Switch Hitter is the companion piece to Some Like It Watched. Unlike SLIW, where one person picks a popular show which is surprisingly popular and we try to figure out the reason for its success, Switch Hitter calls for one ScreenSnarker to pick a show which she or he likes and have two fellow writers try to figure out what she or he likes about it.
This week, Shelly chose American Horror Story: Coven, which airs Wednesday at 10:00 on FX.
I love American Horror Story. It reminds me of some of my old favs like Battlestar Galactica and even Buffy… but tending to be more demented and twisted. I watch TV with my kids and those kinds of shows are mostly light and airy. But AHS is anything but…
I love the theme music it makes me feel sexy and yet evil at the same time, even if only for an hour. I get all tingly when a show is rated TVMVLAS (STD HPV lol) it means there will be indeed butthole and boobs, or the like. AHS is an Anthology rather than a trilogy. The seasons not being connected at but past actors and actresses popping up in roles you’d never expect them to be in. I have loved every season of AHS. This season: “Coven” is off the chain. I love witches and weird supernatural shit. I even applied to be a witch of Newbern (North Carolina??!!) in the back of my Cosmopolitan in 8th grade (Like WTF mom and dad why was I allowed to read Cosmo?) but Bridgette Nielson was the head witch. So that should have been my clue. I never did become a witch and now I get that witches don’t exist (but whores do) but I love the genre of witches and the history of how they intertwine with the history of the nation.
I hope my boys enjoy it. Creators Ryan Murphy (of Glee for shits sake!) and Brad Falchuk have created a world rich in detail and good campy fun. I picked it because I think its well written, well acted, keeps you on your toes and is never boring. The whole look and feel of the show is amazing. Also Jessica Lange should have her own channel 24/7. i’d watch her act out a dog food commercial. Woman makes me feel woozy and inferior all in one.
I must begin by mentioning that I love American Horror Story. The show debuted in 2011 on FX and has defied convention in various fashions. Firstly, this show is a horror television show, which is a rarity on its own (I can’t think of another current television show that focuses on horror, except for maybe Two and a Half Men). Second, the storylines and locales of each season change and the cast of characters is completely different between seasons, which is unheard of in scripted televsion. Most of the actors return between seasons, but to have them play completely different characters is unique. And third, the themes covered on each season cover different topics that are truly American horror stories in their own nature, as well as exploring and deconstructing classic American horror narratives. There are also nods to famous horror movies throughout the series.
The first season, simply titled “American Horror Story”, was mostly located inside a haunted house in Los Angeles. Rather than simply focusing on ghosts and ghouls, the show used this location to deconstruct various problems with the American family. There was a Columbine-esque school shooter storyline. Jessica Lange’s next-door neighbor was a nightmarish classic Hollywood actress reminiscent of “Mommie Dearest”. The two main characters underwent a pregnancy similar to that in “Rosemary’s Baby”. And the main family couldn’t move out of the haunted house due to the collapse of the housing market, as they were unable to sell the property.
The second season, now titled “American Horror Story: Asylum”, took place at a mental institution (insane asylum) in the 1950s. This season dealt with the horrors of institutionalization but also had other classic horror elements, such as alien abduction, a serial killer psychiatrist, a former-Nazi “Dr. Mengele” character who performs experiments on his patients, and a nun possessed by the devil. Within this season, broader themes were explored such as the attempts to reform homosexuality through shock treatments, religion vs. science with regards to curing patients, and abortion.
The third (current) season is titled “American Horror Story: Coven”. Now the focus has shifted to the classic and truly American story of witches. The story takes place in New Orleans at a sort of Professor Xavier’s School of Witchcraft. The season begins in the 1800s with the story of Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), who is an evil plantation owner who tortures and mutilates her slaves at her mansion (the mansion becomes the school of witchcraft). She ends up torturing the wrong slave, who turns out to be related to Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), who is a powerful Cajun witch. Laveau performs a series of spells to make LaLaurie’s life a living hell. She casts a spell of undying on LaLaurie and then buries her alive. As the story comes to modern times, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), the headmistress of the witch school and “supreme witch” of the coven (the supreme being the most powerful witch in the coven), discovers the grave of LaLaurie and finds her to still be alive, having been buried for over 150 years.
We meet four of the young witches in the coven: Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga), Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and Nan (Jamie Brewer). Each witch has their own powers (in respective order, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, human voodoo doll, and clairvoyance). There are also a few other witches in the coven, such as Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), who is Fiona’s daughter; Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), who heads the coven’s council, and Misty Day (Lily Rabe), a hippie witch who lives in the bayou and has the power to revive and heal the dead.
This most recent episode, entitled “Burn, Witch. Burn!” has a few different plotlines. The young witches are trapped in the school with LaLaurie and the place is surrounded by an army of zombies resurrected by Laveau. Three of the zombies turn out to be LaLaurie’s daughters, who we saw hanging from the front of the mansion in a previous episode. What was unclear to me is why LaLaurie was grieving at the sight of her dead children. This episode showed a flashback where one of the daughters had brought a “gentleman caller” to the mansion for a Halloween party and LaLaurie brought him into her “house of horrors”. He was told to put his hand into a stewpot and was asked what he felt. He thought he felt grapes but when LaLaurie lifted the cover, it was a pot full of eyeballs, and the camera cuts to a scene of slaves having their eyeballs removed. LaLaurie is an awful human being. The gentleman leaves the house and LaLaurie tells her daughter that he was weak and unworthy. The daughters then plot to kill their evil mother, but she catches wind of it and decides to torture her own children by locking them up for a year and feeding them feces. Why show this flashback? We know she is an awful person, but if she would torture her own children (who wanted to kill her), why would she show remorse later? Perhaps she is turning over a new leaf in her life? Anyways, this plotline somewhat resolves itself at the end of the episode when the young witches fight off the zombies (involving some awesome chainsaw work that would put “The Walking Dead” to shame) and we discover that Zoe may end up being the new supreme witch.
Continuing from the previous episode is the aftermath of the acid attack on Cordelia, which results in the disfigurement of her face and complete loss of eyesight, however the attack appears to have opened up a new power. As her husband clutched onto her hands, she suddenly was able to read his mind and could see the murder that he had committed in the previous episode. It will be interesting to see where this plotline goes from here. Also, while Fiona was visiting in the hospital, she ends up going on a booze and drug bender and has an oddly tender scene in a hospital room with a young woman (Meg Steedle, who previously played the tragic Billie Kent on “Boardwalk Empire”). Fiona uses her powers to help revive the woman’s stillborn baby, showcasing her supreme powers.
Random observance: the house servant Spaulding (Denis O’Hare) dancing around his room of dolls, dressed as a doll himself, with the dead body of Madison rotting in a box, echoes of various horror tropes like “Psycho” and “Silence of the Lambs”. It’s campy moments like this that add a disturbed sense of humor to the show.
Finally, one plotline involved Fiona being put on trial in front of the coven’s council for the murdering of Madison. Fiona ends up convincing the coven that it was in fact Myrtle who killed Madison and they sentence her to burn at the stake (giving the episode its title). The episode ends with a surprise, as Misty happens upon the charred body of Myrtle and revives her, with the episode ending on a shot of Myrtle opening her eyes.
I have been a fan of this season of American Horror Story thus far. We’re only five episodes in and we’ve seen all sorts of crazy things, like minotaurs, Frankenstein monsters (Evan Peters, who has been in the two previous seasons), voodoo magic, reanimation, zombies, etc. There will be an inevitable showdown between the witches in the coven and Leveau’s voodoo witch gang. I’m not sure where this ride will end up, but I am sure going to enjoy where it takes me. And I am even happier knowing that there will be a fourth season, though it disappoints me to hear that it will be Jessica Lange’s last season, as she has been straight fire on this show.
I punched up the October 9, 2013 episode of American Horror Story: Coven fully expecting to use its wafer-thin characters and awful storytelling as source material to use in making fun of Shelly for assigning it to us. After all, I’ve just been through two rounds of Some Like It Watched which required me to sit through vapid, flaccid prime-time horror shows: Vampire Diaries and Grimm. In fact, I was thinking of jokes I could make about Shelly (primarily focused on sexual frustration) before I even watched it.
And what can I say? I was wrong.
I couldn’t help contrasting it with Vampire Diaries and Grimm, which belong in the same conversation the same way that the Saturn Ion belongs in the same conversation as a BMW 7 series. In grasping for what made those shows successful, I noted that the narrative pace was quick and that things happened—shit got real, so to speak. But the twists were inconsequential if you weren’t in on the backstory. You just assumed that it meant something. AHS tells its story so well that you can drop in for one episode and enjoy it for what it is. The characters are dense enough that you needn’t know what happened last week to buy into the story. That is the sign of a well-constructed show.
I was shocked by the quality of the actors. The episode opened up with Kathy Bates getting her evil on. My reaction—Holy shit! It’s Kathy Bates. And then they roll out Emma Roberts, Jessica Lange, Precious and Angela Basset. There are hitters in this line-up.
I was ready to start deducting points for the liberal borrowing from movies, TV shows and pop culture until the pace and blatancy of their use signaled that they were cheeky ‘shout-outs’. Unlike the derivative drivel of Grimm and Vampire Diaries, AHS is both culturally-aware and self-aware. Once I got that, I started enjoying them. In one viewing, I noticed nods to Eyes Wide Shut, X-Men and Lifeforce. And calling the butler “Jeeves” was cute.
The violence in AHS was liberal and shocking. You had an old-timey hanging, a roofie-fueled gang-rape and squirm-inducing slave-torture in an attic. Taissa Farmiga kills with her poisoned vagina, once by accident and once as revenge. Emma Roberts takes out a crew of fratboys by telekinetically flipping their bro-bus.
The one-liners were amusing, too. “Nobody wants to see your dick, no matter how small” induced a chuckle. Emma Roberts had funny lines—“Do you own any clothes that didn’t come from the Gap?” and “It’s too hot, my frickin’ vagina’s sweating”. And Jessie Lange dropped a little truth—“The world’s not gonna miss a bunch of assholes in Ed Hardy t-shirts.”
Beyond the language, I was surprised by what they depicted on basic cable. The violence was fairly graphic, certainly, but by now we’re all inured to that. They went further—Emma Roberts lays naked (curled up, but naked nonetheless) and crying in the shower. Before Taissa Farmiga kills a comatose fratboy by screwing him, she throws him a handy under the hospital gown in order to get him in character. And the aforementioned gang rape left little to the imagination. Bad language, violence or raciness don’t make a show good on their own (we’ve all seen R-rated pieces of shit before), but it does tell the reader that FX gives the folks who make AHS a fair amount of leeway. It would appear the team behind AHS puts their creative freedom to good use.
I’ve never watched an FX show before, but the taste that I got from watching AHS and the promos for its other shows interspersed between mattress and bankruptcy relief commercials suggests that it might be a peer of HBO’s. They’ve got Sons of Anarchy (I’ve heard that’s quite good), Archer (people seem to really like that) and Emmy contender It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And a wise man turned me onto Louie, which is both funny and discomfortingly real.
I think I’m going to watch more FX. And certainly, I’ll watch American Horror Show: Coven again.