[This is a review of American Horror Story: Coven episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
From the very first moment that Danny Huston's distinct vocal cadence emerges, it's clear that, if for no other reason than his welcome appearance, 'The Axeman Cometh' was going to be a slightly different episode of American Horror Story: Coven.
It's not at all rare for this show to parachute in a new character this far into the season just to see where he or she lands and what kind of havoc can be wrought upon arrival. So, with the introduction of the titular Axeman – played here by the man who made Magic City more watchable than perhaps it deserved to be – there's a sense that Huston will be around for a bit longer than his introductory cold open at the beginning of the episode.
That open, of course, is also part and parcel for American Horror Story, in that the show loves to put its audience in an unfamiliar setting right off the bat, where the only frame of reference is the title card – in this case, New Orleans 1919.
That's not a time period Coven has visited before this season, so even though the actual location is familiar to the audience and relevant to the storyline (it's not like the Axeman was terrorizing Sheboygan or anything), the feeling of disorientation, mixed with the sense of unease and apprehension Huston is so gifted at bringing into a scene, affords the episode a chance to briefly explore the narrative of Coven from a different perspective.
The fact that Huston's character is a serial killer who has paralyzed the city with fear and made them do his bidding with regard to his fanatical love for jazz (the word, by the way, sounds like something else entirely when delivered by Huston), gives his final moments a certain weight when it's the women of Miss Robichaux's Academy – Class of 1919 – who put a bloody end to the Axeman's reign of terror.
But while Huston brought the episode loads of menace and plenty of teeth marks on the scenery, the addition of the Axeman actually helped give the episode more of a sense of cohesiveness than last week's busy and somewhat discordant 'Burn, Witch. Burn!' – which ran the gamut from Zoe's Bruce Campbell-like stand against a horde of zombies; Fiona on a hallucinatory trip through a terrifying hospital (complete with an appearance by Boardwalk Empire's Meg Steedle!); and then wrapping the whole thing up with Myrtle being burned at the stake.
But that's not to say 'The Axeman Cometh' was a slouch, either. The episode still managed to reveal Hank as a witch hunter, while also bringing Frankenkyle and Madison back into the fold – though it feels like not venturing off into a brief Frankenkyle-centric subplot where he angrily wanders the streets of New Orleans in search of Misty Day is a missed opportunity for hilarity – while still centering the main narrative on the witches (or the increasing lack thereof) at the Academy and having a more focused feel overall.
And, as an added bonus, the Axeman looks like he'll be sticking around for at least one more episode, as he takes his newly reacquired corporeal form out for a drink and happens to wander across a lonely Fiona drowning her sorrows in a martini glass. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm really pulling for those two crazy kids to make it.
American Horror Story: Coven continues next Wednesday with 'The Dead' (sadly, not John Huston's) @10pm on FX.