American Horror Story Series 3: Episode 9 – Head

image 5The episode begins with a flashback once again – this time providing us with some information about Hank’s background. It seems that Hank comes from a tradition of witch hunters and we meet him on a hunting trip in 1991 being taught hunting skills. He is given his weapon and with his father’s help goes out on a hunt. Hank is nervous and doesn’t want to fail his father who clearly has high expectations of his son. As the hunt progresses, Hank’s father flushes a witch out for Hank to shoot. She begs for her life but Hank’s reticence allows the witch to fight back and the boy needs to be saved. Hank’s father pushes Hank to safety and kills the witch. He is burned in the process and reminds Hank why witches should never be shown any mercy.

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The Head

After the titles, Fiona is shown taking Delphine’s head back to Cornrow City, Marie’s salon. She is disturbed to find Delphine’s decapitated body in a cage at the back of Marie’s room and she deposits Delphine’s head, still in a box, on the table.

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Fiona tells Marie that the witches and the voodoo queen need to create an alliance as Fiona believes that the witch-hunter who shot at Nan and Misty will turn on the voodoo tribe once the Coven has been annihilated. Fiona is, of course, unaware that Marie has sent the witch-hunter to destroy the Coven and so she refuses Fiona’s offer of an alliance – and there is a rare moment of agreement between Delphine and the Voodoo Queen (Delphine: ‘You can’t make deals with a darkie’). Marie sends Fiona away. She also gives Delphine’s head to Queenie and instructs her to burn it.

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Queenie decides not to burn the head after all but takes it to her room. She has taken it on herself to educate Delphine in an attempt to sensitise her to the history of African Americans by showing her a Hollywood history of slavery and cultural integration, starting with the TV series Roots and to be followed with The Color Purple, Mandingo and B*A*P*S(!)

Delphine is appalled and sings ‘Dixieland’ to try to drown out the ‘jungle music’ but Queenie leaves her alone with the movies and a hope in the redemptive nature of Hollywood representations!

It’s All in the Eyes

Cordelia is struggling to adapt to her blindness and she struggles to complete simple tasks like cooking for herself. Myrtle offers to help her and reminds Cordelia that she has always loved her as a mother. Cordelia trusts Myrtle absolutely and says she does not need the second sight to know that Myrtle was not involved in harming her but she regrets losing her sight just as the sniper has put the Coven under threat.

Myrtle invites Pembroke and Quentin from the witches’ council to dinner and they say they are pleased that Myrtle has been bought back to life by Misty. Mid-way through a toast, Pembroke and Quentin begin to ‘freeze’ and Myrtle tells them they are suffering from human statue syndrome caused by the monkshood poison she has given them. She tells them she is not after revenge but she wishes to help the Coven and she uses a melon baller to remove their eyes – we later see that she has killed and dismembered the leaders of the council.

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Myrtle restores Cordelia’s sight by using one of Pembroke’s eyes and one of Quentin’s giving Cordelia a striking look as she now has one blue and one brown eye. Fiona is astonished to find Cordelia ‘cured’ but she still accuses her of blinding Cordelia in the first place and she threatens to have Myrtle banished for the crime. Cordelia loses her temper with the arguing women and tells Myrtle to respect Fiona as her Supreme and she tells Fiona to stop accusing Myrtle of her blinding. Cordelia also realises that now she has regained her sight, she has lost the gift of the visions when she touches people.

The Delphi Trust

This episode introduces the audience to The Delphi Trust – a corporation based in Atlanta that is the base for a collection of witch-hunters led by Hank’s father. Hank has been overlooked for promotion within the Trust and his father is clearly disappointed in Hank’s slow progress in New Orleans and his alliance with Marie Laveau. Just as in the first scene, Hank fails to win the respect of his father who reminds him that he is part of a long tradition. Hank’s father sees him as weak and accuses him of having feelings for Cordelia that are stopping him from completing his task. Even his murder of Kaylee is described as ‘sloppy’ and the Trust have to go in and clean up the evidence Hank left at the hotel. It transpires that the Trust was responsible for Cordelia’s blinding and it was an attempt to make her even more dependent on Hank.

Having been undermined by his father, Hank later finds himself racked with sudden pain and with wounds causing bleeding from the wrist and the stomach. Marie has cursed a voodoo doll and is attacking him from a distance. She calls Hank to tell him that the witches must be killed that night or she will kill him with one final needle.

At the Hospital

Zoe and Madison go to find Nan at the hospital where she is waiting to see Luke who is in a coma after the shooting. Luke’s mother Joan had been keeping the girl away from her son. Madison and Zoe take her to his bedside and Nan is able to communicate with Luke telepathically. Joan is slow to believe this is true until Nan mentions a song she sang to comfort him when he broke his arm as a small child. Realising that Nan is able to communicate with her son, Joan allows her to stay at her son’s bedside.

Later, Nan tells Joan that God has seen all her sins – including the murder of Luke’s father who, seriously allergic to bees, was killed when she arranged for him to be stung by bees to cause anaphylactic shock as retribution for his infidelity. Luke’s mother is incensed but the accusation and throws Nan out of the hospital room.

Protecting the Coven

Cordelia and Misty are working together in the greenhouse and Cordelia is helping Misty develop her skills when Hank returns to the Coven. He claims to be living in ‘a hell of regret and remorse’ but Cordelia is not at all sympathetic. She tells him she is filing for divorce and that he should collect his things and leave. On his way out he encounters Fiona and her new guard dog bought, she says, to protect the Coven seeing as Hank has failed to do so. She, like Marie and Hank’s father, mocks Hank’s masculinity and he leaves the Coven. The dog senses someone in one of the bedrooms and Fiona discovers Kyle, who is still playing with the toy Zoe left. Kyle seems pleased to see the dog and hugs him. As Fiona leaves the room we hear the sound of the dog’s neck breaking.

Later, Madison, Nan and Zoe return to the Coven to find Fiona playing cards with Kyle. At first Zoe thinks that Fiona ‘cured’ Kyle but she has only spruced him up ‘just a touch’ in order to turn him into a guard dog. Kyle again being used at the whim of one of the witches and Fiona intends to use him to attack on command.

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Attacking the Salon

Back in Queenie’s room at the salon, Delphine has kept her eyes closed throughout Roots and so Queenie tries another medium, music. Delphine cannot cover her ears given the fact she has no hands and so she is forced to listen to Odetta’s Oh Freedom! which Queenie has set against a montage of images from the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

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As she listens and is touched by the music, Hank bursts into the salon and shoots the women there, including Queenie and Marie. She is bleeding from the stomach but finds the strength to uses her human voodoo-doll gift, puts a pistol into her own mouth and pulls the trigger, causing Hank’s brain to be blown out.

The episode ends as we see Hank’s father distraught to see images of his dead son, Luke’s mother smothering Luke as he wakes from his coma and accuses her of murder and Marie swallowing her pride by approaching Fiona at the school – presumably to discuss the possibility of making an alliance.

Quote of the Week

  • Hank (surprised that Fiona has got herself a guard dog): … but you hate dogs, and all other living things.

Themes and Issues

Gender

With the inclusion of the Adelphi Trust into the story, the gender binary has been stated explicitly. (Adelphi was the mythological centre of the earth, (sometimes called the navel of Gaia) and the location of the Oracles). The Trust, reminiscent of the Watchers Council in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (where the Slayers were, of course, female rather than male) appear to be reinforcing a traditional idea that women are able to tap into nature, instinct and powers that cannot be defined by the rational and so need to be controlled by powerful and rational men.

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The witch-hunters seek to remove all women who exhibit their own power and this power is considered (and depicted) as a threat to males. This irrational power is found in the magic of the witches, the spells of voodoo as well as the belief systems of the religious in Joan’s Christianity. Despite her apparent morality, she (like Kyle’s mother Alicia) abuses her own son. Later she murders the men who threaten her – her husband and her son.

Other than Quentin (a camp and, presumably, gay male), the community of witches is a male-free zone and in the school itself men are either imprisoned (the Axeman), temporary (Hank), subservient (Spalding) or expedient (Kyle). The women have power within the Coven but most of them find themselves in a weaker position when it come to the men they interact with in the ‘real world’. Men don’t offer much more than either sex or protection and many of the witches use their powers to take power from men or to assert themselves from a position of subservience.

  • Fiona – killed the doctor who refused to make her young again
  • Zoe – kills any male she sleeps with and murdered Spalding
  • Madison – killed a bus full of frat boys as revenge for her gang-rape
  • Kaylee – burned her ex-boyfriend in response to being rejected
  • Queenie – used her powers against a male customer in the chicken shop, Spalding and the rapist with a ‘dark heart’

Being seen as powerful is important to Hank and the constant attacks on him threaten his masculine identity. Hank is perceived as weak and ineffectual by his father and the Trust. He is vulnerable and shown to have no defence against Marie’s attacks and both Cordelia and Fiona mock him and reject his offers to protect the Coven. As Hank can’t man up sufficiently to attack the witches, he attacks the voodoo tribe having first gained a sense of masculine power in the locking and loading of an arsenal of weapons. The attack on the salon is one white man opening fire on a collection of black women set against the music and imagery of the civil rights movement but can be seen as less about race and more about gender politics and what happens when patriarchal power is thwarted.

The series is on a mid-season break until the New Year. Old enemies have been removed and power relationships are shifting. The last ‘act’ of the series will see the true nature of the threat against the Coven but it could come from a number of fronts and there are many questions still to be answered:

  • Will the Trust attempt to avenge Hank’s death and purge the witches from the Coven?
  • Can there be an alliance between the Coven and the voodoo tribe?
  • Will Queenie and Luke remain dead? Or Hank for that matter?
  • Has Fiona abandoned her search for the new Supreme?
  • Who will be the new Supreme?
  • Will the Axeman and Spalding be back?
  • Will Kyle ever be a real boy again or is he doomed to be a plaything for the women of the Coven?

s@albionmill

American Horror Story Series 3: Episode 8 – The Sacred Taking

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There’s a slightly Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel to the opening scene as we find Queenie in the back streets of New Orleans on a hunt. Nan, Madison and Zoe confront her and ask her what she is doing and Queenie makes it clear she is working for Marie now, rejecting Zoe’s invitation to return back to the school and mocking the idea of them all waiting to find out who the new Supreme is.

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The girls are shocked when Queenie kills the man she has been chasing but she tells them he is a rapist and she is taking his ‘dark heart’ to Marie as she is making a potion to give Queenie more power. She warns the witches that there is a war coming and that the coven will lose.

An Attempted Coup

After the titles, Fiona’s voiceover provides an insight into how she feels and how she is dealing with the fact that she is dying. We see that Cordelia has no sympathy for her mother and their relationship seems damaged beyond repair. Fiona has continued to see the Axeman and finds solace in his company. She admits she is the afraid of the pain and decay the cancer will bring and she is driven by the fact that she knows a new Supreme is coming and she is determined to find out which witch is draining her power away. Fiona has not lost the desire to fight her demise and knowing that the coven wants to see her dead gives her extra motivation to stay alive just to spite them.

Cordelia dismisses the potential of any form of reconciliation with Queenie and the witches continue to plot against Fiona. Cordelia tells the girls that there is an ancient ritual called ‘the sacred taking’ that can be used to protect the coven. Misty turns up at the school and is distressed as she says her someone is trying to kill her. Cordelia ‘recognises’ her immediately and offers her the protection of the coven. Misty surprises them all as she has bought a newly risen to the coven with her. Myrtle was ‘awoken’ by someone circling Misty’s cabin with a shotgun and managed to warn her in time for them both to escape before a hooded gunman breaks in and shoots up the room. Myrtle has been disfigured by the fire but she offers hope to the coven as she identifies Misty as ‘the next Supreme’.

The witches prepare for the ‘sacred taking’ and Misty seems afraid at the prospect of being the Supreme.  The ceremony involves the suicide of the reigning Supreme when she has become too weak to protect the coven. The death of the Supreme allows for a new, younger, fitter Supreme to rise but, as Madison points out, Fiona is unlikely to volunteer to sacrifice herself for the coven. Cordelia says they will need to give her a push.

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Fiona’s cancer is taking hold and in her drug induced haze she is becoming disoriented and she is surprised to find Madison dancing to  The Season of the Witch in her room. Madison tells her that everyone knows Fiona killed both her and Myrtle and she encourages her to commit suicide to avoid being burned at the stake. Fiona is then visited by Myrtle who repeats Fiona’s options – death by fire or suicide. Fiona wants to stay alive believing that the Axeman is her final great love and will be by her side to the end. Myrtle tells Fiona that her lover won’t stay with her and that she is destined to die alone.

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Fiona prepares herself for her death and tells Myrtle that she has no regrets about the choices she has made in her life as she has lived for the ‘thrills of the roller coaster’ rather than playing it safe. She asks Myrtle to look after Cordelia and, dressed in her best fur, Fiona takes a handful of tablets and lies down to die.

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She is woken by the ‘ghost’ of Spaulding who offers her an antidote to the drugs she has taken. He refuses to let her die and tells her about the witches plan to get her to kill herself. Fiona vomits up the drugs and swears vengeance on the members of the coven. Fiona comes downstairs to find the coven waiting to see who it is that will become the supreme believing she has died. As Fiona makes her entrance, Misty vanishes.

Delphine and Marie

Delphine remains locked in a cage at the back of Marie’s hair salon. Marie is bleeding her for her beauty poultice. Queenie clearly feels guilty about what she has done and she takes Delphine a burger. Sensing her guilt, Delphine tries to persuade Queenie to free her but she is found by Marie before she can act. Delphine taunts Marie as she feels that her immortality means that Marie has limited options in terms of what she can do to her. Delphine’s imprisonment seems to have revitalised the racist within and Delphine throws insults at the voodoo queen. In a display of her power, Marie chops off Delphine’s hand.

Zoe, Kyle and Madison

We have seen that Zoe is still attempting to teach Kyle and whilst she may be treating him like a child she is trying to find a way that he can integrate into the world. Madison on the other hand is still treating him like property and Kyle’s body language indicates he’s aware of this. Zoe later goes to Kyle and they declare their love for each other. Madison is eavesdropping and is upset by what she has heard.

Nan and Luke

Meanwhile we had seen that Luke’s mother, who has already been shown to have a serious case of religious mania, was prepared to go to exceptional lengths to protect her son’s soul. The extremeness of her ‘morality’ is shown as she berates Luke for interacting with the girls in the coven and he passively accepts the fact that she feels the need to cleanse her son from the inside out. In an extreme example of the exertion of maternal control she insists he undergoes a bleach enema.

The Shooting

Nan has heard Luke’s cries of pain from next door but Cordelia tells her to ignore it. Nan is upset further as everyone seems to be dismissing any possibility that she might be the next Supreme. In anger she goes next door to find Luke bound and bundled in a closet but whilst Nan is rescuing Luke, his mother finds them and calls the police. Luke notices the lights from a gun sight but before he can do anything, shots ring out and his mother is killed. To Nan’s distress Luke is also shot as he pushes her out of the way of the gunfire.

Fiona finds Misty at the neighbours house at the bloody scene of the shooting. Luke has survived the shooting but has a serious head wound and Nan goes with him to the hospital but his mother’s body lies dead. Fiona challenges Misty to use her talents and she brings Luke’s mother back to life.

Cordelia finds a blessed, silver bullet from the shotgun and is able to ‘see’ that the shooting was not a robbery gone wrong but an assassination attempt against the coven by a witch hunter.

Fiona and Cordelia appear to go some way towards a reconciliation the next morning with Fiona saying that she is proud of the way Cordelia attempted to ensure that the coven had a chance to survive. Given her conversation with Spalding it seems likely that Fiona may not be totally honest about her feelings here but given that Cordelia is being acknowledged by her mother she doesn’t seem to be questioning what she is being told. Was it significant that Fiona would only touch Cordelia on the shoulder so that she could not be read? Fiona answers the door to fins a parcel on the porch. She takes it into the dining room and the final scene of the episode reveals the contents to be the head of Delphine who manages to gasp one syllable – ‘help’.

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You can’t find a good servant when you want one!

Cordelia and Fiona are aware that Delphine and Spaulding are missing but at the moment they do not seem overly concerned about the coven’s loss of serving staff!

Line of the week

Cordelia (learning of her mother’s terminal illness): Do me a favour. Die before Thanksgiving so none of us have to suffer through that mess of raisins and styrofoam you call stuffing.

Themes and Issues

Uglification

The older women (through the use of some excellent prosthetics) have all been disfigured.

  • Cordelia has lost her sight and her facial scarring runs across her face like a mask. Still beautiful, despite her puckered and discoloured skin, Cordelia has found that the acid attack has made her more powerful. She has to compensate for the loss of sight and so she is able to ‘see’ into people and learn the truth about them through the sense of touch.
  • Myrtle has returned from the grave and it might be assumed she was ‘awoken’ a little too early from her regenerative sleep in the swamp mud as, unlike Misty whose burning left her physically untouched, she had lost her hair and her face appears creased and crumpled by scar tissue. She has her shocking red wigs made form hair purchased in bulk from ‘North Korea’ so she is fully recognisable even if her appearance is a little ‘wretched’.
  • Fiona has gone through the most dramatic change as she has been loosing her hair and can be seen to be physically deteriorating as the cancer takes hold. Flash-forward scenes show a balding and weakened Fiona who reeks of death and every last shred of her previous beauty has been eradicated. Living through her worst fears seems to be the Supreme’s punishment for her past failings.

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The Impermanency of Death

Misty is described by Myrtle as having ‘bought more people back to life than Jesus Christ’. Death in this series does not mean that we have to say goodbye to a character but coming back is not always a totally positive thing. The ‘undead’ count so far (not counting the Halloween zombies) is:

  • Delphine, Bastien and Marie are immortal;
  • Kyle was bought back by Zoe and Madison;
  • The Axeman was bought back by Zoe;
  • Zoe killed one further person – Spalding – but he is able to speak to Fiona from beyond the grave and his death allows him to see everything – including the coven’s plot against Fiona;
  • Misty has bought back 3 people – Madison, Myrtle and now Luke’s mother.

s@albionmill

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