Reviews: American Horror Story Coven

Fun, but pretty damn stupid

This is where American Horror Story gets a little too wild for its own good.

Coven provides a lot of fun scenes, over-the-top characters and stylized AHS sequences, but as a story itself, it's all over the place, never sure where it's going until it gets to the end. This takes a lot of the steam out of its good moments.

This time around we focus on a private school for witches located in New Orleans, which right off the bat is a poorly done mish-mash of X-Men and Harry Potter: a school with one class composed of four girls... Okay. Much of the plot concerns which young witch will become the new Supreme, and who will replace the current Supreme, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange).

Every season has featured morally ambiguous characters, but Coven takes it to a very unlikable extreme. Previous characters were at least well-defined to some degree. You never entirely know what motivates Coven's colorful cast at any given moment. One minute they'll be acting all humane and morally upright, the next they'll be violently murdering someone without batting an eye. The most blatant example of this would be Queenie, the resident Comedic Sociopath.

There are also a lot of conflicting messages. Female empowerment, sisterhood, spiritual divinity, all that good stuff. Doesn't mean much when the witches are constantly stabbing each other in the backs over petty shit, ultimate power is basically revealed to be an incredibly fickle thing, and every male character is either impotently against the females (Hank, Hank's dad, Axe-Man) or disturbingly beholden to them (Kyle, Spaulding, Axe-Man again). I actually think a lot of this was done deliberately (See my comment below this review).

My favorite parts:
  • Best AHS opening credits so far. Loved the mix of pagan and voodoo imagery.
  • The crazy soundtrack
  • Halloween. Zombies. Chainsaw.
  • Danny Huston as The Axe-Man
  • Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett HAMMING it up all season.
  • Emma Roberts as a ruthless, superpowered Lindsay Lohan Expy

Still provocative and grotesque, more than ever in fact, but it lacks the substance and synchronicity of previous seasons. It feels kind of like a badly executed TV show version of The Craft. Really, I just wish this season had been set entirely in the 1800s.

No spell can make this season not-unwatchable.

Coming on the heels of Asylum, AHS Coven is even more of a disappointment than considered by itself.

The story is paper-thin and at times, mind-numbingly stupid (those times being 99% of the season); the characters are half-note despite the talented cast, and the intended message of female/minority empowerment is totally lost in this world of despicable women who get more attention and screentime the more absolutely AWFUL they are, and whose "feminism" is the Kill-All-Men kind, which is kinda telling by the fact that a) warlocks are barely touched upon (as in we know NOTHING about warlocks in this world except for the fact that they exist) and seen, b) that the whole male cast dies, and by the end of the season only one is alive, and that's because he was reanimated, and c) the Council is shown to be corrupted with one warlock and one witch, but at the end we're supposed to believe it will be better because it's made by two witches, despite the fact that one of those two was a horrible person for most of her on-screen time and the other one is a complete, vacuous idiot.

There's an over-reliance on shock for the sake of itself and the introduction of the 'resurrection' power quickly shatters any shade of enjoyment you could've had in Coven, aka seeing hated characters bite it. Even if they did by the end, there was always the worry that they could be brought back to pollute the show again, so that satisfaction was erased.

If this season showed us anything, it showed us that even anthology series aren't immune from Ryan Murphy show's Rule Of Third Season Suckage.


My Favourite So Far

After the disappointing first season and a hyperactive, depressing second, Coven seems to be an attempt by American Horror Story to find a middle ground. Is it successful? There is a clue in my chosen title, but there is quite a lot to unpack with this series and not a lot of room in this word count to cover it all.

Firstly, yes, it is my favourite. Coven has the most focus and the best balance of all the series. I like how despite following a predominantly female characters (the men barely feature), the season feels more diverse than the others. This is largely because the setting moves the story away from just bickering middle-class white people, to include bickering black working class people as well. This diversity feeds the plot, which is all about an ever changing power dynamic between individuals, groups of people, and even entire races, and the abuses of this power that inevitably come from it. It's basically a bully story, in which the role of the bully and the victim changes every episode. There is a sense of cyclical violence, in which no one can escape because of these past grudges. Feeding into this is the fact that many characters are either immortal, or they come back from the grave at some point to seek revenge.

It does however have its own share of problems. As with all the previous seasons, the most creepy and interesting things happen in the opening credit sequences, and I was disappointed that the Jersey devils, flying clansmen and BDSM witches don't ever make an appearance in the actual show. There is a recurring issue of how the witches are kind of thick, gullible, and constantly forgetting they have magic powers when they would come in handy. Also, The rules about how ghosts and magic work seems inconsistent. The biggest problem though is how, as a consequence of all the resurrections, death is a very cheap thing in this show. By the end of the season, I don't think there is a single character who hasn't murdered someone else, or died at some point - and yet they still keep hanging around one another, acting all surprised when yet another murder is announced, and getting upset as though this can't be immediately fixed. It removes all the stakes and ruins the tension. Also, it becomes a chore keeping track of who killed whom, and who is hiding who's body right now.