American Horror Story Series 3: Episode 7 – The Dead

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The episode begins by giving us an insight into ‘college-boy Kyle’ before the bus crash. Not the coolest of kids, he is a Toto fan and is quite happy to use the word ‘amazeballs’. He still has the enthusiasm and idealism of youth. He is at a tattoo studio with two other frat boys but he resists getting a tattoo. He says he wants to be an engineer to ensure a tragedy like the levees breaking during Katrina can’t happen again and he doesn’t want to do anything to impact on his future professional credibility. He identifies his personal philosophy saying, ‘I’ve got one life and I’m not wasting it’.

There are a couple of visual gags in this scene that prefigure future events in Kyle’s life. He spots an animated zombie doll at the tattoo studio and it makes him shudder. So too does his friends off-colour joke about ‘banging’ Kyle’s mother. Despite his upbeat persona, he is cleanly traumatised by his abusive home-life. There is a little American Horror Story reflexivity in the fact that there is a miniature replication of the statue of Mary from AHS: Asylum on the shelf of the tattoo studio.

One of Kyle’s friends had a Chinese symbol tattooed on his ankle and another a four leaf clover on his forearm – both choices are mocked by Kyle for their inauthenticity. A dissolve reveals that Franken-Kyle has these tattoos and he is acutely aware he has been constructed from other boys’ parts. Franken-Kyle’s ongoing distress has shown Zoe’s actions to be both selfish and cruel and this opening scene reinforces the tragedy of the events unfolding at the school.

At the School

Zoe seems to be intending to help Kyle out of his misery as she goes to him, concealing a pistol behind her back but Kyle takes Zoe’s gun from her. At first it looks like she may be in danger but Kyle turns the gun on himself.

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Despite the fact that she seemed ready to put him out of his misery just moments before, she stops him when he puts the gun into his own mouth saying she doesn’t want him to die. Zoe changes tack and tries to teach Kyle to communicate. She wants him to ‘function like a person’ but Kyle cannot contain his frustration and anger.

Madison provides a voice-over where she expresses her (pre-death) attempts to numb and deny the pain of living. Post-death however, she craves feeling of any kind. She binge eats and tries to burn herself, but she continues to feel nothing.

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She hears Kyle shouting and after telling Zoe that Cordelia wants to speak to her she shares her feelings about returning back from the dead with Kyle, the only other person she knows who could understand how she empty she feels. The two connect and comfort one another.

Cordelia meanwhile had been woken in the middle of the night by a call from Hank. He told her he wanted to come home but she rejected him. We see, however, that Hank has an arsenal of weapons and he clearly intends to follow Marie’s instructions to destroy the coven. He ends the call ominously by telling Cordelia he will see her soon.

Cordelia goes to investigate a noise on the landing and Madison stops her from falling down the stairs. Cordelia experiences a flash of second sight when the two women touch. She is immediately aware that Fiona killed Madison.

Cordelia has recognised Zoe’s growing power and she identifies the danger that Fiona poses. Cordelia tells Zoe that there is only one way to be sure that she (and the coven) is protected – they have to kill Fiona. Still shocked and trying to take in what she has learned, Zoe stumbles on Kyle and Madison having sex.

In order to confirm Cordelia’s assertion about Fiona, Zoe magically replaces Spalding’s tongue. As it is still under Myrtle Snow’s enchantment, he is compelled to tell the truth. Zoe asks him who killed Madison and he has to admit that it was Fiona. Having learned the truth, Zoe stabs Spalding through the heart.

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Madison approaches Zoe aware of how she feels about Kyle. She says that being with Kyle allowed her to feel something for the first time since her regeneration but says that doesn’t mean that Zoe has to give up on him – Madison invites Zoe into bed with her and Kyle.

Fiona and the Axeman

Fiona meanwhile has gone back to the Axeman’s apartment. They drink together and whilst listening to jazz, the Axeman attempts to charm Fiona. His apartment is filthy and full of cockroaches and we are shown that the previous inhabitant of the apartment is lying dead in the bathroom – clearly brutally murdered. As Fiona gets close to the Axeman she sees that more of her hair is coming out and she is clearly torn between wanting the attention of the Axeman and the ‘great romance’ and her distaste at the seediness of the situation she finds herself in. She decides to leave but the Axeman offers her uncomplicated sex and so manages to win her over. His chat up lines seem a little unusual as he quotes Faulkener (from As I Lay Dying) saying that ‘the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time’. This is a philosophy that Fiona has some sympathy with.

After sleeping with the Axeman, Fiona prepares to leave. She tells him she knows about the body in the bathroom and as the mood changes she tells the Axeman she has reported him to the police. She is stopped in her tracks though when he reveals that he has been watching over Fiona since she was a small child – even stepping in to punish a bully when Fiona was a child. He tells her that he watched her grow up and fell in love with her. Fiona is livid that he has reminded her of the way her life has passed and she leaves him telling him to ‘go haunt someone else’s life’.

Returning home, Fiona, seeing more hair falling out and in horror at the disintegration of her body comes close to shaving all her hair off. Fiona has a last-minute change of heart and returns to the Axeman.

Queenie and Delphine

Queenie is looking for a late night snack but Madison has cleared out the cupboards in her attempt to ‘feel something’. Delphine joins Queenie and, as they are both peckish, Queenie takes Delphine for a drive-through burger. They seem to be sharing a moment of friendship together when Delphine tells her that she thinks Queenie will never truly be a part of the coven – as it is a place for ‘pretty little white girls’.

Queenie goes to see Marie who repeats Delphine’s view that the witches in the coven will never fully accept a black witch. Marie asks Queenie to bring Delphine to her and in return she promises the witch a home where she will be accepted and never thought of as second best. Marie suggests that Queenie can become more powerful by combining her witchcraft with voodoo.

Back at the school, Queenie offers Delphine friendship based on an honest confession of each others’ dark side. She asks Delphine to admit her worst crime. Delphine confesses that, having learned that her husband had fathered a child with the beautiful house slave Sally, Delphine offers Sally a promotion to the role of handmaiden where she helps with Delphine’s beauty treatments. Delphine tells her that her treatment has been made of the blood of her new born baby. The next day Sally killed herself. Queenie is outraged and what she has done but Delphine still believes that Queenie will be her true friend.

Under the pretence of getting a new haircut for Delphine, Queenie delivers her to Marie. Marie imprisons her an the final shot of the episode shows Marie applying a bloody beauty treatment made, we assume, with Delphine’s blood.

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Themes and Issues

Heroes and Villains

Zoe’s character has developed over the past few episodes and she has become stronger, more active and has demonstrated leadership qualities. Her witch-strength is clearly growing but it has put her in morally dubious positions:

  • Her choice to reanimate Kyle has caused him nothing but grief and she flip-flops between wanting to rectify her mistake and keeping him alive because she loves him;
  • Whilst Spalding may have been someone who colluded with Fiona to ‘clear up her mess’ – murderesses messes as they were, it is not certain that he deserved to die;
  • Her determination to raise the Axeman still has the potential to be a pretty bad decision and we are yet to see what the outcome of this will be.

There is evidence that under the surface the ‘old Zoe’ still exists as she retreats when she finds Madison and Kyle together but is led by the more dominant witch when Madison invites her to bed. It is no longer an option to see Zoe as the moral centre of the piece and where she may have seen like a natural hero, she is now stepping into the grey area that Fiona and Madison (and latterly Queenie) inhabit.

Queenie’s past insecurities have played on by Marie, having first been stirred up by Fiona and then Delphine. Queenie’s race and body image sensitivity has made her look outside the coven for a sense of belonging and Marie offers her precisely what she wants. She had appeared to have struck up a friendship with Delphine but was happy to abandon the friendship in exchange for power. She clearly has ambition and is willing to use Delphine to gain power. Another unfinished story line could become important here as her violent encounter with Bastien has yet to have had repercussions.

Delphine has been positioned as a racist and a psychopath. She imprisoned her own daughters, tortured her slaves and we now know she is a baby killer. Despite this we have seen a woman who wishes to learn from her past mistakes, regrets the way she treated her daughters and who has found solace in the friendship of a black girl. In terms of the simple rehabilitation narrative, Delphine has become one of the most sympathetic of characters so Queenie’s betrayal of her seems particularly harsh. Queenie’s lust for power and Delphine’s deep regret and need for friendship has caused the characters to swap narrative roles.

More Gazes

Kyle is, yet again, the object of the gaze. The statue of Mary appears throughout the first scene and appears to be watching over Kyle but, as we are acutely aware, her gaze cannot protect Kyle despite the fact that he is a ‘good’ boy – he is positive and driven by a sense of justice and social responsibility and yet he suffered the same fate as the frat boy rapists.

Zoe acts as judge and juror as she condemns Kyle for killing his mother (unaware that he has been the victim of sexual abuse) but then changes her mind and keeps him alive despite his misery because she doesn’t want him to die. Madison uses Kyle to try to eradicate the numbness she feels. She is only interested in him for his ‘boy parts’ and she offers him to Zoe as if he is a possession. He has become nothing more than a sexual object to her and in his new form is less than the sum of his parts. In her eyes he has lost his humanity.

Despite losing her sight, Cordelia now has the power of gazing that allows her to see people’s secrets – some of which are unknown to the people themselves. She discovers Hank’s secret affair (but not the fact that he is a witch hunter) and finds out that Fiona has killed both Madison and Myrtle

Fiona discovers that she has been the subject of the Axeman’s gaze throughout her life. She feels disempowered by this as she has been watched as she grows old. She accuses the Axeman of acting out of pity for her loss of youth and vitality but it is when she has to face her own disintegration in the mirror, she realises that being gazed upon is better than being invisible – the way she felt when men overlooked her in favour of younger women in bars.

Line of the week

  • Cordelia: (referring to her solution to the Fiona problem): Kill her once, kill her good, kill her dead.

s@albionmill

American Horror Story Series 3: Episode 6 – The Axeman Cometh

‘The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us…’

E. O’Neill: The Iceman Cometh 

The Axeman Cometh

The episode opens with a scene from New Orleans history. Back in 1919, the city was terrorised by a serial killer who murdered upwards of 12 people – his weapon of choice gave him his name and he is know as The Axeman of New Orleans. Famously a letter was received by press purporting to be from the Axeman and it is the words of this letter that is used as narration. In the letter the Axeman warns that he will kill again: ‘Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans… I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned.’

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The witches of the coven decide to make a stand and unite to defeat the serial killer. They are descendants of Salem and suffragettes and so the Supreme of the time tells the witches that they should use their power to show they will not stand for being terrorised. The witches play opera rather than jazz at the time specified by the letter. The Axeman breaks in and it appears that he will kill one of the witches. She turns over the death tarot card just as he begins to attack but she blindsides him and is joined by the other witches and they stab the Axeman to death.

Zoe Takes Charge

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Back in the modern day, Zoe is going through Madison’s things. She finds a ouija board hidden in a secret compartment in the wardrobe along with photos of the previous members of the coven, including the witches from 1919. Zoe persuades Nan and Queenie to use the ouija board to help find Madison. Queenie warns that there are two levels to the board – contacting the dead and releasing them. As soon as they begin, the witches make contact with a spirit who claims to be the Axeman.

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Zoe finds out the history of the Axeman and tries to persuade Nan and Queenie to try to contact him again as she is convinced he can help them find Madison. Neither of the witches is prepared to risk releasing him so Zoe decides to try again on her own. She promises to release the spirit and is directed to the attic where she discovers Spalding’s doll collection and a very bad smell. Spalding creeps up behind her as Zoe finds Madison’s decomposing body.

Zoe easily fights Spalding off and Nan and Queenie join her to question him. Zoe heats a fish slice to help persuade Spalding to answer their questions. Spalding thinks the answers to their questions and Nan reads his mind. He confesses to having killed Madison as he thinks there is nothing the girls can do seeing that they cannot turn him in. After this confession, Queenie takes some pleasure in torturing him further. Zoe is not wholly convinced and doesn’t think he’s telling the truth.

Fiona’s Maternal Sacrifice

Confirming that Madison was not in line to be the next Supreme, Fiona still has cancer. Despite not wanting to have to deal with the side effects of the treatment, she is undergoing chemotherapy for her cancer. She says she has chosen to fight the disease as Cordelia’s disability means that she needs Fiona’s help and support. The treatment clearly frightens Fiona as it taps into her fear of physical deterioration and the lack of vitality she is feeling. She finds that the medication gives her the ability to hear other people’s thoughts and so she is not only facing her own fears but she can also hear the fears of the others around her. Clearly feeling vulnerable and afraid, she says that all she wants is one more ‘great love’ before she dies.

Misty Returns

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Misty is tending a buried Myrtle in her garden when Kyle arrives having been missing since Halloween. Misty tries to bathe Kyle but he becomes violent when he has visions of his abusing mother and in his confusion he lashes out at Misty. Misty tries to calm him down but loses patience with him when he destroys her 8-track. Once ‘he broke Stevie’ Misty washes her hands of him just as Zoe turns up to ask for Misty’s help.

Zoe takes Misty back to the school and Kyle has to be restrained whilst Misty and Zoe discuss the possibility of re-animating Madison. Misty is afraid that Madison has been dead too long to be  successfully resurrected. Zoe insists they try though and after some persuasion Misty agrees. Madison is revived but she has limited memory as to what had happened to her – she does remember who she is and that she is a successful movie star but has no recollection (at the moment) of the way she died.

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Hank’s Betrayal

Cordelia returns home and she has retained ‘the sight’ which is generated when someone touches her. She has a vision of her husband with a redhead and knows he has been unfaithful. Hank  tries to play it down but Cordelia throws him out. When Fiona touches her, Cordelia sees the death of Myrtle and she is distraught at the loss of the older witch and she clearly doesn’t believe Myrtle was the one who threw acid in her face.

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Meanwhile it is revealed that Hank is working for Marie Laveau. It transpires that he is a professional witch hunter. He has infiltrated the coven and has been killing the descendants of Salem that have been found by Cordelia. This is where he was made aware of Kaylee. Cordelia had identified as a witch after she had been arrested twice for arson. She recognised her as a descendant of Salem and offered her a home with the other witches in the coven. Kaylee decided not to stay as she has no desire to be powerful. She simply wishes to ‘find a good husband and have three kids’. Hank had clearly sought Kaylee out in order to kill her. She was one of nine witches Hank claims to have killed. Hank seems to think that Marie was responsible for blinding Cordelia but Marie scoffs at the idea but mocks Hank as she thinks he has fallen in love with Cordelia and this has made him weak. Still enraged by Bastien’s decapitation she instructs him to kill all the witches at the coven – including Cordelia and Fiona.

The Axeman Cometh (again)

Cordelia is struggling to get used to coping without her eyesight.  As she is getting each for bed, she realises she is not alone and the manifest spirit of the axman is in the room with her.  He asks Cordelia to give him release and is clearly angry that Zoe rare eyed on her promise. He threatens Cordelia and her screams bring the other witches to her room. Zoe looks for a spell and is able to use her manic to find the spell that they need and the axman appears to be gone. The spell hasn’t worked as Zoe expected as he is now a fully physical entity and leaves the school by the front door.

In the final scene we see Fiona drinking alone in a jazz bar. She realises that the chemo is causing her to lose her hair and so she seems flattered when a man joins her at the bar and asks her if she’d like a drink. The man is, of course, the Axeman… (to be continued)

Themes and Issues

Pipe Dreams

The episode’s title, The Axeman Cometh, is a play on the title of a 1939 play, The Iceman Cometh, by American playwright Eugene O’Neill. The play is set in a seedy bar frequented by a group of delusional people who are regularly drinking themselves into oblivion. The characters are all living on false hopes – in their own way each character allows himself the comfort of believing in a pipe-dream. They get excited over the sporadic arrival of a travelling ice salesman (the iceman) who is known for throwing a good party. Their ‘hero’ turns out to be a misogynistic cheating wife murderer. He is a character who seeks to destroy everyone’s delusions and tries to make them face the falseness of their pipe-dreams – in the play this leads to tragic outcomes. Both the Axeman and Hank destroy life and, therefore, the dreams and desires of their victims.

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American Horror Story: Coven is filled with characters who have pipe-dreams and then have them taken away. Kaylee wanted to be a conventional wife and mother – a pipe-dream shared to some extent by Cordelia. Fiona and Delphine both wanted second chances with their daughters and both believed they could find a way to fight the inevitability of ageing.

The Axeman’s murderous spree destroyed the hopes and dreams of his victims and the final scene of the episode implies that he may be about to destroy Fiona’s dream of having one more great romance before she dies. Spalding’s pipe-dream of a necromantic ‘happy family’ with Madison and his dolls is destroyed in this episode too but Hank can be seen as the real manifestation of the iceman. He destroys Kaylee’s dreams by putting a bullet in her head and he denies Cordelia of a ‘good husband’ and support as she comes to turns with the realisation that having a family was a dram that would never be realised. She is yet to discover that he has been actively attempting to destroy the coven she is duty bound to protect – effectively destroying her dream of creating a vibrant community of witches.

Line of the Week

  • Madison (on being raised from the dead): I need a cigarette.

s@albionmill

American Horror Story Season 3: Episode 5 – Burn, Witch. Burn!

AHs3In last week’s episode Delphine appeared to imply that she was unfamiliar with the idea of ‘trick or treat’ as part of Halloween. Not so – the opening scene shows she threw Halloween parties that focused on tricks rather than treats. Potential suitors for her daughters were asked to put their hands in covered bowls of real eyeballs and innards rather than the peeled grapes and sausages they may have been expecting. Delphine’s daughters see yet another potential suitor (the Governor’s son no less) being frightened off by their mother and so they begin to hatch a plot to get rid of her. Learning of this, she has her daughters imprisoned in the attic and threatens to keep them there for a year – saving the worst punishment for the ringleader Borquita.

In the modern day, as Halloween evening progresses, the witches at the school find themselves surrounded by zombies and it is the reanimated bodies of Delphine’s daughters, led by Borquita, who make it to the front door first.

A Zombie Attack

Just before the zombies arrived, Luke had delivered Halloween cookies much to Nan’s delight. Luke believes the zombies to be local kids playing a prank so he goes outside to try to reason with them. He is amongst them as Marie commands the zombies to ‘begin’ and they start to attack – eviscerating a group of local teens who had gone to marvel at their prosthetics. Zoe has to stop Delphine from going outside to find Borquita and misses Nan slipping outside to try to save Luke. Zoe takes charge inside the house and sends Queenie and Delphine upstairs out of harm’s way before going outside to try to save Nan. Luke has been injured and Nan gets him to relative safety inside a car. The zombies soon begin to break into the car but they are distracted by Zoe who draws them away and takes what is obviously temporary shelter in a garden shed. Nan tries to get the wounded Luke back to the house but the zombies soon have them surrounded.

As all seems lost, Zoe emerges from the shed with a chainsaw and hacks the zombies into pieces. One zombie remains as the chainsaw stops working and for a moment it looks like Zoe may be defeated. Suddenly she raises her hand, mutters an incantation and the zombie falls to the ground. Marie’s magic has been disrupted and whilst she’s not sure what happened Marie is sure that ‘they’ve got some real power in that witch house now’.

Meanwhile, Borquita has made her way to the kitchen window where Delphine sees her and is overcome with maternal guilt. She lets the zombie into the house and expresses her regrets for being a terrible mother and she offers to try to make amends. Borquita responds by attempting to choke Delphine.

Borquita then makes her way upstairs attacking Spalding and Queenie. Queenie tries to fight back but her magic cannot stop the zombie’s attack. Borquita is finally bought down by Delphine with a poker through the heart. Delphine realises that this releasing her from Marie’s spell been the only act of maternal kindness Delphine had ever offered her daughter.

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An Acid Attack

Claudia has been badly disfigured by the acid attack at the bar and Fiona rushes her to hospital. The doctor says that Cordelia has been blinded by the attack. Fiona, unable to cope with the news, self-medicates and then goes to find the hospital pharmacy for more supplies. She manages to acquire a cocktail of pills to add to the alcohol she has with her and, in a foggy state, makes her way through the hospital.

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She is clearly feeling guilty about what has happened to Cordelia: she hallucinates being told that she ‘might as well have’ thrown the acid in her daughter’s face.  She pauses as she wanders the hospital halls to bring life to a stillborn baby placing her back in the arms of her mother.

Fiona is at Claudia’s bedside when Hank returns and she vents her anger at him. She tells him he can have 15 minutes with her daughter but then she wants him to disappear – his way or (unspecified, but decidedly ominously) her way. Hank offers his love and support to Cordelia but when he takes her hand Cordelia has a vision and she is aware of his infidelity.

‘Fire purges and purifies’

The next morning Nan and Zoe are busy burning the zombie bodies and Fiona thanks Zoe for protecting the coven. Delphine expresses her maternal regret and she and Fiona appear to be sharing some common ground. Delphine hopes their shared tragedies may bring them closer together but Fiona dismisses the idea declaring that she doubts it as Delphine is ‘after all, the maid’.

The council arrives back at the school and this time they are intend to remove Fiona from the coven by demanding her abdication. Fiona turns the tables back on them and implicates Myrtle in the attack on Cordelia. When Fiona reveals acid burns on Myrtle’s hand and the fact that she was in New Orleans when Madison disappeared, the council declares Myrtle guilty and she is sentenced to death by fire. Myrtle says that she is innocent but goes ‘proudly to the flame’. She is clearly horrified but her love for the coven runs deep. She said she had always felt like an outsider but thought she belonged in the coven.

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The execution takes place in a scene reminiscent of a 70s spaghetti western/Tarantino movie and is accompanied by Dr. John’s Right Place Wrong Time. Zoe can’t believe what the coven are about to do. Myrtle warns them that Fiona will bring danger to them all. Fiona lights the fire and Myrtle dies in agony before the collected witches.

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Post Script 1

Queenie goes to Fiona as she realises she was involved in framing Myrtle. Queenie caused the burns on Myrtle’s hand by putting her own hand in acid and passing the wound on to the council member. Queenie’s guilt is soon soothed by Fiona’s promise to mentor her for the role of Supreme. Queenie likes the idea of being the first Supreme of ‘colour’ and seems to forget about Myrtle as she accepts Fiona’s offer of tutelage.

Post Script 2

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Spalding, still dressed in nightgown and bonnet, has Madison’s redressed body in a basket. The smell is clearly awful and he tries to cover it with air freshener. Madison’s body is decomposing to the extent that when he tries to take her out of the basket, her arm comes clean away.

Post Script 3

Misty Day appears at the Myrtle’s execution site and finds the horribly burned body. She takes hold of Myrtle’s face and uses the power of resurgence to bring life back to the dead witch.

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Themes and Issues

Maternal Instinct

Like episode 3, this episode is about motherhood but instead of a focus on bad mothering, this episode looks at the maternal instinct and how, even in the most selfish or cruel mothers, the desire to protect is undeniable. Both Delphine and Fiona have been terrible mothers. Delphine was active in her physical and psychological abuse of her daughters whilst Fiona was a bad mother though neglect and absence. Fiona has been absent for much of Cordelia’s life but when present she is hyper-critical and acts totally in her own self-interest. Cordelia’s own instinct to become a mother drew her in desperation to ask Marie for help when she discovers she cannot conceive. Unsurprisingly, Fiona berates her for this saying she is showing weakness. She also accuses Cordelia of being an inadequate mother-figure for the girls in the school. Fiona’s behaviour changes though when Cordelia is hurt and in acts of maternal protection she rushes her daughter to the hospital and demands that Hank leaves Cordelia alone. Having seen Hank’s true nature in the previous episode we cannot help but side with the ferocious mother who wants to protect her daughter from this ‘loser’. With Cordelia hurt, the instinct to protect motivates Fiona’s actions but the knowledge of how bad a mother she has been drives her into inebriated guilt. Her act in bringing the stillborn child to life acts as a channel for her to express how she feels about Cordelia. She gets the grieving mother to say things to her baby that presumably Fiona has never said to Cordelia. Despite the fact that Fiona has been critical and judgmental each time we have seen her interact with her daughter, this is the ‘second chance’ she wishes she had. She gets the grieving mother to tell her daughter she will never leave her and that ‘she’ll be [her] mother’ forever.

Delphine too finds herself instinctively drawn to her daughters despite the fact that they are zombies and that they are threatening her and everyone in the coven. When alone with Borquita, she tries to reason with her daughter and acknowledges what a terrible mother she has been. When Borquita attacks Delphine, the mother is passive but when Borquita threatens Queenie, she fights back. Since Queenie has saved her life, Delphine has taken on the role of mother to the young witch; nurturing and protecting her. Delphine’s relationship with Queenie may now be under threat as Fiona has stepped in to act as Queenie’s tutor and mentor.

Other mothers in the episode include Zoe, who takes charge and acts ferociously to protect the coven and Myrtle who declares she was more of a mother to Claudia than Fiona has been. Spalding perverts the idea of motherhood by dressing up and arranging a tea-party. His children are dolls or the poor dead Madison.

Intertextuality

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  • Cross cultural references abound: from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shining (twice) to every Zombie movie/TV show ever made but especially Night of the Living Dead.

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  • Fiona’s spaced out meanderings around the hospital were one part Silent Hill, one part The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and another part American Horror Story: Asylum.

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  • Zoe embodies every ‘final girl’ (Clover) who is left battling monsters in the horror genre and there was a little Buffy the Vampire Slayer in there too.

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  • Did Kathy Bates channel her character Annie Wilkes in Misery in her line ‘break a leg if you must’? This is the second character Bates has played for whom hobbling is a solution.

Line of the Week

  • Fiona (to Hank): I can smell the bullshit in your pockets

s@albionmill

American Horror Story Season 3: Episode 4 – Fearful Pranks Ensue

As this is the first of a two part episode, the themes and issues will be considered next week.

What happened this week?

The opening of the episode takes us back to 1961, and a culture taking its first steps towards racial integration. Cora, an employee of Marie’s in the salon has sent her son to a racially integrated high-school. She is filled with optimism despite all the other women’s words of caution.  Tragically Cora’s son is found lynched and, in retaliation, Marie summons zombies to exact revenge. Whilst in a trance, Marie is able to raise the dead and control them and she sends them to mutilate the white men who killed Cora’s son. Later we learn that after years of bloodshed in the conflict between the two tribes, Marie became the hero of a truce called between the white witches and Voodoo culture. Further conflict was avoided by drawing firm boundaries between the communities and ensuring neither crossed over into the other group’s territories.

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Marie and Anna-Leigh call a truce to the conflict between the witches and voodoo culture.

At the School

This episode offers a little insight into Spalding’s strange world as we see him taking tea with his large collection of dolls. This takes place just before the events of episode 3 and we see Fiona killing Madison again, but this time from Spalding’s point of view. The silent butler is willing to remove the body and look after Fiona.

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Spalding holds a dolly tea party

As Spalding prepares to move Madison, Fiona hears a noise in the greenhouse and finds Queenie beaten and bloodied after her encounter with the Minotaur. Fiona wakes Cordelia who tries to heal some of Quennie’s wounds with a poultice but Queenie’s injuries are severe and Cordelia’s magic fails. Queenie dies but Fiona breaths life back into her. She is, however, furious with Cordelia for going to Marie for help and, in her eyes, undermining the coven. She also berates Cordelia for losing control over the girls in the school, allowing them to get themselves into dangerous situations.

A Visit from the Council of Witchcraft

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The council arrives

As Queenie begins to recover, Nan announces that the school is being visited by the Council of Witchcraft in the form of Pimbrooke, Quentin and Fiona’s old adversary, Myrtle Snow. In her panic, Claudia tells the council about the attack on Queenie and then her visit to Marie in the belief that these events are what drew the council members to the school. They reveal they are there as Nan suspects that Madison is dead. The Council begins to question the witches and after Nan tells them that Madison’s magic powers were developing. Myrtle is convinced that she now knows what has happened and she lists Fiona’s ‘failings’ as the Supreme and connects Fiona to the deaths of both Anna-Lee and Madison. The punishment for harming another witch is death by fire.

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The council mounts an investigation

A flashback takes us back to the school in 1971 when Fiona is announced as Supreme and Myrtle already has her suspicions feeling sure that Fiona is lying about what happened to Anna-Lee. Myrtle notices Spalding’s unquestioning loyalty to Fiona and she casts a spell that would make it impossible for Spalding to utter a lie. Later than night Spalding is found with his tongue cut out. Spalding, knowing he would be forced to speak against Fiona, summons her and tells her he loves her. He then proceeds to cut out his own tongue with a razor. Myrtle clearly believes Fiona to be responsible for the mutilation and in the present day Spalding is told to write down the name of the witch responsible for his injuries – he writes ‘Myrtle Snow’. Myrtle is enraged as Fiona keeps ‘getting away with it’. Cordelia tells Myrtle that her logic is wrong as Madison could not be the next Supreme as she did not have the ‘glowing radiant health’ that characterises a Supreme in waiting. Fiona is shocked to learn she has killed the wrong girl.

Franken-Kyle

Kyle, still bloody from the murder of his mother, is disintegrating further. Zoe finds him beating his head against the side of the bath and the distraught Zoe realises that re-animating him has been cruel and has done nothing but caused huge mental torment for the boy. She decides to make his some food and whilst preparing it she sees a packet of rat poison. We see her reaching for the packets and then she takes the food to Kyle. By the time she gets back to the bathroom, Kyle has gone.

Hank

Claudia believes her husband to be in Baton Rouge for work but he is there to meet with a woman (Kaylee) and they are soon in bed together.

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Kaylee doesn’t know what’s in store for her

Hank is almost demonically enthusiastic in bed and the couple soon seem to be relaxed and comfortable with each other in the domestic setting they are creating for themselves. Kaylee expresses how much she likes Hank and, without warning he takes a gun from his waistband and shoots her in the head.

Halloween Begins

Cordelia and Fiona began the episode at odds with one another and Fiona is livid that Cordelia may have undermined Fiona in the eyes of the Voodoo Queen. Later Fiona steps in to take over from Cordelia when she is talking to the council, again showing her disappointment in the way her daughter is handling the situation. After Fiona learns that Madison could not have been the next Supreme she takes Cordelia out for drinks where they promise to be truthful with one another. Fiona of course lies without pause when asked if she killed Madison. Cordelia avoids Fiona’s question about who the next Supreme may be and having drunk too much is later attacked in the bathroom by a masked and hooded character who throws what appears to be acid in her face.

As Halloween begins Nan mourns the passing of Madison but Zoe says they cannot be sure she is dead. Meanwhile, Spalding continues his Halloween tea-party, this time dressing some of the dolls in costumes and dressing himself in a nightdress and bonnet. We see that he has a guest of honour as he has not disposed of Madison’s body after all – she is propped up in a chair with a cup and saucer amongst the other dolls.

As a post script to the opening scene Marie is doing the now elderly Cora’s hair in preparation for the Mayor’s Halloween banquet. After the attack on Queenie, Bastien has been decapitated and his head sent back to the Voodoo Queen. It appears that, despite losing his head, the immortality spell has kept him alive and Marie is outraged at what has been done to him. She breaks the truce between the witches and the voodoo community by raising zombies in retaliation for Bastien’s decapitation. The zombies, including Delphine’s daughters, have been sent to attack the school.

Quote of the week – runner up 1

  • Fiona: Who’s the baddest witch in town?

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This is the baddest witch in town

Quote of the week – runner up 2

  • Myrtle (to Fiona): You must think you’re very clever.
  • Fiona: I do. I do think I’m very clever.

Quote of the Week

  • Fiona: Why Myrtle Snow. Look at you! Developing a sense of style when no one was paying attention.

Biggest hint of a plot twist in dialogue of the week

  • Kaylee: I think Halloween gives people the permission to be who they really want to be. Do you dress up? Who were you last year?
  • Hank: Me? I was a monster.

Coincidence of the Week

Even though it seems unlikely to be connected, the name of the man Hank has told Cordelia he is in Baton Rouge to meet is Phil Underwood – a name shared by a UK based folk musician specialising in Cajun and Zydeco music!

s@albionmill

American Horror Story Season 3: Episode 3 – The Replacements

In episode one the term abject is used a couple of times. The use of the word and its meaning is discussed by Anne Peterson here: if things were abject in earlier episodes, then episode 3 makes us face the gross and the debased head-on.

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What happened this week?

The episode begins with Fiona having a restless night, seemingly haunted by the memory of her ascension to the role of Supreme back in 1971. She murdered Anna-Leigh, the existing incumbent, by slashing her throat and this was witnessed by Spalding the butler. Fiona’s power has been seen before – but this is the first time we have witnessed her murderous side. Her younger self is shown taking power from the old and ill Supreme but in the modern day, she is having to deal with the fact that her power is reducing as she gets older. In her quest for youthfulness she visits a plastic surgeon and we see her grief at the waning of the power of youth as he shows her the procedure for a facelift. Fiona is having to deal with the fact that she is no longer young and desirable but as she has grown older she has become invisible to men and will soon need to make way for a younger women who will take her role and position in the coven from her.

Both Fiona and Cordelia are shown visiting doctors and getting bad news. Fiona’s doctor will not do the plastic surgery she wants as she is seriously ill (we later learn she has cancer) and Cordelia is told she cannot have a baby. In desperation, Cordelia visits Marie to ask her to perform voodoo magic to help her conceive but Marie refuses as Cordelia was ‘born into the wrong tribe’. Cordelia is distraught to learn that Fiona has indirectly ensured she will not be able to have a baby as Marie won’t even entertain the idea of helping Cordelia simply because she is Fiona’s daughter.

Delphine and Queenie

Fiona decides that Delphine has to make herself useful by being taking on the role of maid within the school. Her first job is to serve lunch to the girls but Delphine cannot deal with the idea of serving Queenie and she throws the girl’s food against the wall. Much to Queenie’s delight, Fiona punishes Delphine by making her Queenie’s ‘personal slave’. Queenie uses this power to get Delphine to prepare food for her and, when criticised about her weight, she quotes Dr Phil and puts down her love of food down to a lack of love as a child. Whilst in the kitchen, they hear a noise outside and Delphine looks to see Bastien (in the form of a Minotaur) attempting to break into the house. Delphine tells Queenie who she really is and that the Minotaur is after her. Queenie goes outside to find Bastien. She talks to him and likens the way people treat her to the way he was treated. She offers herself to him sexually and he responds to her advances. At first he is quite gentle but he clamps his hand across her mouth and as we leave the scene we hear Queenie scream.

Zoe and Kyle

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Zoe visits Kyle’s mother (Alicia) who is bereft at the loss of her son. She tells Zoe that she was considering suicide – and only changed her mind when Zoe called to offer her condolences. Alicia’s wish is to see Kyle one last time ‘if only to say goodbye’. Zoe tells Alicia that ‘Kyle has not left us’ and goes to find Kyle who has been living with Misty. Kyle is still largely unresponsive – even when Misty partially undresses him to show Zoe how well he has healed. He does not react when Misty attempts to get close to him but he treats Zoe with some tenderness.  Zoe wants to take Kyle back to his mother but Misty wants to keep him and Zoe with her. She has cared for Kyle and it is clear she feels rejected and abandoned – especially when Kyle actively chooses to go with Zoe.

Zoe takes Kyle back home and Alicia is shocked at first but she accepts him back. She does, however, notice that his body is different. Madison had chosen a range of boy parts from the victims of the bus crash and he is an amalgam of various boys’ body parts. Once home though, it is clear that Alicia’s relationship with Kyle is not a healthy one. She molests her son and, although Kyle is still non-responsive, it is clear he is horrified by the physical relationship she forces on him. Alicia is clearly worried by the difference she sees in Kyle and she calls Zoe. Before Zoe can get to Kyle’s home, Alicia seduces him again and he finally rejects his mother. In his rage he picks up a sports trophy and beats his mother to death. Zoe arrives to find Alicia dead on the bedroom floor and Kyle covered in his mother’s blood.

Madison and Fiona

Queenie and Nan are joined by Madison in an appreciation of the finely chiseled form of a young new neighbour (Luke) moving into the house next door. They later decide to take a welcome cake – Nan wants to be neighbourly whereas Madison wants to get laid. Despite Madison’s best efforts Luke is more interested in Nan and the cake than in her. She is both shocked and angered by this and when she learns that Luke is from a Christian background she attacks their religion and in a struggle she throws the cake knife into the wall and sets the curtains on fire as she leaves. Both Nan and Madison are surprised by this new power.

Fiona learns that Madison’s powers appear to be growing when Luke’s mother visits to complain about the girls’ behaviour. Fiona takes a sudden interest in Madison when it’s confirmed she can control fire. She takes Madison out to find out what powers Madison has. Fiona describes herself as a ‘horrible mother’ and Madison offers her a second chance to take on a maternal role by passing her knowledge on. Fiona takes Madison to one of her old haunts – a bar she used to visit when younger. They drink and play pool together. Fiona has all her fears confirmed as she sits on the sidelines watching the younger woman enjoying being the centre of attention. They return home and Fiona shows Madison the portraits of the previous Supremes and Fiona tells her she will be the next one. She tells Madison that the young woman’s ascension is killing Fiona as power is being transferred from her to Madison and her body is failing – ready to make way for her replacement. Fiona has many regrets about her life. She admits to Madison that she murdered her predecessor and demands that Madison does the same. She gives a knife to Madison and orders her to cut her throat. Madison refuses and in the struggle, Fiona kills Madison. Whilst the argument seemed spontaneous, Fiona’s response implies this may not have been an accident. Spalding has witnessed everything and Fiona tells him to bury Madison. He provides a handkerchief for Fiona to wipe the blood from her hands.

Media Language

Much of the strangeness of the show is in the visual direction. Some very unusual techniques are used which act to show familiar scenes and objects in unfamiliar ways. This adds to the disconcerting effect of the content of the show itself. Here are some examples:

Dutch (Oblique) Angle

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Fish Eye Lens

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Sideways shot

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Crane Shot

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Music too is used to reinforce the uneasy tone. Often the music is selected to work with the scene; for example, at the frat party in episode 2 or this episode’s voodoo ceremony. Other musical choices are used as themes and are repeated throughout the programme. Two standout uses of music are:

  • The LaLa LaLa Song by James Levine. This is a recurrent theme and is played throughout the episode – especially at scene changes and often over images of ‘normal’ events (even if presented in distinctly abnormal way). The music plays as we begin the breakfast scene with Fiona and Madison as we see the yellow bus passing the by the cafe (above).
  • Songs by Stevie Nicks – especially Rhiannon and Sara – accompany visits to the bayou and Misty’s cabin. The ethereal sound of Stevie Nick’s vocal has been highlighted by Misty’s obsession with the singer and the belief that Stevie too is a witch. This unusual context means we hear the songs in a new way and the familiar becomes unfamiliar.

Themes and Issues

Race

It should be no surprise that the most disturbing thing for Delphine as she is adjusting to the modern world is the fact that Obama is president and she is horrified by the fact that a black man is the leader of the US. Despite the witchcraft and murder, it appears Fiona sympathises with liberal politics. We learn that she’s a Democrat (’I voted for him – twice’) and there is nothing she hates more than racists.

Queenie and Delphine have been forced together and Queenie’s heritage as being a descendant of Tutuba make this both an unlikely pairing and one that may lead to more friction between them. Delphine’s racism is deeply ingrained and Queenie responds aggressively to each racial slur or attack. With Queenie’s seduction of the Minotaur it is likely that she will find herself in conflict with Marie – so Queenie and Delphine could find themselves united by a common enemy.

Motherhood

There are several examples of motherhood within this episode – it is difficult to find a particularly positive representation of a mother here though:

  • Joan – tries to protect her son Luke from the sexual advances of young women. Her puritanism makes her overbearing and irrational.
  • Alicia – her love for her son has been perverted and she is sexually abusive.
  • Zoe and Madison – both acted as parents to ‘Franken-Kyle’ but Madison left Zoe to deal with the maternal responsibilities.
  • Misty – has acted as a healer and a nurturer when she offered to take Kyle in. However, her relationship with Kyle seemed uncomfortably close as they shared a bed and, mirroring Kyle’s relationship with his own mother, she seems more keen to be close than he does. Kyle’s rejection of Misty clearly hurts her enormously.
  • Cordelia – is desperate to become a mother but she is unable to conceive. Neither medical science nor her own magic can help her but she finds her own mother’s desire for immortality has taken away the chance to seek help with voodoo magic.
  • Fiona – has failed as a mother with her own daughter Cordelia but seems keen to offer maternal support to Madison when she is to be the next Supreme. The death of this surrogate-daughter mirrors Fiona’s murder of Anna-Leigh. Fiona’s desire for power has caused her to pervert the mother/daughter relationship by committing both matricide and infanticide.

Gazing

Although the show is dominated by female characters, the conventional notion that women are used as narrative devices for the male characters is challenged. Madison is a character who sees herself as a sexual object and she represents the narcissism that might be associated with a Hollywood child star. Unusually though, she is not often objectified and the show is making interesting use of the sexualised gaze. She dresses provocatively when she and Nan go to visit Luke as she wants to direct the gaze towards her sexual availability. Luke isn’t interested and he resists her. Madison is shocked that she has not been validated by the gaze – something she is used to. As Luke himself points out, she is used to being the centre of attention.

Usually it is women who are perceived as nothing more than body parts but, in episode 2, Madison viewed the victims of the bus crash in precisely this way. ‘Franken-Kyle’ is a hotchpotched concoction of the body parts chosen by her as she attempts to create the perfect ‘boyfriend’. Kyle is objectified by everyone other than Zoe. Misty treats Kyle as property and her displaying of his scars to Zoe reinforces his lack of power as does his passive acceptance of his mother’s advances. The incestuous relationship is a distortion of maternal love and Alicia’s adoration of her son has become physical and reinforces his powerlessness until Kyle fights back against the possessiveness of the relationship. Women are not being looked at via the male gaze (Mulvey) – all the sexualised gazes are so far focused on men.

Keeping Up-to-Date

Voodoo queens have traditionally read the future with tarot cards. This is Domino from the Bond film Live and Let Die reading the tarot cards.

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Here, Marie shows she has moved with the times…

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… by playing solitaire on her iPad.

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Quote of the week

Discussing the fact that the US has a black president…

Fiona: We’ve also had black secretaries of state, Supreme Court justices and even the poet-laureate.

  • Delphine: Liiiiieeeess

s@albionmill

American Horror Story Season 3: Episode 2 – Boy Parts

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What happened this week?

Fiona, Mme. L and Marie

Fiona has Mme L locked up in the school and she discovers that, back in 1840, she was given an immortality potion by the voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Taking revenge for the inhuman treatment of her lover Bastien (who was turned into a Minotour), Marie murdered Mme L’s husband and daughters but the punishment for the now immortal Mme L was to be buried alive.

Fiona goes to the Ninth Ward where she finds the still beautiful and glamorous Marie Laveau running a hairdressing salon. In a tense discussion we learn that the practitioners of voodoo and witches have become enemies despite the fact that it was Tituba, a house slave and Voodoo Queen who taught the Salem witches the dark arts. Marie refuses to give Fiona what she wants – the immortality potion – and so Fiona starts a fire in the salon in an attempt to intimidate Marie and as a display of her power.

Meanwhile, the telepath Nan is annoyed by the sound of Mme. L’s thoughts so Nan unties her and lets her go. Queenie investigates what’s going on and Mme. L knocks her unconscious after calling her ‘slave’, much to Queenie’s outrage. Mme. L escapes from the school to be found later by Fiona sitting on the porch of her old house. Mme. L is clearly disturbed by the fact that her house has become a ‘museum of horrors’ and she still experiences grief over the loss of her murdered daughters (but not so much over the loss of her husband). Fiona offers no sympathy and she takes Mme L back to the school after warning her she would re-bury her if she tried to escape again.

Zoe and Madison

Zoe finds it difficult to accept the death of Kyle given that he was not involved in the attack on Madison. Madison has little sympathy for him and sees him as ‘guilty by association’. The police arrive at the school. Zoe’s visit to the hospital was caught on CCTV and the police have connected the deaths of the frat boy and Zoe’s first boyfriend. Fiona deals with the police by casting a spell to make them forget their suspicions but only after Zoe, in a fit of panic, has admitted everything to the police. Fiona is enraged by the girls’ stupidity and reminds them that they are the ones with power and declares that, ‘in the whole wide wicked world, the only thing you have to be afraid of is me’.

Madison takes Zoe to the morgue where Madison breaks in. She has a resurrection spell and plans to bring Kyle back as a ‘thank you’ to Zoe for killing the frat boy who instigated the gang rape. The victims of the bus crash are in body bags but their remains are horribly mangled and are, quite literally, in pieces. Madison wants to mix and match the body parts to try to create the ‘perfect’ boyfriend. The girls sew body parts together and cast the resurrection spell. At first it appears that the spell fails as Kyle remains lifeless. Zoe remains behind to say a final goodbye to Kyle and is neatly caught when a coroner returns to the morgue. Kyle finally reanimates and kills the coroner. Zoe takes the disoriented boy out of the morgue and, as they drive away, Kyle gets more and more agitated.

To Zoe’s surprise Misty Day appears in the back of the car. By casting the resurrection spell the girls had attracted Misty to the morgue. We had been shown at the start of the episode that she had survived being burned at the stake – no doubt down to her gift of resurgence. Misty was found wandering the swamplands by alligator poachers who she killed when they threatened her. Poetically, she reanimated the alligators killed by the poachers who then dragged the men into the swamp. Misty takes Zoe and Kyle to her cabin in the swamp and treats Kyle’s wounds. She promises to look after him and insists that Zoe promises to return. Zoe does so but there is a sense that the sight of the murderous and agitated Kyle has disturbed her deeply.

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Snippets of Information

  • We learn that Cordelia is married but is unable to get pregnant. She and her husband decide to use magic to help her conceive.
  • Before she came to the school, Queenie’s was the manager of a fried chicken shop. In response to a customer’s insults and their attempt to con extra food from her, she plunges her arm into boiling fat and transfers the injury to the customer. It is also revealed that she is a descendent of Tituba, the house slave mentioned by Fiona and Marie who was accused of being a witch at the start of the Salem witch-trials.
  • Marie has kept Bastien alive as the Miinatour and she releases him from the chains that have bound him saying that they have ‘some business to attend to’.

Themes and Issues

Immortality and Reproduction

As the episode offers less exposition, themes are beginning to develop. The past and the present collide in Fiona, Marie and Mme L’s story arc. At the centre of their relationship is the idea of immortality. In the first episode Fiona denies it is cosmetic youth she wants but declares she desires ‘vitality’. She is railing against the inevitability of ageing and the losses this brings. Her discovery of Mme. L shows her that there is a way to get what she wants and in her discussion with Marie we get a sense of desperation in her appeal. Of course immortality was used as a punishment for Mme. L and her emergence in the world has heightened her grief and sadness. The first thing she learns is that the world has moved on around her and she has no place in the modern world as everything that was real to her has become a museum. Her life is now a story, a myth and she has become irrelevant. Marie used immortality as a punishment but in keeping Bastien alive has also used it for selfish reasons. The fact that the Minotour needs to be chained up does not bode well.

The younger witches are involved with immortality too. Misty has immortality as a gift and can bring the dead back to life. We didn’t know the character before she was burned but she is clearly slightly unhinged. Her offer to look after Kyle and her appeals to Zoe to return, come across as needy. She has been shunned by her community, is not a part of the coven and is living in total isolation. Her immortality has removed her from the world and it appears that Kyle would simply be unable to integrate into regular society – certainly at this point. Reproduction is closely connected to the idea of immortality – if not for ourselves, then for our genetic line. The resurrection of Kyle is unashamedly a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ tale. Madison abandons the ‘baby’ before its birth, Zoe finds herself overwhelmed and Misty steps in to care for Kyle in a semi-maternal fashion. Like American Horror Story: Murder House, pregnancy and birth look to be an important part of Coven.

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Race

Another issue that is bubbling under the surface is race. Queenie says she didn’t know there was such a thing as black witches but the discussion about Tituba indicates that there has been a division between the magic of voodoo and that of witches and that this division is largely racial. Mme. L’s violence was racial as she tortured and murdered slaves. Although her behaviour broke the ‘black codes’ that legislated the way that slaves should be treated (offering some ‘protection’ but ultimately reinforcing the supremacy of whites) Mme. L’s attitudes reflected the fact that the dominant white culture saw black people as low status and as property. Racial hatred was approved of and reinforced by the state of the time. Mme. L argues that she was a woman of her time implying that her attitudes to race (at least) were nothing more than ‘normal’ in her culture and her ingrained racism is shown in her response to meeting Queenie for the first time. Fiona is now in conflict with Marie as the witch wants what the voodoo queen has – it is clear this antagonism between the tribes is a race issue.

Quote of the Week

  • Policeman: Are you in charge here?
  • Fiona: I’m in charge everywhere.

s@albionmill

American Horror Story Season 3: Episode 1 – Bitchcraft

What happened this week?

(this blog will contain spoilers – please watch the episode before reading)

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In the manner of a prologue the episode opens in New Orleans in 1834 where Madame Delphine LaLaurie is holding a soirée to introduce her daughters to the gentlemen of New Orleans society. One of her daughters makes a play for a house slave (Bastien) and LaLaurie, fresh from her nightly ‘beauty regime’ (later revealed to be the application of a poultice made of ground up human pancreas) is so angered at the threat posed to her daughter’s purity (and, therefore her social value) that the house slave is accused of attacking the girl and is taken to LaLaurie’s attic. He is strung up and, with the addition of a bull’s head, is turned into a living Minotour to satiate LaLaurie’s sadistic power-plays. Later in flashback we see LaLaurie being given a love-potion ‘to ensure her husband’s fidelity’ by a visiting black woman (Marie Laveau). Soon after taking the potion it becomes clear that LaLaurie has been poisoned and it is revealed that Marie is Bastien’s lover.

Meanwhile in the present day, teenager Zoe Benson unwittingly kills her first lover with a destructive power unleashed by having sex. She is distraught to learn that her power comes from being a direct descendent of the Salem witches. Now her power has manifest itself, Zoe’s mother decides to send her to a school for girls with similar ‘gifts’. She arrives at the school run by Cordelia Foxx and she meets three other young witches, Queenie, Nan and Madison. Here she learns that the witches are are a ‘dying breed’ and the school aims to teach the girls to control their ‘gifts’. A cautionary tale about the burning of Misty Day is told to show what happens when witches’ gifts are shown to the outside world. Madison befriends Zoe and invites her to a frat party which ends in tragedy as Madison is drugged and raped by a group of frat boys. In her anger she uses her witch power to overturn the boys’ bus killing all but two of them. One of the dead, Kyle, was innocent and had been striking up a friendship with Zoe at the time of the rape. Zoe goes to the hospital in the hope of finding Kyle amongst the survivors. She discovers he died in the crash and in an act of vengeance subverts gendered expectations about sexual assault as she rapes the comatose instigator of the rape, causing him to bleed out and die.

AHS

We also meet Fiona Goode and soon learn she is Cordelia’s mother and ‘The Supreme’ – the most powerful of the witches. Fiona is obsessed with finding the secret of eternal youth and has been funding medical research to this end. She demands access to a rejuvenation drug ahead of human trials and the scientist in charge of the research resigns in protest. Fiona attacks the scientist and drains him of his life-force with a murderous kiss. Fiona travels to the school where she receives a cool welcome from her daughter. Having heard about Misty’s violent death, Fiona decides to involve herself in the young witches’ education and one of her first acts is to take them on a field trip to Mme LaLaurie’s house. Nan is able to sense the ‘lady of the house’ and Fiona excavates the garden and finds Mme LaLaurie buried alive.

The Witches and their Skills

  • Fiona – the supreme. She has a range of powers
  • Cordelia – a herbalist. She makes spells and potions.
  • Zoe – a ‘black widow’. She kills her lovers.
  • Madison – a psychokinetic. She has the power to move things telepathically
  • Nan – a telepath. She knows what others think.
  • Queenie – a human voodoo doll. Physical harm can be transferred to a third party
  • Misty (deceased)- can bring the dead back to life

Narrative and Representations

There is a lot of exposition in this first episode as we meet characters from two different time frames but the themes of the season are already becoming clear. The programme presents us with a matriarchal culture setting itself against patriarchal violence and oppression. The witches’ power is both sexual (Zoe and Fiona) and is used to wreak vengeance on the perpetrators of violent acts (Madison). Mother and daughter relationships are problematic and Zoe’s final voiceover identifies the importance of the supportive sorority of women who exist outside of mainstream culture and who are feared and misunderstood by it: ‘like it or not we need each other, and need each other desperately’. A parallel between the slaves of the past and the coven of witches is made and he two mature matriarchal figures share the same insecurities over ageing and losing their vitality.

Real-World References

American Horror Story regularly includes references to real-life stories. The 19th century characters are based on real-life figures – Mme LaLaurie is described as one of the earliest recorded serial killers and her story is being integrated into the tale of the Coven. The voodoo culture of New Orleans is being referred to in the character of Marie Laveau – based on another figure from history. The rape of Madison has overtones of recent ‘frat boy’ rape cases in the US, especially in the fact that the assault is recorded by the attackers and the instigator tells the other frat boys to delete the videos from their phones as they make their escape. Finally, the New Orleans setting works as a location with strong links to voodoo and witchcraft. This is post-Katrina New Orleans and so it also works as a location that is outside the mainstream and the city has its own sense of otherness given its isolation after the levees broke and the city found itself having to cope with near destruction.

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Media Language and Genre

The episode uses a range of techniques to create an aura of mystery and suspense. The direction is unconventional and a range of different camera shots are used: fish-eye lenses, overhead shots and obtuse low-angle viewpoints all act to destabilise the viewer. The episode uses jump cuts and fast moving images in the front of the frame to create feelings of uncertainty and trepidation.

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Although the episode itself has little in the way of extreme violence there are a number of disconcerting images of imprisoned and tortured slaves and most startling is the Minotaur itself. Music is also used to create atmosphere from the mournful theme used when Zoe finds out she is a witch to the psychedelic rock-out of Fiona’s response to the youth drug and the disturbing electronica soundtrack to the gang-rape.

Quote(s) of the Week

Runner Up 1

  • Tortured Slave: Why are you dong this to us?
  • LaLaurie: Because I can.

Runner Up 2

  • Fiona (to Cordelia, making a Wizard of Oz reference): Don’t make me drop a house on you

Quote of the Week…

  • Zoe (v/o – discussing her inherited power): It doesn’t show up in every generation, nor in every girl. Like my cousin Amanda. She’s just bulimic.

s@albionmill