[This is a review of American Horror Story: Coven episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
When the only decent thing you've ever done for your daughter winds up being the time you skewered her undead corpse with a fire poker, chances are you were a bad mother.
Earlier this season, American Horror Story: Coven tackled the issue of bad mothers by teasing us with the possibility of a Madison entering The Fiona Goode Mentoring Program after she'd managed to light the supreme's cigarette from across the room with little more than a thought. Naturally, allowing Fiona to become something of a mother figure ended badly for young Madison, but, after all, the theme of the episode was bad mothers.
The theme continues this week with a direct continuation of the events in 'Fearful Pranks Ensue' – which means Miss Robichaux's Academy finds itself under siege by Marie Laveau's undead minions. Now, one might think that when playing host to TV zombies, the show would have no room to take a look at its characters and, more specifically, the often corrosive (sorry) but still maternal relationships between the women of the coven.
Then again, this is American Horror Story we're talking about, so if Asylum can end suggesting a guy's abduction by aliens is actually something hopeful, then Coven can find room to have a teenage witch take down a marauding gang of zombies with a chainsaw and still have time for an examination of the various mother-daughter relationships going on in the background.
That's certainly the case for Madame Delphine LaLaurie, whose past has become the delivery mechanism for several of the most gruesome segments that American Horror Story: Coven has dragged out so far this year. In that regard, we see how unrepentantly awful LaLaurie was not only to the slaves she tortured up in her attic – actions that earned her the eternal ire of Marie Laveau – but also to her three daughters who, nearly two centuries later, she would be forced to watch die all over again.
While the various LaLaurie elements of the season haven't been fleshed out perhaps as well as they should – i.e., they still rely too heavily on flashback in order to bridge the gap between the coven and Marie Laveau – that's because the show has been devoting so much of its time to the admittedly more interesting tale of Fiona Goode's dwindling youth, health, and witchy powers, as well as her hold over the coven she suddenly seems so desperate to be a part of.
For its part, 'Burn, Witch. Burn!' takes that sense of maternal instinct and turns it into a virtual hellscape for all involved. LaLaurie has to kill her own zombie daughters as Fiona's drug-addled adventures in the hospital - while watching over Cordelia - turn into a blurred, shadowy excursion through the recesses of her own mind; complete with a possible hallucination where she brings life to a stillborn after forcing the child back into the reluctant arms of her grieving mother.
In that sense, with all the focus on eternal life, death, and unholy rebirth, Coven is as much about second chances as it is anything else. And considering there are several characters like Myrtle, Kyle, Madison, and now Cordelia just waiting in the wings for that second chance, the rest of the season could be something very interesting indeed.
American Horror Story: Coven continues next Wednesday with 'The Axeman Cometh' (which hopefully is about the horrors of men who wear body spray) @10 on FX.
Photos: Michele K. Short/FX