Based on my opinions of “Bitchcraft” and “Boy Parts,” it’s pretty apparent that I am not a fan of American Horror Story: Coven. Outside of Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett, I find absolutely nothing about this show worthwhile. That being said, I’ll be the first to admit that despite every criticism I’ve made about this series, I kind of liked this week’s episode, “The Replacements.” Now that is by no means a recommendation of this season, as it’s still a gratuitous train wreck. Much like how I enjoy the Mad Max movies despite Mel Gibson rewriting the meaning of “crazy” every week, I can acknowledge and enjoy something that’s truly fun, even if there’s a mountain of turds to sift through before you find the gem worth polishing.
“The Replacements” makes its focus quite clear from the start with a flashback to 1971 involving a young Fiona (Riley Voelkel from The Newsroom) slitting the current Supreme’s throat after being spurned as the Supreme’s replacement due to her selfish and sadistic nature. Jump back to present day where we discover that Fiona (Jessica Lange) is dying from a terminal disease, which is a sign that a new Supreme is manifesting itself and will soon replace her. This revelation, coupled with Madison (Emma Roberts) learning new pyrokinetic abilities, back Fiona into a corner like a desperate, wounded animal. Amidst this is a side plot involving LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) being forced to be the personal maid for the school and Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) deciding it’s a brilliant idea to bring her sort-of love interest zombie, Kyle (Evan Peters), back home to live with his mother, but thankfully the real anchor and focus to “The Replacements” is Fiona and her failing flight from mortality.
Besides the obvious and obligatory compliment towards Jessica Lange, who remains absolutely riveting, I have to praise the episode for managing to provide us some more information as to some of the rules and logic behind The Supreme herself. There are concrete rules to differentiate a Supreme from the rest of a coven (based on seven as of-yet ambiguously defined powers) and the cycle of a Supreme dying as a new one surfaces just works splendidly for the show. With these insights, they managed to not only develop Fiona even further as a character but they even managed to make me see a purpose for Madison’s existence as a character. Nothing has changed in regards to her remaining insufferable and incapable of not blowing her secret of being a witch every FIVE SECONDS, but she does serve well as a sort of Ghost of Christmas Past for Fiona and as a sign of the cycle repeating itself. And as you can imagine, the scenes towards the end of the episode involving the two of them are absolutely exciting and fun to watch.
Now to harken back to when I said that I liked this episode, I’d like to remind you that I prefaced that with kind of, because “The Replacements” possesses many of the same problems that sinks American Horror Story: Coven into the realm of schlockfest. Zoe’s character is as bland and stupid as usual because resurrecting a guy you just met as a Frankenstein-esque zombie, and then dumping him off at his mother’s (conveniently just before she’s about to hang herself) are all logical courses of action for our supposed anchor and heroine. There has also been a return of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s apparent love for Battlefield Earth‘s shot composition, as he over-uses tilted camera placements and spiraling shot movements for no sensical reason other than for the hell of it. Even the score comes across as filler sometimes, as they seem to play that irritating melody with the eerie choir whenever they can’t think of anything else to better fit the mood.
But at the end of the day, my main gripe (and the one that keeps me from liking this otherwise decent episode more) is that American Horror Story: Coven vomits shocking things onto the screen for no thematic or story-driven reason other than to do just that: shock us. I won’t say how any of this happens or who it involves, and feel free to skip this sentence if you don’t want ANY hints about the episode whatsoever, but “The Replacements” throws sporadic acts of incest and bestiality (though the latter is only implied) without giving us anything other than a convoluted mess that isn’t worth the shock-value by episode’s conclusion. It’s a real shame because honestly, I thought this might be the episode to start a turn around for me when it came to this show. But I guess American Horror Story: Coven is just another broken clock of a series, getting a few things right this one time but with virtually no prospect of striking gold ever again.