Ryan Murphy, that scamp, amped us up for Stevie Nicks’ appearance on American Horror Story: Coven before leaving us hanging over the the holidays. I know your holidays consisted of Cards Against Humanity with Mom and Dad and lively discussion of the Coven’s rising Supreme. (Fact: Mine only contained one of those things, and I’ll let you guess which.)
In Wednesday’s mid-season “premiere,” Murphy delivered on Nicks, prepped us for the finale by “killing off” a few of the coven’s members, and united our warring factions of witches. The episode was one of the most coherent, least insane this season – and on the whole this season has been pretty tame compared to last. Murphy and the writers are zoned in on the goal, and they’re not slowing down for anything. (They are, however, still popping in random new info and plotlines for funsies. It wouldn’t be AHS without that.)
After Hank gunned down all of the voodoo witches (including Queenie, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her), Marie found herself on Fiona’s doorstep. As she sips a cup of tea heavily laced with Fiona’s whiskey, she admits she’s ashamed, but not about her coven’s violent deaths: “I’m over 300 years old…I taught myself long ago not to waste tears for the dead.” No, she’s ashamed she didn’t recognize their common enemy or respond to Fiona’s pleas for a truce. The writers had rollicking fun pitting the witches against one another, but as Marie tells Fiona with thinly veiled contempt, “It’s a relief to have found an equal, even if that person come in the guise of an enemy.” After Marie beds down for the night, the voodoo loa Papa Legba pays her a visit, warning her she must pay her debt. “The bargain was made long ago,” he intones. Marie climbs out of bed, grousing about how it’s been a long day, and pays a visit to a hospital nursery to steal a brown baby. In her wake she leaves an enchanted nurse and two dead officers.
In the bright morning light, Marie explains to Fiona and Cordelia the deal between her and Hank. Fiona rejects not Marie, but her daughter, sneering that she was not only blind, but willfully blind to marry a witch-hunter. Fiona knows about the “ancient order of men” who kill witches, “black or white.” The enemy is always men, always the patriarchy, in this show. It’d be perfect (and hell, let’s be honest, it’s often true – and particularly in the case of historical witchcraft) if the dialogue weren’t quite so transparent. Which begs the question: why couldn’t Fiona see through Hank? Is it, perhaps, because she’s a pretty lousy Supreme?
After she lights a cigarette to calm her nerves, Fiona visits Misty, who’s in a pretty new black dress, twirling in a shawl a la her songstress idol. She’s anxious to show Fiona she’s not stupid, she can’t be easily fooled – or killed. Tricksy Fiona tells her that the title of Supreme is “a skeleton key to anything you wish for in the world.” She then introduces Misty to an old friend. “She’s a white witch, and try as I may, I cannot get her to play in the shadows with me.” Of course, Nicks herself appears, looking every bit the older version of Lily Rabe. Misty faints dead away. “You owe me five bucks!” Fiona cries, kissing Stevie on the cheek. “I told you she was gonna do that.”
On the way back to school, Nan, Zoe, and Madison debate “hitting the morgue” to reanimate Queenie. “NO,” Zoe and Nan say with finality. No more reanimation. (Well, at least not in this episode.) As Ms. Nicks croons the 1981 Fleetwood Mac hit “Rhiannon” (“a little song about an old Welsh witch”), Fiona lies weakly in her chair and the girls stare, unsure of what to do with Stevie’s singing. Misty is completely overwhelmed, dancing and twirling, staring rapt with wet eyes. Stevie gifts Misty with a shawl that has “danced its way across stages around the world, shows her how to twirl correctly, and wishes her luck with the Seven Wonders. Fiona, it appears, is officially convinced Misty’s the true up-and-comer.
Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” Live
Upstairs, Nan dreamily says maybe she could be the new Supreme. Yeah, right, says Madison, “Mumbles the Clown.” This kind of slur on Down’s is not usually Murphy’s style, so of course Nan gets the last word: “Put out that cigarette.” Madison automatically tamps out her smoke. “Now stick it in your vagina.” She starts to do exactly that before Zoe cries, “Stop it, skanks!” The fact is, Nan’s powers are growing; she can now control minds. Madison no longer has a heart murmur since her reanimation. Although I was pretty sure (alongside Myrtle and Fiona) that Misty was the new Supreme when I heard Stevie Nicks was going to appear on the show, they’re still holding out on “who the next goddamn Supreme is.” Well played, writers. But the delayed amplification of powers feels, oh, a tad contrived. A bit “let’s punch ’em in the face in the penultimate round.”
After some thorough internet research (which, as Fiona pointed out, really should have been done years ago), Cordelia uncovers Hank’s true identity. His father is Harrison Renard (the French word for Fox), CEO of the Delphi Trust. Fiona and Marie join forces to attack the multi-billion-dollar firm, and when Cordelia tries to help them Fiona tells her she’s worthless, hopeless. The voodoo witch and the Supreme call Hecate, place a mouse in a maze, cast a spell to call down all the forces of the federal government on the corrupt Trust.
Fiona and Marie, whose similarities are apparently myriad, discuss love. Marie had been in love once before – a love that Delphine LaLaurie murdered brutally. Apparently Fiona has “found passion” in the Axe Man. (I still don’t understand that part.) Fiona probes gently but eagerly to find out how Marie (and Delphine) can be immortal. Marie gave LaLaurie (“that despicable torturing racist”) the secret to eternal life, and why wouldn’t she give it to Fiona? Evidently it’s out of Marie’s hands; she can’t help Fiona live forever, but perhaps Papa Legba can. She reveals (of course) that she sold her soul. He comes once a year, asking for a new and more terrible deed; the first was Marie’s own newborn child, and we already know this year’s due. Fiona dons a Cheshire grin at the idea of calling the loa herself. Anything for eternal life. Why, after spending a whole season trying to murder these damned white folk, is Marie suddenly so anxious to befriend them? Is it pure selfishness? These flashbacks indicate she was once more human, more vulnerable, than Fiona has ever been, so that makes not much sense. Is it just bad writing? Probably.
When in New Orleans, you simply must depict a funeral procession; traditional New Orleanians do it like no one else. A horse-drawn hearse rambles at the front, pulled by gorgeous black stallions wearing elaborate feather plumes. Behind them follows a train of marching mourners, moving in steady unison as a jazz band plays a slow dirge. Though the sun shines, many of them carry black umbrellas. At the end of the procession sidle Misty and Madison, chomping on fried shrimp on a stick (at least I think that’s what it is). Always tasteful, these witches. Madison is rightfully cynical, Misty rightly naive (it’s what would make her a good Supreme). “Everything’s transactional,” Madison says – and she should know, since in her previous life she was a movie star. Misty proclaims sullenly that she’s “not so easily bought, not so easily fooled,” and then gets in one last remark: “Thanks for the lunch.” Rabe is amazing this season; Misty is the perfect mix of powerful, vengeful, kind, and naive. She seems incapable of true bitchcraft.
At the cemetary, Misty freezes the gravediggers (although they’re preparing to load the dead man into an above-ground vault, as is traditional in NOLA, so I’m not sure that’s their title) while Madison flips open the coffin and awakens him. Her powers are also growing, and apparently Misty isn’t the only one who can bring the dead back to life. “Lose the shawl,” Madison pleads. Telling her to stop being Stevie and just be Misty. Meanwhile, the corpse stumbles around, staring blankly at the graves. Madison yanks away Stevie’s shawl, knocks Misty over the head with a brick, pushes her into the open casket, and twirls away.
Nan and Zoe try to visit Luke at the hospital and discover he’s dead. Completely crushed, Nan insists they visit Joan to find out where he is. After vehemently protesting against bringing Queenie back, Nan’s desperation for kindness will lead her to do evil deeds. When she learns that in fact, Joanie killed him with a pillow in the last episode and then cremated him (negating the possibility of reanimation), she completely loses it. Nan forces joan to her knees, throws Zoe across the room, and makes Joan drink bleach. Luckily, we don’t see much of the results.
In Cordelia’s greenhouse, Myrtle plays the theremin (“listen to the celestial tones!”) and when Cordelia tells her to stop, scolds, “don’t be a hater, dear.” Cordelia asks for advice; if she can no longer offer anything to the Coven, who is she? Myrtle advises drily that she could market her salad dressing, “Cordelia’s Conjured Coriander Condiment,” or perhaps get a nice job on a cruise ship. Myrtle goes on playing as Cordelia smashes all her jars and screams about being a failure.
At the Delphi Trust, Harrison and his assistant decide to finally deal with the witches. This episode isn’t a stunner in terms of cinematography – too much story to tell – but the headquarters of the “evil order of men” is shot from below, focused on an ornate, darkly stained wood ceiling. The witch-hunters/bankers do business in an appropriately creepy space, a dark chapel. It’s very Devil’s Advocate. Harrison, canvassing for solutions, amusingly asks his assistant to call Ben Bernanke. Delphi used to have friends in really high places, but no longer.
Papa Legba, apparently a fan of cocaine, comes to visit Fiona after she lines some blow up on a mirror. “I don’t want to die,” she implores. Shadows dance on the walls behind them as they discuss Fiona’s fate. He gives her some details of the bargain: “Cripple your daughter. Murder an innocent, someone you love.” Fiona agrees. He leans in to kiss her, giving us just enough time to wonder how Fiona’s immortality will affect the rising Supreme. Then he leans back, tilts his head, and proclaims, “You have nothing to sell. You have no soul.” So obviously Fiona does the lines and tells the Axe Man nobody will be the next Supreme because she’s just gonna kill ’em all.
After killing Joan, Nan tells Zoe she wants to be a “nice Supreme.” She discovers Marie’s kidnapped sacrifice in an enchanted closet, and tries to take the baby back. Fiona and Marie, soulless devils that they are, retrieve the baby for their evil deed. “Eat my shit. I’m the next Supreme. You have blood on your hands. The both of you,” Nan tells them. That much is certainly true. Unfortunately, Nan underestimates her enemies (hormones and growing powers’ll do that to you).
With no ceremony whatsoever Fiona and Marie drown Nan in the bathtub, hoping perhaps they can fulfill Papa Legba’s requirement with this particular innocent. “She killed the neighbor but the bitch had it comin’,” Fiona tells him defiantly, prompting one of those uncomfortable giggles from me. Papa takes Nan with him. “Do I have to wear that outfit for the rest of eternity?” she asks (this show is, after all, populated by drag queens), and he assures her that the other side holds much in store. So, basically, instead of uniting against the patriarchal male, Fiona and Marie are killing and alienating their own? That’s totally sensible. Idiots. I have a feeling Murphy’s gunning for a message about sisterhood up in here.
In the final scene, Stevie serenades Fiona with “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For you?” Fiona, crumpled in her chair, weak and tired, cries bitter tears. No soul, indeed.
Well. I thought for sure Misty was first in line for Supreme. But now everybody’s powers are amping up, Fiona officially has no soul, Misty’s in a vault (though not dead), Queenie’s whereabouts are unknown, and Nan has escaped to the other side with Papa Legba. Marie and Fiona have formed an alliance, Cordelia is impotent and going crazy, and the witch hunters are about to retaliate. Three episodes remain, and the writers have pulled out all the stops. No time for nonsense; too busy building to the climax. It better be good. Despite all the murder, rape, and torture this season, it’s been pretty tame in comparison to Asylum. Every episode might bring in some shiny new plot thread or kill off somebody you thought you liked, but at least it’s relatively on track.
Given this episode, who’s your guess for next Supreme? My money’s still on Misty. When/how do you think Queenie will reappear?