American Horror Story: Coven
October 16, 2013
Good morning, witches! Time to rise and curse! Even though Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Girls is some 20,000 square feet of tastefully appointed space and at one time accommodated 60 students, Zoe and Madison are roommates to save on air conditioning bills, I suppose. Zoe is still having a guilty about Madison flipping over a bus full of frat bros, and killing her once and never boyfriend, Kyle. But Madison is having None Of It. By virtue of being their frat brother, Kyle was as guilty as the rest of them — even if he wasn’t in the room while they were gang raping her. And even if Madison hadn’t accidentally killed Kyle, it would only be a matter of time before Zoe’s vagina dentata got to him.
Meanwhile, down the hall, Fiona is dealing with one very smelly 200+ year old sadist. Fiona needs to know how it is that Mme. Lalaurie is still alive after all these years, but it’s impossible to get any answers as Mme. Lalaurie is too busy screaming and being terrified by cell phones.
Downstairs, Queenie recounts how Delia discovered her: It was Detroit, 2012. At the fried chicken joint she managed, Queenie was dealing with a particularly obstinate customer who dared to call her stupid and fat.
So Queenie taught him a lesson in manners by dunking her arm in a vat of boiling oil, causing his arm to burn. She explains that she didn’t go to jail because despite all the witnesses, no one saw her “throw the oil” at him, but it made the papers anyway, and that’s how Delia found her. Since coming to Miss Robichaux’s, she’s learned that she is a descendant of Tituba, the slave in Salem who was the first to be accused of witchcraft (but curiously not executed for it), so, technically, she’s part of their “tribe.” Madison says something about singing “Kumbaya,” causing Queenie to leap out of her seat and threaten to eat her
because lazy writing. Delia intervenes warning them that they need to stop attacking one another because they have plenty of enemies on the outside.
Right on cue, the police arrive, looking to question Madison and Zoe about the bus incident. They aren’t saying that the girls had anything to do with it, but they obviously had everything to do with it, so how’d they do it? Zoe immediately FREAKS OUT and spills everything: the boys gang raped Madison so Madison flipped the bus with her magic mind powers and then she killed that other boy with her magic vagina powers and everyone in the house is a witch and OHMYGOD DON’T SEND ME TO JAIL.
That’s when Fiona arrives with a sigh, hands the detectives two glasses of her magic spit, which they drink, cleansing their memories of anything that dumb dum-dum might have said about magic vaginas and mind powers. Thanks for your time, officers!
Fiona then heads upstairs to deal with The World’s Worst Liar. She slams both Zoe and Madison against the walls, even though Madison didn’t do anything other than cause a suspicious bus crash with her mind, killing several frat rapists and bringing unwanted attention to the whole coven in the first place. But as for you, Zoe, Fiona does NOT HAVE TIME for weak-kneed babies who give the farm away just because someone asked them some not even particularly hard questions SO GET IT TOGETHER. Even she, the weakest of the witches, is better than the best of Them, and the only thing either of them ever have to fear is Fiona. TRUTH.
Later, because they don’t seem to do any studying at this witch school — at least at Hogwarts there were classes and homework and intramural sports — Zoe and Madison do a little independent study at some school that is standing in for the city morgue. (Actually, this is what the New Orleans city morgue actually looks like, and I’m not even kidding, it is grim, y’all.)
Madison breaks in, explaining that she’s going to make up to Zoe for killing her once and never boyfriend by bringing him back to life with this resurrection spell she stole. Inside the morgue, they find plastic bags filled with pieces of frat, including Kyle’s decapitated head, because apparently when the bus flipped over and caught on fire it also became filled with knives that took the bros apart in neat segments like they were chickens? WHY ARE THEY IN PIECES? AND WHY AREN’T ANY OF THEM BURNED? I suppose because this works better for the narrative, BUT STILL.
So Zoe’s like, “Noooo” for all of two seconds until she’s like “Oh, alright” and the two assemble together a new Kyle using a bunch of different pieces of bro — but missing an altogether very crucial piece of bro:
Although, considering Zoe’s issues, this might have been a deliberate choice.
They build themselves a new Kyle, light some candles, smear some blood on his chest, offer themselves up to the Devil, say some things in Latin and … nothing.
“OH WELL, BYE” says Madison who goes outside leaving Zoe alone with Kyle’s head to say her goodbyes. But then a car pulls up and Madison is all “LATERZ,” because she is a super good friend. Inside the morgue, Zoe tells Kyle’s head that basically she is sorry she rejected him at the party and then got his head somehow, rather mysteriously cut off in a bus accident and then sewed it onto some random torso, and she gives Kyle’s head a goodbye kiss. This kiss goes out through the ether and connects with OH! LOOK WHO IT IS! Misty Day! who is alive-ish and wandering around the swamps reanimating alligators so they can chomp on hunters’ heads. Nom nom nom.
Back at the morgue, the driver of the strange car enters and finds Zoe cowering in the dark, but before she can confess everything, again, Kyle comes to life and beats Driver to death. I think. He certainly renders Driver unconscious at the very least, and so Zoe and Kyle steal Driver’s car and head off into the night.
On the drive, Zoe explains to Kyle’s head that he died. He begins freaking out which is a reasonable reaction to learning that you are a zombie, which is when Misty Day pops up in the backseat. Wait, what? How’d Misty Day get all the way to New Orleans from the swamp in the time between the kiss and when Kyle reanimated? Did she fly on her broom? Teleport? I mean, I get we’re dealing with magic here but come on, fill in some blanks here, guys. The swamp is close to New Orleans, but it’s not a five-minute walk to New Orleans. BUT ANYWAY, Misty Day pops up in the backseat and orders Zoe to drive into the swamp and Zoe is all, “Alright!” because she never questions anything and does everything people, even backseat swamp strangers, tell her to do.
Misty Day brings Zoe and Kyle back to her swamp cabin where she smears mud and alligator poo all over Kyle to cure him, teaches Zoe about Fleetwood Mac and “white witch” Stevie Nicks and explains that she never knew that there were others like her until Zoe summoned her, but now she’s super excited to not be all alone in the world. FRIENDSHIP PALS! And that’s when Zoe’s like, “Yeah, OK, I’ve got to get back to my school with all the other witches, why don’t you stay here in the swamp with my zombie boyfriend. KTHNX LATER.”
So apparently Delia is married? And trying to get pregnant? But she can’t? And her husband knows she’s a witch? And
Hank Darrin’s like, hey, why not use your powers to get pregnant? And she’s like, NO! BLACK MAGIC! for about half a minute until she’s like, Alright, let’s go have snake sex? And so they have sex in a ring of fire surrounded by eggs and with a bunch of snakes? Yeah. So that was a lot of narrative crammed into a much too small amount of time.
But back to the awesome: Fiona brings a plate of fried chicken up to Mme. Lalaurie and is like, “Mmmm… fried chicken.” Because, mmmm, fried chicken. She also explains that Mme. Lalaurie can have some of this delicious fried chicken if she tells Fiona how it is that she is alive 180 years after her supposed death? Mme. Lalaurie is shocked to learn that it’s been that long, and flashes back to Marie Laveau giving her that “love potion.” When she woke up, Marie Laveau and a bunch of slaves were standing out in the street with the proverbial torches but none of the pitchforks, demanding an audience with her. She obliges, and that’s when she learns that they’ve hung all of her daughters and that the “poison” Laveau gave her was actually everlasting life, which she’s going to spend in this here coffin. Bye gurl bye.
Back in the present, Fiona is like, wow, that’s so sad for you. OK, I’m off to get my hair did, you stay here, don’t make trouble.
Fiona goes to an African-American salon in the 9th ward, where some bewildered hairdressers pull a comb through her blond hair and twerk. And that’s when Marie Laveau comes in and is like, “Go home, Miley Cyrus, I’ll take care of this lady.” (COOL REFERENCE, HIGH FIVE.) Fiona is like, “OH HI REALLY OLD VOODOO QUEEN MARIE LAVEAU THAT’S RIGHT I KNOW WHO YOU ARE.” And Marie Laveau is like, “WHATEVER, RICH OLD WHITE
BWITCH OH THAT’S RIGHT I KNOW WHO YOU ARE TOO. BOOM.” The two of them arguexposit about the historic animosity between the Salem witches and the Voodoo witches: something about how Marie Laveau claims a slave — presumably Tituba — taught the Salem witches everything they knew. And Fiona disputes this not by pointing out what they established in the previous episode, that being a witch is genetic and therefore not a learned trait, but instead by insulting this reputed slave girl as being illiterate.
But that’s not why Fiona’s here: she actually was hoping that Marie Laveau would give her whatever it is that she is using on her skin to keep her looking so young. In exchange, Fiona will give Marie Laveau something super cool that she really wants, promise. Oh I see what she’s doing here! She’s negging Marie Laveau! “Hi, your magic is stupid, can I have your magic?” But negging doesn’t work on Marie Laveau because she has a brain in her head and she’s like, “HAHAHAHA, nope,” before ordering her burly henchmen to grab Fiona. But before they can throw Fiona out, she sets some of Marie Laveau’s wigs on fire with her mind powers before calling Marie Laveau’s salon a merdehole and leaving.
While Fiona was busy trying to neg Marie Laveau, back at Miss Robichaux’s, Nan becomes so distracted by Mme. Lalaurie’s super-loud thoughts that she stomps upstairs, unties her and orders her out of the house. Queenie rounds the corner, alarming Mme. Lalaurie who calls her “slave” before bonking her over the head with a candlestick and making her escape.
But Fiona finds Mme. Lalaurie in no time, plopped down in front of not-The Lalaurie Mansion, feeling sorry for herself. She simply does not care for the fact that they have turned her home into a museum of horrors, when all she was was a “woman of [her] time.” But Fiona calls bullocks on that, arguing that if Mme. Lalaurie did 10 of the hundreds of things they claim, she deserved every moment spend under the dirt. Mme. Lalaurie has a sad about her daughters being hung — she loved them, even the ugly one. And she knows for a fact that Hell is real, she saw it in that box, where the only thing she had left was the image of her girls in her mind’s eye. She hopes Fiona is a witch because maybe she can kill her? Fiona agrees that she might eventually kill Mme. Lalaurie, but not yet. In the meantime, if Mme. Lalaurie runs away again, Fiona will return her to that box AND SHE MEANS IT THIS TIME, NOT LIKE THAT LAST TIME WHEN SHE SAID SHE WOULD DO IT AND DIDN’T. And with that, the two ladies walk back to Jackson Ave. from the far end of the French Quarter instead of taking that cab that just passed them, what?
And back at her house, after complaining that she’s sick of Popeye’s because “fried chicken” was our secret theme of the night, Marie Laveau pours herself a big glass of brown and informs The Minotaur that he’ll never believe who is back in town before unshackling him.
Alright, let’s spend several thousand words talking about the symbolism of the fried chicken. HAHA, just kidding, that’s ridiculous. (Although, I could point out that voodoo practitioners actually do sometimes sacrifice chickens, use chicken feet as charms and chicken bones to read fortunes or ward off evil. So.) But I do have a lot to say about this episode, so let’s get started…
First of all, Frankenstein. Kyle is obviously Frankenstein’s monster, or, rather, Zoestein’s Monster and the writers are having fun with classic horror motifs. And I would complain about the show losing focus, but as opposed to last season wherein Ryan Murphy and the writers threw everything against the wall — Nazis! Zombies! Aliens! The Devil! Serial Killers! — and waited to see what would stick, this season feels much more coherent. While it’s true we are dragging a new supernatural element to the story, this time not only is it consistent with the plot (the girls use their powers to bring him back from the dead; this isn’t some random alien popping in), but it also dovetails with the bigger themes of the season: immortality, the quest for eternal youth and the cost of attaining such gifts.
It’s worth noting that the novel Frankenstein is about a doctor who choses to play God by subverting nature and controlling the powers of life and death, and who is ultimately punished for his hubris. This notion of “playing God” is explicitly repeated in the episode by Delia and her husband when they discuss the possibility of using magic to conceive a baby. Delia warns against “playing God,” which he in turn argues the Doctor would be doing if they were to use modern medicine to become pregnant. Like Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, it’s likely nothing good will come of either witch’s experiment, Zoe’s or Delia’s, for either creator or creation.
That being said, I should also add that while Frankenstein is by Mary Shelly’s own description “a Modern Prometheus” story, what transpires between Kyle and Zoe is something of a gender reversal of the Pygmalion myth. In the Greek myth, Pygmalion, a sculptor, carves an ivory sculpture of a woman and promptly falls in love with it because Male Ego. He prays to Venus on her feast day to give him a bride that is like his sculpture, and when he goes home and kisses it, she comes to life and they live happily ever, objectification be awesome. Similarly, Zoe and Madison build a “perfect” boyfriend which only comes to life after Zoe kisses him. However, somehow I doubt Zoe and Kyle’s story will end as happily for the young couple.
But to go back to the reanimation issue: mirroring Kyle as a Frankenstein figure is the character of Misty Day, who also died and came back to life. By passing through death and returning, both Misty Day and Kyle are now liminal beings, creatures that are in two states of existence and can’t wholly be classified as one thing or the other. They are both alive and dead. Because of their dual states, liminal beings tend to possess other-worldly knowledge and often serve as guides or advisors to the hero of the journey. While I doubt Kyle will be offering any useful advice anytime soon, I can see Misty Day becoming something of a spiritual guide to Zoe — offering her a more naturalistic, spiritual approach to her gifts to balance the more scholarly one that she might receive from Delia at the school (if they ever get to the schooling part, that is).
But that’s merely speculation; for now it’s more useful to consider how Misty Day and Kyle represent the two sides of this resurrected figure. Misty Day’s return from the dead was a natural extension of her own innate powers, and was something of an apotheosis for her character — passing through death to be reborn stronger, more enlightened. In contrast, Kyle’s resurrection was brought about through external actors — he had no control or choice in the matter, making his condition monstrous.
Similarly, I think we can consider Mme. Lalaurie and Marie Laveau as representing the two sides of immortality. Like Misty Day, Marie Laveau enjoys her immortality through the result of her own powers (presumably — we don’t know her backstory just yet). She chose immortality for herself and therefore retains control over it. But for Mme. Lalaurie who was given immortality against her will, she regards her condition as a curse. She is a monster.
And then we have Fiona, who is the most powerful witch of her generation, but who still believes that despite being able to set wigs on fire or throw people against walls with a flick of her wrist, real power for a woman lies in beauty and youth. (And it is not coincidental that the woman who controls the secret of this power runs a beauty salon.) Unlike Mme. Lalaurie, Fiona is actively seeking out this power — however, because it doesn’t come from her own abilities, she is going to have to relinquish some control to gain it.
Finally, not to overthink the whole snake sex scene, but I’d be remiss to not point out some of the obvious symbolism going on there: the couple creates a circle on which they place a number of eggs, representing fertility, birth, regeneration. As Delia and Darrin get it on, the eggs hatch full-grown snakes which wrap themselves around the pair. Snakes are most often associated with dark, primordial forces, with Satan and evil. And, of course, they are a phallic symbol. And so I think what they were probably going for here was just to visually suggest what Delia had already told Darrin, that this is Black (Sexytime) Magic and potentially dangerous.
But let’s talk about snakes for just a moment more, because they are actually a fascinating, complicated and ancient symbol. Snakes and serpents might be some of the very first animals used as symbols, representing fertility for the obvious phallic associations mentioned previously, but also because of the shedding of their skin, allowing them to be symbolically reborn, created anew. Over time, serpents became, as The Complete Dictionary of Symbols put it, “above all a magico-religious symbol of primeval life force, sometimes an image of the creator deity itself. The ouroboros motif of a snake swallowing its tail symbolizes not only eternity but a divine self-sufficiency.”
The protective-destructive symbolism that runs through … serpent myths illustrates the degree to which the snake is a dualistic force, a source of strength when mastered but potentially dangerous and often emblematic of death or chaos as well as life. The snake was often used as a curative symbol. In the ancient world, the snake’s rejuvenation linked it specifically with the Classical god of healing Asklepios. On the other hand, the snake was blamed for humanity’s losing the gift of immortal life — not only in the story of Adam and Eve … but also in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh where the magic plant of eternal life is stolen by a snake.
Like I said earlier, not to over think the whole snake sex scene — sometimes a snake sex scene is just a snake sex scene — but it is worth noting the snake symbolism and its connection to immortality. Perhaps Fiona is searching for the secret of eternal life in the wrong places: perhaps she will actually achieve it through her bloodline, through the child that her daughter (and those snakes) conceives, instead.
American Horror Story: Coven airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on FX.
This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Chron.com