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There has always been something a little old fashioned about American Horror Story, even when its scenes are taking place during the modern day. Having characters that have been alive for over two hundred years helps that along. Tonight’s “Protect the Coven” felt a little like a serial drama or comedic performance from nearly a century ago, with parceled off non sequitur scenes of differing genres, all interconnected but never meshing together to creating anything whole. For some shows, that’s akin to a death knell, but for AHS, it just means we get to see around three different levels of gore, theremin music and a cross-dressing ghost with a beard. In other words, it’s time for a French 75 in a pint glass.
”Listen up, white devil.”
Having written about for the last few years, you’d think I’d be able to recognize a bum plotline where the only exit plan is “everything dies.” In the case of Alpha Pi High Witchhunters Incorporated getting their collective necks split open by the end of an axe, I don’t mind pleading ignorance, as that was a plotline that never should have existed in the first place. Sure, it was the catalyst for Fiona and Laveau to come together and cackle cattily, but it also reduced Sara Paulson’s Cordelia to shrill emo shell for whom no one has anything but contempt.
From the beginning, everything about the witchhunters has felt shoehorned in, and the early scene between Hank’s Dad and his man Friday (or whatever) was nearly as hilarious as the episode’s more purposed stabs at humor. Not that these clowns were every organized enough to do any hunting of witches, but Hank’s Dad is perfectly willing to work something out with the witches in order for them to reverse the spell that they put on him that essentially collapsed his megacorporation. But after they’re up and running again, that’s when Fiona and Laveau would really pay them back…”with their lives.” I sincerely hope that next season’s tomfoolery stays far away from boardrooms and buildings with mirrored entryways. If any character’s only trait is “mountainously devious,” then it’s not a strong character.
So yes, even though I thought more would come of it, I was incredibly happy to see Axeman fulfill his favor to Fiona by going splatter-crazy on everyone, ending in Fiona’s opening a pig trough in Hank’s Dad’s neck. And though he threatens that this war is not over, though it was hardly ever a war to begin with, I hope we don’t get a shadowy guy in a fedora that shows up next week as the “real” head of the witchhunters.
”You flush my shit, bitch.”
Oddly enough, this episode also put a lot of focus on Madame LaLaurie and the thirst for black people’s blood that keeps her centered. The cold open featured a clever enough reference to LaLaurie having to chop off a chicken’s head, but at first seemed to be treading murderous ground by having her bleed yet another servant dry. Sure, this was her first kill, but it felt more gratuitous than normal. But then she spends a good amount of time in the middle of the episode narrating the changes that she’s felt having succumbed to a servant’s life and how belittled she felt having to clean up people’s shitty toilets and things.
And so we watch her find a new victim in the modern age in the form of the Academy’s yard guy, James, but it isn’t until just after that happens that we realize her entire confessional voiceover is her talking to the captive James, which adds a new level of creepiness to the scene. This man, who doesn’t know he’s about to lose one of his toes as it goes wee-wee-wee all the way home, has just listened to a deranged racist murderer attempt to justify her actions. For all the titillating visuals this show delivers, this was one of those moments where that added context was way scarier than watching a man get his toes cut off.
“That ain’t magic. It’s an antihistamine!”
From the freaky to the downright hysterical: Formerly tongueless butler Spalding – but Butler works fine – appears to LaLaurie with a magical manner of killing the seemingly immortal Laveau, so long as he gets her this rare baby doll to add to that creepy ass attic room’s collection. She does this, and he gives her…Benadryl! Product placement or not, I howled with laughter. I was sincerely thinking they were going to wriggle around Papa Legba’s voodoo devil ways, but instead got a balls-out gag. It was awesome.
It turns out Spalding didn’t just want the doll, which he uses to brush his hair out of his eyes; he also wants Laveau’s kidnapped baby that I’m just assuming no one is paying attention to whenever the child isn’t onscreen. Now that Laveau is knocked out and presumably on her way to an unmarked grave, Spalding has his own living and breathing doll baby. But to what end?
I’m pretty sure I’ve already used that particular quote from Formerly Mental Kyle before, as Evan Peters must have pissed Ryan Murphy off to get stuck with such a shitty and empty role. The “love triangle” has now become a “love straight line of dullness” as Kyle and Zoe are planning on running away on a bus to get away from everyone. They’re going to Epcot! That was another unexplainably surreal detail that made this episode special. Zoe now knows how Nan died, and will be back next week for the beginning of The Seven Wonders ritual explanation, so I’m not sure why they even bothered with this fake out ending of her and Kyle leaving together. (Plus, what was that terrible music cue during that scene?) If I had to wager a guess, I’d say Madison also flips the bus they’re leaving in and kills Kyle once and for all.
”Some quote about Cordelia and Queenie.”
So…Cordelia is tired of everyone talking shit about her and wants her powers back. So she does what anyone would do: she stabs herself in both eyeballs with pruners. It was the rarest of moments when this series actually jolted me in my seat. It was so obvious she was going to do it, but the complete lack of music at that moment made me think she was going to put them back down. And then “shhnnk” in the eye socket. I obviously don’t know firsthand how witch powers work, but I’m willing to bet reblinding herself isn’t the magic touch.
Meanwhile, Queenie was able to survive a silver bullet suicide, so she assumes that she actually is in line for the Supreme role. We figured that already anyway. It’s a shame that this character hasn’t lived up to either the actress or even the promise that was shown earlier in the season.
And so here we are, waiting for the next Supreme as much as anyone, if only to see Fiona flip out and try and kill that person. Did anyone really believe her when she agreed to give up the Coven if the Axeman did her bidding? Fiona will do anything to make sure Fiona is in a good mood. I’m almost worried about what even makes her happy anymore?
Things Stirring in the Cauldron
“We must say goodbye to Nan…who fell in the tub.”
Fiona kills Nan, who is the first one to actually stay dead, and all of a sudden she’s Pol Pot?
“I’m not taking another step.” Whenever Queenie yanked LaLaurie’s leash just then, did anyone else expect a “YOINK!” sound effect bubble to appear?
While director Bradley Buecker’s direction was occasionally too busy and flipping around a horizontal axis, this episode featured what is probably my favorite shot in all of American Horror Story: Whenever we see LaLaurie looking into an allegedly “dirt”-filled toilet bowl and it switches to a bowl of Myrtle’s mulligatawny soup. I was midway through a groan of bemused disgust when I realized I’d been fooled.
That said, I also really like the shot just after LaLaurie cuts James’ toe off and it cuts to Zoe lighting a candle, but it looks like her fingers have been severed. Plus, the one upside-down shot of James’ bleeding hand was quite striking and makes me wonder why something similar isn’t used more often all over the place.
“A bobblehead with crotchless panties.” I could seriously just listen to Myrtle go on and on about anything. Tell me all of the herbs and spices in that soup! What else is light as a goofer feather?
I’m going to need a GIF of Laveau slapping LaLaurie’s ass.
“Not very robust, were you?”
I can’t wait until Misty escapes from the tomb she was put into last week. Any episode so skank-heavy with Madison appearances needs the innocent naivety of Misty to balance itself.
I loved how quickly Hank’s Dad went from shitting his underwear to fixing himself a spot of tea. Pretty sure his hand would have been shaking like a coked-up leaf.
Someone needs to frame a picture of that baby being held in nightcapped Spalding’s arms and put it over the kid’s bed without context to frighten him into a life of virtue.