American Horror Story: Coven — as beautiful and big and loud and completely bat shit insane as it was — had no fucking clue how to end. And that's a damn shame. Spoilers ahead...
What came first? The Seven Wonders finale showdown, or Stevie Nick's cameo contract? I wouldn't be surprised if this series was written like an old timey newscast, where some uppity reporter is hurriedly jotting down the bullet points of breaking news, and stuffing them into the anchor's hands: "This just in... Misty Day is....... dead." NOW ACT EVERYBODY, ACT!
Last year's Asylum was also entirely TOO MUCH — but the show still managed to weave together an impressive tribute to Geraldo Rivera's star-making exposé (which was both a compliment and a dig to the main character). Somehow between the alien abductions and Nun possession, they put together an insane closure worthy of the preposterous season that came before (mostly by sweeping the whole alien storyline under the rug). Sadly, Coven simply could not pull its shit together.
Coven never knew what it wanted to be. A story about a young girl who was cast out of her home, only to find solidarity in her unique abilities? A decades old rivalry between immortal witches and different magical sects of New Orleans? A brutal mother and daughter relationship? This series was all these things but really none of these things — because none of these story lines had time to breathe. Buried under gratuitous deaths and resurrections, a nonsensical witch-killing society that served zero purpose (but to kill the random plotline next door), and a ghost who collects dolls and dead bodies.
I was positively giddy when this series tricked me into thinking that these girls were going to put aside their differences and start working together. Finally, the magical sisterhood that makes witchcraft so much fun. But instead, the Coven continued to rip itself apart, killing off member after member with deaths that felt more like afterthoughts than grand exits. Then bulldozing whatever violent act had just occurred, with another new plot point. There were certainly moments of brilliance hidden in this finale. If there's one thing this show knows how to do, it's dream up one beautiful absurdity after the other. But the finale failed at making me care about the overall season.
But let's break it down bit by bit, shall we?
We begin with a completely jarring Stevie Nicks 90s music video! I was half expecting "Express Yourself" Madonna to show up and start cat crawling through the billowy curtains. Yikes, that was dated. But I guess when you get Stevie Nicks, you must use Stevie Nicks. Even if it makes no logical sense at all. Did Nicks just fly back to New Orleans to hand out extra shawls? "Don't think about it, just go with it," seems to be the motto for this conclusion.
Don't get me wrong: I love watching Stevie Nicks wear a fabulous hat and lip-sync classic tunes to a crotch tracking camera angle. She is THE BEST. But when the TV cut to the titles it was like hearing a loud angry demon fart cut off pottery class jam session. The music video had no earthly business being there. I half expected Denis O'Hare to pop up out of the corner, shrug and say, "That's My American Horror Story!" Womp womp.
After the musical interlude, we're back to the beginning (of the beginning) of the Seven Wonders. But first, American Horror Story has a very important Last Supper recreation it needed to do, for reasons. GIVE IT UP, YOU GUYS.
Ok, after the gratuitous Jesus stuff, now the series is seriously ready to show off the Seven Wonders. For those of you just checking in, the Seven Wonders is a test that a witch must pass to prove that she is the true Supreme. It is very dangerous and since this Coven is made up of egomaniacs, ALL of the girls are participating in this deadly trial, which may or may not result in all of their deaths. But leader Cordelia is fine with killing off the children she was tasked with protecting this season, for the greater good of no one. Good decisions, everybody.
The test stars off relatively banal. Everyone moves a candle around, then they show off their mind control skills. Every witch gets out of these tasks relatively unharmed. But then we get to the good stuff. Each girl must descend into their own personal hell and then return. We've seen Queenie's hell before (the fried chicken shack). Madison is stuck in a live TV musical of The Sound of Music (TIMELY). Zoe gets stuck in a never ending loop of breaking up with Kyle (UUUUUUUUGH). But the best hell is Misty Day's hell. It's truly perfect for her character and another great chance for Lily Rabe to show off her truly sensational acting prowess. Here's the clip:
Dammit, Rabe is so good at this. Unfortunately, these are Misty's last moments, and she evaporates into dust... which is apparently a thing that happens to witches. Don't overthink it — it's just what happens.
What a waste. What a pithy goodbye. Remember when we first met this completely bonkers swamp witch? This flighty crocodile loving mud monster was supposed to be a lot more than *crumbles into dust*, right? What was the point of even having her on this series? So we could have a character who brings other characters back to life? Oh right, so they could put Stevie Nicks on. This was a pretty meh way to go, for a character who had so much potential. Even if it was a pretty inspired personal hell.
And the random deaths don't stop there. The girls need to unwind after the last death, so they start a game of tag transmutation, which leads to a SURPRISE IMPALEMENT of Zoe.
First up, LOL this death. Second, how did they get her down from there? Clearly this happens so the next test, Necromancy, can force the audience to actually give a shit about these trials.
Queenie can't bring Zoe back from the dead, which means she's out of the pageant. All that's left is Madison. Who, in a pretty brilliant move of utter brattiness, REFUSES. Instead she squashes a fly and brings that back to life, letting Zoe's body rot. Of all the horrible things this character has done, this was by far the absolute best. Madison is a completely worthless "I make things worse" character in this series. Alas, she is also the only witch that gets any sort of real character development, and it just consisted of making her worse. The last two episodes literally showed her stamping her feet and screaming like a petulant toddler. Queenie learned shit from her stay with Marie Laveau. Zoe's biggest character moment? Getting a ticket to Epcot, running away, and then coming back. These girls are the worst.
And they are all about to get even worse. Out of nowhere, Myrtle Snow turns to Cordelia and says, "Hey, maybe YOU'RE the new Supreme, Gucci, Prada, Pucci!" And just like that, it gels that Cordelia is going to be the new Supreme. And it's a done deal. Cordie beats Madison and now she's the boss. Cordelia, the witch so blind she couldn't conjure up a single spell until someone told her to just right now. The witch leader so incompetent she got most of the people living in her house killed. The leader who didn't know that her husband was the scion of an international witch hunting society. Cordelia, the witch so daft she got her sight back, and then STABBED OUT HER OWN EYES on a hunch that maybe her magical gifts would come back, which they didn't.
I like Cordelia, and I'm glad she's finally harnessing her inner chi, but this was kind of a cop out for the Supreme. Personally I was hoping they ALL would be the Supreme. That there would be a new era of lady witch togetherness. That somehow they would all learn to stop being such vapid little monsters. It's no surprise that I couldn't eke out a single feel as Kyle randomly strangles the life out of Madison. The overall message seemed to be, "Kill the bad people and let the good people rule, even if they're really bad at it." No redemption, no growth, no fun grey area to play about in, just good is good and bad is bad. Looking back, this must be why they killed off Nan (a very good character). Nan was starting to go bad — so as opposed to trying to help her, or play with any sort of moral ambiguity, they killed her.
Does it help tie up this season in a nice little bow? Yes it does. It's simple and thoughtless and requires very little effort to think about. Which is why it sucked even more when Fiona showed up all not dead.
This was a good scene. Everyone knew Fiona was still alive because Jessica Lange doesn't simply die off screen. The old Supreme returned to New Orleans hoping to discover the new leader, kill her, and drain her life force. But when she realized it was her daughter, plans changed. Instead Cordie and Fiona have the long coming "talk" where Fiona reveals that she wasn't a good Mother because "Cordelia reminded her of her own mortality?" Wait, what?
OK sure, whatever. I love these actors, and it's a joy seeing them together. But god help me, I couldn't care. I needed more time with these two. Less time with hot, young Fiona. More time with Failed Mother Fiona. But that's not how this series played out. Cordie was shipped off to the witch school at a very early age. So the only meat we have is the late-in-the-game bitterness and this final hug of death.
This sad parting, which was very sweet and a tidy way to end this relationship, only exemplifies the reality that we didn't really get to know these characters' relationship that well. Or at least, I felt like I didn't. Queenie and the Delphine LaLaurie shared more deeply personal talks and horrific betrayals than these two. Then you throw Myrtle into the mix, Cordelia's "real mother," and you're all mixed up. Fiona lets go of life and moves on, allowing her Daughter to be bigger and grander, and Myrtle demands that she must be burned at the stake for her previous murders. While they both think they are both doing something nice, YOU ARE BOTH SHIT PARENTS. And frankly Cordelia is better off without either of them.
So what happens? Myrtle burns and screams her last word, "BALENCIAGA" because of course she does. Meanwhile Fiona is sent to her own personal hell with her Axe Man.
Does this mean that Fiona never loved Axe Man, or is her hell being stuck with Axe Man and not loving him? I do not know, but frankly Axe Man shouldn't be given a happy place for eternity because he did kill quite a lot of people.
Cordelia decides to take the Coven public, and now everyone knows that witches are real, or that these bitches in New Orleans are rich and crazy. It was a nice "Hey, look at us growing" kind of moment, but the overall gesture felt empty. And we didn't need the "we're stronger in the public" throwaway line in the end. If you're going to talk about pseudo political "living in the open," forcible public closeting, talk about living in the open. Don't just wave a cheetah-gloved hand at it and smile.
Bottom line, Cordelia shouldn't be allowed to have new students. Most of the kids she was in charge of protecting died. How is she going to keep all of these girls alive? Oh right, she killed all the BAD people, so that's why. Let's hope none of these new girls are "bad people." Or this Coven is fucked.
Overall this season was a collection of fantastic moments, strung together by whole lot of "Huh?" Why was Patti LuPone even IN this season? I'll happily watch her give out bleach enemas, but after awhile the "OMG it's Patti LuPone-ness" wears off. So all we're left with are brilliant moments of insanity (like watching an Oscar winner's severed head sing "Dixie Land") bookended with gorgeous sets, and fabulous hats. And that's nice, but it usually makes for a bad finale. Which it did.
This won't be the first time I've called this show "highly watchable garbage" but that term certainly seems to fit. While it ended with what seemed like a mirage of fake emotions, I watched every damn second of it. And to that, I doff my expensive black hat to them.