American Horror Story: Coven Recap – Episode Three “The Replacements”

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American Horror Story: Coven, Episode 03 The Replacements – D-

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk must have listened in class when their teacher told them that history repeats itself. There’s so little surprise in this latest episode of American Horror Story that The Replacements really makes for a perfect title. Time and time again, they replace one thing with something that’s almost exactly the same, but different enough to be considered new. Predictability strikes constantly this episode, with sexual assault, murder, racism, and religious intolerance abounds! The same stuff that comes with every season of this series all wrapped up nicely in some burnt curtains.

My claims about Murphy/Falchuk relying on sexual assault to string a loose story together rang true from the very first episode, but this episode around we have to suffer through even more, and somehow it’s worse. First it was gang rape, now we have incestuous sexual abuse. Yep, you heard right. One of the main plots of this week’s episode focused on Evan Peters’ now-revived character (thanks to Misty and her good old necromancy; it’s a shame we only had one Stevie Nicks song, Sara, this round) being brought back to his mourning mother by Farmiga’s Zoe, who really manages to get stupider every episode. Turns out that his mother has been sexually abusing Kyle since before he was Frankenstein’s monster and now she’s pretty frustrated that he doesn’t respond to her molestation like he used to.

The only horror here is that more than one person thought that this would be an appropriate story to include in the series, existing only to further prove that Murphy and Falchuk only care to provoke the audience. It’s yet another empty introduction of a character who barely progresses the story and is disposed of within the span of one episode, something the writers have a knack for doing to fill time and pretend they have any idea what character development is. Where Peters once played the rapist, this time he plays the victim. The parallels that he raped Farmiga’s mother in Murder House and here Farmiga leads him back to the mother who has been sexually abusing him aren’t lost on anyone who has seen both of those seasons, but it doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. Sure, the intention of the writers probably was to go for unsettling and shocking, but the way the show handles these subjects is just plain exploitative in the worst way.

To switch gears a bit, I think we really need to take a focus on the treatment of certain characters and actresses on the show. I’ve thrown around some praise for Gabourey Sidibe, but something really hit me this episode. Sidibe has barely anything to do on this show. Well, most of the supporting actresses don’t, but Sidibe’s writing so far especially disappoints. “Oh, but she’s funny because she’s saying the word ‘cracker’ at a racist!” Yeah. Okay. It’s funny the first time, amusing the second time, and maybe even still worth laughing at the third time, but then a disturbing notion starts settling in. The two men writing this series are the same men who have created some obscenely stereotypical women of color in the past.

I shouldn’t need to mention the parallels between the treatment of a plus size woman of color on Glee and now on American Horror Story because that’s certainly not getting any better. To quote Emma Roberts, “Ms Aryan Sisterhood came between Queenie and her food.” Clearly that’s the only reason Queenie would be mad about an immortal, racist, slave owner. Additionally, let’s not forget the (thankfully) short-lived The New Normal which featured Nene as nothing more than another Sassy Black Woman trope.

I’m not saying that white dudes shouldn’t write women of color – because plenty of them do it well – but I’m saying that racist white dudes like Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk should have probably had their asses beat down by every talented woman of color in this cast. And talented they are! Sidibe has proved herself already to be a wonderful TV personality on The Big C, and I’m fairly convinced all the hatred that Angela Bassett delivers weekly towards white people is her channeling all her anger towards Ryan Murphy into her role. Her playing Solitaire on an iPad seems like something they just threw in because she got tired of waiting for anything of interest to happen with her character.

Even though the women of color get some of the worst character progression, it seems like some of the other actresses are facing a pretty boring ride too. After being put through immense torture last season, Sarah Paulson just looks plain uncomfortable most of the time in Coven. Her fascinating little dream voodoo sequence was actually one of the best scenes in the episode though, almost as though Sam Raimi decided to provide his own sort of camp take of a voodoo sequence from Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie — two things that one might not ever think to compare this series to. Her lack of a story is mostly attributed to Jessica Lange being the center of attention, which brings us right back to the predictability of it all.

Jessica Lange and Emma Roberts are on full-on Witch Bitch mode this week, with one both realizing multiple things. Lange’s Fiona is still obsessed with age, so much so that it makes her approach the young Madison about her role as the next Supreme. In a closing scene that lazily parallels the opening scene (something that would have actually been better had they waited two or three episodes to execute), Lange kills the budding new Supreme just as she killed the former Supreme decades before. Anyone who wasn’t blind could take notice that Madison was the only witch who showed any potential to learn more than one magical ability, and the fact that her personality and looks meshed most with Fiona was a pretty clear tell of her being the next Supreme. Many were still surprised by this lame reveal though, which prompts the question: have you ever seen a single supernatural horror film? Roberts’ early death is a particularly big downer though, considering her bitchiness is one of the few redeeming qualities of the series. Sure it gave Lange an excuse to have fun with monologues, but at what price? The loss of one of the most entertaining characters on the show.

For some incredibly strange reason, the dutch angle use this week was amped up to an unholy proportion. The creative decisions for the camera in general were just batshit crazy and not in a hectic but fun way with something like The Name Game last season. One thirty-second shot of Lange in a bar was sideways for no good reason, only to be followed later by some of the most embarrassing fish-eye lens uses ever to be seen on television for a scene where the girls simply eat lunch. It’s like the show gets progressively less coherent visually, with the director wishing they could deliver something unsettling and failing constantly.

At this point in the series, I actually think Nan might be the only character I don’t hate. It’s likely that this is because her writing is so facile – existing only to present a “good” alternative to all the bad witchcraft around – that it allows her to circumvent my general anger towards the series. I also want to mention that I’m really starting to pity Denis O’Hare who literally has nothing to work with on this show. Go back to The Good Wife buddy. At least that show hands you great writing. Anyway, the worst part about American Horror Story: Coven so far isn’t everything that the show has presented up to this point, or even that people eat it up. It’s that an episode of television this fucking bad only makes me curious to see what else could follow.

Biggest Embarrassments of the Week:

  • Kathy Bates’ white tears over the television showing that there’s an African American president and hissing “LIES.”
  • Practically everything in the friendly neighbor routine post-introduction, which boils down to Patti LuPone having a knife thrown past her and curtains lighting on fire. Heaven knows the best way to make an impression is to reveal your black magic powers to a religious neighbor.
  • Angela Bassett saying, “She done messed with the wrong witch,” was a big old eye-roll worthy line.
  • Gabourey Sidibe fucking the Minotaur after delivering a speech about love at her newfound slave Bates, almost as though the people who make this show were saying that the only way she could find love is by engaging in what pretty much amounts to bestiality.
  • Let me repeat that — Gabourey Sidibe. Fucked. The Minotaur. And this was after she said, “We both deserve love like everybody else.” I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything more offensive on television.

Juan Barquin

Just yer average twenty-something college student with no time on his hands who ends up watching (and writing) too many movies and shows for his own good.

3 Responses

  1. Alex says:

    As for Bates’s “white tears” being an embarrassing moment, she is literally a late 1800’s slave driver with a sick psychopathic mind towards black people. OF COURSE she’s going to be having white tears over a black president in the future having only known the solitude of being buried alive for so long.

    I just find so many flaws in your review (granted, it is your own opinion).

    Emma Roberts is a bad actress. Plain and simple. I’m glad her character died. Madison Montgomery literally brought nothing to the table for the show. There was no depth to her other than bitchiness. Sure there was a cathartic moment the first episode with the gang rape, but past that (aside from the shower scene where she’s crying) she literally brushes it off as if the trauma and psychological effects of being raped were nothing. (I do think they treated this particular part in the show poorly).

    As for Angela Bassett, you can’t actually be serious. Everything about her character is a “Fuck you” to white society. The iPad scene is her disregard towards someone whom she knows has powers and whom she knows has tried almost everything possible to have her child. Sarah Paulson IS witch and Angela Bassett knows that. The unwillingness to help her runs deeper than just her rivalry with Jessica Lange.

    Overall, I find your review to be preemptive. You tend to be ragging on the series as a whole rather than just that one episode. The show is literally 3 episodes in. How do you expect character development over 3 episodes? The show is definitely still in its “introduction” stage. We’ve been introduced to the witches, the coven, Madame LaLaurie, the concept of the supreme. We still need to be introduced to what’s behind the voodoo. Sure we’ve seen Angela Bassett’s character, but we’ve only seen that she capable of being immortal and creating babies for barren women. And creating an actual minotaur. We still don’t know the extent of her own powers and character. And you are commenting on her character devolpment far to early to be actually saying anything.

    • Juan Barquin says:

      @Alex, You know what, I think you’re totally right about me being preemptive. I am, there’s no denying it and a lot of my hatred comes from looking at the series as a whole. From experience, I’ve learned not to trust MurphChuk’s creative decisions when it comes to character development. Character development, in my experience with them, comes down to either villainizing a character entirely, throwing a villain through some semblance of a redemption arc, or simply making a character go through every emotional/physical torture/assault/etc physically possible before they can attain happiness.

      I don’t consider Emma Roberts a bad actress frankly. I think she plays the bitch role perfectly. It’s type-casting, but it’s type-casting that works. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy Scream 4 so much. She never gives more than what she needs to give. Brushing off the trauma of being raped isn’t so much her acting though. That’s to blame on the writing. I’ve mentioned before that MurphChuk like using sexual assault as nothing more than provocation and Madison’s character went through exactly that. To provoke the audience with something horrible and “””progress the story””” in the laziest way possible. She never faces any real psychological trauma because MurphChuk don’t seem to have the time to showcase that even though they find the time to show Kathy Bates crying at Obama for no good reason (because I stand by the fact that there was absolutely no good reason to have that scene outside of “look at the racist white lady be sad and laugh at her” which is literally what practically every one of her scenes does).

      Angela Bassett. I don’t know man. She just looks so bored. It’s clear she has immense power. We get that. But in regards to the iPad, wouldn’t she have been doing ANYTHING else with her time than just sitting around playing on a fucking iPad? You’re arguably an all-powerful witch who clearly has more knowledge about black magic than your enemies and all you do is sit around doing nothing. I feel like there’s absolutely no depth to her character and MurphChuk have done absolutely nothing to give her an ounce of development. The white women on the show get all sorts of character progression and development, but the black women don’t. And that’s where my problems stem. Shrouding her in mystery might seem alright for the sake of her being a “villain” – but I think at this point in the series, there should already be a somewhat clearer perspective on who she is.

      I think the show cares too much about Lange for its own good. I love the woman, I think she’s a terrific actress, but everyone else around her is getting the short end of the stick (with Farmiga as the only exception really). She has this really prevalent ongoing arc throughout the three episodes, as does Farmiga, and the other characters all just sort of exist to revolve around them. An argument could be made for Paulson thanks to her childbearing troubles, but she’s still intrinsically linked to Lange.

      While we’re supposed to be in the “introduction” phase, I think far too much has happened already in terms of plot progression to still be this lazy about giving its women of color a little more development. I’m hopeful that episode four will fix that, or even five, but Sidibe’s last experiences make me wary. I’m glad we at least can agree on her treatment though.

  2. Alex says:

    All that being said.
    You definitely are spot on with the treatment of gabourey sidibe’s character.

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