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American Horror Story, Ep.3.07: “The Dead” stumbles over vexing questions of race and gender politics

American Horror Story, Season 3, Episode 7: “The Dead”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by Brad Falchuk
Airs Wednesdays at 10:00 PM on FX

It only took seven episodes, but American Horror Story: Coven finally injects a bit of three-way necrophilia. New alliances are formed and bonds are broken, as opposing forces and clashing personalities collide. “The Dead” movies the plot forward with some interesting twists, but in the end, it leaves us with a few troubling questions.

The main theme of “The Dead” focuses on our outcasts either in need of feeling wanted (emotionally or physically), or longing for a sense of belonging. Cordelia continues to wrestle with her new found vision, and her knowledge of her husband and mother’s murderous habits; Queenie struggles with belonging on account of her race and weight; Delphine tries to overcome her racist views while adapting to a new time; Kyle and Madison struggle with their rebirth; and Fiona desires to feel wanted, in any way, shape or form. The ladies in Coven are no different than the gals in Girls, and like Girls, American Horror Story is praised for its portrayal of women and female empowerment, but criticized as classist, racist, and misguided. “The Dead,” brings on a whole lot of issues that need to be addressed.

Delphine: “This batch is extra special. Can you guess why? It came from a boy, barely born. Youth begets youth.”

A good chunk of the episode is devoted to the budding relationship between Delphine LaLaurie and Queenie; and while their perverse friendship doesn’t last very long, it reinforces a few concerns about what the writers decide to do with these characters here on out. Queenie’s relationship with Delphine LaLaurie bears some troubling, concerns. As mentioned in previous reviews, Madame LaLaurie, was a real-life Louisiana-born socialite and serial killer who had a sadistic appetite for torturing and murdering African American slaves. Male slaves were stripped naked, chained to the walls, their eyes gouged out, their fingernails pulled off; their flesh sliced away, their ears hanging by shreds, their lips sewn together; and their intestines pulled out and knotted around their waists. Basically everything seen in the flashbacks of Coven are reportedly true, and to help us be more accepting of Queenie’s betrayal, “The Dead” offers one more flashback to LaLaurie’s past – this time showing her taking the life of a slave’s newborn. Prior to the flashback, Queenie and LaLaurie find time to bond when pulling over for some fast food. Delphine candidly tells the living voodoo doll that that she’ll never be accepted as an equal in an all-white academy, leaving Queenie to begin questioning her place in the coven. After a quick visit to Marie Laveau, Queenie decides to double cross her new best friend. What begins as a parody of an unlikely camaraderie rooted in honesty and humour between two individuals who, on the surface, would seem to have nothing in common, culminates in role reversals. The past shows us how the white men, and women inflict pain and suffering on helpless individuals; but in present day, it is instead, Marie Laveau and her African American voodoo sect who act in such malicious ways. Delphine may be introduced as a monster, but she ultimately becomes a fish out of water who is lost and confused, and who is desperately trying to move on with her life. Furthermore; she is now a slave to Queenie, an overly aggressive, vulgar, and hot tempered, double crossing witch, who turns a blind eye. Grant it, LaLaurie is to blame for unintentionally putting the idea in Queenie’s head, but that doesn’t erase what Queenie has done. “The Dead” provides Bates with her most exciting work so far this season – her scenes range from wildly hilarious to downright terrifying – and in the end, Bates allows LaLaurie to gain sympathy from viewers – a troubling thought since, in my book, her crimes are nonredeemable.

Queenie: “I dragged my ass all the way here from Detroit to be with my quote ‘sister-witches’. Instead, I’m sitting in the fast food parkin’ lot at three in the mornin’ with an immortal racist. How’d that happen?”

AHS The DEad

“We’re going to kill my mother. Kill her once. Kill her good. Kill her dead.” – Cordelia

With her second sight, Cordelia becomes aware that Fiona was behind Madison’s murder and conspires with Zoe to kill her mother. Despite Delia’s visions, Zoe decides she needs to gather more proof. Luckily for her, and unluckily for Spalding, she finds Spalding’s tongue and magically reinserts it back into his mouth to confirm what she already knows. Zoe needing to acquire further evidence of Fiona’s guilt seems a bit excessive, and worse, it leads to a rather disappointing sendoff for Spalding, while turning our protagonist into a cold blooded killer. Speaking of disappointments: Madison’s monologue about what it’s like to come back from the dead, is not only poorly written, but contradicts her emotional breakdown later in the episode. Often narration is a result of lazy writing; here it seems injected due to time restraints. The world of Coven is so condense that the writers are struggling to find time to fully develop so many of its characters. As appose to allowing viewers to see Madison’s transformation through performance and staging; we are instead given a poem about a generation known for their entitlement and narcissism.

“I am a millennial. Generation Y. Born between the birth of AIDS and 9/11, give or take. They call us the global generation. We are known for our entitlement and narcissism. Some say it’s because we’re the first generation where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up. Others think it’s because social media allows us to post every time we fart or have a sandwich for all the world to see. But it seems that our one defining trait is a numbness to the world. Ad indifference to suffering. I know I did anything I could to not feel. Sex, drugs, booze. Just take away the pain…”

ahs

 

Last week’s introduction of Danny Huston’s historically accurate Axeman was a season highlight, but left many wondering why he would be targeting his seductive sights on Fiona Goode. “The Dead” offers the jazz-loving serial killer an interesting backstory as a longtime admirer of Fiona. After spending the night together, the Axman reveals to Fiona that since his spirit was trapped in the Academy, he observed and helped Fiona throughout the years, watching her grow from a sweet little girl, to a fierce Supreme. Huston is a fine casting choice, and a perfect match for Lange’s talent and emotional range. We can only hope these two will share more screen time together in the upcoming episodes.

“The Dead” stumbles over vexing questions of race and gender politics, but there are countless magical moments worth recounting – many with humour and some involving strange sex. However, by the end, our outcasts who were once victims to their abilities, now do everything in their power to inflict harm on others. Cordelia plots to destroy her own mother, Zoe proves she is capable of taking a life; Queenie has no reservations in turning her back on her friends and Madison toys with the emotions of her colleagues. Part of the fun of watching American Horror Story is to observe how it uses the tropes of the horror genre to explore social issues like disability, race, and gender. Unlike the series’ first two iterations, Murder House and Asylum, Coven does a better job in incorporating feminism, but still walks a fine line in deciding if any of these characters earn our sympathy. For the most part, Coven depicts women as perpetrators of violence, as opposed to the victims, as seen in previous installments. Part of this is simply because Coven removes men almost entirely out of the equation. But then viewers need to ask: who is it that we root for? Coven has done a marvelous job in exploring female sexuality, mother-daughter relationships, aging, fertility and belonging; but lacks an emotionally coherent through line for all involved.

– Ricky D

Other thoughts:

I wasn’t a fan of the cold open that reveals more of Kyle’s backstory, although I did enjoy the moment when Kyle recognizes the various tattoos on his body as being from his former friends.

While Misty Day does not appear tonight, we still get a great addition to the soundtrack: Toto’s “Rosanna”

Zoe’s fatal mating habits is solved, now that she knows she can have sex with the undead.

Marie Laveau has a secret weapon still out there, but unofrtunately it is Cordelia’s dull husband, Hank.

LaLaurie to Queenie: “I’m startin’ to understand why you’re so enormous.”

Axeman: “I wasn’t expecting company.”

Fiona: “I wasn’t expecting Buckingham Palace.”


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