[This is a review of American Horror Story: Coven episode 8. There will be Spoilers]
Any given episode of American Horror Story: Coven generally displays such a broad spectrum of emotion it can be tricky to get a bead on what exactly the intent behind any given scene is. Most of the time, though, said emotions just get filtered through the show’s rather sardonic, cheeky nature, so even when characters run the gamut from anger to sorrow to lust in what feels like a fraction of a second, it all typically winds up eliciting ostensibly the same vaguely familiar feeling that can be encapsulated with the phrase:“Huh, so that just happened.
Strangely enough, the show manages to swing for the fences on every pitch, and yet somehow, it gets through each episode without leaving the viewer completely winded – emotionally speaking, that is. Now this isn’t exactly a technique most programs employ, as they’re generally concerned with slowly building up to a single sentiment or sensation, and then lingering there for as long as long as possible.
But AHS doesn’t play it that way; it plays fast and loose with all sorts of emotions and reactions because what’s the fun in Fiona’s odd, but blissful romance with the Axeman, if there’s not also a blatant sense of sorrowful self-pity to go along with it? Or who’s going to remember Cordelia’s righteous, murderous anger toward her mother, if it doesn’t instantly transform into a reluctant sense of relief that the Supreme is still around when Hank starts shooting people with blessed silver bullets? That’s the modus operandi of the show, and it has been since day one: Why should AHS limit itself to just one thing when it can have them all? And why space them out, when it can have them all at the same time?
This way of doing things is pretty much old hat for this series by now. And the result of such a shotgun approach to storytelling is that emotions, especially the ones on display in ‘The Sacred Taking,’ aren’t necessarily felt so much as they’re seen; it’s not altogether unlike the old storytelling adage of “show, don’t tell.” But for some reason or another American Horror Story manages to make going against such a maxim work. The show doesn’t have time to sit and ponder its feelings, or wait for the viewer to consider theirs; it’s too busy dismembering Kathy Bates and mailing her head to Fiona, and bringing Myrtle back from the grave so she can croak a hilariously deadpan tale about an assassin stepping on her face, while skulking around Misty Day’s quaint swamp-front home.
Still, as far as kitchen-sink episodes go (i.e., just about every episode of American Horror Story), ‘The Sacred Taking’ at least manages to circle back to the foreshadowing of who will be revealed as the new Supreme enough times that the answer felt pretty evenly split between two characters. At this point, it seems like the least likely candidate is any witch who’s been referred to as having “real power,” or has manifested unique abilities outside her normal range of supernatural talents.
Since the season has only splashed around in what it wants to be about – taking a generally halfhearted approach to discussions of gender bias and aging, as well as loosely touching on race and race relations – having this throughline gives the series, as well as its viewers, something a little more consistent and precise to focus on. There’s still plenty of the season left to focus on more, but every now and again, it’s okay just to tell one story at a time.
American Horror Story: Coven continues next Wednesday with ‘Head’ @10pm on FX.