watch right before I go to bed. I shouldn’t have worried.
    The thing I am having the hardest time with is nobody stays dead. Was it like this on previous seasons?

    • BayTampaBay

      No one lever stayed dead on the X-files either.

    • boweryboy

      In the first season, everyone who died came back as ghosts. They’re sort referencing that again with Spalding and Axeman.

  • BayTampaBay

    TLo, gotta disagree. I loved last night’s episode.

  • BayTampaBay

    Question: Is Angela Basset listed in the opening credits?

    • Yolanda13

      I don’t think so. I think she’s listed as a guest star.

  • Yolanda13

    It was stop after stop on the Crazy Train, but we didn’t really go anywhere. But I will tune into The Jessica Lange Show each and every week. It would be wonderful if Lily Rabe’s Misty Day could channel Sister Mary Satan though…

  • Qitkat

    I don’t follow the show, but it sure sounds like soap opera territory, every trope, unbelievable plot twists, nutty characters, campy fun. Maybe better sets and name brand actors. Not a criticism, just an observation.

    • boweryboy

      Absolutely. It’s an over-the-top envelope pushing horror soap.

      Each season is also an ensemble piece with a different storyline and different characters played by the same actors.

  • Euripides Trousers, You Pay Fo

    Its still a lot of fun escapism, even if the plot feels a bit batshit and directionless at this moment. And oh, what I’d give to see a series based around the Misty and Myrtle.

  • Tashina Savage

    Why is Fiona aging, but Misty Day still looks like a spring chick? Isn’t she supposed to be some super old witch that was burned at the stake many years ago? Or was that something that happened in more recent times? Also, Myrtle and Fiona were in the coven at the same time, and Myrtle looks like she could be Fiona’s mother. I suppose I could be wrong about Misty, and perhaps Fiona just aged better than Myrtle, but it seems to me for the most part that Ryan Murphy tries to do TOO much with these series and he forgets (or hopes we will) a lot of the small details.

    • NOLA_gal

      No, Misty’s burning was recent. No continuum problems there.

    • SassieCassy

      misty was burned like 2 wks ago and I think myrtle looked worse after being resurrected

  • And Finally…

    This show is fabulous. This show is pure entertainment (except for Zoe). This story sucks. This story is at times almost unbearably offensive on multiple levels (all of which TLo have touched on). How does one reconcile the two? I DON’T KNOW! Guess I’m just shallow. If Queenie (or I guess Nan) isn’t the new supreme, and I STILL enjoy the show, I guess I’m just really REALLY shallow. …Okay! (But seriously, Queenie: between Laveau and Lalaurie, Laveau IS NOT the bad guy…)

  • jjtxgrrl

    I’m hanging onto watching the show for the fun….but characters like Queenie and Zoe just pale in comparison to what we were given season one. Sigh. I want the “horror” aspect of AHS. I used to get nervous before watching the show, anticipating what was to come……but now I watch just because I hope to see Lily Rabe do her Misty Day thing!

  • LittleKarnak

    Sort of put off by the “stealing/borrowing/homage-ing” of the Comet enema scene from Sybil but glad I stuck it out just for Frances Conroy…..

  • andreawey

    I absolutely agree with everything! There are plenty of moments to enjoy but NO story at all! So many characters with potential but completely inadequate character development. The fact that you can find yourself feeling sorry for such a despicable character as Marie Laveau just shows how inadequate the character development has been. Francis Conroy was definitely the star of the night tho. I love the characters so much and a bit more background and motivation would go a long way to making them more three dimensional. A plot might help too….. Perhaps one story per season is not a workable model for this kind of story….

  • Fred Vaughn

    There’s something redeeming in this season, but I must agree that it’s awful hard at this point determining what that could be.

  • That Gay Earth

    Tom or Lorenzo which ever writes these reviews is in the minority on this season, thankfully. This season is honestly the strongest to date.