The penultimate episode of American Horror Story: Coven, “Go to Hell” finds the series still desperately scrambling to introduce busy conceits. Theoretically, we should be eagerly anticipating the revelation of Fiona’s (Jessica Lange) successor as the next Supreme, but how can we? As an audience, we never know if any event “counts,” or if it will be reversed to satisfy a new creative whimsy. The first two or three hundred character resurrections were a cheeky way of illustrating Coven’s ’s willingness to screw with viewer expectation, but that device, along with the witches’ highly varying procession of week-to-week powers, has long ago devolved into tedium. And somewhere down the line, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk also lost a valuable sense of pace: Major events seem to rush by now in a barely coherent tizzy, while negligible vignettes eat up a significant portion of running time.
Taken on its own merit, “Go to Hell” would’ve been an effective episode if it had been properly prepared for. The biggest surprise, of course, was Fiona’s death at the hands of the Axman (Danny Huston), who chopped her up after Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) told him that her mother was planning to ditch the serial-killer jazz player for an extended globe-trotting va-cay after murdering the entire coven to preserve her dwindling youthful powers. Yes, Cordelia has her powers of second sight back, thus allowing the series to sprint through a variety of unwieldy exposition, recalling, once again, that Fiona is supposed to be a villain and that Misty Day (Lily Rabe) is imprisoned in an anonymous crypt somewhere as a victim of Madison’s (Emma Roberts) scheming.
Misty’s return, yet another resurrection, was a particularly disappointing case of Coven’s pronounced refusal to commit to anything sooner than presumably the last minute of the final episode. The notion of a major supporting character so easily and arbitrarily bested and left to spend eternity in a stranger’s grave is chilling, but, no, Misty must return for another helping of belabored girl-power banter. Though her reappearance might have admittedly been more forgivable if Misty had ever asserted herself as a real character, rather than a collection of irritating tics and eccentricities. Speaking of meaningless characters returning for meaningless reasons, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) and Kyle (Evan Peters) are back too, just as you assumed they would be.
The best portions of “Go to Hell” pertained, logically given the title, to hell. Papa Legba (Lance Reddick) returns after Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) summons him to suss out the nature of Marie’s (Angela Bassett) disappearance, thus allowing for a series of intense two-handers that Reddick and Sidibe invest with a malevolent energy that harks back to the days when Coven’s was in danger of having a point. Sidibe is particularly effective: She invests her moments with a choked rage that poignantly corresponds to a heightened sense of lower-working-class African-American despair. Queenie’s manifestation of hell, which she only quickly glimpses, is revealed to be an eternity working at the chicken shack that used to employ her, replete with fryers spitting crackling grease in her face while customers hound her for faster service as drug dealers peddle their wares on the street directly outside.
Marie and Delphine (Kathy Bates) also found themselves in hell, though on a more presumably permanent basis, destined to relive the racist warfare they’ve been waging for centuries—provided that they aren’t sprung for a last-minute reprieve next week, that is. The puniness of their hell is another of Coven’s triumphs, as they’re locked into one of Delphine’s dusty, elaborately Grand Guignol torture chambers. Delphine must witness her daughters’ endless torment at the hands of Marie, who, in turn, must account for the innocent victims left in the wake of her various revenge campaigns against Delphine, Fiona, the Delphi Trust, and who knows who else. Delphine had a particularly evocative moment this week in which she links her refusal to apologize for her past atrocities with the easily sated hypocrisy of a modern Internet-fueled America that forgives, or forgets, the indiscretions of its major figures after only a few utterances of cursory and meaningless remorse. It was a fitting send-off for Delphine, one of Coven’s most consistently interesting characters, in that she was allowed to be essentially correct for all the wrong reasons.
“Go to Hell” had the tonal and thematic feel of a series finale, as all of the most interesting characters were dispatched with in a manner that suitably imprisoned them within their presiding obsessions—though the Axman’s murder by the coven made no sense even by this show’s lapsed standards of logic, as he was already dead. Next week’s true finale, unfortunately, appears to promise little more than plot bookkeeping. We will presumably finally learn who the next Supreme shall be in a competition called the “Seven Wonders,” which has something to do with a witch’s ability to flex her various super-powers, and appears to have been ripped straight from the galleys of a scrapped Harry Potter novel. Our only remaining hope for sustaining interest, apart from Queenie, is Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), who promises to keep the competition for most banal millennial performance palatable with her reliably amusing crone-hippy non sequiturs, which will be especially pertinent when one of this week’s newly deceased older guard inevitable appears for a “surprise” resurgence.
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