This episode of American Horror Story was by far the tamest and most subdued so far, and it offered a strange shift in pacing as it explored the very heady topics of human mortality and resurrection. The Sacred Taking focused on the very human, and very mortal Fiona, battling cancer and who is now, according to her, decidedly “less Samantha and more Endora.” This episode also acknowledges the ‘shit show’ the new coven has become, commenting on the female politics at play. Opening on a scene in which Queenie is on an errand for Marie, (requiring a dark heart cut from the chest) we see an exchange between her and Madison and Zoe that foreshadows a war, in the literal and figurative sense. This war, although literally between Voodoo and Witches, has some real gender and racial implications, playing out like a gang war. Figuratively, the war serves to epitomize the pitting of women against other women. As we see each character grapple with their place in the hierarchy, rarely through sisterhood, sometimes through death and oftentimes through resurrection, the question presents itself: is this season not a just machine through which we are to examine female politics among differing kinds women?
These politics manifest most obviously in the conflict that exists between Fiona and Marie (and what that means for each of their covens). We have yet to see why the blood feud has gone to such lengths, and the show is taking its sweet time letting us in the loop. Perhaps they are trying to construct a scenario in which we don’t agree with Marie Leveau’s anger at Fiona, or won’t take her side. Given the season’s history and the relationships it’s established between the characters of different races, the precedent has been set for the white characters to be the more developed. However, the initial scenes shared between the two women inform their relationship, and are mostly concerned with beauty, youth and immortality, and without guidance from the writers, we are left to assume that is so. It is not doing any women any favors by allowing us to think Fiona hates her because she’s prettier or younger. The idea that a new Supreme will only gain power as the old Supreme loses hers reinforces this as well. The ritual they perform, the Sacred Taking, depends on Fiona killing herself, but the other witches must push her to do so. AHS seems to be saying two women can’t be beautiful or powerful at the same time; one has to destroy the other in order to ascend. This is a very destructive approach, especially among witches, a community predicated upon sisterhood. As a show about women, these characters should work against the ugly stereotypes, not play into them.
These stereotypes trickle down in the younger generation as well. Queenie is constantly cast as the outsider, ostensibly because of race, but I believe it has more to do with her weight. She seeks out Marie Leveau to help her understand her identity and find a place to fit in, and hopes to find comfort in women of “her kind.” She wants to feel like she belongs, but she doesn’t, and it’s here that AHS misses the mark as well, developing a relationship between Delphine and Queenie that is a bitter pill to swallow. In a world where we are rooting for the slave owner and against the African-American character, we’ve gone astray. But what concerns me most about their relationship is how it exists to comment about women of a certain size and how they fare in the hierarchy of female relationships. Queenie doesn’t fit in among the witches in her coven because she is black, fat and poor, making her the lowest in the hierarchy of female relationships and it shows as her storylines become less and less relevant.
American Horror Story is a great show, and it is doing ground breaking work. I have to hand it to a show that has no hard and fast rules about anything. Surprises this week include a witch-hunter-with-a-sniper-rifle for God’s sake, and I love a crazed, religious zealot in any entertainment context, so don’t misunderstand when I offer a critique this week instead of a recap. I just want this show to be as fun and interesting as it has been all along, yet hold up under closer scrutiny. With as many quality actresses as this show has, and as much latitude it has with plot lines (Minotaur rape anyone?)there is enough material and talent that these characters should exist in a universe that doesn’t participate in cultural conventions that can drag it down.