American Horror Story Recap: Voodoo Unchained

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mariePhoto: Courtesy of Michele K. Short/FX.
Guys, this one's a toughie. Last night's episode of American Horror Story: Coven got in deep with racial animus, zombies, and doll collections. There is surely a thesis to be written on this.

We open in New Orleans in 1961. The South is in the thick of desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement. One of the hairdressers at Marie Laveau's salon is optimistic about her son attending an integrated school: "I have faith in the future," she says. Her son, however, is the sacrificial lamb in this allegory. He's chased down by a pack of middle-aged white men and strung up in a field. It's a fairly horrific scene, and it's impossible not to be reminded of the very real lynching of Emmett Till.

Marie seeks revenge. She enters her voodoo chamber, slits open a snake, and performs a ritual that raises the dead. Her small zombie army — which includes what appears to be a Union soldier — tracks down the murderers and rends them limb from limb. Justice is served?

Not quite. What's disturbing for me in these first four minutes isn't the lynching itself. Instead, it's the way that the script attempts to pay for the crimes of segregation with magical thinking. In the real world, the families of murdered Southern blacks had little or no recompense. On American Horror Story, white guilt might have even stronger mojo than Marie Laveau. Just sayin'.

But, enough of the sociopolitical stuff, right? Now, it's time to get weird. And, who better to kick things off than the non-lingual Spalding? He's upstairs serving tea to his creepy collection of dolls, naturally — he and George Bluth should start an American Girl fan forum — when Fiona's fight with Madison disturbs him. He comes downstairs and sees Fiona cut Madison's throat, and then dutifully rolls her up into a rug. Good ol' Spalding. Fiona remarks, "I've always enjoyed our little talks together, particularly since you lost your tongue." Way harsh, Fiona.

marievoodooPhoto: Courtesy of Michele K. Short/FX.
This tender moment is also interrupted. Fiona finds Queenie bloodied and crying after her run-in with Bastien. She and Cordelia tend to Queenie's wounds and the racial metaphors start coming out thicker than molasses. "What were you doing over on that side of town," Fiona demands, referring to Laveau and her ilk as "The Voodoos." (Remember, this is the woman who declared "There's nothing I hate more than a racist" in last week's episode.) When Queenie momentarily stops breathing, Fiona breathes in some precious life force into her mouth and restarts her heart.

Fiona, of course, isn't going to let an attack on one of her girls go unreciprocated. At Cornrow City, Marie et al. are doing their 'dos when a box shows up in a little homage to Se7en. What's in the box? Bastien's still-moving minotaur head! John Doe Fiona has the upper hand now.

Over at Kyle's house, our zombie is banging his head against a tub, still covered in his mom's blood. Zoe comes to her senses and decides that Kyle was probably better off dead than as a matricidal monster. She whips up some tuna salad with rat poison, just like mom used to make. (Check the label: Difenacoum is effective on rodents and the sorcery of the dark lord Azazel.) Before she can do that, however, Kyle escapes. Alas, it is Halloween, and everyone on the street looks like they just bludgeoned their mothers to death, so he'll be tough to spot.

Upstairs at Miss Robichaux's, Delphine zips up Fiona in her black gown and recites the Wikipedia entry on the history of All Hallows Eve. Meanwhile, Cordelia's on the phone with Hank, who's out of town, ostensibly on business. But, all men are pigs on American Horror Story, so Hank is really meeting with Internet fling Kaylee (season one's Alex Breckenridge, with that same unreal shade of red hair) and with whom he engages in a serious hump. They share a post-coital cigarette and discuss Halloween costumes with some thick foreshadowing.

councilPhoto: Courtesy of Michele K. Short/FX.
At Cornrow City, all of the allegorical pretense of the opener is totally dropped. One of Marie's charges warns her not to "start a war with those white bitches," and gives us some helpful, if unnatural, exposition on the history of the Voodoo-Witch War. Flashback to some point in the '60s. Anna-Leigh Leighton signs a truce with Marie, who's sporting an Angela Davis afro and grade-A sneer. They divide the city into white/black witch/voodoo territories.

Back in the present, Queenie wakes up with some righteous 'tude. Before she has a chance to spout off even more, however, the Council on Witchcraft arrives. Oh boy! It's Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), the stern Pimbrooke (Robin Bartlett), and a fop of a warlock named Quentin (Leslie Jordan) who falls somewhere between Quentin Crisp, Truman Capote, and Steel Magnolias. They were called by Nan, who's worried that Madison has been murdered, so the Council interrogates each member of the house. Queenie offers some levity: "Madison Montgomery is a stone-cold bitch who loves hard drinking, big dicks, and trouble. If she's dead, it's probably because she got wasted and offered the Grim Reaper a hand job or something." She'll be here all week, folks. Remember to tip your waitress.

Elsewhere, Hank and Kaylee are sharing soup when it's revealed that they met in an online community devoted to Thomas Kinkade, the bucolic painter who once pissed on a Winnie the Pooh sculpture at the Disneyland Hotel. This is, perhaps, the most interesting character development thus far in three seasons of AHS. It doesn't last long, however, as Hank puts a bullet in Kaylee's grey matter for reasons yet to be revealed. Maybe he was more of a Charles Sovek fan after all.

Myrtle and her posse are still at Miss Robichaux's, and it comes out that she and Fiona have some history. She's long known that Fiona murdered her way to the top, but hasn't been able to prove it. This is all told in flashback with painfully bad delivery by almost every actor except Denis O'Hare. We learn that Myrtle charmed Spalding's tongue so that he would tell the truth about seeing Fiona kill Anna-Leigh, but he cut it off himself in order to save her.

spaldingPhoto: Courtesy of Michele K. Short/FX.
Back in the present, Spalding fingers Myrtle as the one who mutilated him, and Frances Conroy is given the opportunity to have a fantastic freakout scene: "SHE KEEPS GETTING AWAY WITH IT!" Cordelia interjects, however, that Fiona wouldn't have murdered Madison because she was not really the next Supreme; Madison had a heart murmur, which apparently disqualifies one from greatness in witchery.

After that, Fiona goes out to get drunk with Cordelia. Her daughter can't handle her liquor at all, so she boots and rallies in the bathroom. Just as she's cleaning up, she gets splashed with an acid attack by a hooded assailant. And you thought the Bolshoi ballet was bad.

On "that" side of town, Marie and her charge are ready for war as they prep their zombie ritual. They raise a dozen corpses, three of which happen to be Delphine's daughters. The undead pay a visit to Miss Robichaux's and scare the bloomers off of mom. Meanwhile, Spalding's upstairs in a nightie and a bonnet, playing dress-up with Madison's half-naked corpse. Happy Halloween!

Next week: Zombies everywhere! Hank comes back to town, the Council doesn't know when its worn out its welcome, and someone gets burned at the stake. Bring your marshmallows.



Missed last week's episode? Catch the recap, here.