I am slightly concerned that American Horror Story has ruined all other TV for me. To illustrate my point, I will tell you that the finale of the third season, which aired in the UK on Tuesday at 9pm on FOX, opened with Stevie Nicks (yes I do mean THE Stevie Nicks) singing ‘The Seven Wonders’. I will go on to say that in the course of the episode five women died, three women were brought back from the dead, and a pair of mutilated eye-balls was returned to full health. And to be honest, it was a fairly tame episode compared to what had come before.
In the format of American Horror Story, in which each season, consisting of thirteen episodes, is essentially a complete reboot from previous seasons, complete with a different setting, different characters, and a variable cast, Ryan Murphy has found what works for him. It allows him to disregard entirely character development and continuity (which, let’s be honest, he’s rubbish at), and focus instead on pushing things as far as they will possibly go, and then saying ‘fuck it’ and pushing a bit further. It gives him space to throw three thousand elements into a melting pot and stir them into a host of crazy combinations, and then stand back and see what works. And what ‘works’ in American Horror Story: Coven, is actually quite a lot.
What worked was the dazzling array of characters, most of them female, many of them morally dubious verging on pure evil, and almost all of them completely kick-ass. I personally fell in love with manipulative Fiona (played to perfection by Jessica Lange), the commanding Marie Lavau (played with power by Angela Basset), and the ever-eccentric Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy). Kathy Bates’ talking head on a plate was also a high point. What also worked was the ongoing exploration of the mother-daughter relationship, which culminated in rather spectacular fashion in the finale, in a surprisingly touching moment between Fiona and her daughter Cordelia (Sarah Paulson). Their turbulent relationship has been one of the emotional linchpins of the series, a hint of reality and relatability in amongst the insanity of zombies, torture chambers, and eyeballs scooped out with melon ballers. (No, seriously, that actually happened.)
What works perhaps less well is Murphy’s rather blunt approach to racial conflict. I give him full marks for approaching the subject at all, and for bringing it to the forefront of the season, but sometimes his approach would have benefited from a little more nuance, and I wish that Queenie (the exquisite Gabourey Sidibe) had been given storylines that were a little less problematic. Another problem is that since, by the time we got to the end of thirteen episodes almost everyone had died once, and plenty of characters have died twice, by the finale any emotional impact to be gained from killing off characters had been squandered. This made for a finale which, while ultimately satisfying, didn’t pack quite as much of a punch as some of the earlier episodes.
But despite these flaws, I have loved this wonderful, insane, unspeakably excessive season. I’ll miss those witches, and the thousands of gif-worthy moments they created; fingers crossed for a fourth season with even more extraordinary hats.