American Horror Story: Coven continues to wow me! This week’s episode, “Burn, Witch. Burn!,” has upped the ante on typical television (The Walking Dead) zombie gore, with an outrageous sequence of Zoe (Taissa Farminga) wielding a chainsaw. Along with the extended zombie attack, there was an initial seed of character progression with Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) who was attacked with acid in the last episode. And of course, as the title alludes to, there was a witch burning at the stake.
First, the episode opens on All Hallows Eve in 1833 with a reinforcement of Madam Delphine (Kathy Bates) LaLaurie’s despicability, as she shows off her chamber of horrors to the suitor of one of her daughters. He is grossed out by a dish full of eyeballs and a string of eviscerated intestines. Following this incident, LaLaurie catches her daughters plotting against her, and she has them abducted from their beds and imprisoned for a full year. These daughters are now zombies on the steps of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies where LaLaurie, Zoe, Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), Nan (Jamie Brewer), and neighbor boy Luke (Alexander Dreymon) are trapped.
Nan says that the people besieging the house are dead, as she cannot hear them. Luke thinks that it is all a prank, so he goes outside to tell them off. For a moment they are in a catatonic, unmoving state, and neither Luke nor some teenagers (complimenting their awesome prosthetics) can rouse them. Then Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), floating in her voodoo chamber, tells the zombies to “BEGIN.” They kill the random teens, and would have gotten Luke as well, if Nan hadn’t ran outside to save him. Zoe instructs Spalding (Denis O’Hare) to hustle the others upstairs, (but not, he silently indicates to his room), then she goes outside to find Nan and Luke trapped inside a car.
Zoe calls the zombies to pull them away from the car, but it seems to be a poorly thought-out plan, as they quickly chase her into a shed. Back inside the house, LaLaurie sees her daughter and opens the door to let her in. While LaLaurie seems to be rediscovering her humanity (unconvincingly, I might add), the living dead daughter has lost whatever remained of hers, and she attacks her mother. The shot cuts away with LaLaurie being held up off her feet, and the ghoul with a stranglehold around her neck. Unexplainably, later this same zombie is upstairs, and stalks Queenie after bludgeoning Spalding with a candle stick. Queenie uses a shard of glass and slices her own throat, transferring the effect with her human voodoo doll powers, and dusty gore sprays from the zombie’s throat. It doesn’t die though, until LaLaurie (frazzled, but seemingly unharmed) shoves a firepoker through its back and out its front.
Queenie says, “Holy shit, you killed it!” And this point proves that we aren’t in Romero zombie territory, but instead the witches are battling something more akin to the tele-fantastic zombies from The Video Dead — they have to be damaged enough to be killed again. Instead of discussing how to kill the rest of the ghouls, LaLaurie wallows, saying “She had a monster for a mother. This last act was the only kindness I ever did for her.”
Back outside, Nan and Luke make a run for the house, but Luke collapses and is too weak to move from blood loss. All seems lost as the zombies bear down on them, until Zoe appears with a MOTHERFLIPPING CHAINSAW! She does her best Bruce Campbell impression and slices and dices the dead until the chainsaw predictably sputters and dies. Instead of dismembering the last zombie, Zoe outstretches her arm and says some magic (Being of nature?) words. It collapses, as does Laveau in her voodoo chamber, who remarks, “I don’t know what that was, but they got some real power in that witchouse now.”
Elsewhere in New Orleans, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) accompanies Cordelia to the hospital after catching a glimpse of a black-cloaked figure leaving the bar. Fiona has a breakdown after learning that her daughter is now blind. What follows are several dreamy sequences of Fiona walking down hospital corridors (complete with flickering lights and abandoned wheelchairs), pilfering pills from a storeroom, receiving a weird message from a creepy-looking (diaper-wearing) patient, and resurrecting a stillborn baby for a grieving mother. These shots are blurry, and coupled with the camera-work bouncing back and forth, give the viewer some insight into Fiona’s mental state.
Later Cordelia’s murderous, secret-life living husband Hank (Josh Hamilton) shows up to the hospital. Fiona has an angry spat with him, including the great jab “You’re one step up from the men who stand in front of Home Depot.” Ultimately Fiona leaves him alone with Cordelia, and as he holds onto her hand, Cordelia has a sudden vision of all of Hank’s secrets.
The next day sees the witches burning a big pile of zombie corpses, which apparently nobody else in the neighborhood much minds the smell of. Fiona tells Nan that Luke can stay until he is fully healed, and she also praises Zoe for protecting the coven. Then LaLaurie tries to bond with her over their shared terrible mothering skills. While LaLaurie hopes that their tragedies will bring them closer together, Fiona puts her in her place, telling her that “I doubt it, you are after all, the maid.”
The council returns and informs Fiona that she must abdicate her Supremecy of the coven. Instead Fiona pulls a political power play that fingers (acid-burned) Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) as the one who has committed all of the recent (and past) transgressions against the coven. Fiona produces photographic proof that Snow had been spying and plotting against her, and then has Queenie put acid burns on Snow’s hand to implicate her as Cordelia’s attacker. With all of this evidence, the Council has no choice but to condemn Myrtle Snow to death by burning at the stake.
Snow takes these accusations in stride. She decides it would be better to die than to stay connected to a coven that has become so polluted and mislead by Fiona’s personal ambition and lust for power. She says, “I go proudly to the flame. Go ahead. Burn me.”
Which they do. The witches’ albino mafia-looking goons tie up Snow, douse her with gasoline, and then Fiona ignites her with a lit cigarette, all while Dr. John’s Right Place Wrong Time plays over the scene. Snow burns for several agonizing seconds until her spirit seems to fly outward. The others are all mesmerized by the flames, but Fiona calmly walks away.
The episode is essentially over here, except for a quick scenes that indicate where the story will be going in the next week:
Queenie expresses guilt about her part in implicating Snow, but Fiona placates her with the idea that she’ll help her to become the next Supreme of the coven.
Spalding sprays a lot of aerosol to cover up the stench of Madison’s visibly rotting corpse, stuck inside a trunk. He is dressed (bonnet and nightgown) for a teaparty, but when he tries to pull Madison out, her arm snaps off.
The episode ends with Misty Day (Lily Rabe) finding Myrtle Snow’s burned corpse. She uses her power of resurrection to bring Snow back to life.
I reference The Video Dead earlier in this blog, but the zombies also seem a bit like those from Burial Ground in their tool use, wielding hoes and axes. Also, the sequence held a bit of Night of the Creeps for me.
This episode really had a B-movie quality that I loved. Lange wandering around a creepy looking hospital was straight out of something like Session 9, Silent Hill, or akin to Laurie Strode in the deserted hospital in Halloween 2. Also, the fact that the zombie that attacks Kathy Bates illogically ends up in another part of the house, without killing Bates adds to the B-movie lack of logic. I think it is deliberate. While a show like The Walking Dead does (and should) take itself seriously, AHS has much more leeway to have fun.
I don’t like how Kathy Bates’s character is so hard and evil in the 1830s but rather grandmotherly in the present day. I’m not saying that this shift in character can’t (or shouldn’t) happen, but I don’t believe that it could have happened so quickly. It’s not like she changed during her time underground. She goes in a racist old coot, comes out a racist old coot, and then in the span of a few days becomes a softer, more grandmotherly person. Again, I like that her character is changing, but I don’t think it has been earned yet, especially when it opens by reinforcing how much of a wretched person she used to be.
Lily Rabe is back but only in a short bit. I have a feeling that she’ll play a bigger part in the next episode by teaming up with Frances Conroy’s character. Perhaps they’ll join with the voodoo sect against the coven, or maybe it will be Misty Day that has to chose between joining the coven and betraying Myrtle Snow, or sticking with the other witchy outcast.
I’m curious now to learn more about Hank and Cordelia’s relationship. I mean, obviously he knows she is a witch, but it seems that she has no idea about his secret life until this episode. Does he possibly have some superpowers in him too? Or is he just a murderous scumbag?
Come back later in the week for more witchy woman B-movie on TV goodness when American Horror Story: Coven returns with “The Axeman Cometh.”