Zoe and Madison pull a Frankenstein, while Delia explores alternative fertility treatments. Plus: Jessica Lange vs. Angela Bassett, Round One.
The second episode of American Horror Story: Coven began with a recently deceased alligator biting into the neck of a poacher and dragging him kicking and screaming into the bayou. The swamp was shot to look exactly like the Devil’s Bayou in The Rescuers, and last night’s episode becomes even better if you choose to believe that the vengeful undead alligators were actually Brutus and Nero. (The Rescuers is so scary, you guys.)
While the poacher died a horrible death of simultaneous drowning and decapitation — or drowncapitation as it’s called on the whiteboard in the American Horror Story writers’ room, where the staff famously spends every Monday afternoon innovating exciting new ways to kill people, before their evening ritual of drinking goat’s blood and watching Funny Face — another recently deceased creature looked in with vengeful timidity. The first time we met Lily Rabe’s Misty Day, she was an innocent backwoods babe-in-the-woods who brought a pretty bird back to life and burned to death. Now she haunts the bayou. She found the poachers’ den filled with skinned crocodiles (caught, in a great piece of tourist-book detail, using jerk-chicken traps.) She was angry. “This is wrong, all wrong,” she said. “Why would you kill God’s innocent creatures? So they could be made into shoes?” Note that phrase: innocent creatures. When the poachers held a gun on her, Misty had no qualms about watching the poachers die ugly. Our little Bayou Angel appears to have a genuine moral code. Presumably, that code will begin corroding starting now.
Meanwhile, at Miss Robichaux’s, Delia was rousting everyone for their morning lessons. The ladies were slow to come downstairs. Zoe was investigating the dead Kyle, the saintliest frat dude ever, who apparently spent his summers volunteering for the United Way. She couldn’t understand why Madison was so flip about killing him — how she could be such a bitch. “Because I understand people,” said Madison. “That guy would’ve happily taken a turn on me if he had the chance.” Although Madison and Zoe are roughly the same age, Madison has much more experience than her roommate in the world of men — and specifically in Hollywood, where men generally have the emotional intelligence of randy 12-year-olds discovering the internet while their parents aren’t home. To Madison, Kyle was as bad as any other guy; he would’ve died anyhow, if he got too close to Zoe.
Meanwhile, a few rooms down, Fiona was having some words with her new roommate: the Madame LaLaurie, recently exhumed from her own grave and currently tied up like a bad guy on 24. Fiona called Madame LaLaurie, “Miss Pittypat,” a reference to Scarlett’s spinster aunt from Gone With the Wind, shown here in a mugshot after her arrest on multiple counts of arson. (Kidding, kidding. #NoDisrespectToAuntPittypat). “How is it you’re still alive after all these years,” scream-whispered Fiona. The light chirping of an iPhone ringtone frightened the Madame. “Jesus, woman, it’s a cellphone,” Fiona said slapfully.) Important Note: On my AHS screener, the music that played over this scene sounded a bit like/was maybe-probably taken directly from Cliff Martinez’ marvelous score for Only God Forgives, which in hindsight has a lot in common with American Horror Story. (Kristen Scott Thomas basically plays Jessica Lange.)
There was a quick flashback to Detroit, 2012, where we learned that Queenie was an A-student working at a local fast food joint as a manager. A mouthy customer demanded an extra piece of chicken. When she refused, he called him a “stupid fatass.” So she stuck her hand in boiling water and — using her power of pain transference — just about boiled his arm off. Queenie had no idea about her witchy ancestry. “I grew up on white-girl s— like Charmed and Sabrina the Teenaged Cracker,” said Queenie, disappointingly overlooking the fact that although The Craft is one of the all-time classics of White-Girl S— Cinema, it also features the immortal scene where Rachel True makes evil-racist-blonde Christine Taylor’s hair fall out.
Queenie, it turns out, comes from a line of black witches: “I’m an heir to Tituba, a house slave in Salem, the first to be accused of witchcraft.” Tituba was a real person who is also a basically mythic entity at this point. Very little is known about her — which hopefully means that she’ll show up in the season finale of Coven as a chaingun-toting cyborg angel played by, oh, let’s say Rosario Dawson. Tituba does have a big role in Coven‘s mythology — more on that later — and it was interesting to see the show bring up such a fascinating figure in the racial and sociological history of the American experiment. This being a Ryan Murphy show, one second later Queenie responded to a Madison quip by exclaiming, “Bitch, I will eat you!”
NEXT: A visit from the local constablesA couple detectives entered the room. They needed to ask the girls some questions about the fraternity party. (The lead detective was played by Lance E. Nichols, a.k.a. LaDonna’s husband on Treme. This doesn’t prove my theory that Coven takes place in the same universe as Treme, but it doesn’t disprove it either.) In a scene composed entirely of eerie tilted close-ups, the detectives cross-examined the girls. They asked if Madison used any drugs. “She’s sober,” said Zoe. “Except vodka,” agreed Madison.
But Madison wasn’t the focus of their interest. They wanted to know what Zoe was doing visiting the Evil Rapist Frat Douche in the hospital — and why he died the same way as her boyfriend. Zoe freaked out. “They gang-raped her! They got what they deserved! I killed that a–hole using my sex powers! Everyone here is a witch! Most of us are symbolic of something, like feminism or whatever! Please don’t send us to jail!” Midway through this sputtering rant, Fiona swanned into the room. “Are you in charge here?” said the lead detective. “I’m Fiona Goode,” she said, “I’m in charge everywhere.” Except Jessica Lange made it sound like everyway-uh, and I’m pretty sure I heard a guitar twang and a lightning strike after she said that line.
Fiona used some old-fashioned magic. She filled two glasses with water, spat into them, and handed one glass to the lead detective. “Drink it,” he said. The guy suddenly had the glassy-eyed look of a Brainworm’d Chekov and drank the water. The other detective tired to fight her off. Fiona threatened to turn his brain into scrambled eggs. Sweat poured off his brow, and blood poured out of his nose, and it looked like one of his eyes was about to explode: Coincidentally, classic symptoms of Watching American Horror Story.
Fiona asked the police to turn over everything they had on Madison and Zoe, and then never speak of them again. But she had some words for her young charges. “I forgave your ham-handed mass-murder business with the bus,” said Fiona, waving it off as a classic case of girls-will-be-girls youthful indiscretion. But for Zoe, she had no such sympathy. “When strangers come asking questions, we close ranks,” she said. In the subculture of witchdom, the worst crime — worse than murder — is going outside of the subculture. (Not for nothing, Fiona also pointed out, “I couldn’t toast a piece of bread with the heat they were putting on you.”)
Fiona believes in the superiority of the Witch species: “If there’s one thing you learn before leaving this place, it’s that we — even the weakest among us — are better than the best of them.” She concluded: “In this whole wide, wicked world, the only thing you have to be afraid of is me.” It was simultaneously an attempt to build the girls up and put them in their place. The message was: “You are better than absolutely everyone. Except me.”
This emboldened Madison. She took Zoe to the local morgue, where she used skills she learned from a never-filmed cat burglar movie project to break in. Madison wanted to test herself. So she grabbed a Resurrection spell. (ASIDE: Notably, it was in Latin. Our understanding of the witching world’s history is already getting complicated; are we meant to understand that witches date all the way back to Ancient Rome? Or does “magic” as a concept date back that far, but “witches” as a subspecies are more recent? Which episode will feature a flashback to Ancient Egypt that reveals that Cleopatra was secretly a witch and was also a transgender vampire, Cleopatra in this case being played by, oh, let’s say Kendall Jenner? END OF ASIDE.)
Madison led Zoe into the meat locker, where the fraternity boys from the bus crush were splayed out in pieces. Literally: They opened up one body bag and found the decapitated head of Kyle staring back at them. Madison saw this as an opportunity. “Nice legs over here…a great set of guns…I wonder if he’s a show-er or a grower?” She told Zoe that they were going to bring together all the various boy parts and “build the perfect boyfriend.” As an icon of male beauty, Hottie Frankenstein is apparently having a moment.
The theme of objectification — of treating a human being as an object, either as an icon to be worshiped or a debased product to be utilized — has run throughout American Horror Story. Madison — an actress, who’s been on the far side of the objectification gaze — sees Kyle as a series of Boy Parts, to be freely exchanged. We cut away to a different sort of objectification, one that harkened back to the very first episode of AHS‘s premiere season, when Vivien Harmon visited her doctor about certain problems pertaining to her womb. Delia, it turns out, wants to have a bun in the oven. Unfortunately, she’s having…difficulties. The doctor recommended in vitro fertilization — the next-level nuclear option when other fertility attempts have failed.
Delia is frustrated. “I should be able to have a baby, just like any other woman.” (Remember: Unlike her mother, Delia craves normalcy.) But Delia’s husband wonders why she won’t just use magic. “This kind of magic, it’s dark,” says Delia. “It’s about life or death. I don’t want to play God.” But her husband responded: Aren’t the doctors just playing God with their fertility science? (Both of them had that slightly traumatized, desperate tone of people who have been trying to be parents for a long time; people for whom “the baby” has become an abstract concept that defines their whole life.)
At Miss Robichaux’s, Fiona tried again with the Madame LaLaurie. LaLaurie had no idea that she had been in the ground for 180 years, and she recalled the tale of her imprisonment. After awaking from her poisoning, she found the black woman who promised her a love potion outside. She was flanked, on all sides, by other African Americans: Maybe I just had James Whale on the mind, but to me, they looked specifically styled to resemble the villagers in old Frankenstein movies, always chasing the monster with torches and angry yells. Their leader informed Madame LaLaurie that she didn’t want her dead. No: She wanted her to suffer. She pointed to her family, all hanging from the Madame’s house. “Don’t think they didn’t suffer,” she said. “Because they did, greatly.” (It’s a testament to American Horror Story‘s running ambiguity that this scene simultaneously played as catharsis — because the Madame deserved punishment for her horrible crimes — and a terrible miscarriage of justice — note that the Madame’s family was hung, iconography that conjures up the women of Salem and the terrifying history of lynching African Americans throughout U.S. history.)
“For your sins, Madame LaLaurie, you are damned to live forever,” said the leader. “To never reunite with loved ones in the land beyond. To be alone, sealed in your unmarked grave for all eternity, listening to the world go on around you even until that world is no more.” Coming from Angela Bassett, this was pure pulp poetry. In the present, Fiona thoughtfully said: “I’m sorry for your loss.” Then she bit into a chicken leg. “Wanna bite?”
NEXT: Did we just marry the devil?
At the Morgue, Madison and Zoe reassembled Kyle back together, using the very best boy parts they could find. They had plenty of time to sew him together. You might think it’s strange that the Morgue was so understaffed, but clearly you haven’t heard about the government shutdown and how America is like, broken, man. Madison intoned lots of words, some in arcane languages. “Azazel, we submit to you body and soul, the lord of the underworld,” she said. “Did we just marry the devil? ‘Cause I dunno if I’m down with that,” said Zoe.
No luck. The boy did not arise. Madison walked outside, leaving Zoe to say goodbye. Zoe told the dead Kyle: “My life’s just been so out of control lately. Wish I could’ve kept you out of it.” Then she kissed the decaying lips of her undecapitated corpse-crush. It was gross but also sweet, like every kiss you had before you turned 20. In the swamp, Misty Day seemed to notice something; meanwhile, a Morgue worker finally showed up, and Madison left Zoe behind to suffer the consequences. The Morgue worker saw Zoe…but then Kyle suddenly arose, beating the Morgue worker senseless and letting out a loud resurrection scream.
None of this mattered at all, because the next scene featured Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett at their most Lange-y and Bassett-y. It was like watching two giants fight each other with giant shotguns that fired nuclear bombs. Fiona was in a beauty shop in the Ninth Ward. “You’re not used to having a white woman in your chair, are you?” asked Fiona. Her hairdresser deadpanned: “Not used to having a white woman in this neighborhood.” The Ninth Ward rose to national prominence after Hurricane Katrina, partially as a symbol of the storm’s devastation and partially as a symbol of post-storm government neglect; when the Ninth Ward was namechecked, it immediately lent the scene a deeper subtext.
But before I mention subtext, I do need to mention that Angela Bassett sashayed in wearing a gold leopard-print shirt underneath a bright red jacket and with twisted hair that looked plentiful enough to asphyxiate a stegosaurus. (Knowing nothing about hair, the internet informs me that Bassett’s hairstyle is called a “Marley Twist,” which I would argue should henceforth be referred to as a “Bassett Twist,” which is coincidentally a great name for a rock band.)
You see, it turns out that Angela Bassett is playing Marie Laveau, another real-life person whose existence is shrouded in mystery. She hasn’t aged a day since we saw her in the 1830s. And she had Fiona’s number down. “Woman like you wipes her ass with diamonds. She don’t just walk in here for hair extensions. I know exactly what you are: Witch. I can smell the stink of it on you.” This is an old rivalry, we learned. “Your kind and my kind have been going after each other for centuries,” said Fiona. “Kind of like a hammer going after a nail.”
The show immediately complicated our understanding of this black-and-white dynamic by implying that there was ambiguity around the roots of witchery. Marie insisted that the witches got everything from her kind. Fiona scoffed: “Tituba. Voodoo slave girl who graced us with her black magic? She couldn’t tell a love potion from a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.” But Marie insisted, “You made her a slave.” According to her, Tituba came from the Arawak, a tribe of Native Americans. Supposedly, the first tribe Christopher Columbus met upon arriving on these shores was Arawak. This implies that the witching world could be torn along continental lines: The white witches who migrated from Europe, the Arawak-derived line of Tituba. According to Marie, Tituba “Learned the secrets of the other side from a 2000-year-old line of Shamans. Necromancy. She gave it to your girls of Salem.”
Fiona — in this case playing the role of “White Upper-Class American Dismissive Of Any Claim On Her Ascendance” — said, “You wanna tell me some illiterate voodoo slave girl gave me my crown?” Deadpanned Marie: “Maybe you haven’t heard the news of civilization starting in Africa.” So, in a nutshell: The entire history of humanity was being played out onscreen by two actresses speaking in the most insane accents on record. (To save our education system, all American schoolchildren should take a class that is just Angela Bassett and Jessica Lange re-enacting history as extended passive-aggressive bitch-slap verbal warfare. Ideally, with props. And by “props,” I mean lots of lamps to throw, for effect.)
Fiona wanted what Marie already had: Eternal life. And she insisted she had something Marie wanted. “You could offer me a unicorn that s— hundred-dollar bills, and I’d still never give you more than a headache.” But Fiona has Marie’s number, too. She almost set the hair salon on fire. And she ended their talk with: “Nice to see you doing so well after all these years. Maybe in another century, you could have two s—hole salons.” I initially thought Fiona was just offering Marie the Madame LaLaurie. But maybe she was offering something else: Money? Power? Prestige? Watch this space, and maybe ask the Emmys to let Lange and Bassett host next year.
NEXT: Fertility ritesDelia was in her garden, putting together everything needed for the ritual. Her husband — who seems like such a genial, understanding guy that you have to figure he’s going to be a murderous sadist by episode 7 — asked if she needed help. They set up an elaborate ritual. Candles, large eggs, a circle of ash on the floor, cutting each other’s fingers open and drinking the blood: You know, date night! Then they had sex, and the ash caught on fire, and snakes hatched out of the eggs and crawled up around Delia. (The key to a successful marriage is shaking things up in the bedroom every now and then.)
Not to get too weird here, but there was a radical shift at the end between what appeared to be happening magically and in reality. In the magic-world, Delia was on top — and, as we all know from the Paul Verhoeven Rules of Onscreen Sex, the “cowgirl” position is symbolic of female empowerment and male fear of female empowerment. In reality, they were using the old-fashioned missionary position — which, again according to the Verhoeven school, is symbolic of hetero-normative behavior and the male patriarchy. Baseless Theory Alert: Delia’s character arc this season is going to be about her “breaking bad,” becoming a wilder person, possibly because she will have a symbolic devil growing inside of her.
Meanwhile, Zoe attempted to calm down the reanimated Kyle, who was going full-Karloff in the car. She was assisted, quite unexpectedly, by Misty Day, who was “drawn” to Zoe and Kyle. She explained that she had been “called” while she was in the woods. “I had no idea what it was, but I knew I had to follow. And it was you, Zoe.” Misty took the two kids to her shack in the woods. She seemed so happy: She knew that she was not alone. While she healed Kyle up with a mixture of Spanish moss and alligator dung, she played “Rhiannon.”
Zoe asked who sang that song. “Stevie Nicks!” said Misty. “My hero!” Zoe: “That’s Stevie Nicks from American Idol?” Misty, not even understanding the words coming out of Zoe’s mouth: “That’s Steve Nicks. The White Witch. the only witch before you I’ve ever known.” They listened to the song by way of demonstrating Stevie Nicks’ powers. (ASIDE: “Rhiannon” has a whole tangled history that speaks directly to the themes of Coven. It was inspired by a novel about a woman who is possessed by her dead cousin Rhiannon — a possible reference to Misty’s own resurrection. But that novel was, in turn, inspired by the Welsh mythic figure Rhiannon, a figure who was variously a sexualized entity and a kind of Earth Mother, which long story short means episode 10 of Coven will feature a flashback to 5th Century Wales, where we learn that Rhiannon was a warrior-witch with an archery fetish who fell in love with her own son and was also a cannibal — Rhiannon in this case played by, let’s say, Catherine Zeta-Jones. END OF ASIDE.)
“Doesn’t it just penetrate your soul, and tell the truth about everything you ever felt in your life?” asked Misty, who really looked thisclose to kissing Zoe, and Zoe in turn didn’t look totally disinterested in that. But Zoe stood up and stammered that she had to leave, and Misty promised to heal up Kyle until Zoe came back. So the door is open this season for a romantic triangle between a resurrected swamp-lady Fleetwood Mac fangirl, a reanimated fratboy Frankenstein, and a teenager with a death-vagina. Which is not a sentence I will ever get to write about Mad Men.
Madame LaLaurie was broken out of her restraints by Nan, who didn’t like how loud the immortal mama was thinking. Nan appeared to be meditating in front of a painting that looked a lot like Frances Conroy, although given how focused Fiona is on immortality, it seems unlikely that Conroy’s character — who didn’t appear this week — is that old. Unless she’s somehow a different kind of witch? Also, Denis O’Hare Update: Denis O’Hare didn’t do anything this week. This concludes your Denis O’Hare update.) Madame LaLaurie called Queenie a slave, leading Queenie to say: “Who you calling slave, bitch?” Then LaLaurie knocked out Queenie with a candlestick, lending credence to the theory that that this season is secretly a Clue reboot.
Side Note for Minotaur: Apparently, the Minotaur is still alive and well, shackled inside of Marie’s house somewhere. Apparently, he is still a Minotaur, since he made lots of animal noises. End of Side Note.
Fiona found the Madame outside of her house. LaLaurie was not happy to see that her home was a part of history, a museum of horrors. Deadpanned Fiona: “You’re not remembered fondly. But I guess that beats not being remembered at all.” LaLaurie tried to argue that she was “a woman of my time.” Fiona cackled. “You’ve got a mean streak wider than your backside. If ten of the hundreds of things I’ve read about you are true, then you deserved every minute under the dirt.”
But Madame LaLaurie made a plea for understanding. “They took my babies, hung ’em in a straight line. My husband, too. Him I didn’t care about. Planning on killing him for weeks, poisoning his buckwheat.” She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her: “I loved my girls, in my own way. Even the ugly one. The moment she came out of my belly she was a shame to me. She had the face of a damn hippo. But I loved her, just the same.” To me, this is the essence of an American Horror Story moment: Taking a character who is A) absolutely terrible and B) quite ridiculous, and then asking you to feel some kind of sympathy for them. It helps when the monsters are played by Kathy Bates, who closed out her soliloquy with dark words: “Hell is real. I’ve seen it, down in that box.” LaLaurie did horrible things, and those horrible things were avenged upon her; now she, in turn, seeks vengeance for that vengeance. Round and round forever.
LaLaurie asked Fiona if she would kill her. Fiona said maybe, at some point. But first, she threatened her: Run away again, and it’s back in the box for you. And so the two mass-murdering psychopaths strolled down the street together. For a moment, I thought I heard them whisper, “We’re friends through eternity. Loyalty, honesty. We’ll stay together, through thick or thin.”
Fellow viewers, what did you think of the latest episode of Coven? Are you intrigued to learn more about the history of the show’s witching world? Will Misty ultimately join the witches at Miss Robichaux’s, or does she have a weirder/darker trajectory ahead? If you could build your perfect man, which celebrity’s arms are most Frankenstein-worthy? And who, in your opinion, won this week’s Queen Ultra-Badass Superbitch of the Cosmos prize? I give the edge to Bassett, although Lange was neck-and-neck, while Bates and Roberts also put up a decent showing. Lastly: How long until American Horror Story features a unicorn that defecates hundred-dollar bills?
Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich
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