Sarah Paulson in FX’s American Horror Story: Coven
Watching poor Stevie Nicks literally limp and lip synch her way through an unexpected video of “Seven Wonders” caused us to utter the line that sums up the entire season of American Horror Story: Coven for us:
“For God’s sake, Ryan Murphy. Leave the poor woman alone and let her sit down. She’s not a doll.”
But she is to him. All the women in this story were little more than dolls in Ryan Murphy’s doll house. No one had motivations beyond YOUTH! and POWER! and REVENGE! and even then, those very basic motivations couldn’t be kept consistent throughout the story as characters constantly turned on each other or forgot why they were mad at each other in the first place. And that’s just the older actresses. The younger ones had no motivations whatsoever. That might have been forgivable, given how much fun the older set were having tearing up the scenery, but Murphy hung the entire climax of the story on the younger set, having cleared the senior actresses from the story. We kept sitting through the hour waiting for Marie Laveau, Delphine LaLaurie and Fiona Goode to literally rise up from hell and take over the house. At about the 30-minute mark, we turned to each other and said, “This is it? Really? Just these girls doing parlor tricks and dying off for an hour? Sabrina the Teenaged Bitch?”
But wait! BIG TWIST! Cordelia enters the competition and wins it at the last second! What a fist-pump of a moment, right? Because this has been the Cordelia Goode story all along and all that stuff about Voodoo and Minotaurs, and immortal racists, and killer vaginas, and mothers who rape their cute sons, and household cleaner enemas, and creepy mute butlers who play with dolls and serial killer dead jazzmen and oh, right: the society of witch-hunters who can be taken down in less than 5 minutes – none of that was important. This was really the heart-warming story of a mother and daughter coming to terms with their lifelong rivalry. Hugs. Tears. Even then we kept waiting for Fiona to kill her. No dice. Murphy went for the “Lifetime Television for Women” ending, which, we cannot “BLEH” enough.
Just one question: Was there any actual horror to be found here?
You would think the season finale to a show with a title like this one would feature more horror and less hugging, self-actualization and empowerment. Last season, when Lana Banana sat down for a TV interview in the finale, we felt relief and happiness for her, because we knew how much she’d overcome to get to that point (and then we ended on a true fist pump of a moment as she killed her serial killer son). When Cordelia sat down to do her Professor X act this time around, we couldn’t have cared less. Especially because, in typical Murphy manner, the idea of hundreds of magically powered young women suddenly making themselves known to the world – a concept LOADED with tension – was left completely unexplored. “Let’s all live like witches, out in the open!” Because THAT’S always worked out well, as history tell us. No, there was no horror here. There was hardly any emotion in this finale at all, strangely. Just checking witches off a list until Murphy decided to stop and leave a few of them alive at the end.
It was an utterly pointless season of television, with no real stakes to it and an outcome that couldn’t produce more than a shrug. No one loves Jessica Lange more than us, and if you’re going to put her in an ensemble including Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, and Frances Conroy (who played the only interesting character aside from Lily Rabe’s Misty Day and is the only actress to deserve a nomination of some sort for their work this season) and bring in Stevie Nicks for occasional solos, we’re completely on board. But if you waste the talents of these ladies to the point that even they seem to be struggling with the material, well, then you’re just gonna piss these two queens off. You had divas, Ryan. You should have let them flex their muscles a little instead of having them wander around a dollhouse, getting less and less sure of their performances as time went on. By the end of their scenes, it felt like Bassett, Bates and Lange couldn’t wait to shed these characters. Like poor Stevie, forced to stomp through that house, Jessica’s entire performance can be summed up as “I can’t wait to take these fucking 4-inch heels off.”
In the end, the only moments in the finale that resonated at all were the ones provided by two veteran actresses who know what to do with a campy line or moment. Jessica’s “KNOTTY PINE!?!?!?” was a joy to behold, but we think we’ll sign off with Myrtle Snow’s epitaph, because it was such a sublimely perfect moment stuck in the middle of a pile of poo:
[Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/FX]