American Horror Story: Coven — Boy Parts
American Horror Story: Coven‘s second entry, “Boy Parts,” has assuaged any fears of losing actors Lily Rabe or Evan Peters, while raising deeper concerns about the magical laws of this narrative universe. The opening sequence of the episode brings back Rabe, as Misty Day, previously burned at the stake, but now alive and well, and wandering around the Louisiana bayou. She encounters two alligator poachers, who react threateningly to her intrusion on their camp. But these rough and ready pistol-toting swamp men are no match for Misty. She uses her power of necromancy to revive several strung up gator corpses that haven’t taken too kindly to being baited and brained by the hunters. In the end, the hunters don’t take too kindly to being munched on by alligators either.
Later in the episode, Evan Peters’s frat boy character Kyle is also returned to life as a Frankenstein Monster-esque shade of his former self. Zoe and Madison break into the morgue, and with parchment scroll in hand, perform a resurrection ceremony over the cobbled together Kyle stitched from the corpses of his fraternity brothers. While he remains docile towards Zoe, the Kyle Monster displays anger and malice when beating down the morgue security guard.
These two scenes are weird and disturbingly interesting, but they illustrate a problem that AHS has about free-wheeling the line between life and death. Murder House had deceased characters who returned as ghosts without any limitation to what they could do in the physical world. Then in Asylum, characters presumed dead (by other characters as well as the viewers) would return in later episodes, without much of a reason beyond aliens did it (or maybe demons, I’m still uncertain).
This trend of the fuzzy finality of death borders on camp, but there are other things (good acting and great editing) that keep American Horror Story on the right side of the dividing line between A-list TV and B-list genre films. However, it still seems a bit bothersome that resurrection is portrayed as such an easy accomplishment. Zoe and Madison sew together some rotting limbs, inhale a special smoke, recite some Latin, and then a few minutes later Kyle sits up from the mortuary table. Misty Day is even more powerful in that she can revive dead things with a mere nod of the head. One imagines that Jessica Lange, as the ‘Supreme,’ Fiona Goode, can manage to bring the dead back to life, since she has been established as the coven’s most powerful witch. And that’s without even mentioning the coven-opposing voodoo sect that theoretically (as voodoo practitioners) has control over the dead, and demonstrably holds the power of immortality.
While Kathy Bates’s Madam LaLaurie character is vexed by wanting to die, but being unable to, I fear that the cheapness of life and death will stretch the believability later on in the season. The emotional impact of the death of a main character, like Lange’s or Angela Bassett’s, would be lost since the viewer knows that these characters can easily be brought back to life. If being shot in the head (the alligators), burned at the stake (Misty Day), and drawn & quartered (Kyle), is reversible, then what method of death is absolutely and irrevocably final?
Yes, I realize how silly it seems to put so much thought into the fictional powers of a television show that features a minotaur. But AHS: Coven is making these characters out to be more like demigods than witches.
There were some other interesting and confusing aspects of the episode, and that includes Queenie’s origin story. She was recruited by Cordelia after an altercation at her fried chicken restaurant. After a spat with a disgruntled customer, Queenie plunged her arm into the fryer and used her human voodoo doll power to transfer the pain and damage to the other’s arm. There are two things that I wonder about Queenie.
One: will she feel a greater affinity towards the voodoo practitioners rather than the members of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies? My reasoning for this isn’t simply because she is black, but stems from the fact that Queenie has an antagonistic relationship with Madison. Additionally, she can’t feel too comfortable about staying under them same roof as the unapologetically racist Madam LaLaurie, especially after being struck by her with a candlestick.
Two: despite the fact that the show has demonstrated that Queenie doesn’t feel pain when she uses her power, it is less consistent with showing the damage that is or isn’t done to her. While in this episode the boiling hot oil did nothing to her arm, in the previous episode she was shown to have a fork wound after stabbing herself in the arm. This ambiguity and ill-defined nature of the witch’s powers is a bit confusing, and leaves me questioning, why did a blow from a candlestick knock her out? Why didn’t LaLaurie feel that pain in the back of her skull instead? Does Queenie’s ability only work if the damage is self-inflicted?
Strangely enough, an instance of witch magic that I didn’t have a question about was Fiona’s forced amnesia of the two police detectives. Zoe cracks under pressure while being questioned by the officers about her and Madison’s involvement in the bus crash and hospital incidents of the previous episode. While she confesses and then gushes hysterically about them all being witches, Fiona calmly pours out two glasses of water, spits in them, and makes the officers drink the memory-erasing concoction. That the Supreme should have this sort of power over mere mortals is tempered by one officer resisting, but ultimately giving in to Fiona’s commands. Her use of Jedi mind-tricks is contrasted with her daughter’s reluctance to use magic any time it suits her needs.
Cordelia, the bland ‘good’ witch of the coven wants to have a baby. Unlike her mother, she first tries the natural alternative of visiting a doctor with her (husband? boyfriend?) Hank. His introduction into the show seems a bit odd, as he seems to be just a normal dude – a regular Darrin Stephens – somehow married (or attached) to the headmistress of a school for witches. There should be an interesting, but-as-of-yet unexplained and unexplored reason why Cordelia and Hank are together. While I had initially hoped that Sarah Paulson’s character would primarily face off with Jessica Lange’s, it seems that the show will focus on Cordelia’s desire to become a mother (versus her derision about that same issue last season). Anyway, Cordelia relents to Hank’s wish to magically conceive a baby and there is a steamy love scene inside a circle of fire and exploding snake eggs. It was moody and strange, but again, with the way this was edited together, it was on the correct side of camp.
I’m guessing that the baby will come sooner than nine months from now, but how will the baby be? Would it necessarily be magical? AHS has stated that witchcraft is (usually) genetic, but I assume that a baby conceived by magical means would have an even greater propensity towards magic. Just like last season, I bet we are going to be treated to a child that quickly gestates, pops out, and starts maturing. And also acts weirdly. Unlike Judith in The Walking Dead (whom the producers should wisely keep as a mostly off-screen infant for as long as possible) AHS’s witch baby will probably play a bigger role in the overall narrative.
So, where does the show go from here? I think that the biggest enigma this season will be Kathy Bates’s Madam LaLaurie. When Nan freed LaLaurie, I thought she’d go about witch-hunting, but it appears that she is reluctantly on the side of Fiona and the coven stemming from the grudge between her and voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett). Laveau has cursed the madam to suffer a fate worse than death. First she killed LaLaurie’s husband (whom she wasn’t upset about, as she confesses she was plotting to murder him) and daughters (but these girls, even the ugly one, strike a little closer to LaLaurie’s heart). Then, instead of killing LaLaurie, Laveau has her imprisoned and buried alive, saying that she wants LaLaurie stuck underground for the rest of eternity while the world passes by without her. This is diabolic torture that rivals the worst body modification experiments of the madam. One can only imagine the hatred she holds in her heart, to be stuck in a casket for 180 years, with only the thought of your hanged daughters to keep you company. Then again, one can only imagine one’s husband being turned into a minotaur, as Laveau has had happen to her. Although it seems that LaLaurie has no power of her own (besides immortality), she has kept mentally well enough for a woman who has endured the longest solitary confinement ever. It’s a credit to the LaLaurie’s tenacity that she still has her sanity, if indeed she ever actually was sane. In “Boy Parts” Bates plays the character despondent about waking up into a world has changed and no longer holds a station for a woman such as her. However, I look forward to this despondency changing into anger and violence as LaLaurie seeks her revenge against Laveau. She may even have a change of heart about the sweet release of death that Fiona has promised in exchange for the secret of immortality. And even if she does go forward into the darkness of death, who’s to say that Laveau couldn’t simply bring her back and continue the physical and psychological torture? These bitch witches be holding grudges that not even centuries can dissolve!