'American Horror Story: Coven' - 'The Replacements' Review
Before I delve in this week’s episode, “The Replcements”, a few words on last week’s “Boy Parts”, which I did not get the chance to review.
Following the exposition heavy premiere episode, “Boy Parts” does a good job in jumping off from where the show left off and advancing the narrative. Without the seemingly endless voice-over monologues and countless flashback scenes retelling various characters’ origin stories, the narrative takes a more lively and entertaining pace. Despite the crowded and extensive cast, there were essentially three easily digestible narrative threads in this second episode. Fiona learns that Marie Laveau is responsible for Madame LaLaurie’s immortality and goes to pay her a visit in her modern-day hair salon; Madison and Zoe attempt to bring Kyle back from the dead through questionable methods, at best and end up with a “FrankenKyle”; and Cordelia succumbs to her husband’s wishes and uses dark magic in their efforts to conceive a child. Though the three narrative arcs constitute the bulk of the episode, smaller story threads also ran through the hour; Queenie’s origin story is revealed, the academy gets a visit from the New Orleans PD, and Misty Day makes a comeback.
The episode’s most successful story arc by far is of course, Fiona’s. As she continues her pursuit for eternal youth/life, she goes toe to toe with Marie Laveau (played with gusto by Angela Bassett) and harangues LaLaurie whenever the opportunity presents itself. All of the scenes between Fiona and LaLaurie are pure magic, and so much fun that an hour of just them two would be entirely satisfying. Their interactions range from darkly comic to absurd to surprisingly honest by the episode’s end and are acted impeccably. Fiona is also able to put her Supreme abilities on display when handling problematic police detectives inquiring about the frat bus crash, no one messes with this head bitch in charge.
Cordelia’s storyline is quite contained and separate from everything else that is going on, though it gives us great insight into her personal life and what kind of person/witch she is. Though her transition from principled witch unwilling to use magic for personal gain to dark magic snake-sex ritual enthusiast was underdeveloped and sudden, to say the least. I suspect that the character has much room to grow and the show is setting up ground for a richer narrative in the future. The weakest story thread is the Franken-boyfriend storyline, which is boring and uninteresting. Evan Peters and Taissa Farmiga have proved to be engaging performers in the past, but there is a blandness to the characters that I cannot get over. The most engaging aspect of this narrative is the eccentric Stevie Nicks-loving Misty Day and she doesn’t factor into it until later in the episode.
“Boy Parts” is an entertaining hour of television, laden with the cutting and pithy dialogue, familiar horror tropes, and stylized imagery that have become synonymous with “American Horror Story.”
This week’s “The Replacements” is a much more plot-heavy episode than its predecessor. In addition to the previously established stories (Franken-Kyle, Fiona’s quest, Cordelia’s fertility issues) we are introduced to various new characters and plot points. Miss Robichaux’s gets new neighbors, a devout Christian woman and her son, who quickly catches the attention of the young witches in the school and we also meet Kyle’s grieving mother. Fiona makes LaLaurie Queenie’s personal slave, takes Madison under her wing, and flashbacks depict how Fiona rose to her Supreme status.
Fiona once again, assumes a prominent role in the narrative and commands the bulk of the story. Most of the episode deals with Fiona’s tenacious resistance to the passage of time and the inevitability of losing her power and vitality. Threatened by Madison’s growing abilities and haunted by her own history, Fiona elaborates a scheme to remain the Supreme for a little longer. Jessica Lange continues to be absolutely fantastic, (really she can do no wrong) radiating glamour and attitude with every breath as well as successfully humanizing Fiona, which isn’t an easy task with such an extravagant, seemingly superficial character. Emma Roberts does a decent job opposite Lange in their scenes together. Roberts isn’t necessarily the strongest actor, but she handles Madison’s bitchy cockiness and vanity with aplomb and is also able to portray the vulnerability of a conflicted young woman. The chemistry between Lange and Roberts is good and the growing tension throughout the episode definitely makes the final scene that much more intense. The conclusion to this mini arc isn’t entirely surprising, considering the heavy-handed parallels to Fiona’s past showcasing her power hungry ruthlessness. And about those flashbacks, did the casting directors actively search for the worst actress to play young Fiona? I guess she maybe, kind of looked like what a young Fiona would look like (not really), but her horrible acting is just absolutely distracting and off putting. It totally takes you out of the moment and the show, because the rest of the cast is so wonderful and Jessica Lange, in particular, does such an exquisite job with the character, it makes it hard to believe that they are, for all intents and purposes the “same” person. Worst flashback scene ever.
Supporting the main story arc are many smaller disparate narrative threads, weaving throughout the hour. Cordelia is still desperate to conceive and goes to Marie Laveau for aid, Zoe brings “Franken-Kyle” to his grieving mother where things take a dark turn, and LaLaurie is turned over to Queenie, also Misty makes a brief appearance. Of these, the most fun is probably Queenie’s arc, Gaborey Sidibe is an engaging performer and is given the opportunity to deliver some really fantastic lines of dialogue, ”My problem ain’t food, you dumb bitch, its love.” Her interactions with LaLaurie are entertaining and provide good comic relief, LaLaurie’s backwards way of thinking is played for laughs effectively. She is like your embarrassing racist grandmother sobbing in front of the television as Barack Obama addresses the nation. Queenie displays considerable self-awareness and understanding that endears the characters significantly. She can be very straightforward about her own flaws/weaknesses and address them in a strong and assertive way, while at the same time exhibits a level of vulnerability that makes it easy for us to sympathize with her. The way she spoke to the threatening minotaur expressed her heartbreaking emotional depth and the fact that she went out there, seemingly protecting LaLaurie, shows that she is quite noble. It isn’t certain if she leads LaLaurie out of harm’s way because she feels she has to (not to piss off Fiona) or out of her own good will, but the action itself is selfless and shows character. Because, seriously, no matter how fun it must be to have her as a personal slave, LaLaurie is a pain and a horrible human being that deserves absolutely no mercy.
Cordelia and Zoe’s stories are the most separate and insular. There isn’t much in terms of character/story progression for Cordelia, but it will be interesting to see how she deals with the information Marie Laveau gives her about Fiona. Will she betray her mother in order to get in good with Laveau? Zoe and “Franken-Kyle’s” storyline continues to be the least interesting aspect of the series, so far. Even though it did deliver the first truly surprising reveal of the season, I was not expecting Kyle’s mother to get all incest-y on him. It is a devastating and disturbing reveal that certainly provokes a reaction from the viewer. Though it is a truly horrific moment, I question its necessity. Though it makes Kyle even more sympathetic and complicated as a person, it feels like an easy way for the show to create shock value. There seems to be no meaning behind it other than a superficial way to scandalize viewers. It is reminiscent of the premiere’s rape scene, which served to get a character from point A to point B and was quickly dismissed in order for the narrative to progress. This casual skimming over the event diminishes its impact on the character and his/her emotional journey. We’ll see how the writers handle the difficult topic in the episodes to come.
The show manages to tie in some storylines together despite their separate nature. Though they share no screen time in this installment, Fiona and Cordelia’s experiences serve as parallels; both have biological/physical limitations that they are desperate to reverse. Both of them seek Marie Laveau’s counsel and are denied. The “replacements” of the title not only refers to young Fiona and Madison usurping the title from the reigning Supremes, but also to “Franken-Kyle” and his inability to replace pre-bus crash Kyle. Hopefully more of these thematic connections are made as the series progresses and the narratives come together.
Quotes & Observations:
- Witch mythology expanded, we learn what the process is for a witch to be named Supreme. A witch must perform the “seven wonders” before the council in order to be proclaimed Supreme. We can assume that telekinesis, fire starting, and the jedi mind-control thingy are three of those wonders, as evidenced by the episode, but what are the other four?
- More Misty Day please. With very little screen time, Lily Rabe is extremely enigmatic and engaging and fun to watch. Why doesn’t Zoe try to take her to Miss Robichaux’s?
- With the way the series handles death, especially this season, in which multiple characters have “come back from the dead”, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Madison reemerge.
- Joan Ramsey is a stereotypical conservative, Christian shrew, though Patti Lupone is a fine actress (she’ll probably always be Frank Rossitano’s mom for me) the character is a familiar caricature, nothing new here.
- “Miss Aryan sisterhood came between Queenie and her food.”
- The writers are really enjoying putting Sarah Paulson in freaky, ritualistic scenarios this season. Though Angela Bassett totally owns that scene as the powerful voodoo priestess. The whole fertility scene is just an excuse for her to chew scenery and ham it up, not that I’m complaining she totally sells it and is fantastic. She, like Lange and Bates, is completely reveling in the over the top-ness of it all.
- “This coven doesn’t need a new Supreme, it needs a new rug.”