‘American Horror Story: Coven’: Baptism by fire

American Horror Story: Coven
“Burn, Witch, Burn!”
November 6, 2013

All Hallow’s Eve, 1833

Mme. Lalaurie hosts the BEST Halloween parties, you guys. You know how at some Halloween parties they put out a covered bowl of peeled grapes and they make you reach in and guess what is inside and you’re supposed to be all, “OOOH, GROSS, EYEBALLS!” Yeah, she does that, but with actual eyeballs. And you know how they’ll put something wet and slippery in another bowl and you’re supposed to be like, “ZOMG, INTESTINES?” You see where this is going.

Such shenanigans do not sit well, however, with the son of the Governor and potential suitor of one of Mme. Lalaurie’s unfortunate daughters, Borquita and he goes running out of the house in disgust and terror. Borquita later laments to her sisters that their mother is horrible (yes) and preventing her from ever having a husband (probably) and maybe it’s time to … do something about their horrible mère problem once and for all. Who would ever suspect the upstanding Lalaurie daughters of foul play if Mme. Lalaurie were to meet an untimely death?

Mme. Lalaurie overhears the whole nasty business, however, and later has her slaves drag the girls up to the attic where she locks them in cages and explains that she will release them in a year. As for Borquita, she will receive a special Christmas present: a mouthful of merde. Something to look forward to!

Present Day

So that, plus the fact that they were strung up for their mother’s crimes, are just a couple of the grievances the undead Lalaurie girls might have to discuss with their mother some 180 years later. Mme. Lalaurie slams the door in her daughters’ moldering faces and declares that all of Hell has opened up, bonfires won’t help a thing now. Queenie comes down from her sick bed to point out that the video for “Thriller”appears to be happening on their front yard, and Nan announces that she can’t hear the zombies’ thoughts so they must be dead. So Zoe takes charge, ordering the other girls to turn off the lights and close the curtains while she tries to call Fiona.

Hunky, however, is skeptical (and dumb) and goes outside to shoo away the “neighborhood kids” who are clearly just playing a Halloween prank (because he is so dumb, for real). Hunky is busy shoving the unresponsive zombies and urging them to go home when some actual neighborhood kids come across the scene and are all, “COOOOOOOL! LOOK AT THEIR MASKS, LOL.” Which is when, over in the 9th Ward, Marie Laveau gets her spell on, starts levitating and orders her reanimated minions to “BEGIN.”

marie laveau ahs begin.gif

And begin they do: the zombies attack the poor hapless neighborhood kids, tearing them apart with their bare hands, and manage to stab poor, dumb Hunky. When Zoe is distracted inside, Nan rushes outside to save Dumb-Dumb and manages to drag him into a car. The car only serves as temporary shelter from the rotting hordes, however, and soon the zombies have smashed the windows and are about to drag out Nan and Hunky and tear them limb from adorable limb. Fortunately, Zoe appears in the nick of time and by banging some pots and pans, leads the zombie army towards the garden shed where she locks herself inside.

Meanwhile, in the house, Queenie, who is still recovering from her Minotaugoring, is sent back upstairs to be watched over by Mme. Lalaurie and Rat’s Nest. When Mme. Lalaurie goes downstairs to fetch Queenie some ice, she glimpses Borquita out the kitchen window and is overwhelmed with guilt? regret? maternal love? morbid curiosity? all of the above? Mme. Lalaurie opens the door to welcome her daughter inside and Borquita promptly strangles her. Because, seriously, what were you thinking, and WHY IS EVERYONE SO VERY DUMB WHEN FACED WITH ZOMBIES?

Borquita heads upstairs where she bonks Rat’s Nest over his greasy head with a candlestick (the undead’s weapon of choice, apparently) and begins to menace Queenie. When Queenie’s tricks don’t work — slitting a zombie’s throat, even with living voodoo doll magic, doesn’t do much — Queenie realizes that she is in big trouble. Which is when Mme. Lalaurie appears with a well-timed fireplace poker through her dead daughter’s dehydrated heart. Mme. Lalaurie explains to Queenie that Borquita had a monster for a mother, and that killing her (again) was the only kindness she ever did for her daughter. Queenie is all, “Awww…” and hugs Mme. Lalaurie, EXCEPT NOT “AWW,” NOR HUGZ, QUEENIE, Mme. Lalaurie is a nightmare, come on now!

Outside, Zoe’s pied piper routine has lost the zombies’ interest and they head back to go finish noming on Nan and Hunky. But just as the zombies are about to descend on them, Zoe saves the day, again, arriving with a crossbow chainsaw and going full Ash on the horde. Chainsawing zombies, chainsawing zombies, chainsawing zombies. And this plan, it works pretty well, that is until the chainsaw dies. Trapped on the ground with a zombie fast approaching to nom her face off, Zoe suddenly and unconsciously raises one hand and says, “Be in your nature.” This little trick not only returns the zombie to his non-animated state, but also breaks Marie Laveau’s “light as a feather, stiff as a board” trance on the other side of the city, causing Marie Laveau to realize unhappily that Miss Robichaux’s has someone with “real” power now.

Meanwhile, back at Cure, Delia is SCREEEEEEAMING after having had acid thrown in her face by a mystery attacker and the extras are HORRIFIED, including my real life friend Lesli, who wrote about her experience filming this scene on her blog:


Fiona takes Delia to the hospital, where a doctor explains that someone threw sulfuric acid on her daughter. While the doctors were able to save Delia’s perfectly groomed eyebrows, they’re afraid they weren’t able to save her eyesight.


Fiona freaks out on the doctor for his lack of priorities.

After visiting a sedated Delia, Fiona takes a walk down the poorly lit and weirdly crowded hospital hallways (seriously, y’all going to get yourselves sued, Hospital, if you don’t replace some of these light bulbs and get all these patients back to bed) before helping herself to a pill closet.

Fiona stumbles around in a stupor for a while until she is drawn into a room where a woman is sobbing next to her dead baby. The woman asks Fiona if the baby was a girl or boy, they didn’t tell her when it was born, and Fiona informs her that it was a girl. Fiona then picks up the baby and brings it to the grieving woman who NO THANK YOU, DO NOT WANT. But Fiona persists, urging the woman to talk to her daughter and tell her that she loves her more than the whole world and that she is the most beautiful baby and that she’ll never leave her, she’ll be her mother until she dies because foreshadowing. The woman resists at first, but eventually gives in to Fiona’s crazy, at which point Fiona places a hand on the child, bringing her back to life, and slips out the door. Hallucination? Repentance? Who knows, either way it is heartbreaking.

Eventually, Darrin arrives, fresh from his Baton Rouge internet hookup/murder funtimes, and Fiona is understandably unimpressed with his weak excuse that Lake Charles is a 4-hour drive away. First of all, no it’s not. And second of all, whatever, with his pitiful penny ante construction jobs. It’s fortunate he couldn’t get Delia pregnant, because then where would she be, blind and caring for a newborn all alone? Darrin is all, “do what, blind now?” before countering that Delia hates her mother.

That’s when a nurse comes in and warns everyone to shut it or she’ll call security. Fiona instructs Darrin that he has 15 minutes alone with Delia and then he’s gots to get. Darrin sits on his wife’s bed and promises her that he has never loved her so much. But when Darrin takes her hands, Delia is suddenly flooded with his memories of Little Miss Thomas Kinkaid that suggest otherwise. Ooh, Darrin, you in danger, girl.

So the next morning at Miss Robichaux’s, Fiona waxes symbolic about the purifying power of fire as Nan and Zoe throw zombie parts onto a bonfire, and I am sorry, I don’t care how many “cedar chips” you toss on to mask the smell, a giant bonfire of body parts in the middle of Jackson Ave. is going to garner some attention. But sure. Problem solved.

As for Hunky, he’s still sleeping off last night’s excitement in Nan’s room. Fiona assures Nan that he can stay, before commending Zoe on her fight the night before. Zoe did the coven a great service. Zoe exits yard left as Mme. Lalaurie enters yard right and mourns her daughters as their corpses roast on the fire. She had such hopes and dreams for them, and it ends like this. Mme. Lalaurie notes that they deserved a better mother, a sentiment that Fiona understands. But when Mme. Lalaurie suggests that their shared experiences in the Turrrrrrrrrrible Mothers might make them friends, Fiona is all, “Maid, please.”

That bit of business taken care of, Fiona heads inside to face the Council who accuse her of “neglect, malfeasance and willful disregard of the well-being of coven.” Between that and the fact that the coven has been under attack since she returned, the Council demand her resignation. Fiona notes that the next Supreme hasn’t revealed herself yet, so who will be in charge? Pimbrooke explains that the Council will be, of course. And Fiona is like, “WELL, OF COURSE. Myrtle couldn’t inherit the Supremacy, so she’ll steal it.”

Fiona then goes on a long meandering speech explaining that, actually, the coven is being attacked not by outside forces but from within: by Myrtle. When Myrtle sneers that Fiona will accuse her of killing Madison Montgomery next, Fiona points out that Myrtle was in town when Madison went missing, which is news to the other two Council members. Fiona reveals that under the name Jennifer Wooley (a reference to the 1942 film I Married a Witch), Myrtle checked into the Chat Noir motel where she built herself a crazyperson montage of Fiona’s face. Myrtle protests that Fiona had to be stopped! Which, reasonably, Pimbrooke and Quentin understand to be something of a confession.

But wait, there’s more! Fiona then tears one of Myrtle’s gloves off her hand to reveal the burns she suffered when she threw acid on Delia’s face. And with that, Pimbrooke votes to burn the witch, a decision that Quentin seconds and Fiona confirms. “OH FINE,” says Myrtle. “I THOUGHT I FINALLY FOUND A PLACE IN THIS WORLD WHEN I FOUND THIS COVEN BUT I GUESS I WAS WRONG, OOPS. GO AHEAD, BURN ME.”

And so the coven puts on their fanciest black dresses — but for Myrtle, who wears white — and they head down to the levee. On the way, Zoe wonders if this is all a joke, that they aren’t actually going to burn Myrtle, but Queenie insists that you don’t mess with a Supreme. WORD.

Myrtle goes to the stake willingly and is doused with gasoline before Fiona asks if she has any last words. “You are all a bunch of little toads in a pot that Fiona is slowly bringing to a boil. You won’t even feel it until it’s too late. I’d rather burn than boil.” And with that, Fiona flicks her cigarette onto the pyre. Bye, Myrtle!

ahs who wants tacos

Back at the house, Fiona is approached by Queenie with a question: did they frame an innocent woman? A flashback reveals that Myrtle’s acid burns were actually induced via Queenie’s voodoo doll powers at Fiona’s request. Queenie thought they were just going to oust Myrtle, not SET HER ON FIRE and now Queenie can’t handle the guilt. So Fiona is like, “Oh, but I think you can handle it because I think you’re the next Supreme!” Queenie, desperate for any kind of affirmation, is like, “AWESOME!” instead of completely incredulous, and agrees to follow all of Fiona’s instructions.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Rat’s Nest puts on his dolly dress and bonnet and hoses down his room with Febreeze to kill the Madison Montgomery smell. He tries to remove Madison from the chest he has her stored in, but her arm pops off in his hands. DAMN YOU, RIGOR MORTIS.

Finally, Misty Day wanders out on the levee where Myrtle’s body has been left behind for dogs to eat, and, curious, she approaches. Misty Day touches Myrtle’s charred remains, doing her regenerative thing, and Myrtle’s eyes flick open because no one stays dead on this show. OH NO, FIONA, RUN.

rhom witches burn fire.gif

The predominant image in this episode is of fire, of burning. As we’ve discussed before and as Fiona explicitly states herself in the episode: fire purifies, fire purges. The justification for burning witches at the stake back in the day was that the flames would purify the accused’s soul, and the pain endured would serve as penance for the sin of practicing witchcraft. I’m not going to overthink the contradiction or hypocrisy that witches would use a form of punishment against one another that was intended to symbolically cleanse the Christian soul; I think what the writers were going for was the witches ironically co-opting the punishment historically wielded against them by others.

What’s more important is this notion of fire or burning as being purifying and transformative. Fire destroys, but it also regenerates. Myrtle passes through the flames — and death — to be reborn, not unlike the phoenix, not unlike Misty Day herself. Presumably, Myrtle will transform into something, someone new and possibly more powerful, and hopefully offer Misty Day the companionship she’s been seeking. I do think it is interesting that these two particular characters have found one another, having both felt the sting of isolation and the violent rejection by their respective communities. Where these two go from here is intriguing.

The other burning that is important in the episode involves no flames: Delia’s acid attack, as horrific and mysterious as it is, also serves as a transformative moment for her character. Blinded to the physical world, Delia now truly sees. Lies and falsity and distractions have all been burned away leaving her to bear witness to the inherent and underlying truth. The physical eye can be fooled, it can be tricked and deceived. But now that her eyesight has been taken from her, Delia is left with her third eye. From the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols:

Unifying perception is the function of the ‘third eye,’ the eye in Shiva’s forehead. If the two bodily eyes correspond to the Sun and the Moon, the third eye corresponds to FIRE. Its glance reduces everything to ashes. In other words, simultaneity, its expression of a non-dimensional present, destroys manifestation. This is the ‘Eye of Wisdom’ (prajnāchaksus) or Buddhist ‘Eye of Dharma‘ (dharmachakus) which is set on the bounds of unity and multiplicity, of emptiness and non-emptiness, and is therefore able to apprehend them simultaneously. It is, in fact, an organ of inward vision and, as such, an exteriorization of the ‘eye of the heart.’ …The third eye is indicative of a superhuman state, one in which clairvoyance has achieved its perfection as well, at a higher level, as a share in the properties of the Sun.

It will be interesting to see how this new gift changes Delia’s relationship with those closest to her, in particular the mother who lied to her during their 3 questions game moments before Delia lost her vision. Surely Delia will learn the truth behind Madison Montgomery’s disappearance; the question is what it will do to her relationship with her mother.

Finally, a word on who will become the next Supreme. In this interview, Ryan Murphy clarifies for us that Fiona’s cancer and decline corresponds to the next Supreme’s ascendency.

Will Fiona’s health be getting worse as the season progresses?
That is what happens with a Supreme. Once the new Supreme begins to manifest all her powers, she drains the life-force from the old Supreme, and that’s why Fiona has this cancer that no spell or witchcraft can cure. So the question is: What can she do to stop her reign? She’s tried to kill Madison, and that didn’t work. She either has to find some way to get healthy or kill the next Supreme, all of which is the next few episodes.

And so the question is whether Delia’s new power — which Murphy calls in this same interview “the most powerful gift of all” — if it is indication that she is destined to replace her mother. Such a replacement would certainly represent the “natural order” of things, which is exactly why I think Delia must not be the next Supreme. Simply from a story-telling perspective, Delia being the next Supreme does not offer enough conflict: while Fiona is vainglorious, jealous and desperate to cling to her power, she also loves her daughter very much and has deep reservoirs of guilt regarding their relationship. Presumably Fiona would, in the end, sacrifice herself for her daughter, and thus the story would be too neat, too tidy.

Zoe is, of course, the other obvious candidate, what with her suddenly summoning enough power to defeat Marie Laveau and her armies. As opposed to Delia’s new gift which came as the result of someone attacking her, Zoe’s new power came from within. Her power emerged internally rather than because of some external forces. Furthermore, Zoe’s powers emerged and she arrived at the coven at the exact same time that Fiona herself felt compelled to return: they were both drawn towards each other as if pulled by a single thread.

Some fans have complained that Zoe is “too obvious” as the next Supreme, which I understand and am somewhat sympathetic to; a good twist can be fun. But such is the difficulties of story-telling: you can’t make who the hero is a plot twist. It’s not much of a hero’s journey if we don’t know who the hero is to begin with. And that’s what Zoe is on: a classic hero’s journey. She has been called to the adventure and is currently traveling along the road of trials, searching for that Ultimate Boon, her own inherent powers.

Of course there’s also Misty Day, but since she only appears for a few moments in any given episode, methinks she’s not our hero, Stevie Nicks or no.

ALRIGHT! A couple of reading assignments for you before next week’s episode:

    1. Read up on the true story of the New Orleans’ serial killer The Axeman. This was a legend that I was unfamiliar with until this series, and now I am COMPLETELY FREAKED OUT BY IT.


  1. Read this interesting piece from Slate about the historic witch hunts and how what you think you know about them is probably wrong.

Until then, witches!

American Horror Story: Coven airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on FX.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Chron.com.

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