In season two, American Horror Story nearly jumped the shark by mixing too many horror themes in the same creepy ass punch bowl. So it’s no surprise that with Coven (season three) the writers played it safe. Coven is by far the most coherent of the three complete seasons, as it stays on track with one group of characters who operate within the same spooky medium: witchcraft.
Now, I love witchcraft themed movies. I think they offer a lot of possibilities in terms of practical effects, and they generally overflow with girl power. Julian Sands in Warlock is the most notable exception to the latter, and let’s be honest…he’s fairly feminine. Growing up I thought The Craft was spectacularly cool, and even performed a play version of calling the corners with my friends. (it’s probably good that we didn’t know what we were doing. I sure hope nobody else on the playground noticed). At any rate, Coven has all the right elements for pulling together story I would enjoy, and pretty early on I was content thinking the stereotype would unfold. i.e. Young prodigy Zoe (Farmiga) was destined to become the big bad witch (called a Supreme in this show, which just makes me think of a pizza or a do wop performance), and that some enemies would have to join forces to defeat some bigger evil. I’m not sure why I thought AHS would stick to the basics. They of course did exactly what I did not expect with the characters. This is one of the great strengths of the season, and the show in general.
So, let’s get to specifics. I’ll do it in list form in order to keep myself centered.
What I liked
1. Casting – Once again, perfection on this front. The returning actors fit their new characters like a glove, and the new actors were fantastic additions, most notably the vicious Kathy Bates. I will say that Fiona seemed like a bit too easy for Lange to portray, as some of her characteristics are pretty similar to those of characters previously played by the actress; but, I liked her anyway. Lange can have a meltdown like no other actress out there, so it worked. Angela Bassett was also a worthwhile addition in her portrayal of Marie Laveau, although the character profile didn’t really do anything to reinvent the legend (again, I felt this kept the show simple, compared to last season). And dang it, I think I like everything that Denis O’Hare does. His portrayal of the tongueless house servant Spalding hit every creepy key on the haunted piano.
2. Fraces Conroy got more screen time, finally! This woman is gold, and I’m glad they put her to good use as Myrtle Snow, a truly delightful character. Myrtle is equal parts screwy and tough, and she has a sense of fashion that’s pretty fun to look at. She’s loyal to a fault and incredibly bull headed. I like her. I like Conroy. (I know this is part of casting…but she gets her own spot of glory).
3. REAL zombies. The writers really smartly worked in an extra creepy critter by having Laveau raise voodoo stlye zombies to attack Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.
4. While we’re at it, I have to applaud the fantastic balancing of both types of American magic: standard Salem style, and borrowed African Voodoo. This could have been a huge mistake, but I think that seeing both types of magic coexist worked fairly seamlessly here, because neither neither bought too far into incorrect traditional stereotypes. Nobody had a buckle on their hat, and nobody spoke in a Jamaican accent.
5. The aesthetic. They’re witches. They’re supposed to wear black and live in a stately manor. I loved the sparse decoration of the academy, and the utilization of the inherent magic of New Orleans, without going overboard. (thank you for no hints at fat Tuesday).
6. Lack of crappy magic effects. No sparkles flew through the air, and nobody flew. Blessed be.
What I Did Not Like
1. Why’d they have to make Queenie such a raging bunghole? She never really seems motivated to be Supreme, and I did not get the feeling early on that she carried a racism chip on her shoulder; so what’s the explanation for her sudden offended attitude? It felt like a really cheap move to have her switch sides simply to be on the “black team,” and then when she comes back to the academy with Laveau anyway, she’s suddenly self-righteous to Madison Montgomery proportions, for no real reason. I still don’t understand why she left the academy in the first place. Sure, she wanted to dole out well deserved punishment to the obscenely racist, immortal Madam Delphine LaLaurie, but couldn’t she have done that without betraying her Coven? And why not let Queenie and a newly reformed Delphine be friends? That cheeseburger scene was so heartwarming. I understand that they wanted Delphine to be mean to the core, and letting her learn the error of her ways would have been all to easy and uplifting for a show like this…but I wanted it anyway. Not to mention, Queenie’s power was probably my favorite, and it was sort of underutilized.
2. Kyle Spencer. Can we PLEASE let Even Peters play a character that isn’t a whiney little white teenager that shops at Hot Topic? It was so nice to see him get a meatier character in season two, so why did we have to backtrack and basically make him the same character he was in season one? A character who really got on my nerves with how much crying he did. To Kyle’s credit, his mother is pretty messed up…but c’mon. I liked Kyle when he was enraged and Frankenstieny. I didn’t like Kyle once he decided he was in love. Bluuuggghhh.
3. So. Much. Stevie. Nicks.
4. What the heck happened with the ax man? I liked the character in general, but why did the spell to get him out of the house return him to life instead of just resurrecting his ghost? And why was his ghost just now a problem? All of this just seemed like an unnecessary stretch to try and tie the history of the coven into the modern events. The same problem basically applies to the Spalding character. Even though I really liked the character in general, why did he need to be murdered? It seems really confusing that only Delphine can see ghost Spalding after he dies, and he could just as easily carry out his bizarre doll love as a living person. Slightly off topic…whatever happened to that baby he was rocking? It sort of just disappeared after that episode.
5. While we’re at it, I find it hard to believe that characters went missing for as long as they did without anyone looking for them. In general. Misty is apparently entombed for weeks before anyone bothers to come find her. When Delphine is finally killed, nobody says “hey, where’s Delphine?”. When Laveau disappears, Fiona just says “Oh, I’m sure she’s just off with THE VOODOO DEVIL,” no big, right?
6. The anticlimactic ending. I find it hard to believe that Fiona would just knuckle under like that. I fully anticipated that she would manage to swap bodies with someone, or else suck the youth out of an unsuspecting teen, thereby continuing her reign as Supreme. Nope. Bald and dead. In general, the writers let a lot of characters just peter off. Zoe, while powerful, is just another girl in the coven at the end. Ghost Spalding is all angry about what’s happening to Fiona, but gets a baby and then ceases to interact with anyone. The crazy neighbors just sort of kill each other and then bring on the wrath of Nan. Nan, who is drowned in a bathtub and we never hear from her again, even though none of the other characters generally die when we think they’ve died. Don’t even get me started on Myrtle. Basically, there was no big bang. The ending was just too tidy for this show; one that generally throws everything cattywompus and leaves us slack jawed.
I’m sure I have left out a lot of minor thingies either pro or con for this season of AHS. Overall though, I think it may have been my favorite. I truly felt like they were just getting their feet wet with season one, and they ruined the entire season with it’s bland, emo, I can see it coming from a mile away ending. Season two, while thoroughly entertaining, was just too all over the place. The overall straightforward quality of season three makes it the best of the show, in my opinion. Plus, it had a Minotaur, and that’s pretty cool.