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

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