In this week’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven, memorably titled “The Axeman Cometh,” an elegantly interlocking series of plot turns suggests a major character’s undoing. Most pivotally, we learn that Cordelia’s (Sarah Paulson) unfaithful, murdering husband, Hank (Josh Hamilton), has a larger stake in Fiona’s (Jessica Lange) escalating rivalry with Marie (Angela Bassett) than we could have reasonably suspected. Hank’s an agent, of sorts, working with Marie to help ferret out the locations of the remaining descendants of the Salem witches in order to systematically execute them. Kaylee (Alexandra Breckenridge), the gorgeous redhead who Hank killed in a hotel room a few episodes ago, was actually a witch who’d discussed joining the coven with Cordelia, only to resist in favor of pursuing a “normal” life. In one of the episode’s many flashbacks, we see Hank eavesdropping on the meeting and subsequently seeking out Kaylee, who was presumably just one of who knows how many other young victims.
The truth of Hank’s identity is one of those twists that’s, oddly, more likely to surprise longtime fans of American Horror Story than folks who might be tuning in for the first time with the present season. Newly recruited viewers may be expecting every hint and instance of portent and foreshadowing to logically tie together into a conventionally coherent whole, whereas veterans of the series know that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk don’t usually work that way (think of the unresolved involvement of the aliens in Asylum). It was possible for veterans to assume, then, that Hank just might be a serial killer who only had a tangential relevance to the witches, corpses, and other varieties of horny monsters that we’re getting to know on a weekly basis.
But the narrative neatness of Hank’s secret complements the evolving Cordelia arc nicely, as it obviously breathes an extra element of urgency into her dawning realization that he’s a cad; additionally, it builds anticipation as to when her newfound ability of advanced second sight, which may not even represent the extent of her new range of powers, will find its inevitably cathartic release. It’s also nice to see Paulson, a talented actor, afforded the opportunity to elaborate on Cordelia’s growing bitterness with a life as a forever stabilizing presence in the company of more personally commanding but higher-maintenance loons.
So, emotionally, this big reveal works, but, logically, I can’t help but wonder why Marie needs Hank. If she’s as powerful as she’s often indicated to be, why doesn’t Marie just mentally storm the coven and wipe everyone out and be done with it? Sure, her horde of rampaging zombies were destroyed by the young witches, particularly Zoe (Taissa Farmiga), but it’s difficult to believe that Marie’s scared of them, not yet anyway. The explanation, then, for Marie’s ongoing qualified tolerance of Fiona and the rest of the coven, despite their repeated provocations, is probably one of simple narrative convenience. But Marie’s reticence is also amusing, as these witches are often suggestive of gossipy housewives who happen to occasionally raise the dead as a parlor trick.
And there was certainly plenty of raising the dead this week. Myrtle (Frances Conroy) is buried unseen under a big mound of dirt somewhere near Misty Day’s (Lily Rabe) swamp, gradually rebuilding her strength from the water Misty sprinkles on top of her from a flower can. Madison (Emma Roberts) also finally reappears after Zoe—who, somehow, continually fails to learn anything from Kyle’s (Evan Peters) disastrous resurrection—talks Misty into bringing her back to life, after having already brokered a deal with the locally trapped ghost of none other than the Axeman of New Orleans (Danny Huston) for the location of her corpse. The Axeman reveals to Zoe that Madison has been stuffed in a trunk up in the coven’s attic for the mute butler Spaulding’s (Denis O’Hare) presumably deviant sexual amusement, and Zoe, in turn, frees his spirit from the coven’s grounds (long story).
Another fleeting curiosity: Why does Myrtle’s resurrection require a prolonged undead spa treatment, while Madison springs back to life almost immediately, and ready for a smoke no less? Perhaps, due to their differences of age, or of method of execution: Myrtle was burned alive, while Madison was killed with a comparably merciful knife to the throat. But, as with Marie’s inexplicably complicated revenge schematics, it’s probably not a plot point to be combed over with any degree of literality. The important take-away this week is simple: Fiona’s in deep shit.
There are the usual suspects who have always unambiguously intended to do Fiona harm, such as Marie and Myrtle and potentially Misty (what’s with the similarity of these names?), who can empathize with the pain brought about by the insensible sadism of Myrtle’s punishment, but Fiona’s never before seemed to be so close to being so alone. Cordelia probably won’t be in Fiona’s camp much longer, as the latter’s attempts to bond with her over Hank’s various betrayals are almost certainly destined to backfire horribly. (And did Fiona arrange to have her own daughter so severely assaulted? Maybe that’s too obvious, but maybe not.) Madison certainly won’t be inclined to extend the Supreme much kindness when she eventually remembers her killer’s identity. Zoe has already basically turned on Fiona for her involvement in Myrtle and (she suspects) Madison’s deaths, and Queenie (Gaborey Sidibe) and Nan (Jamie Brewer) will probably follow Zoe wherever she goes.
All this leads to my speculation that Coven is building toward a game-changing mid-season switcheroo reminiscent of Sister Jude’s surprising ousting from the head of the troubled mental ward in last year’s Asylum. Coven is reaching a similar pressure-cooker situation in which the writers, who still have eight remaining episodes to fill with incident, appear to have typed themselves into a premature narrative corner. Fiona is a corrupt queen with no allies, aside from Spaulding and, potentially, the so-far generally helpless Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), and no apparent methods of recourse, who’s also potentially dying from cancer, who finds herself warming up to the newly free Axeman as he saddles up to the bar next to her. Coven could be priming itself up to go absolutely anywhere and, knowing Murphy and Falhuck’s reputations, it shall, but one thing is inarguable: Fiona better get to thinking something up fast.
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