American Horror Story: Coven Recap: “Head” (Season 3, Episode 9)

Well, we’ve hit that point in the season when the writers start to toss things at the wall willy-nilly. In last year’s Asylum it was in episode nine (“Coat Hanger”) that, as ScreenRant put it, the writers started leaping “from dangling plot thread to dangling plot thread in an attempt to set up all the pieces for the push into the final episodes.”

Myrtle in American Horror Story: Coven

How did your hair grow back after you were burned at the stake and resurrected? “Honey, I’ve been buying in bulk in Korea for years!” Photo copyright 2013, FX Networks.

“Head” opens on an idyllic father-son camping trip in the Chattahoochee National Forest; they share coffee from a thermos as sunlight filters through the dust motes hanging in the air. They speak earnestly of hunting, of a desire “not to miss.” When the time comes, though, little Hank hesitates a bit too long while a jaundiced, pale witch with a halo of red hair begs him to let her live; she almost kills both father and son before Daddy shoots her in the head. Does it strike anybody else odd that witch hunters would be able to just, you know, find a national forest and literally hunt witches like they were game? “Got a nine-pointer, son!”

Kyle Cooper’s Prologue Films created the titles for The Walking Dead, Sleepy Hollow, Prometheus, and a number of others. Before that, Mr. Cooper designed the titles for Se7en, which have stuck with me as a profoundly spooky, entirely unsettling sequence that drops you face first into the deeply dark world of Fincher’s film. A friend pointed out that perhaps the “scariest” part of American Horror Story is the opening credits. The show isn’t about terror, jump moments, or psychological thrills. It’s about making you feel as bloody uncomfortable as possible. The credits succeed at that – slivers of imagery, jerky movement, artfully timed shots so that just when you’ve got your head around a severed goat’s head or an insectile, humanoid creature in the trees, it flips to the next spooky-ass thing. Beneath the images a ghastly series of sounds plays, subwoofers prodding at your eardrums as dripping water synthesizes a rhythm and a guitar squeals discordantly. The effect is chilling and discomfiting, and you can’t look away. The credit sequence is near-perfect (but the rest of the show certainly isn’t).

Anyway, back to this week’s “Head.” Fiona, feeling a little bit brighter and bushier-tailed after her brush with martyrdom in the last episode, visits Marie Laveau to discuss Marie’s little message in a box: Delphine’s severed head. As the two witches discuss a possible alliance, Delphine murmurs angrily from inside the box “Are you insane?!” and rants about darkies. “Witch hunters is white women’s worry,” says Marie, waving Fiona off. Marie, aesthetician-witch extraordinaire (never thought I’d write that phrase) points out that Fiona’s lustrous locks are no such: she’s wearing a wig. Taking a page from Senator Clay Davis (NSFW), Marie proclaims, “Sheeeeeit, you’re just weak.” Famous last words.

This season hasn’t been so completely disjointed as Asylum, but even so, the writers have a number of loose ends to attend to prior to the season finale. Cordelia and Myrtle are the oldest of friends, and poor Myrtle wants to ensure her innocence in Cordelia’s disfigurement is firmly acknowledged. Unfortunately, it looks to me like Myrtle may indeed be the acid-thrower, even if Queenie did help Fiona set her up to burn at the stake. She stands silently in the doorway of the kitchen as Delia makes her slow, blind way to the icebox; then Myrtle moves the carton of eggs Delia set on the counter. As they all smash on the tile, Myrtle comes to the rescue. She’s hovering around the edges of Cordelia’s life, offering her help only when it makes Myrtle look good and screwing with her otherwise.

The rather eccentric older witch (I have adored Frances Conroy ever since Six Feet Under) gets plenty of screen time as the writers bring her tale to the fore: she played surrogate mother to Cordelia when Fiona couldn’t; she grew to despise Fiona when she became Supreme through disingenuous means.

When the coven’s Council decided to believe their Supreme, to have Myrtle burned at the stake, they evidently didn’t expect repercussions when she came back from the dead. Sure! Let’s just go for a fun little social visit with the witch we condemned to die in a fire. Seriously, guys? In what universe does that seem like a good idea?

Myrtle in American Horror Story: Coven

Previously a naughty maid and an angel of death, Frances Conroy now plays a possibly-scheming witch with aplomb. Photo copyright 2013, FX Networks.

Myrtle thrills over a melon baller (“so clever!”) as she prepares dinner for Quentin and Cecily, who drunkenly marvel at her unburnt skin. Myrtle makes the case for Misty’s potential role as the new Supreme. She is, Myrtle says, “A living testament to the greater ideals of our coven: power, compassion, and forgiveness.” Forgiveness: what a joke. Myrtle poisons the Council with Monk’s Hood and then uses her clever little melon baller to take out their eyes. “Your fashion faux pas give me nightmares,” she tells Cecily as she scoops out the organs. But hey, now Delia can see again. A good deed done when it suits Myrtle’s agenda (when she gifts Delia with the eyes, she leaves out the part where she gleefully sliced up the Council members’ bodies and dumped them in acid).

Here’s a brand new thread to weave into the already-crowded tapestry that is Coven: apparently aside from being a senior witch-hunter, Hank’s father owns some massive investment company in Atlanta called Delphi Trust. As it turns out, this creepy, gargantuan conglomerate is running the show down (ha, showdown) in New Orleans. Hank took the initiative to ally himself with Marie Laveau to take out the “white bitches,” but he’s not making much progress – and now his silly independent action has pissed off his father, his (soon-to-be-ex) wife, and his new alliance. Hank’s in a bad place. Of course, because this is Ryan Murphy, there’s a tossed-in line to indicate that obviously the witch hunters fall on the political right; of course “the liberals in Washington” would be after their wealth and power.

Back in NOLA, Queenie is babysitting Delphine’s head, propping it in front of a TV above Marie’s salon so that she can show Delphine “her people” by playing all eight hours of “Roots.” “What fresh hell is this?” Delphine asks miserably, and Bates plays the line so straight it’s difficult not to giggle. Queenie has decided she’s going to show her all the black movies, including her personal favorite, B*A*P*S, starring Halle Berry. Delphine squinches her eyes shut and croons “Dixieland” at the top of her lungs. The timing of this show is ridiculous – the moment you’re chuckling, it segues directly into something completely fucked up. In this case, it’s Marie playing a little game of voodoo with Hank, poking and prodding as his body contorts and bursts into bloody explosions. He better get to that whole murdering-the-white-bitches thing, she tells him.

Zoe, Nan, and Madison in American Horror Story: Coven

The up-and-comers. Photo copyright 2013, FX Networks.

Elsewhere, Madison and Zoe visit Nan, who’s been waiting patiently in the hospital for Luke’s mother to let her see him. “Sick people really gross me out,” Madison declares as she lights a cigarette in the hospital hallway. The two witches usher Nan into the room where Luke lies still with tubes in his face. Joanie tells them Nan is a demon. Madison, who gets a series of great lines in this episode, answers, “No, bitch, she’s clairvoyant…God works in mysterious ways, Joanie, roll with it.” Just as Joanie starts to trust Nan, Luke reveals through the visionary witch that his mom murdered his dad. With a bee. God showed him. Why this is happening now, I have no idea. Anyway, Joan can’t let anybody know what she did, so she sticks a pillow over her sick son’s face. If he’s dead, he won’t be dead for long; nobody this season is.

Newly accessorized with one blue and one green eye courtesy Cecily and Quentin, Cordelia sets her mind to teaching the inexperienced Misty Day the art of witchcraft. “Damn! That is so cool,” Misty cries when she successfully reanimates a plant, and high fives Cordelia. Murphy has announced Stevie Nicks will be on the next episode, which makes me think Misty is indeed the next Supreme. When Hank shows up, drunk and sad, he pleads with Cordelia to take him back: “Can you see my heart? Can you see it’s bleeding?” (Well, it’s not bleeding yet, but it sure will be once Marie Laveau gets her needle into you.) As Hank leaves the Academy, he pauses to avoid a German Shepherd in the hallway, baring her teeth and snarling at him. Fiona tells him they need protection, so she got a female dog. “Because bitches stick together,” Hank says bitterly. Fiona replies, “Because females are more loyal and aggressive when it comes to protecting their families.” Jesus, writers. That line is almost as bad as “I’ll always win against the patriarchal male” (among many others). After Hank exits, the pup wanders into Madison’s and Zoe’s room, where Kyle sits cross-legged and mostly-dumb on the floor. “DOG,” he says, cuddling her…and then he eats the dog. Luckily, this takes place offscreen. You never kill the dog, guys. It’s bad form. “Well, shit,” Fiona mutters.

Kyle and Fiona in American Horror Story: Coven

An undead frat boy and a dying witch sit down for a game of gin. The joke possibilities are endless… Photo copyright 2013, FX Networks.

When Madison, Zoe, and Nan return to the Academy, they discover Kyle playing a nice game of gin with Fiona at the kitchen table and speaking in complete sentences. She “spruced him up” because “what we need is a guard dog who’ll attack on command.” She’ll put him to good use in this war. Is it possible Kyle’s meant to be a play on the Golem?

At Marie’s, Queenie puts on some old blues for Delphine, who says she kept her eyes closed the whole time “Roots” played. “Freedom” plays over clips of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. As the eerie, beautiful song reverberates on the soundtrack, Hank stomps in the front door and starts shooting black women. As the TV plays white folks spraying black folks with fire hoses, a white dude brutally murders five black women. Queenie, equipped with the power to inflict her own bodily injury on others (i.e. a “human voodoo doll”), grabs a gun and shoots herself in the head, which results in Hank’s brains splattered across the wall. All of this occurs just as Delphine starts to cry. Racism, guys. It’s a thing. In case you weren’t already aware. It’s overplayed but effective.

“Overplayed but effective” is a pretty good explanation of the entire series, really. The mind-boggling twists, the drag-queen sensibilities of the characters (particularly Lange, Bassett, and Conroy), the transparently feminist agenda that’s tinged nonetheless with an insidious misogyny; it’s all overplayed, but effective. And effectively fucking strange. In the final scene of “Head,” Marie Laveau finally comes to see Fiona. The voodoos and the witches are joining forces.

What did you think of “Head?” Is Queenie dead? How about Luke? And what do you think Kyle’s role in the final battle will be? I’m pretty certain now that Myrtle threw the acid, and I’m becoming increasingly sure Misty is the rising Supreme. Have you other theories? Share them.

AHS: Coven is on hiatus until January 8th, but I’m going to try not to take much of a hiatus from writing. We’ll see what I can come up with.

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