Sunday, February 16, 2014

Women in Horror: American Horror Story: Coven

The latest season of American Horror Story centers around a rapidly shrinking coven of witches that suffer from internal conflicts, attacks from a rival coven and witch-hunters. This season isn't as dark or serious as the other seasons, but definitely doesn't shy away from the bizarre sexual violence that pushes boundaries and taste. It's the weakest season because it seems like a lot of episodes where very static and didn't really go anywhere except try to disgust the audience or make them uncomfortable. Characters would die and come back to life so much that death no longer meant anything. Despite not being the best paced, there are a lot of good things about this series, namely how dynamic the characters are and how even evil characters are in some way likable.

The characters on the evil side of the spectrum manage to get the audience to root for and sympathize with them. Fiona Goode is the aging Supreme of the coven that has done pretty much nothing to help it. She enjoys the power and seeks immortality, resorting to killing her charges and members of her coven in pursuit of both. Although a pretty reprehensible human being, her humor, wit, and attitude redeem her enough to want to see her on the show week after week, mostly due to Jessica Lange's acting. Marie Laveau is Fiona's rival and vows to ruin her. She has succeeded in achieving immortality and eternal youth, but has to commit horrible acts every year in return. I found her to be much less likeable much more petty than Fiona. Her only redeeming qualities are her humor and the good works she does for her community. Delphine LaLaurie is a 19th century slaver who tortured and murdered her slaves on a regular basis. She was turned immortal by Marie for some inexplicable reason and struggles to adapt to modern life after being buried for close to 100 years. She brings a lot of comedy relief, but also a lot of horror with her bloody beauty treatments and horrific treatment of slaves. All three of these women are of an older generation that should have transferred power and supremacy to the younger generation, but they cling to their power and youth, defying the natural. These women also show how power used selfishly corrupts and distorts.

The characters on the good side of the spectrum are interesting, but often not as well portrayed. Cordelia Foxx was blind, figuratively and literally, and exhibited no powers for much of the show. Her mother's uncaring nature and disapproval as well as her husband's deception are the primary reasons for her self doubt and the length of time spent without her true power. At the end of the series, she proves to be successful because she uses her powers to help witches from around the world rather than just benefiting herself. Myrtle Snow was the exact opposite of Fiona. She always had the coven's interests at heart and sacrificed herself at the end of the show to ensure the success of Cordelia and her new order. The young girls being groomed to take over the coven, Zoe, Queenie, Misty, and Nan, are varied, but are written unevenly or thrown away. Zoe makes the most godawful decisions sometimes and then turns into a badass for a few brief shining moments. Queenie is pretty consistent, but has some unnecessary scenes. Both Misty and Nan were amazing characters that were permanently killed with bad writing. The logic of the show seems to be that everyone could be brought back from the dead except these two for no reason at all. The portrayal of some of these characters was frustrating because the of the uneven writing.

American Horror Story wouldn't be the same without some cringeworthy, uncomfortable sexual scenes, but many of these ones are simply for the ick factor without actually helping or advancing the plot or characters in any way. Zoe can kill men with her vagina and learns to wield her power by killing a rapist with rape. Besides the fact that rape doesn't really justify another rape, her powers never have any significance after that and isn't even mentioned. Everyone else has a usable unique power usable for the duration of the show except for her. Queenie is raped by the Minotaur that was Marie's lover and by the middle of the season, I forgot it even happened. Despite being a memorable and uncomfortable scene, it had practically no effect on the show or the characters at all. Another unnecessary scene is the one where Marie describes a fertility ritual for Cordelia involving slathering her in a jar full of semen and goat's blood. This doesn't actually happen at all because Marie refused to actually do the ritual, but that didn't stop the writers from wasting time showing the bizarre ritual.

American Horror Story: Coven suffers from way too many characters, uneven writing, unnecessary scenes, and wonky world building. The writers just did whatever they wanted without really taking into account character development or the rules of the world. Death became essentially meaningless except in two isolated incidents and many of the twisted sexual scenes were essentially meaningless beyond their shock value. I still enjoyed many aspects of the show and I think it overall portrays women in a dynamic manner.

My rating: 7/10 fishmuffins

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