30th Jan2014

‘American Horror Story: Coven 3×13 – The Seven Wonders’ Season Finale Review

by Nathan Smith

AHS-Coven

Perhaps because I was so enamored with the highs of American Horror Story: Asylum, I went into the third season, Coven, with appropriately set expectations. I mean, witches in New Orleans residing in a boarding school. Well, that’s ripe with possibilities. And throw in a little bit of local flavor with the history of Madame LaLaurie and the so-called voodoo dealings of Marie Laveau and it looked like this season had the most exciting room for potential. Except that it squandered its storytelling vitality at every turn. How do you take a concept that has so much room to breathe and grow, and then immediately, turn it into the story of petty witches who always set out to kill each other, and do so in some cases, and then become best friends at the moment they get resurrected (which happened so frequently in the beginning of the season, that I feared that no one would actually die)? No, sorry, I don’t buy it. I get that maybe there’s some stealth plot here where the coven destroying itself internally would be there undoing, but it still rings falsely. Even the recent subplot about the witch hunters, and how the hunters are a danger to their safety, effectively ended when the two people who ARE the biggest danger to their covens banded together with the help of the Axeman (wasted idea there as well) in an effective setpiece.

I thought to myself though, “Give it a chance. Asylum didn’t piece together for you until the last episodes of the season.” But AHS: Coven failed to do so. In ‘The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks,’ (what an awful unwieldy title that is), the plot just ran in circles like a dog chasing its tail. That seems to be the mission statement this year. Move forward while going nowhere. There was potential in the early episodes but as the story moved on we began to care less and less about the characters. There’s such a rubber band mentality to the characters this season, one episode they’ll talk about protecting Fiona, and then the next she has to die. There really isn’t any point to watching unlikable people fight for the Supreme, especially when they seem bent on saddling the most transparent character with it. If the show took risks, it would fly up and away. It could’ve been scary. It could’ve been Suspiria or Murder Rock, but instead, it became a YA book trying to be the cool kid in class.

That’s not saying it’s a bad show to look at. On the contrary, it’s quite striking and the real New Orleans backdrop lends credibility to the events of witchcraft in the show. The actors, all do excellent work, despite the writing tethering into a firm, wheel spinning motion and the direction is slick, despite the overuse of canted angles, fisheye and rotating cameras (which keeps it lively, but distracts the eye). I just wish there were more plots like the zombies and the witch hunters. That was when the show felt vibrant and alive.

And the finale, written by Buffy alum, does a lot of things, some good, but overall not so good. They tell you who the Supreme (Cordelia, which was very unexpected) and end things on as happy a note as it certainly could have. But the episode, and as much of the season, felt anticlimactic, like they kept ending the story and then realized they had to keep going. The problem with the search for the Supreme is that they never gave a sense of urgency to the whole thing. Yes, we understood that because Fiona was dying, she needed to be replaced (also, she was a murdering monster, but that’s neither here nor there). That’s it. There were intersting concepts that could have been mined out of the whole thing, which were hinted at in the final scene, that Robichaux Academy was a haven for witches. That’s interesting and sadly it comes off as an afterthought in the uneven finale of an uneven season.

Now, there were things to be liked about the episode. The cold open, a music video with Stevie Nicks singing and running around the academy was great in that “well, you’ve just got to accept the insanity, or give up and go home attitude,” which admittedly has gotten me through this whole season. The reveal of Cordelia as the Supreme was a nice surprise, but it was just that, a surprise. The whole season has been spent with Cordelia talking about how she’s been a screwup and now SUPREME. But because the whole season was spent raining awfulness upon her, she was blinded TWICE, it was a nice end for the character. And the scene with Cordelia and Fiona, their last scene was a dynamo scene, well acted and written, but it feels unnecessary and unsurprising all the same. Because of the trope of television and film, that if the character death happens off-screen, it don’t mean they’re dead. And in this case, we were right. And that ending for Fiona, I realize she’s a wretched character, but to live a life in squalor, being beaten by a raging maniac, well maybe that’s a little too dark. And I LOVED Asylum.

But her death was just a snap of the fingers, she just ceases to be. Which works in a way of saying that she didn’t need a magnanimous death, but it still felt like they killed her as an afterthought. Overall, the way the deaths were presented rang falsely. Misty, a character we’re led to believe is some grand standing witch, just dies in a manner befitting an extra in a rotgut directo video slasher film. And Myrtle’s death was completely unneeded. She was killed off because the writers wanted her dead. Not because the character needed to die. That’s the key to the show. When Madison gets offed by Kyle, it makes sense. Her death was something that needed to happen, not because the writers needed extra carnage. And they seemed afraid to take risks, Zoe’s death and Madison’s refusal to bring her back was a great moment, and as if the writers felt like they didn’t need to take it too far, brought her back.

I liked American Horror Story: Coven for the hot mess it was. I didn’t like it because of all the wasted potential it overlooked. I’d probably re-watch at some point, but only because I’d watched the far superior Asylum,or Murder House beforehand.

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