American Horror Story, Ep.3.08: “The Sacred Taking” – disappointing, although the actresses work their own magic

American Horror Story, Season 3, Episode 8: “The Sacred Taking”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Ryan Murphy
Airs Wednesdays at 10:00 PM on FX

American Horror Story: Coven returns from its brief Thanksgiving hiatus with “The Sacred Taking,” a disappointing instalment lacking in the urgency and pace of previous episodes. The coven aligns itself with Misty to perform a ritual that will hopefully convince Fiona to end her reign has Supreme, while Queenie continues to align herself with Marie Laveau. Meanwhile Hank begins his assault on the Academy, and Miss Ramsey deals with her anger over her son Luke’s misadventures – via a conservative Christian purification. 

Whether it’s with inconsistencies in storytelling and/or character development, Coven dips in quality each and every week. Amidst the frenzy of story-lines in season three, the only two clear objectives are naming a new Supreme, and ending the war between the coven and Marie Laveau’s voodoo tribe. Coven had a strong beginning but unfortunately the center of the season is running around in circles. Even more frustrating is that things don’t make a lick of sense. Even within this crazy universe, the rules of the show should be made clear. For example; what, precisely, is stopping the coven from killing Fiona, if they feel it is necessary that she dies? Every death has been undone by the dead coming back to life or at least reappearing in the afterlife, to the point where these events have little to no meaning. How does a series raise its stakes with so many reversals?

The last few episodes of Coven indicate Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck’s growing desire to cram as much batshit craziness as they can, with no greater purpose beyond, shock value. Unlike Asylum, Coven is populated with characters who seem utterly useless and empty. Why was Kathy Bates cast in Coven? Apart from her obvious star power, her character does little to advance the narrative forward. Ever since Madame Laveau was dug out of her grave, she’s done nothing but cook, eat, and hiss at TV sets. Now that she’s decapitated, we can only assume her character will serve even less purpose.  

Coven is supposed to be a series about female empowerment with tough characters and an all-star cast on both sides of the witchcraft/voodoo divide, but halfway through the season, Coven seems confused about what its actually trying to say. What exactly makes these stories empowering? Unlike Asylum, which was about women taking charge over their oppressors, Coven is instead, mostly about a group of outcasts doing battle with each other. There’s no greater meaning to the gender politics, and the commentary on race is troublesome. Asylum followed several women who suffered at the hands of men, and institutions run by men. In Asylum, we cared for the characters; in Coven it becomes hard to like these women. As it stands, Coven is without a doubt, extremely entertaining, but somewhat empty.

This midseason stretch is crippled with two story-lines that so far, do little to advance the plot forward, and unfortunately, also take up a good portion of the running time this week. The first comes with the character of Kyle who’s been reduced to a brain dead, mangled corpse used only as a sex toy. Than there’s Luke, the naive, puppy-eyed next door neighbour, who receives an Ajax enema from this crazy mother. At least with Luke we get more of Nan, who so far is the only character we can truly root for. Two weeks ago, I mentioned how every character this season has proven capable of committing the most terrible of crimes, but I completely forgot about Nan – the one character left standing who hasn’t killed, or tried killing somebody else. She’s the easiest character to sympathize with, and much like her sorority sisters, I feel I’ve taken her for granted. Nan may very well prove to be the secret weapon in the second half of the season. The writing of her character is subtle but consistent, and Jamie Brewer’s performance is right up there with Jessica Lange. Regardless if she is, or isn’t the next Supreme, Nan is the only character I care to see, make it out alive.

– Ricky D

Other thoughts:

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s stylistic flourishes are a tad overkill. Often his obnoxious camera work only distracts viewers from the bewitching performances. That said, there’s a great black and white flashback to Salem, where we get to see the ritual as it was used for the first time.

Queenie: This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.

Isn’t it convenient that Zoe and Madison track down Queenie at the very same moment she murders a homeless rapist?

Fiona: “I’m starting to look less Samantha and more Endora every day.”

Running gag: What the hell happened to the staff in the house?

LaLaurie: “Throw me back in the box. I’ve seen enough of this world.

The Spalding scene feels like a desperate cheat.

Misty: “Could my friend stay? I left her out back in the greenhouse.”

Nan: “How did your hair grow back so quick?” Myrtle: “Oh, little bird, I’ve been buying in bulk from North Korea for years.”

Madison: “Why can’t he watch porn and jerk off like any other guy?”

Myrtle: “Can you imagine those poor Salem witches traveling all the way down here in covered wagons without a proper charcuterie platter or a bidet? Absolutely savage!”

Myrtle: “I’m told it starts as a tingle in the cooch.”

The plot to convince Fionna to commit suicide, calls to mind the climax from The Craft.

 

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