After last week’s episode “Fearful Pranks Ensue,” I had hope. Optimistically (and more than a bit foolishly), I thought that American Horror Story: Coven could be turning into a decent horror show that I may not “love” per say, but that I could at least watch and enjoy it for what it was. But then I remembered that I was dealing with Ryan Murphy, and much like Glee‘s obnoxious habit of jam packing episodes with irrelevant top 40 covers just for the sake of the ratings, American Horror Story: Coven managed to find a new way to sell out by throwing zombies into the mix of things. It’s to the point that you could call the show a rip-off of The Walking Dead in the sense that both break new ground in the realm of hilariously terrible zombie story-telling.
Picking up pretty much right after the last episode ended, we find Zoe (Taissa Farmiga), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), and the rest inside the boarding school under siege by the voodoo zombies summoned by Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), which include LaLaurie’s own daughters. As they try to survive the onslaught, Fiona (Jessica Lange) takes Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) to the hospital and tends to her after an acid-like phenomenon permanently scars her face and robs her of her eyesight. Throw in some Witch Council bickering, Spalding being absolutely terrifying, and a dash of contrived deus ex machina here and there, and you got this week’s “Burn, Witch. Burn!” in a nutshell plot-wise.
Now if I can give credit to one thing this episode, it’s that they actually pulled off some great isolated moments in this episode by utilizing a “mother-daughter relationships” thread-line that attempted to tie everything together thematically. This lends itself to some terrific bits of vulnerability from both Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates, which provide a much-appreciated layer of sympathy that manages to elevate their characters to new levels of complexity. The former especially has a fantastic scene after Cordelia’s accident wherein she comforts a mother who has given birth to a still-born baby, displaying a level of relation and closeness with other human beings that her selfish character had not displayed at all in previous episodes. Kathy Bates too has a great scene wherein she apologizes to her zombified daughter during the attack and wishes to make amends for all the harm she inflicted upon her in the 19th century. Both moments are much-appreciated and manage to be standout, subtle moments in an episode over-shadowed by more obvious horror.
Which brings us to the whole “zombie siege” plot line of the episode. We’ll just shelve the fact that this episode STILL continues the irritating dutch angle method of shooting, which manages to serve no artistic purpose outside of demonstrating the cinematographer’s apparent childhood fear of tripods. No instead, let’s focus on what is really at the core of this zombie invasion: contrivance and convenience. If you’ve seen anything with George Romero’s name under the title, then you’ve seen all of the stupidity and ridiculousness before, complete with the multiple deus ex machinas of finding RANDOM CHAINSAWS on the school premises and Zoe, who wasn’t in last episode much (thank God), suddenly developing the powers necessary to break Marie Laveau’s spell in three seconds. I don’t care how strong your “protagonist” is supposed to become by series end, NO WAY is she going to be able to pull all of that off so quickly on the FIRST TRY, especially after you’ve given no indication of her potential to do anything but act blandly and make terrible decisions.
What this all comes down to is that this episode had so much going for it but it didn’t know what the hell to do it. The scenes with Lange and Bates, while great, are lost amidst the cliched attempts at horror while some of the more legitimately creepy stuff (especially Spalding’s ending scenes) are pushed to the back-burner in favor of schlock and convenience. As much as I don’t miss Emma Roberts’ character, I will admit that she managed to serve one purpose before: her selfish vanity and pretension epitomized the shallowness of American Horror Story: Coven inside of a single character.