Wednesday, January 29, 2014

REVIEW: 'American Horror Story: Coven' Ends by Naming a New Supreme in 'The Seven Wonders'

FX's American Horror Story: Coven - Episode 3.13 The Seven Wonders

A new Supreme rises.

So I liked "The Seven Wonders" as an episode of television - from about Cordelia's crowning as the new Supreme until the end. However, it was a terrible conclusion to the story arc of Coven - entirely because the story arc of Coven made absolute no sense. Who actually cared one way or another who the next Supreme was? None of these characters were memorable in any way nor were there clearly defined story arcs for any of them. The plot failed these characters this season - as the show found itself more interesting in too many things that simply never made any sense or served any purpose whatsoever.

Seriously, name a character this season who had a meaningful character arc. Kathy Bates was extraneous. Denis O'Hare was extraneous. Evan Peters was extraneous. Alexander Dreymon and Patti LuPone were extraneous. Angela Bassett was entertainingly extraneous.

Asylum had its faults too. But it was a much better season because it had a clearly defined trajectory for the Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters characters. Most of the time in Coven, it felt like no one knew what to do or what was even happening with most of these people.

The season was supposedly building up to that moment were Cordelia, filled with power as the new Supreme, talks with her dying mother. It's a strong scene in the episode. Although I would have been perfectly fine if Jessica Lange didn't appear at all in this finale. Instead we get that sequence as well as an overly long one with Danny Huston where we know she's in Hell the second she awakes but things drag as she comes to that same conclusion and Lance Reddick gets to maniacally chuckle - like the mustache-twirling villain he is. But was Coven really building up to that moment with the two facing off? Not really. I don't know what this season was building up to - but it especially was not that.

While "The Seven Wonders" was probably the most coherent and straight-forward hour of Coven (its simplicity really did wonders here), it just makes it that much more apparent how disappointing Coven was as a season. It tries to pull out some kind of thematic symmetry by closing the hour with Cordelia welcoming the new witches to the Academy with the same tour she gave to Zoe in the first hour when it was basically empty. All of it just felt rushed and a way to finish this half-assed story as quickly as possible. Unforunately, that leads to a finale that doesn't feel rewarding because of what happened before it.

All of these issues could all stem from the fact that we've just gotten so used to the cadences and tones of American Horror Story. Sure, the story is different each year. But how the creative team tells the narrative is very much the same. That similarity drags - we can all guess what's going to happen next instead of being genuinely surprised like we were back in the first season. That critique also extends to the cast - with the show have amassed a fine collection of actors who appear each season but as new characters. Yes, they are playing new characters. But they also seem to be playing the same archetype. I feel like I've seen Jessica Lange give Ryan Murphy-infused monologue after monologue - that there's no meaningful way to tell them apart. I appreciate that Lange has said she will be exiting the series after the fourth cycle. But I'm actively wishing that most of the AHS talent seeks new employment this development season just so we can get new perspectives and deliveries of these tales.

Season Grade - D-

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Seven Wonders" was written by Douglas Petrie and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
  • That episode description is Mad Men-levels of vague.
  • Things opened with Stevie Nicks singing "Seven Wonders" with the girls preparing for the tests. That was a great campy moment.
  • How are we suppose to take Cordelia's interview seriously when it's being followed by a segment called "Liza Minnelli talks about her hip"?
  • So, Cordelia et al knew there were other witches throughout the country before performing the Seven Wonders, right? Then, why were they so confident the new Supreme was one of them and not some other girl in Minnesota? Because that would have been a major ripoff.
  • Who else wonders what those two guys who pour gasoline on the witches at the stake do outside of that?
  • Seriously, no one would wonder what happened to Madison? And it's just okay that Kyle kills someone? 
  • Coven may have worked better if "The Seven Wonders" was actually one of the first few episodes. Then the rest of the season was the coven dealing with the fallout of Cordelia revealing their presence to the rest of the world - like an X-Men-style story. Food for thought.
  • Just for fun, rank the seasons of AHS so far. Mine would by Asylum -- big gap -- Murder House -- giant gap -- Coven.