American Horror Story: Coven — The Axeman Cometh
It’s 1919 and the city of New Orleans is gripped in fear from a spate of axe murderers. No, it’s not your humble reviewer, Axe-Wielding Alex, running amuck with a time machine. This killer is a jazz musician with a penchant for chopping up lovely ladies. He holds the city ransom, saying that he will kill again if any house he passes in the night doesn’t have a jazz band playing inside.
Understandably, the women of New Orleans are terrified, but those of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies are particularly incensed. They are powerful witches after all, though their speech and ladylike manner of ninety-six years past belies their murderous potential. As Axeman (Danny Huston) passes their mansion on his night walk, he hears not jazz but opera music playing on a phonograph. He stalks up the stairs, axe in hand, and finds a solitary woman dealing out tarot cards. When she reaches the Death Card he goes to strike! Only his senses are betrayed! This is a trap that he didn’t foresee, and like Julius Ceasar centuries before, he is knifed to death by a mob of black-hooded figures.
Thus begins of “The Axeman Cometh” with the mortal end of the Axeman. After the opening credits American Horror Story: Coven flashes forward to the present day with our second-most virginal witch Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) investigating the missing Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts). Zoe rifles through a box of Madison’s stuff, where she finds a flask and a derringer, before being led by a rolling mini-bottle of alcohol into a secret closet compartment. She finds photographs populated by past coven women, but more importantly she finds a ouija board, or as Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) calls it, a spirit board.
Zoe presents her hypothesis of dwindling witch generations and proposes that the three remaining neophytes do something to combat the problem by starting with discovering what happened to Madison. While Nan (Jamie Brewer) is consumed by her crush on neighbor boy Luke (Alexander Dreymon [absent from this episode]), and Queenie, in the pocket of Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), wants to play things safe by first consulting the Supreme, Zoe’s initiative wins out. The three witches drink absinthe — drink of the divine, which [they] are — are then hold a seance with the spirit board. Queenie cautions the others — be polite! — but instead of summoning Madison, they make contact with another of the house’s deceased spirits — AXEMAN — who accuses the witches of murdering him. Queenie stops before they can find out anything more, again cautioning the others by saying, “If survival is so important to you, you better find out who you’re talking to!”
The girls research the Axeman by checking an online fan site. They quickly learn that the jazz man killed eight people, and connect the dots that the nickname for a saxophone, which he played, was an ‘axe.’ Nan points out a picture of the class of 1919 witches, and Queenie reads out a diary entry that foretells his killing: “This jazz killer has killed long enough. This city is done trembling. Tonight it ends.”
Zoe presses the Axeman’s ghost for more information about Madison, but Queenie and Nan, afraid of releasing the murderous spirit, wisely opt out of a second seance. The youngest witch goes it alone, and the spirit board gives her the clue ATTIC. Up in the attic Zoe finds walls of creepy babydolls, and then Madison’s overly ripe, one-armed corpse. Spalding (Denis O’Hare) grabs Zoe from behind, but she easily gets out of his grasp and knocks him out with one of his precious porcelain dolls.
The girls tie the “twisted tea-serving necrophiliac” up to a chair and torture a confession out of him. Spalding hides Fiona’s deeds and takes full responsibility for Madison’s death, saying that he killed her just to have sex with her dead body. He also mocks them, saying that if they go to the police it would bring disaster down on the coven. In retaliation Queenie uses her power to burn half of his cheek off with a red-hot spatula. Zoe doubts the veracity of his confession, but as of yet she doesn’t peg Fiona.
Instead, she travels to Misty Day (Lily Rabe)’s swampy sanctuary for help. Misty has been busy with the recently resurrected Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), buried under a mound of mud, and the returning FrankenKyle (Evan Peters) Monster. Misty tries giving Kyle a bath, but doing this causes him to have visions of his incestuous mother. He has a fit of rage, smashing a chair and Misty’s 8-track player (along with her Stevie Nicks tape) in the process. Fortunately, Zoe arrives just in time to soothe the savage beast, and takes them both back to the mansion.
Kyle gets chained up while Zoe and Misty perform a ritual to bring Madison back to life. They reattached her arm, and then literally push the death out of her corpse. Out pops a mouthful of blood and a single cockroach, but Madison sits up, coughing, and says, “I need a cigarette.” Afterwards, Zoe decides to keep Madison a secret from Fiona. Misty raids the kitchen, but declines staying with the coven, saying that “she’s got bad vibes, real bad” about something foul in the house.
Meanwhile, Fiona receives chemotherapy, but she is plagued not just by cancer, but also by the thoughts of the other patients in the hospital room. Suddenly she has acquired the power of mind reading! This new power freaks her out, and she tries to leave, ripping the IV from her arm to squelch the others’ thoughts. She says that her daughter Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) needs her more than ever before, and that she’s only doing the cancer treatment for her. Of course, Fiona shows a bit more selfishness when she says that she just wants one more great love affair in her life. In order to comfort herself, she placates the others in the treatment room, easing the worries on their minds.
Blind Cordelia, using a white cane, arrives home with her husband Hank (Josh Hamilton) to find that Fiona has specially prepared her room for her. Cordelia finally has a bit of an edge to her character. She chides her mother for furnishing her room with the wrong type of flowers — “roses pull in love and romance, but that’s not what [she’s] looking for . . . [she] needs chrysanthemums for strength and protection.” She has another vision of her cheating scumbag of a husband, and says that he “will be accountable for every single betrayal.” After Hank leaves, Cordelia has a vision of Fiona burning Myrtle Snow at the stake. Fiona maintains that Snow committed the acid attack on her, but Cordelia knows that isn’t true.
Hank ends up going straight to Cornrows City, where he has a powwow with Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett). In an interesting turn of a events, it seems that Hank is a ‘professional witchhunter’ hired by Laveau to take out not just the coven, but all of the descendants of the original Salem witches. Which is what he has been doing — in a flashback Hank is seen spying on Cordelia while interviewing Kaylee (Alexandra Breckenridge), the redhead whom he shot in the head two episodes ago. Hank cites her death, as well as eight others, as proof that he hasn’t gone soft. Bassett delivers an excellently acted monologue and with simmering anger rants about the coven witches disrespecting her, Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) being dug-up, and Fiona’s beheading of her beloved Minotaur. Laveau gives Hank an ultimatum, she’ll have either the heads of all the witches in the coven, or his.
However, it is not Hank who poses a threat to his wife, but the spirit of the Axeman. He had been promised release from Zoe, but she reneged on that, so now the vengeful spirit threatens Cordelia to call the others to release him.
At the same time in another room, Madison is being questioned by Zoe, Nan, and Queenie. The previously deceased witch doesn’t remember the circumstances surrounding her death, just the color red, and then black forever. Cordelia’s screams draw the living witches away. On the other side of a locked door, Cordelia blindly flees from her stalker, who relishes in chopping up the furniture. The lights cut out and jazz music fills the house. The three girls run down to the library, where Zoe is drawn to a book that will release the Axeman from his after-life imprisonment in the house. After the spell is said, all of the candles in the house flare up and they are able to get to Cordelia.
The next shot shows the Axeman, leaving the house, going out the front gate, and then arriving at a jazz bar to buy a gal a drink. And who is that gal? Why, it’s the Witch Supreme Fiona Goode.
The next episode is the halfway point of the season. I’m still not exactly sure how things are going to shape up for the second half of Coven’s run. There will be two factions against Fiona. Laveau’s voodoo sect along with Hank and Misty & Myrtle. I honestly don’t see someone like Laveau teaming up with the other two witches, but she may end up trying to use them in her schemes against the coven. There are two wildcards — Cordelia and Zoe. Cordelia did not approve of her mom killing Myrtle, but I honestly can’t see her turning against Fiona. While she is angry at her mom, she has a stronger connection to the coven than to possibly betraying it to Hank and Laveau. Zoe, I think, suspects Fiona. While Queenie is clearly in Fiona’s pocket now, Zoe has had more meaningful interactions with outsider Misty Day. Also, she has one of the witches most traumatized by Myrtle’s execution. However, she does proclaim to have the coven’s best interests in mind and wants the race of witches to be preserved for future generations.
The confrontation between Laveau and Fiona should be epic when it finally arrives, but I think that Fiona will have some other pesky things to deal with before then. She will probably feel the betrayal of a lover in the form of the Axeman. Would this bring her closer to her love-spurned daughter? I think that the Supreme will also have to reckon with Luke’s over-bearing Christian mom again in the future.
I have no doubt that Hank will have his head end up on someone’s platter, but whether that is Fiona’s, Cordelia’s or Laveau’s I’m not sure. Perhaps he may even try to get with Zoe and be fucked to death!
One of the things that I didn’t really like too much about AHS‘s first season was how much power it gave the spirits. They were dead, but essentially could act in any way a living person could. In my opinion their spiritness needed to be tempered with a limitation to their physical interactions with living characters. Coven obviously has taken a different route in dealing with the dead characters until now, but I hope that the Axeman gets some sort of demonic explanation rather than just being a disembodied ghost. On that note, I thought that Danny Huston was excellent in his role as a murderous madman. His facial expressions and mannerisms reminded me a bit of Laura Palmer’s killer in Twin Peaks.
I laughed out loud when Fiona called Hank jughead.
Additionally, this line from Bassett got a laugh too: “You think I did that? I look like the Taliban to you?”
Kathy Bates was conspicuous by her absence. I’m sure she will pop up next week, and it will be interesting where he allegiances lie concerning Fiona and the rest of the coven.
I was never a big Stevie Nicks fan before, but I’ve been digging her tunes in this season.
Next week, Fiona has one more great love affair with the Axeman in “The Dead.”