Sunday, March 23, 2014

Recapping AHS: Our Long National Nightmare is Over

Yup, it's been forever on this one, everybody. I wish I could say it was entirely because I was too busy to write this, but it's more than that. I'll explain more at the end, but in the meantime how do we start the final episode of the season? With a music video! Starring Stevie Nicks, naturally! Seriously – it happened.  Vaguely because we needed to see a montage about how each of the girls study for their finals the Seven Wonders, but really it just came off looking a lot like an early 90s VH1 hit.

The night before the trials begin, Myrtle has literally prepared a last supper modeled after DaVinci. Mrytle explains that any of the four girls competing could die in the process. “Childhood is over, my girls,” Cordelia tells them. “Kick ass tomorrow.”

The first wonder! Each of the girls must use telekinesis to move a burning candlestick across the table to their hands. Misty goes first and nails it. Queenie, Madison, and Zoe each follow. No elimination round here!

What "light as a feather, stiff as a board" would like like if high schools had sorority hazing rituals.

The second wonder! Mind control! Misty is up first again and makes Queenie smack herself repeatedly. Queenie retaliates by forcing Misty to pull her own hair. Madison gets more personal, however, and compels Kyle to make out with her in front of Zoe. Zoe, however, will cut a bitch and makes Kyle come to her for an extended make out. Madison then forces Kyle to strangle Zoe until Cordelia interrupts the entire test.

The third wonder! Descent into Hell. As Queenie learned last time, getting down isn’t hard, it’s the coming back before dawn that’s tricky. Each of the girls lies on the floor and descends into their own private hell. Queenie is back in the fried chicken shack. She rolls her eyes and makes it back first. Madison follows closely – gasping for breath. “It was horrible,” she cried. “I was stuck on a network musical. It was a live version of the Sound of Music. I wasn’t even the lead! I was Lisle.” Zoe surfaces later, coming out a hell where Kyle didn’t love and kept breaking up with her and oh Jesus really, Zoe? I don’t even want to talk about that. Misty, however, is not shaping up so well – she’s stuck in high school biology dissection class. Misty keeps reanimating her dead frogs until her jerk Bio teacher makes her cut apart a live one. Over and over. Poor Misty is not getting the point, screaming each time she’s forced to kill the frog. It’s getting light out and she’s still not coming back to the land of the living. Cordelia wants to help, but there’s nothing anyone can do but Misty herself. Unfortunately, the time runs out and Misty’s body decays into ashes in Cordelia arms. Which I seriously have problems with, because Misty rocked. Ugh.

Misty, we hardly knew ye...

The fourth wonder! Transmutation. Which basically just means playing tag, but with lots of vanishing. The girls actually start to break into levity, beginning to have fun until Zoe transmutates herself onto the spikes on top of the gates and impales herself where no one can reach her. Bummer. Time for the fifth wonder! Bringing the dead back to life. Queenie attempts to revive Zoe but isn’t able to for some reason. “Guess who isn’t the Supreme,” Madison crows. Cordelia tells Madison that the only way to prove that she can be Supreme is to bring Zoe back to life, proving that she can perform that Wonder. Madison, however, isn’t too keen on bringing in another competitor, especially since Queenie has effectively been eliminated. Madison finds a third way, killing a fly and then bringing it back. Game, set, match. “I’m starting to think Fiona had the right idea,” Madison crows. “Crown me, or kiss my ass.”

That night, Cordelia confesses to Myrtle that she feels she’s failed for allowing the Coven to die out if Madison is the best they can produce. Myrtle, however, sees it differently – Cordelia herself could be the next Supreme. Her own lack of building on her power has been because Fiona has held her back all these years. Game on! Freaky Eyes Cordelia goes into action the next day, lighting fires from a distance, making Queenie dance, levitating a grand piano, and generally making Madison start to sweat. It’s not until she comes back from Hell and still manages to transmute herelf across the house that things get serious though.

On to the sixth wonder! Each of the three witches must magically devine the location of particular items that belonged to former Supremes in the house. Cordelia locates hers within moments. Madison, however, has a much more difficult time. She’s unable to ascertain the location of her item, suggesting several possibilities and never getting a single one right. She throws a temper tantrum. “I’m going back to Hollywood, where things are normal,” she screams.

Like getting paid to make out on camera with the frankenstein'd version of your real-life boyfriend.

As she angrily packs upstairs, a grief-stricken Kyle approaches her and grabs her neck, demanding to know why Madison let Zoe die. Madison cries that she loves Kyle and that she did it for them. Kyle does what he does best and strangles Madison, leaving her body on her bed. But because not even death can stop things from being creepy, Ghost Spauling is on hand to “help” by removing the body for Kyle.

In the greenhouse, Cordelia makes her move toward the final of the Seven Wonders, reanimating Zoe’s dead body. Now fully a Supreme, Cordelia finds her eyes magically restored and she herself now in the full bloom of “glowing, radiant health.” And what to do with her new-found Supremacy? Press conference! After the passage of some time, Cordelia makes the decision to announce the presence of witches to the world and is being interviewed by Cable News. She issues an open call to all potential witches, urging them to come out of the shadows and come study at Miss Robichaux’s.

As the applications begin to pour in, Cordelia tells Myrtle that she wants to restart the Council with Zoe and Queenie as members. Mrytle agrees, but is more concerned about moving forward on a new era, needing to “clear the rot of the past.” By which she means that it is only right that Myrtle, as the one who murdered the past Council, needs to die. “At the start of your glorious reign, the last thing you need is a Watergate,” she tells Cordelia. Cordelia thinks of Myrtle as her true mother and isn’t keen on this whole process, but it’s what has to be done.

Back to the Stake! Myrtle is back where she started, doused in gasoline and about to be put to death for the second time. At least this time it’s done in love? Or something? And she gets to chose her own dress and her own last word. (“BALENCIAGA!”) And with that, Cordelia lights Myrtle aflame and heads back to the Academy.

Before long, there’s a line of goth girls trying to get into the real live Hogwarts. Cordelia officially asks Zoe and Queenie to be her right hands and her Council. The three of them go downstairs to open the doors, but first Cordelia says there’s one more thing she needs to deal with.

In the living room, who should be there but a withered and decaying Fiona. Turns out that vision of her death was planted into the Axeman’s head by Fiona as a rouse to suss out the next Supreme. Obviously, it didn’t go exactly as planned. Either way, Cordelia figures out what happened and can tell that Fiona is in her final moments. Fiona explains that all her life she saw Cordelia as a reminder of her eventual death, though she “loved you plenty” in her own way. It’s actually a testament to how good both these actors are and how good they are at playing apart from each other that this entire scene is ridiculously intense when it’s just two women sitting in a nice living room talking. It’s hard to figure out when exactly Fiona is going to strike and she feels like someone who you just can’t trust asking for a hug. The tension is so well played that when Fiona begs for and end to her own pain from Cordelia, you legitimately don’t know what’s going to happen. Until Fiona, true to her word, slips quietly away, dying in Cordelia’s arms.

Goodnight, horrible princess. And a flight of demons, etc. etc.

And then, Fiona awakes in a simple bed in a country house somewhere, nice but far from the glamorous surroundings we’ve seen her in. The sun is shining and she’s healthy, but she’s confused. The Axeman comes in from fishing and Fiona is repulsed. “Why are you always like this?” He asks her. Every morning, she wakes up and she doesn’t know where she is. It’s been like this for “eternity”, according to the Axeman. As she begins to realize where she is, a place that “reeks of fish and cat piss and knotty pine”, the Axeman tells her he’s in Heaven with her and she’s not going anywhere. Somewhere in the shadows, Papa Legba catches Fiona’s eye and laughs.

And in the academy, the doors are opened and a vast new generation of witches streams in. All wearing black, naturally. “We’ve survived,” Cordelia tells the witches-in-training. “It’s our time to thrive.”

And there we are – the end of American Horror Story: Coven. What with the bevy of talented actresses, the luscious sets, the gorgeous atmosphere provided by filming in New Orleans, it seems like this season had all the makings of an amazing season of television. So why did it feel so...flat? Somehow it became an example of something where the parts were greater than the sum. To borrow a quote from a friend of mine, the season was like a Bloody Mary - a final product that just wasn't good, even though each of the pieces are enjoyable on their own. This season also suffered from a critical sin - it just wasn't scary. Lance Riddick's too-little-too-late turn as Papa Legba brought some welcome chills, but by the time we made it to him the show was too far gone into the overly drawn out plot line of the next Supreme for us to really ever get scared. Given that the first two seasons did such a good job delivering genuine "pillow of fear" moments, it was a serious letdown to lose those here.

I'm not calling American Horror Story's death nell just yet - even strong shows can have weak seasons and given that this show is an anthology, we can't expect every story to be as good as the others - but I will say that the writers need to take a serious look at what they need to accomplish in next season's story and learn how to ensure that spectacle doesn't completely drown out what makes the show interesting to watch. 

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