January 23, 2015

American Horror Story: Coven

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I don't have live television, and my reasons are many. It's a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to watching some shows, because I have to wait for them to become available for streaming on Netfllix or Amazon. Not too long ago I had the chance to sit down and watch the third season of American Horror Story, or as the storyline is called, Coven. Following are my thoughts on Coven (and I'll warn you all before any spoilers, so don't worry).

To start off, I kind of enjoyed the first season of AHS, or Murder House, but I thought the last four or five episodes were weak. The second season, Asylum, I found to be better overall, but it did have some issues with trying to be everything at once. I was hopeful that Coven would continue the upward trend, especially considering that witches and the craft is one of my more favorite horror/paranormal topics. After watching the season, I feel mixed about the results, maybe even moreso than with the first season. It's unfortunate, because there was so much potential in the story. If you're wondering whether or not it's worth your time to watch American Horror Story: Coven, I would say it still is, but don't be too upset when things in it go a little... wonky.

The setting of modern-day New Orleans where there's a school for young witches is fascinating. The fact that they are the descendants of the real witches from Salem, who fled south after the trials, is brilliant. The divide between the white and black witches, with the latter practicing voodoo, is also intriguing. As the viewer, you follow one witch as she finds out what she is and is whisked away to the school. After that, the perspective hops around way too much,

Without spoiling anything, I will say that incorporating the Axeman of New Orleans into the storyline was great. How he was killed made a powerful statement about women, something I thought could have been highlighted more throughout the season and should have been one of the main themes instead of being a muted, broken thread in the storyline.

Then there's the issue of someone who is hunting down witches, which makes protecting the girls in the school a big priority. A turf war breaks out between the two covens as well, also an interesting plot element. Finally, the issue of the old "supreme" witch dying as a new one emerges, and the old supreme's plot to kill her replacement so she can continue living, is also intriguing.

Where things fell apart for me was how inconsistent and convoluted the plot become in a hurry. Wonderful setups for twists and miniature climaxes were squandered, I guess in the name of being unpredictable. The problem was that the unpredictable nature was almost pure nonsense as the viewer was asked to suspend what I found to be far too much disbelief. Characters at times acted so oddly, and without explanation, that I found myself shaking my head in disbelief.

Coven really wasn't scary or even creepy like the other two seasons were, at least some of the time. It's a sad fact that the opening title sequence is far creepier than the actual show. Whoever was in charge of that sequence of shots probably should have been more involved in the production of the actual episodes.

One of the biggest problems with the plot was the red herring clues about who would be the next supreme. It seemed as if any one of the girls could be it, because each started to display some unusual powers. The problem was that once the new supreme emerged, there was no logical pathway to make viewers say "oh, of course it was her!" Instead, I was left wondering if the writers decided who it was in a rock-paper-scissors tournament right before writing that portion of the script. So there you go, Coven could have been great, maybe even the best AHS season yet, but instead it became a hot mess in a hurry.

**********************Spoiler Alert**************************

Was I the only one who felt that Misty Day, aka the Swamp Witch, was horribly underutilized in the end? She promised to be a force that could throw all sorts of things off, yet in the end she swooned over Stevie Nicks and in the end went out in a most disappointing way. She could have at least died in a blaze of glory, not stuck in her own personal hell of a biology class.

The witch hunters was another horribly underutilized group. Who were they really? What was their legacy? Were they from Salem, or did they trace their roots back further? We never get much information about them, and they seem kind of... lame. They never made any real attacks (apart from the acid incident -- more on that later) and also went out far too easily. Could they not see the danger in meeting with the witches in person for "negotiations"? Some witch hunters. And then there's Hank, who could have been so much more as a character.

As for the acid-throwing incident that left Cordelia blinded while gaining "The Sight," that was a mixed bag. I liked how her character changed with the blindness, but the end explanation about who was responsible for the incident was just so unbelievably random. Why would the witch hunters have someone dress up like a woman in black to throw acid in her face? Why not have her assassinated? They were, after all, witch hunters, not maimers. Again, worst. Witch. Hunters. Ever.

There are many other points to bring up, but I'm going to wrap it up after this last point. The world of the witches seemed incredibly small when it came right down to it. When you are first watching the show, it seems like there are witches everywhere, even if they're rare. As things progress, it appears there are few known witches (well, until Cordelia opens the flood gates at the very end). Where were all the girls who had gone to the school? If they had been hunted down, portraying that, even in a small way, would have helped tremendously with the feeling that the coven was in grave danger.

And now, for the thing you all really came here to see: American Horror Story: Coven memes!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I watched the first season and like you, thought it faltered at the end, so I have seen the other two yet.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I've seen all 4 seasons of American Horror Story (since Freak Show wrapped up this week), and Coven is my favorite -- probably because it made fun of itself at times. There were dark moments, but one of the witches always had a snappy comment delivered in just the right way (like in the Queenie gif above). Maybe it was just the upbeat background music. :P

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've never watched the show. It sounds like they need to push the envelope more.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I hardly ever watch live TV either. I like to wait until whole seasons are out and watch at once. Less cliff hangers.

VR Barkowski said...

I've seen all four seasons of AHS. I agree, Coven didn't live up to its potential. Season two remains my favorite. (I won't say anything about Freakshow at this time.) What I DID enjoy about Coven, however, was the way real characters were incorporated into the story, not just the Axeman, but Delphine LaLaurie and Marie Laveau. I've spent a lot of time in New Orleans and know quite a bit about the history. I was impressed at how many actual facts were woven together to create several of the story threads. Someone did their research.

VR Barkowski

Steven said...

Alex, the second season is definitely worth watching.

Dianne, there was more comedy in Coven and the music was great, but I still found it full of inexplicable plot twists and other problems - not that the other seasons are perfect.

Diane, I agree, they do.

Elizabeth, not dealing with cliffhangers has its advantages, for sure.

VR, I was going to get into the historical figures in the show as well, but my review was a little on the long side. Someone definitely researched and they did a good job incorporating the historical characters.

J.H. Moncrieff said...

Great post! I love AHS, but I've also found Coven to be lacking. We couldn't stop watching the first two seasons (although I agree with you about Season 2 trying to fit in WAY too much--the devil AND UFOs AND serial killers AND Nazis AND...), but I find us taking long breaks from Season 3.

My personal favourite was Season 1, probably because I adored Evan Peters' character so much.