American Horror Story, Season 3, Episode 5: “Burn, Witch, Burn!”
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Written by Jessica Sharzer
Airs Wednesdays at 10:00 PM on FX
“Burn, Witch, Burn!” deals with the fallout of last weeks climax which saw Cordelia blinded, when assaulted at a nightclub by a hooded assailant who threw sulphuric acid in her face. Meanwhile, Marie Leveau’s army of dead storm Miss Robichaux’s Academy. The fifth installment of Coven is immersed in the guilt of cruel mothers. LaLaurie is forced to come to terms with the pain and suffering she inflicted on her own daughters who rise from their graves, and Fiona feels responsible for Delia’s attack. On top of all this, two witches display new unexpected powers as Zoe manages to break Laveau’s spell and defeat her zombie army with only a few words, and Delia receives a startling clairvoyant vision of her husband’s murderous and cheating ways.
Last weeks very entertaining installment of Coven came with a number of surprising revelations, from Spalding’s dollhouse and cross-dressing fetish to Marie Leveau’s ability to bring back the walking dead. For a show about witches, it’s interesting to see the writers expand the narrative to include everything from zombies to serial killers and even a reanimated corpse. Coven has so far featured scenes which recall such cult classics as Re-Animator, Night of the Living Dead, Serpent and the Rainbow and Frankenstein. In what may have been the best homage yet, “Burn, Witch, Burn!” features a playful nod to Army of Darkness and Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, as Zoe effortlessly dismembers dozens of zombies with the help of a chainsaw. Inside the school however, things play out different;y as Queenie tries to use her human-voodoo-doll powers to fend of the walkers. Unfortunately for Queenie, she clearly hasn’t seen a zombie movie, and her attempts to stop the walkers all fail. Thankfully Madame Delphine is watching her back, and comes to save the day. It appears American Horror Story has their own set of rules when it comes to taking down the living dead. In their crazy world, there is no need to aim for the brain; spearing a zombie through the heart is just as effective. Luckily for us viewers, Fiona recognizes the extent of Queenie’s remarkable gift, and this week’s unexpected twist fully exploits her ability to harm herself so as to inflict harm on others. Fiona persuades Queenie to help frame Myrtle for the henious attack on Cordelia, and in doing so, Myrtle is taken to a countryside, and promptly burnt at the stake for her crime.
Front and center once again this week is the unrivalled Jessica Lange who truly runs the gamut of emotions. Fiona Goode is faced with her own maternal regrets when left alone to deal with the aftermath of her daughter’s misfortune. The hospital sequence offers some one of the most gloomy scenes of the season so far, and for a brief moment, recalls the dark, claustrophobic and schizophrenic setting of season two’s Briarcliff Mental Institution. Especially creepy is the inclusion of an old man who tells Fiona “you didn’t throw the acid but you might as well have”. In another great scene, Fiona stumbles into a delivery room and meets a mother who birthed a stillborn. It’s an incredibly unsettling moment, even when Fiona brings the baby back to life.
Fiona loves to preach to the coven about how she and the other witches need to protect themselves from outside threats, but as she states, the biggest threat clearly comes from within. Sadly, because she is blinded by her own rage, and her ruthless political gamesmanship, Fiona can’t see that she is the cause for most of their troubles. Furthermore, Fiona has the opportunity to make peace with her daughter, but instead, she exploits Cordelia’s attack as an opportunity to settle scores with her former classmate and rival Myrtle Snow. But Fiona’s day of reckoning will soon come. Lest we not forget Cordelia’s newfound psychic power of touch, will almost-certainly lead to the discovery of Maddison’s rotting corpse hidden within Spalding’s bedroom.
Perhaps my biggest reservation this season comes with Madame Delphine LaLaurie’s involvement. While her character clearly plays a major role in the flashback scenes, she remains pretty useless in the present day. She is clearly the writers’ trickiest creation, but ultimately feels like a missed opportunity to showcase Kathy Bates’ true talent. Even more troubling is how Delphine is by far the most ghastly of Coven’s villains, a lady whose past has showcased several of the most gruesome segments this season – yet she is portrayed as flippant and sympathetic in her rebirth. In flashbacks, we see the true wickedness of Daphine on display; in present day she is portrayed as a victim. I see it as a huge problem if the writers are trying to get viewers to sympathize with her character.
Aesthetically speaking, “Burn, Witch. Burn!” is far more pleasing than previous instalments, and features far less unnecessary dutch angles, distorted lenses and swaying camera movements. This is probably the most consistently paced episode of Coven so far, and the zombie attack remains the episode’s highlight, if not for Zoe’s chainsaw wielding, than simply for harkening back to some classic horror films from the mid 80’s.
The struggle for control over the coven is becoming increasingly complex; while the focus on eternal life, death, and unholy rebirth continues. One of the central themes in Coven is second chances. This week, it is Mertyle who is given a second chance. Her pivotal resurrection before the closing credits implies that she will most likely take sides with Misty Day. Fiona is quickly running out of allies, and her chances for survival are looking slim. I see a few more witch burnings in the near future.
It’s still unclear whether Myrtle was behind Cordelia’s acid attack or not.
Misty brings Myrtle back from the dead, but it remains to be seen if her body will heal from the burns.
The episode did not feature the Kyle-Frankenstein storyline, making me realize it is the least interesting subplot this season. By not including Kyle, Zoe has a chance to really shine this week, without being dragged down by a hopeless love interest.
We do indeed get to see a witch burn this week and the scene is pretty epic.