The Witch Hunters take center stage, while Myrtle hosts an eye-popping dinner party

By Darren Franich
Updated December 12, 2013 at 04:23 AM EST

The best thing about the horror genre is that all of the usual rules of decency go out the window. Characters break the code of law, or religion, or conventionally accepted morality; in turn, many of the great horror movies break the basic rules of filmmaking. (Forty minutes into Psycho, Hitchcock killed off his lead character. And she was naked, too!) The tradition that American Horror Story invokes in its very title is supposed to be transgressive.

For that reason, fellow viewers, I’m very intrigued to know what you think about the climactic moments of “Head,” the ninth episode of American Horror Story: Coven and the one that took the whole simmering racial/sexual subtext of the season and turned it into explosive text. While Odetta sang a black freedom song on the soundtrack, a character based on one of history’s most miserable racists watched footage of the Civil Rights movement and wept; meanwhile, downstairs, a white man with a gun murdered his way through Marie Laveau’s salon. It was genuinely horrific. It rode a knife’s edge between offensive and profound.

What made it even more unsettling was the episode that preceded it, which pulled back to give us a better perspective on the warring powers of Coven‘s world. The episode started with a young Hank hunting with his dad in the Chattahoochee National Forest, circa 1991. Dad gave Hank typical All-American Dad advice: “There’s nothing to be nervous about! We’ve been hunters for generations!” But this was not a deer hunt. They were hunting witches. Dad flushed out one of them. (I guess Chattahoochee was, like, a witch preserve? Or maybe Dad regularly kidnapped witches to play a refined version of the Most Dangerous Game?) Hank hesitated. The witch used her pyrokinesis. She burned Dad’s arm; Dad shot her in the face. “Never forget what they are!” he yelled.

Hank and his Dad were Witch Hunters, just like Hansel and Gretel in that crappy movie where Hansel and Gretel were Witch Hunters. And when Witch Hunters are around, no one is safe. At least, that’s the line Fiona fed to Marie, visiting her salon in an attempt to combine their rival schools, just like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler Gleason & Chaough.

Marie didn’t like the idea — and Fiona had no way of knowing that it was Marie who hired the Witch Hunter in the first place. She also didn’t like the Decapitated Head of Delphine Lalaurie, which Fiona returned, still in her box. (The sight of Delphine’s headless caged wiping away at a fly is a standout moment in a season filled with gross visuals.) Fiona left. Marie commanded Queenie to burn Delphine’s head. (ASIDE: At one point in this scene, Marie Laveau said “S—” but really let it last awhile, which I have to believe was a Clay Davis homage. END OF ASIDE.)

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Hank returned to home base. The Witch Hunters appear to operate out of a Very Big Corporation called the Delphi Trust. But they’ve been around for awhile: Since before Salem, maybe since the very early colonial era. Hank’s dad is the current Big Man in charge. And Hank is no loner his chosen son. Dad has a trusted lieutenant; you got the sense that Hank has been given Charlie Work, sent on long undercover missions while the cool guys handle the big picture things.

Dad was not happy with Hank. When his son protested that he took down the red haired pyro in Baton Rouge, Dad gave him the real story. Hank used a credit card; he showed his face to too many people; they had to take down a desk clerk and a maid just to clean up his mess. The vision of men in a beautiful decadent office idly conjured up lots of mid-2000s imagery: They’re like the faceless bureaucrats of the Bourne series, plotting death from afar.

But the Witch Hunters were also coded as more recent topical villains. Dad complained that “the liberals in Washington are just looking for an excuse to sneak the FCC on companies like Delphi.” The Witch Hunters are Evil Corporate Guys and Evil Shadow Government Guys; they’re also, notably, all guys. So far in Coven, we’ve mostly spent time in various woman-on-woman rivalries and wars. This scene seemed to argue that all of that has been a distraction. It was revealed that the Witch Hunters burned Delia — a crime that was blamed on Myrtle.

The recently resurrected redhead was agonizing over that accusation. She begged Delia to use The Sight so she could see the truth. Delia didn’t need to: She trusted her Auntie Myrtle. But Myrtle didn’t stop there. She brought the other members of the Council over to Miss Robichaux’s for a dinner. (I can imagine the invitation: “Come celebrate my resurrection! Lobster will be served!”) The Council said they regretted that whole burnt-at-the-stake thing. Myrtle laughed it off. They all took a sip of the vino. Turned out it was poisoned, freezing the Council members into Human Statues. Myrtle said she wouldn’t kill them…at least not until she served the Key Lime Pie. She did, however, use the melon baller for a purpose that had nothing to do with melons. And voila! Delia had two new eyes.

Fiona was happy to see that her daughter had regained her vision, although she complained that Myrtle couldn’t even be bothered to get two matching eyes. Myrtle said that the generous donors wished to remain anonymous. SMASH CUT TO: Myrtle carving the other Council Members up into ambient bits and then boiling them up Walter White-style. Myrtle strikes me as a fascinating wild card as we approach the Coven endgame. She appears to have more power after her resurrection. And has her ultimate goal really changed? Does she still want Fiona dead?

NEXT: Gross! Sick people!Zoe and Madison went to the hospital to visit Nan. Their sister witch was checking in on Neighbor Boy, who was still in a coma after getting shot by Hank. His mom didn’t want them around, until Nan started talking to Neighbor Boy. She reminded Joan about a song she sang to her son long ago. She sang almost the entire song, probably because when you have Patti LuPone on your show you’re required by law to let her sing at least one extended emotion-crushing song per season.

Across town, Queenie disobeyed a direct order from Marie. Instead of burning Delphine’s head, she decided to educate it. Setting the head down on a TV dinner tray, she decided to teach Delphine a very important lesson, using the best educational tool on the market: Television! Specifically, she established a strict regimen: First Roots, then Roots: The Next Generation, then into some Mandingo, a dash of Color Purple, and B.A.P.S., “starring Ms. Halle Berry.”

At Miss Robichaux’s, Delia was doing some educating, too. In her garden, she was teaching Misty Day some basic tricks. They brought some plants back to life, which you’d think would be less difficult than bringing half the cast of American Horror Story back to life. But Delia received an unwelcome visitor. See, Hank had been prodded by his former employer to take down Miss Robichaux’s. And by “prodded,” I mean “phantom-stabbed in several painful places using magic.” Hank tried to apologize to his wife. But Delia wouldn’t hear it. She was filing for divorce. She put all his things in a box upstairs.

Hank got the box, grudgingly. On his way out, a female attack dog barked at him. It was a new purchase by Fiona: “Females are more loyal and aggressive when it comes to protecting their families.” The dog smelled something. Fiona went into Zoe’s room…and found FrankenKyle. Fiona, with the funniest line of the night: “Another goddamn boy? Jesus, these girls.” Kyle started petting the dog. I wrote in my notes: “Female dog owned by witches = Witch Bitch?” Literally right as I wrote that exclamation point, Kyle killed the dog. RIP Witch Bitch: You were too beautiful to live.

But turns out that Fiona didn’t mind Kyle killing her guard dog. Far from it. She spruced up Kyle’s brain, so he could carry on something like a conversation. But this sprucing had an ulterior motive: She was turning him into the new guard dog, able to attack on command.

Back at the hospital, Joan thanked Nan. “You’re a miracle!” Good feelings all around. It was right about then that Nan started talking seriously. She said that her son talked to God, and she said God was judging Joan for what she done. We saw a flashback to Joan’s husband talking into his cell phone, telling Joan he wanted a divorce. As he hung up, a couple bees appeared in his car: Stung, he went into anaphylactic shock. That’s right: Joan killed her husband with bees. Every mom on Coven is crazy. I keep hoping that Connie Britton gets to cameo as the only sane mother on the planet.

Joan kicked Nan out of the hospital. Later, we saw Neighbor Boy wake up. He cried: “You killed Dad!” Joan told him to go back to sleep and then she MURDERED HIM WITH A PILLOW WHAT WAS I JUST SAYING ABOUT MOTHERS. So who hasn’t died or had a traumatic near-death experience yet on Coven? Zoe?

Then we came to the moment I mentioned at the start of the recap. Queenie, frustrated that her cultural education wasn’t working, played “Oh, Freedom” for the Madame Lalaurie while showing her some docu-footage of the Civil Rights struggle. Downstairs, Hank came in guns blazing, shooting up Marie’s various lieutenants. He even shot Queenie. But you can’t keep a good witch down. And has Hank stared into the eyes of Marie Leveau — perhaps remembering a moment 22 years earlier in Chattahoochee, when he learned to look at witches as his prey — Queenie pointed a gun into her mouth and pulled the trigger. Hank’s brains splashed against the wall. Upstairs, Delphine cried, her racism apparently cured by the power of song.

This scene was crosscut with the death of Neighbor Boy. It seemed to draw a tenuous line between two very different forces: Hank, representing the Witch Hunters and their general freefloating Paternal Corporate Political evil; and Joan, representing Christianity and the general freefloating Moralistic Zealotry evil. Afterwards, Marie came to Miss Robichaux’s, looking chastened and ready to form an alliance. There are four episodes left in this season. We seem to be moving to a Witch vs. Witch Hunter showdown, although presumably there are more intra-Coven battles still to be fought. And where does Joan fit into all of this? Is she just a character so Patti LuPone can sing again? And is that necessarily a bad thing?

All in all, an action-heavy episode leading into the break. What did you think of “Head,” fellow viewers? Are you hoping that FX starts selling collectible Kathy Bates heads?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich