I didn’t write about last week’s AHS and boy, do I regret it. Last week’s Halloween episode was one of the best yet. Bookended with moments of unspeakable violence, “Fearful Pranks Ensue,” was one of the most finely wrought of the season. Marie Leveau is woefully underused in the series thus far, and last week I saw just how impactful one actress can be on a series.
We flashed back to 1961 New Orleans to see her reanimate and control corpses from the grave to avenge a young African-American student who was lynched for taking advantage of integration. I didn’t look away as the decaying zombies tortured the attackers, tearing their limbs from their bodies, spewing blood and gore. I wondered if AHS is asking us to consider one form of violence worse than the other. We also watched as she received Bastion’s head in a box, still blinking, violating a decades-old peace treaty and essentially starting a war. This war, this struggle for power, reflects a larger female hierarchy. Watching the witches war with each other reminds me of the struggles women face trying to coexist with each other in contemporary society, and any show that has an all-female cast must address this at some point, and this is most evident in the vitriol between Fiona and Marie. This power struggle is remarkable in that it speaks to a troublesome dynamic among women who feel they must compete with each other instead of for each other. AHS has an opportunity to say something insightful here about relationships among women, but not if the conflict continues to be about the vanity of youth and beauty. Even the younger generation witches participate in this war, to an extent, but it doesn’t seem like they know why they are competing with each other.
This war facilitates the arc of the entire next episode, “Burn, Witch, Burn.” The title itself alludes to the punishment forced upon Myrtle Snow, played by Frances Conroy. She arrives in New Orleans as part of the council sent to investigate Madison’s disappearance (although we know exactly where she is: playing Spaulding’s corpse bride in his room in the attic). We already know the bad blood between Fiona and Myrtle stems from Fiona assuming the title of Supreme long ago, presumably after she steals it from Myrtle. We are led to believe that Myrtle has always been jealous of Fiona for being beautiful and powerful, and has envied her all along. Fiona uses Queenie (who is recovering from the attack of the Minotaur) to frame Myrtle for the attack on Delia, in which Delia loses her sight after acid is thrown in her face. While Fiona is sitting vigil at Delia’s beside, Marie Leveau has once again reanimated zombies to attack the school in retaliation for Fiona decapitating Bastion and sending her his head. Fiona goes on a pill fueled walk-about, running into all manner of creepy weirdos, and even resurrects a still-born baby in a scene that is part hallucination and part tear-jerker. I don’t care for Fiona as boozy, grieving socialite, so I hope they can dial this back before it goes off the rails. Back at the house, Zoe fights off the attacking zombies that include Delphine’s three daughters (that we learn once plotted to kill her, and were punished in her Chamber of Horrors). In a tender moment and one that could possibly see Kathy Bates get an Emmy nod, she begs the rotting Borquita to let her make amends. It’s tragic and hopeless and pure TV gold. Outside, armed with a chainsaw, Zoe gets all From Dusk Til Dawn in a sequence that feels like it could have gone on from dusk until dawn. (It became very tedious to watch Zoe fight zombies, horror-movie style. I guess I am just spoiled by the Walking Dead.) Although the scenes seemed a little too campy Tarentino, it did serve to show us Zoe’s new power, and I am venturing a guess she is the new Supreme. New powers abound as Delia’s loss of actual sights turns into the acquisition of second sight, in which she becomes aware of Hank’s mistress, and possibly her murder. The scene ends with the exact right amount of camp as we see the witches approach the stake at which Myrtle will be burned – the same stake from which Misty Day will resurrect the burned Myrtle – anybody else see a resurrection pattern here?
The music, the slow motion approach, the clever blocking all contribute to a particular tone for this episode that doesn’t match up to the rest of the season. American Horror Story is known for its genre-bending antics, but this felt like a mixed bag of gimmicks and derivative allusions. Although there are some moments worth the trouble, like the scenes between Delphine and her daughters, it felt out of place in a season that has works so hard to strike the right balance between social allegory and guilty-pleasure. Last night’s episode felt more like the latter – emphasis on the guilty part. Perhaps this episode is meant to act as vehicle, foreshadowing events yet to come: a possible mixed-species pregnancy ? Delia as a black-magic practitioner? Zoe as Supreme? Nan and Luke lovestory? A Myrtle and Misty alliance? All this remains to be seen, but AHS can still find its footing after a minor stumble like “Burn, Witch, Burn.”