‘American Horror Story: Coven’: All Tricks and No Treats on Halloween

Published 9 months ago by

Angela Bassett in AHS Coven Fearful Pranks Ensue American Horror Story: Coven: All Tricks and No Treats on Halloween

[This is a review of American Horror Story: Coven episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]

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With a series like American Horror Story: Coven, there is a certain expectation that when Halloween rolls around, things will get turned up a notch. Of course, as we’ve seen, this can sometimes make the story feel a little too broad. The last two seasons of American Horror Story have seen this happen with varying degrees of success.

At times, season 1 felt as though it lost its focus as the singular story of the doomed Harmon family gradually expanded to include a gaggle of other ghosts and, eventually, Jessica Lange becoming grandmother to the Antichrist. As the lines of focus blurred, so, too, did the emotional currency of the storyline. In a sense, Asylum was guilty of that, too, but unlike season 1, the disjointed aspect of the narrative was actually more in keeping with the point of Asylum‘s storyline. That story wound up attempting to connect most of the disparate threads by collapsing them down into two primary story arcs, where there was still a great deal of disconnect going on, but thematically, there seemed to be a more cohesive throughline.

For its part, Coven seems to be working toward finding a greater balance between character and the season’s crazy plot elements. As of ‘Fearful Pranks Ensue,’ the show is still on its way to equalizing Fiona’s pursuit of youth and vitality, and the other threads that have so far been introduced. As with AHS seasons in the past, Coven is ambitious in its dedication to maintaining a constant sense of forward momentum; however, it occasionally does so at the expense of the development of smaller, more ancillary characters.

This season has been unable to get much going in terms of the narratives around Queenie and Nan, but now it seems to have found a bit of a lag in Zoe’s arc after Franken-Kyle and Misty Day came into her life. That’s all well and good, but so far, there hasn’t been much in terms of Zoe developing into an actual full-blown character as a result of her involvement with the two. With the death of Madison in last week’s episode, we can likely surmise that Zoe’s arc will become more meaningful later on, but with each passing episode, there is less and less time to for the show to demonstrate actual character growth and the reasons for such progression.

Robin Bartlett Francis Conroy and Leslie Jordan in AHS Coven Fearful Pranks Ensue American Horror Story: Coven: All Tricks and No Treats on Halloween
To its credit, ‘Fearful Pranks Ensue’ combats this issue with Fiona by filling in the blanks on the backstory she shares with characters like Spalding. This works in terms of revealing to the audience why Spalding hasn’t spoken a word and illustrating why his devotion to Fiona appears to be absolute. Like so much that we’ve been offered this season, the Spalding reveal just boils down to an observation, rather than any real understanding of the character.

Generally, this can be a problem with ensemble shows like this: Sometimes characters like Spalding stand out due to the curveball the expansion of their character generates. But this series is often times so focused on the plot – or just throwing more craziness at the audience (e.g., Cordelia getting acid thrown on her face and Hank being a murderous adulterer) – that characters like Spalding, who suddenly show a great deal of potential, get shuffled to the background.

Luckily, this is only episode 4 of Coven, so there’s still plenty of time to make these characters more defined before the plot really takes off and leaves them choking on its dust.

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American Horror Story: Coven continues next Wednesday with ‘Burn, Witch. Burn!’ @10pm on FX.

TAGS: american horror story

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  1. I really enjoyed this episode, the war between witch and voodoo has been brewing for some time now and sh*t is about to hit the fan. Cannot wait until next week.

  2. I dont know… this season is just lacking the umph that the first two had. I hope it gets better, but they also killed off the most interesting character (Emma Roberts), and nobody seems to have lines of value except Jessica Lang (ie. Kyle).

  3. I’m enjoying this season much more than last season, which for me, was overly convoluted and contrived. I’m just hoping this season maintains a focus and does not begin to throw everything in but the kitchen sink, like last season.

  4. In my opinion this show should be right up there with The Walking Dead. The gore is right on par, I think the acting is better season to season and the directing and camera work is top notch.

    Sure the writing is crazy at times, but I think it’s great and they don’t already have a story blue print to work off of like TWD. Don’t get me wrong though, I love The Walking Dead.

  5. How many different characters can be developed? It’s a new set of characters every season, wouldn’t be much Horror Story going on if we are developing 20 new characters every year. Just enjoy the ride.

  6. Loving every single frame of it. They are frankly showing off with how well it is being directed and it is admirable how straight all are playing it. Well, apart from Kathy Bates, who hams every single line and kind of pulls you out of it.

    The comparative themes of discrimination and historical recognition fascinate me. Blacks by whites and how it ties into the themes of guilt from one side and entitlement of compensation from the other (the show is basically an analogy of the history of slavery). The reversal of males discriminated by women into generic stereotypes whilst at the same time offering the ‘Sex and the City’ flip of stereotyping women to levels of parody with each female character representing a facet of development of maturity and potential corruption. It is why I appreciate the nature of evolving themes of each season. I would love the team to come up with a tight, coherent two hour movie, but also recognise how much would be lost to the areas they are covering.

    Fantastically on form. Whether it maintains of course is the question. S2 ran out of steam but kept the hook through some utterly outrageous style of directing whereas S1 just flatlined (although, I should revisit to be fair to the show).

    Oh, and Lily Rabe is just gorgeous.

    • Personally, I believe you are putting way too much thought into this. As with almost anything, though, we often see what we are looking for. Not knocking you…just suggesting that the show is likely not as contemplative as you may think.

      For me, the quality of the acting is what sells the show. I disagee with you about Kathy Bates. I think she is an amazing actress, with the right material. She was excellent in the first episode but has been given little since. Lack of writing, not lack of talent.

      • Perhaps. Perhaps not. I do offer the concession though that since ‘Breaking Bad’ ended, I often find myself hoping for a show that offers such an episode to episode dissection as that one did. This may itself lend to seeing more than there may actually be intended from the writers.

        I agree that Kathy Bates is a tremendous actress. I just feel that in this particular case, she is laying it on a little thick, my friend.

        • We agree about Breaking Bad. As concerns Kathy Bates, I really feel she could hold her own against Jessica Lange, whom I consider to be one of our greatest actresses, but ever since the first episode, Bates has not been given much in terms of dialogue or time. Still, Lange herself always captivates and mesmorizes, and what you like about Lilly Rabe, I like about Sarah Paulson. :)

  7. I’m having trouble getting into this season. It feels just like a lot of events without a clear plot arc, and I can’t find anyone to care about. It doesn’t help that they just killed off the Hot Chick, though I daresay she’s due for a resurrection, speaking of which the whole FrankenKyle plot seems so disconnected as to be happening in a different universe, or at least story, with Lily Rabe off by herself in the swamp or wherever she is.

    I think part of the problem I’m having is skepticism that it’s going to resolve properly after last season’s fumbled ending, in which none of the four coincidental plot-lines; alien abductions, Satanic possession, the Nazi vivisectionist and his mutants, and serial killer Quinto; ever connected together or had satisfying resolutions. For the last two (or was it three?) episodes we were suddenly in what amounted to an entirely new story about the running down of institutions in the 1960s a la Geraldo’s expose, which had nothing really to do with all that had gone on in the story before. I actually did like it, especially the eerily accurate recreation of the 1970s, but it was like a different story. There was no point to the alien babies, the Nazi’s mutants were simply shot and done away with, the son of Leatherface was a damp squib, and who knew you could defeat Satan by pushing him down the stairs?

    So, I think I’m having trouble investing in this one for fear that any plots that they conjure early on will be dispensed with in a similarly cursory manner. Also, after last season’s stellar turn as Sister Jude, the Lange character this season isn’t really holding my attention the same way, perhaps indicated that as I type this I’ve forgotten her name. I still have no real idea why the witches and voodoos are at each others’ throats, let alone why Lange dug up Kathy Bates in the first place, which seems to have had no explanation whatsoever.

    I must admit also the “issues” seem obvious, trite and by the numbers to me, maybe because I’m not an American, or an American liberal. Racism has been pretty much done to death, the cliche of the gang-raping frat boys is appallingly misandrist- especially after the Duke Lacrosse Team case- and despite being an atheist myself I think the depiction of the Christian neighbours is pretty insulting. I could add that the Hot Chick’s pick-up technique seems to be pretty naively and toe-curlingly written as well. But she being dead, I don’t suppose that matters now.

    I think the bottom line is, I don’t feel I’m seeing the involving characters like season one’s gay couple or the numerous interesting characters in season two. It all so far feels disjointed and uninvolving. I won’t stop watching, but I think it’s not quite working as yet.

  8. I loved the set up last night to the eventual war this season. The camera work is just spot on. I am a little disappointed though that Bates character seems more like an extra character rather than a main character in the story. I hope she plays a bigger role coming up as I think he character is interesting to me. This season does have it’s issues but it’s not as bad as say The Dome was, LOL.

  9. Now we are getting somewhere…
    For the 1st time this season I feel like this episode gave a (somewhat) clear idea of where this season may be headed, and for me this episode was the 1st to be a bit scary.

  10. I’ll be very disappointed if Zoe turns out to be next supreme, it’s not only obvious but overplayed.

  11. The episode only just aired this week and honestly, while it’s not as horrendously bad and boring as season 1, I’m not really feeling it so far.

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