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?