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TV Review: ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ – ‘The Dead’

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***Note: This series is rated TV-MA for good reason, and viewer discretion is advised due to mature content. It is impossible to discuss the latest episode without referencing said content, so while I will keep things as light and profanity-free as possible, some of the subject matter will definitely be offensive to some readers. Please let this serve as your warning.

A1FX’s American Horror Story: Coven has been hitting it out of the park by delivering a more character-driven story than in years past, and providing the material and actresses to back it up. This week’s installment, “The Dead,” which serves as the mid-point of the season, reveals a lot about several of the players, and, through death and sex, some peace is found, as temporary as it might be.

“The Dead” starts with Kyle (Evan Peters) before his death. He’s joking with his frat pals and talking of his dreams in a tattoo parlor. There is little doubt that he has the drive and talent to back up his goals, and his future will be bright, indeed. Except, he’s now dead, reanimated bits of those friends sewn to him, as demonstrated by the glimpses of their tattoos on his patchwork body.

It’s no wonder Kyle is having trouble adjusting to the circumstances. Besides not being able to speak the words in his brain, which has not been dulled, he’s frustrated at his predicament. He didn’t ask to become the monster he’s been made into, and every thing he had hoped for has been flushed down the toilet. As far as he’s concerned, his life is (literally) over, but he has the added torture of being conscious of the wasted potential.

Peters captures all of this internal monologue brilliantly, eyes dancing with un-vocalized emotions. We feel his pain, and find a way to sympathize with him despite the horrible things he’s done, like slaughtering his mother. Clearly, anger and confusion is driving his actions, and he can’t be blamed for everything. By the end of “The Dead,” he is starting to find himself again, and surely he can heal. Maybe.

Madison (Emma Roberts) is going through the exact opposite problem. Instead of having feelings she can’t understand or express, she’s plagued by a lack of feeling, which Roberts plays with such effect as to impress any who watch. She’s going to be an actress to watch. Her numbness starts before she’s killed and brought back, by the way, citing her utter lack of caring about being gang-raped in an earlier episode. Burning herself doesn’t work, in fact, nothing does. Until she finds Kyle’s penis. Inside of her.

Since Madison has only murdered those who deservA3d it (except Kyle, accidentally), it’s easier to get behind her. She’s not a nice person, to be sure, but that can be chalked up to a young girl who found fame at an early age and is putting on a brave face to hide fear. She is more talk than action, and she did not deserve to die, or to feel this helpless and broken.

There’s something kind of sweet about Madison and Kyle finding one another in this situation. They have the death thing in common, something no one else would understand. It seems to give them both pleasure and helps them stay centered. They’re technically consenting adults, or close enough to it. What harm would their relations cause anyone?

Besides Zoe (Taissa Farmiga, this season’s MVP in an intensely crowded field), I mean. She’s used to not being the prettiest girl in the room, so she is disappointed, but not surprised, when she catches Kyle with Madison. I feel bad for Zoe here, I really do, but she has to understand why and how her two sort-of friends ended up together right? Plus, they are nice enough to invite her to join in.

Now, anytime a threesome crops up in movies or television, it’s a recipe for disaster, probably much like in the real world (I assume). There is bound to be jealousy and hurt feelings and doubts about the depth of attachment. That’s unfortunate, because American Horror Story: Coven has worked so hard to make us like all three of these individuals that the viewer will be loathe to side against one or more of them. But I guess that’s life, and since Kyle is dead, Zoe probably can’t snuff him out with her fatal nether regions, which makes their pairing ideal.

The beauty about this crazy sex hookup is that Zoe needs love and support right now, so getting it doubly should boost her confidence. See, Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) has warned Zoe that Fiona (Jessica Lange) might have it out for her since Fiona killed Madison just because the elder witch suspected Madison might be her replacement. With Spalding’s (Denis O’Hare) tongue restored long enough to confirm Fiona’s misdeeds and Zoe’s own power growing, the teenage witch needs to watch her back.

On a side note, does anyone really think Spalding will stay dead? He’s like the fifth major character to die this season in only seven episodes. It kind of takes the bite out of death when everyone keeps coming back, though, admittedly, I haven’t been ready to lose anyone that is killed off, and it would sure be novel of an American Horror Story run to still have all of its main players intact for the finale.

A2Fiona does have other things on her mind, which might give Zoe some breathing room. Throughout “The Dead,” Fiona is hooking up with The Axeman (Danny Huston, Magic City). Like Zoe, Fiona is having a crisis of faith in herself, feeling her abilities waning and her age creeping up on her. The Axeman provides Fiona with a similar injection of, um, bravado, which is even enough to override the creepy confession by The Axeman that he has been watching Fiona since she was eight.

“The Dead” seems to equate sex with a source of comfort and strength. I feel like this is a just and apt statement to make. While sex does require the baring of one’s soul, it also gets the blood coursing, sure to pump up the energy level of those effected. It’s an obvious and blatant metaphor, but it works.

Let’s hope it’s enough to get both Zoe and Fiona back in fighting form. With Hank (Josh Hamilton) packing as much firepower as he is, the house of witches is in deep trouble. This is an especially bad time for him to attack as the coven is missing two of its own.

Yep, there’s yet another subplot unfolding this hour. Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and Madame Delphine (Kathy Bates) seem to be bonding quite swimmingly, sharing some super-sized fast food in the middle of the night, even getting over Delphine’s racism just a bit. But after Delphine confides a dark secret to Queenie, thinking her friend, who is helping her turn a new leaf, will be able to look past this latest darkness, Queenie gives Delphine to her sworn enemy, Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), earning Queenie a place in Marie’s group.

A4This is a very sad twist. The women really did seem like pals and were finding some legitimate common ground. Queenie’s disgust is understandable, of course, but Delphine really is making an effort to change. And Delphine’s comments about Queenie’s skin color are not completely off the mark, an observation that Marie seconds. I want Queenie to fit in back under Fiona’s roof, but maybe she just doesn’t.

Is American Horror Story telling us that some people don’t deserve second chances? Had Delphine continued her life style these past centuries, I would absolutely be in favor of flaying her, as Marie and Queenie do. However, Delphine served a long prison sentence buried in a box and seems to have learned her lesson. She deserves better.

Viewers deserve exactly what we’re getting: a sharp, witty, well-written, phenomenally-acted, highly engrossing tale. American Horror Story: Coven has surpassed the second go-round of the anthology series and is vying with year one for the best run of this fantastic show. If every season is this good, I hope it runs for many years to come.

American Horror Story: Coven returns in two weeks, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com