Zombies come a-knocking on Halloween night. Warning: Bloodshed and maternal anxiety may ensue

By Darren Franich
November 07, 2013 at 04:06 AM EST
  • TV Show

It was All Hallows’ Eve in New Orleans, 1833, which meant the Madame LaLaurie was hosting one of her famous parties. Apparently, there were two main activities for a young unmarried gentleman attending the party: Flirt with one of the Madame’s daughters, and suffer through the Madame’s rigid potential-husband vetting process. One gentleman was making bedroom eyes at the Madame’s daughter, who was named something like Beargita. The Madame brought a lusty suitor into her Chamber of Horrors. “Guess what’s in the bowl,” she demanded. The suitor laughed and asked her how long it took her to peel so many grapes. Wrongo! The Madame revealed a bowl filled with the eyes of her imprisoned slaves. Then she told the suitor: “Guess what’s in this bowl. Hint: It’s long, wet, and slippery.” The suitor, attempting to recover the situation, complemented the Madame on her ability to cook intestine-esque sausages. Wrongo! The Madame revealed a bowl filled with intestine-esque intestines. It was just like that dinner scene from Temple of Doom, except less gross.

We already knew that the Minotaur-coveting Madame LaLaurie had a thing for Greek mythology, and her suitor test is vaguely suggestive of the myth of Atlanta, who would only marry the man who beat her in a footrace. The Madame’s daughters did not appreciate her unmatchmaking. They talked idly of a murder plot. (Apparently, everyone in the LaLaurie family was plotting to murder each other.)

The ever-careful Madame took steps to protect herself them upstairs in the torture chamber. When the cage didn’t properly close on one daughter, the Madame instructed her slave: “Break her leg if you must.” She promised to set them free in a year. She turned to the daughter who started the plot — Porguita? Borcleva? — and gave her a promise. “On Christmas morning, I’ll stuff your conniving mouth full of s—.” With that opening sequence, the fifth episode of American Horror Story: Coven announced its thesis: “Motherhood is Complicated.”

Earlier episodes this season focused more on ambient generational anxiety. Old women trying to stay young; ascendant upstarts figuratively killing their elders by literally killing their elders. “Burn, Witch, Burn!” zeroed in on the show’s mother-daughter relationships. While LaLaurie’s daughters returned from the grave to torment their mother, Fiona had to witness her own daughter’s pain. Delia’s face was burned by a mysterious robed figure. The doctor at the Emergency Room said it was sulfuric acid — a favorite weapon for many men in the epidemic of violent acid attacks on women. The acid burned through Delia’s optic nerves. They couldn’t save her eyesight.

Fiona did not take the news well. She raged against the doctor. The lights of the hospital fitzed on and off, on and off, as Fiona walked with aimless purpose. She found her way to the hospital’s drug supply and took all the drugs, plus a few more. She saw a robed figure, clad all in black — like the Grim Reaper, or the Angel of Death incarnated by Frances Conroy in Asylum. A man clad in nothing but a diaper grabbed Fiona and said, “You didn’t throw that acid, but you might as well have.”

Fiona found a woman crying. For a second I thought it was Delia. But no, it was a new mother. Her baby was stillborn; the doctors hadn’t even said whether it was a boy or a girl. “She’s a girl,” said Fiona. She grabbed the dead baby — little more than a blue-tinted husk with a cute dead face — and forced the mother to cradle it. “Hold her,” said Fiona. “Tell her she’s your daughter. Tell her you love her more than the whole world.” The weeping mother complied. As Fiona walked away, color appeared into the baby’s face; it started moving; it made a sound. Fiona brought the baby back — and perhaps, as a kindness, let the young mother think that it was the strength of her love that caused the resurrection. (ASIDE: In the “Who’s the Next Supreme?” sweepstakes, this little interlude might shine a light on Misty, the other witch floating through Coven with the power to bring the recently-deceased back to life. END OF ASIDE.)

It was a stunning sequence, beyond Freudian in its staging. Fiona, a mother grieving for an adult child who hates her, found a mother grieving for a child that never had a chance. She brought that child back to life…but the tension of the scene was in the ambiguity of that action. We have yet to see a good mother-daughter relationship on Coven. When the young mother said, “I’ll be your mother until the day I die,” it was a tender moment. It could also be a threat: “You’ll be dealing with me for the rest of my days.”

NEXT: Zombies in the front yard, zombies in the kitchenBack at Miss Robichaux’s, the ladies were responding to the impending zombie threat. Things became complicated when Neighbor Boy decided to take matters into his own hands. Thinking the reanimated corpses were just pranksters pretending to be reanimated corpses, he walked outside to give them a piece of his mind. At that moment, a prankster dressed like a zombie walked up to the real zombies and said, “Your prosthetics look awesome!” (Which is how the background extras flirt on the set of The Walking Dead.) At that moment, across town, a levitating Marie Laveau sent out an order to her undead regiment: “BEGIN.” The zombies came to life and took a piece of the prankster’s mind. They also stuck an axe in his side and pulled off his head. Then they started after the Neighbor Boy.

Inside, Zoe tried to take control. She told Spalding to hide everyone in his room. Spalding shook his head. (You’ll recall that last week’s episode ended with a tea party attended by several freaky dolls and The Metaphorically Decomposing Corpse of Emma Roberts. Which is just not a sentence I’ll ever write about New Girl.) Zoe demanded Spalding watch Queenie and LaLaurie. Behind her, Nan slipped out, picking up the injured Neighbor Boy and carrying him to a car.

To rescue them, Zoe clanged some pots and pans together and led them to the greenhouse. I’m toying with the idea that Coven‘s greenhouse is meant to be some kind of bizarro-inversion of the Garden of Eden; in the last few episodes, it’s been the sight of a pagan fertility ritual and has hosted a Minotaur and a fleet of Zombies. (I’m envisioning an entire episode inside of the greenhouse, where you see the garden’s entire history in one hour. It would be like the Apartment scene from City of God crossed with “The Garden of Earthly Delights.”)

In the house, the Madame went downstairs to get some ice. Naturally, she saw her daughter, the one named Corquita or Torkeekwa or Brunhilda. She opened the door for the zombie, which is just not something one ought to do for zombies. “What has she done to you?” asked the Madame. And then — in a epiphany-leaping realization moment — she asked the real question: “What have I done to you?” By way of response, Borquita (I checked the credits!) started strangling her.

Upstairs, the daughter-husk knocked out Spalding with a candlestick and made a move on Queenie. Queenie used her totally awesome power to fight back. (I’m not sure what to call Queenie’s abilities, so I’m gonna go with “Weaponized Pain.” Or maybe “Lateralized Self-Inflicted Aggression.”) The zombie was stunned, but didn’t stop. Not until the Madame stabbed a fireplace poker through her midsection.

The she-zombie slumped over, re-dead. This was interesting, since it seemed to violate the commonly-accepted rule of mainstream zombiedom that you have to take out the head. Also, why would Marie send the zombie daughters to kill the Madame, when she herself cast LaLaurie’s immortality spell? Probably to torment her: To force LaLaurie to strike against her own flesh and blood. Whatever the reason, LaLaurie’s evening of epiphanies continued: “She had a monster for a mother. This last act was the only kindness I ever did for her.” Mere minutes after Fiona brought one dead daughter to life, LaLaurie sent her own dead daughter back into the abyss. The two events were in conversation with each other: Hope for the future shading into despair at the uncompromising void, cycling back towards hope for every new generation. With serious competition from the Lange division, Kathy Bates wins this week’s American Horror Story Grande Dame Diva-Off, just because I’m not sure any other actress could’ve made me believe the moment when — mere inches from her dead daughter’s corpse — the historically evil racist sociopath cried into Queenie’s arms.

This was about the moment when Zoe found the chainsaw.

NEXT: Groovy.Oh, the rarified joy of a chainsaw zombie death orgy! Zoe sliced her way through several deadites, until she was covered in blood and the front lawn was covered in limbs. You might ask yourself why people with chainsaws in zombie movies don’t just swing in a circle — that way, you cut off the most heads with the least motion. But killing zombies with a chainsaw isn’t about efficiency; it’s about fun. Unfortunately, Zoe ran out of chainsaw juice right as the last walking corpse attacked her. Terrified, she acted unconsciously, mumbling an incantation which turned the walking dead guy into a motionless dead guy.

The spell knocked Marie off her levitation. She told her sidekick: “I don’t know what that was, but they got some real power in that witch-house now.” (ASIDE: So, yes, Zoe is probably the Supreme. Recall how her kiss brought Franken-Kyle back to life — an implication that she, too, has the power to resurrect the recently-deceased. Unless she’s not the Supreme? Could it be that various dark forces circling around Miss Robichaux’s are supercharging everyone to a dangerous degree? That would explain why Madison — despite her heart murmur — exhibited so many Supreme-esque powers. And maybe the power of the Coven is a finite amount — meaning that every time a witch dies, she makes the other witches stronger? Suggestion for further reading: J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars.)

At the hospital, Delia’s murderous and adulterous (murdulterous?) husband showed up. He immediately got in a verbal war of words with Fiona. Actually, the war was over almost immediately, since the husband is not played by Jessica Lange. “Thank Chris you couldn’t knock her up,” said Fiona. After reiterating that she had never liked him, she told him that he had 15 minutes, and then he had to be gone. Alone, he grabbed Delia’s hand. And Delia — her eyes blank and vacant — had a vision of her murdulterous husband’s internet-girlfriend-assassinatin’ vacation. She screamed. Interestingly, her blank eyes vaguely resembled the opaque retinas of Marie Laveau as she commanded her zombie army.

Delia suddenly developing this new power would seem to add some evidence to the idea that new energies are floating around Miss Robichaux’s. But will it bring the Coven back to its former glory? Or is it the kind of energy that gathers in a dying star right before it goes supernova? That reminds me: In the just-announced American Horror Story season 4, they should definitely have Jessica Lange play a supernova, but like a sassy supernova, with a South Dakota accent.

The next day, Fiona and LaLaurie watched the re-deadified husks burn on the front lawn. They had a talk about motherhood: About their hopes and dreams for their daughters, and how those hopes and dreams shaded into something worse. For the Madame, it was torment: She loved her daughters so much that she refused to let them lead their own lives, tormenting them the same way she tormented the human beings she kept as slaves. For Fiona, it was the opposite: She abandoned Delia, not quite able to give up her own life for long enough to raise another one. “Perhaps our shared tragedy will bring us closer together,” said LaLaurie. “I doubt it,” said Fiona. “You are, after all, the maid.”

Right about then, the Council showed up for the second trial in as many days. They listed off everything that had gone wrong at Miss Robichaux’s during Fiona’s tenure, essentially summarizing the first four-and-a-half episodes of Coven. Zombies. Minotaurs. A student missing, presumed dead and/or at a tea party upstairs. They demanded her to abdicate her Supremacy. But Fiona delivered a counterargument. She claimed the Coven was under attack from the inside. And she knew who the true enemy was: Her old rival, Myrtle Snow.

In a flashback to her druggy hospital meanderings, we saw the face of the robed figure in the elevator: Myrtle. Myrtle said that was ridiculous. She would never hurt Delia. “I was more of a mother to her than you ever were,” she claimed. Fiona threw that back in her face: She said Myrtle just latched onto Delia, because Myrtle could never have a child. That got a rise out of the redhaired one. “I never had a child because I dedicated my life to this Coven!” said Myrtle — the plaintive cry of the hard-working childless woman, who knows that some people will never stop defining her by what she lacks.

Fiona took it one step further: She accused Myrtle of killing Madison.

NEXT: Veronica Lake is mentioned casually in conversation“Who is Jennifer Wooley?” asked Fiona, which seemed like a rhetorical question. Until the warlock on the Council piped up: “It’s the Veronica Lake character in the movie I Married a Witch.” Helpful! And accurate. But Jennifer Wooley was also the pseudonym Myrtle used when she checked into a hotel in New Orleans. Spalding found the room…and inside, found the wall where Myrtle had set up a Carrie Mathison-esque investigation of Fiona’s activities. The Council were horrified: Why hadn’t Myrtle mentioned that she’d been in New Orleans this whole time? Then came the final piece of evidence: Fiona pulled off her rival’s red glove, revealing a hand burnt by the same acid that robbed Delia’s eyesight. Ciciley — the quiet one on the Council — delivered the verdict. “You give us no choice. Burn the witch.”

The decision was already made. Myrtle stood up, not for a final argument, but for a weary final speech. She had spent her life swimming against the tide. She thought she had finally found a place for herself in the Coven. She was wrong. She wanted it to be over. “I go proudly into the flames,” she said. “Go ahead. Burn me.”

CUE UP: “Right Place Wrong Time,” a sizzly track by New Orleans legend Dr. John. The hilariously inappropriate number lent a funky undercurrent to the sight of the Coven marching all in black to burn Myrtle at the stake. The men in suits poured gasoline on her, dousing her fiery red hair. She had some last words to share. “You’re all a bunch of little toads in a pot Fiona is slowly bringing to boil,” she said, really painting a picture. “You won’t even feel it until it’s too late. I’d rather burn than boil.”

Fiona took a last drag on her cigarette and made Myrtle’s wish come true. (The only thing that would’ve made this scene better would’ve been Fiona pausing before she burned Myrtle to say “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.”) If you’re keeping track, nearly half of the credited regular cast of American Horror Story: Coven has died in the first five episodes. Misty, Kyle, Madison, and now Myrtle — and it’s more than half if you consider LaLaurie’s centuries-long imprisonment a kind of death.

Back at Miss Robichaux’s, Queenie had a question for Fiona: “Did I help you frame a guilty woman, or an innocent one?” We saw Fiona’s closing arguments from another perspective: Around the corner, Queenie thrust her hand into a cup of sulfuric acid right before Fiona revealed Myrtle’s newly-burnt hand. “I thought we were gonna oust her, not roast her,” said Queenie. (ASIDE: I still can’t decide whether we were meant to think Myrtle threw the acid or not. The way that she just gave up to Fiona made it seem like she had a guilty conscience. But could it be that she didn’t throw the acid? And if not, who did? END OF ASIDE.)

Fiona gave Queenie a speech that we may remember from a couple episodes ago, when she was taking Madison under her wing. She told Queenie she was getting stronger and she told her that she would achieve magnificent heights; she whispered in her ear that she might be the next Supreme. Of course, we recognize the threat intrinsic in that statement. (How many more young witches will Fiona kill this season?) Lest we forgot what Fiona’s tutelage has wrought her other students, we cut over to Spalding preparing for an All Saint’s Day tea party. He tried to pull The Metaphorically Decomposing Corpse of Emma Roberts out of its hiding place, and he wound up pulling Emma Roberts’ left arm right out of its socket. Truly, it was one of the craziest episodes of Unfabulous ever!

We cut back to the remnants of the Witch-Burning, where the burned-out husk that once was Myrtle Snow lay. Cue Misty Day, who always seems to perambulate towards the strangest places. She cradled Myrtle’s head in her hands…and Myrtle’s eyes shot wide open.

Five episodes in, and it already feels as if we’ve cycled through several seasons’ worth of mythology. Where does the show go from here? Will the resurrected Myrtle continue her plans to take down Fiona? Will she provide Misty with the friendship the Stevie Nicks fangirl so desperately requires? Who do you think is the next Supreme? Also, lest we forget, there’s a reanimated matricidal fratboy-Frankenstein just wandering around the streets. Hopefully they figure that out before All Souls’ Day.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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An anthology series that centers on different characters and locations, including a haunted house, an insane asylum, a witch coven, a freak show, and a hotel.
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