American Horror Story: Coven – “The Axeman Cometh” Review

Edmund Poliks

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As I said when I reviewed the fourth episode “Fearful Pranks Ensue,”  I’ll be the first to admit when American Horror Story manages to pull off some things legitimately well. Sure this show has been the farthest thing from my cup of tea for the most part, but there are aspects of it (mainly actresses) that I enjoy a reasonable amount. The odd thing though is that this week, the show managed to give me a few new things to enjoy on top of the stuff (characters) I was already a fan of. It’s still nothing all that good, and I am (as always) at a loss as to why this series has the insanely fervent following that it does. But this week’s “The Axeman Cometh” was okay, and so for this week at the very least, I’ll give American Horror Story a few brownie points for making some decent moves.

“The Axeman Cometh” opens with the series drawing a thread between the real-life serial killings perpetrated by “The Axeman of New Orleans” and its own universe as we witness the famed Axeman (portrayed wonderfully by Danny Huston) fall at the stabbing hands of a group of witches in 1919. Flash forward to the present day, and the remainder of the episode’s plot-lines feel entirely dedicated to providing both the characters and the audience with a wide array of answers. For one thing, Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), now afflicted with blindness, gains the gift of vision, destroying her previously near-ridiculous level of naiveté with the truth about Hank’s (Josh Hamilton) infidelity and Fiona (Jessica Lange) executing Myrtle (Frances Conroy) in “Burn Witch. Burn!” And on the other end of things, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) gets one step closer to the truth about Madison’s (Emma Roberts) murder as she makes contact with the Axeman’s disembodied spirit in order to discover Madison’s body and revive her with the help of Misty (Lily Rabe).

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This week’s episode lessened the screen-time of both Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett (though both were still as good as you’d expect) while flat-out omitting Kathy Bates all together, so the usual pillars of quality that the show leaned on were absent. Instead, this episode allowed some other characters to shine, specifically Cordelia. Now I didn’t truly hate the character before (though her obliviousness was annoying) so much as think that Sarah Paulson was being under-utilized as an actress. Well that has been changed as of this week, as Cordelia arguably has the best scene in the episode, descending quickly from innocence into malformed betrayal as she utilizes her anger-augmented powers to cast both Hank and her mother out for their deception.  The character transformation was a joy to watch, and I look forward to seeing the more wise and proactive Cordelia play a bigger role in future episodes.

And while I’m on the subject of a character being proactive, Zoe actually felt like somewhat of a decent protagonist this episode, realizing the dangerous situation of the Coven and rallying the other witches behind her. It’s a great move that I appreciate, though I still think she’s inconsistent and dirt stupid. After interrogating Spaulding (Denis O’Hare) about Madison’s murder, she comes to the conclusion that they can’t approach the authorities at the risk of exposing the Coven. Let’s just shelve the fact that this is contradicted by the blatant recklessness she and the Coven have wantonly displayed through public power usage, murder, and resurrecting Kyle (Evan Peters) to disastrous results after only five minutes of talking to him. No, let’s focus on the fact that her response to this scenario is to play Dr. Frankenstein AGAIN with Madison, the hands-down least sympathetic and b****iest character on the series, and see what happens. Zoe, I applaud the effort, but I’m sorry, you’re still a complete moron.

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Ironically enough, I think “The Axeman Cometh” is the episode so far that best simulates an average Halloween, or at least the haul you’d have at the end of the night. Besides all the other brand stuff you’d expect, “The Axeman Cometh” gives you the toffee and caramel delights of Sarah Paulson’s improved character, Denis O’Hare’s scary-as-hell performance, and the magnificent Emmy-worthy addition of Danny Huston in all his gleeful malevolence. On the other hand, you’re saddled with the stale Sweet Tarts of Zoe’s continued stupidity, the self-indulgent shooting style, and the melodramatic writing inconsistencies that litter every plot-line. Yeah this candy bag has a lot going on inside of it, and there’s certainly some good stuff amongst the rubbish, but it’s just an okay end result. But hey, “okay” is better than turds this season has crapped out since its premiere, so I’ll give it credit for that at least.

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