Let’s play catch-up with Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, shall we? In just a scant four episodes (maybe not so scant if Coven measures to the same length as its forebears in American Horror Story canon), Ryan Murphy has treated us to nearly as much weird sex, regional creepiness, and explicit gore as what Asylum offered viewers; this isn’t a season that’s had to struggle much to find any footing, even if the most recent episode felt a tad unfulfilling (Zoe’s delightful chainsaw rampage notwithstanding). That’s just what happens when you give your season a sense of balance instead of yanking it every which-way possible.
So where are we, five weeks after the events of Bitchcraft? Smack dab in the middle of a story of mothers and daughters, and at the onset of what’s shaping up to be a knockdown, drag-out clash between Salem witches and New Orleans voodoo queens. We’re also one Emma Roberts short of a full cast, though as Burn, Witch, Burn!, it’s nigh impossible to keep a good witch – or a bad witch, as the case may be – down. If Frances Conroy can go up in flames and be brought back to life in the same hour-long span, then don’t assume that Roberts signed on just to play a corpse for the lion’s share of the season; she’ll be back before you know it. Sans an arm, yes, but alive and kicking nonetheless.
Unsurprisingly, Coven‘s most arresting stuff tends to involve Jessica Lange; that means Sarah Paulson is having a great season by extension, since Lange’s most powerful moments revolve around their interactions. We’re seeing Cordelia’s contempt for Fiona soften and their bond strengthen more as each installment passes by – maybe when this whole mess resolves itself, they’ll both be thankful for random acid attacks and horrible, unfaithful husbands (I’m not sure there’s much merit to the idea that Hank has somehow been influenced by the kinky, magic-assisted lovemaking session he had with Cordelia in Boy Parts). Probably not, but there’s no denying that the pair will be closer together than ever before.
Or that Cordelia’s showing off some new powers. Has she always been psychometric? Burn, Witch, Burn! marks the first time we’ve seen Cordelia experience visions through touch (that I can remember, at least), but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t done it outside the confines of Coven‘s first quintet of episodes. I imagine that next week’s The Axeman Cometh (which promises to introduce even more local area mythology, if we’re to take the name in the title as significant) will shine some light on the matter; depending on what we learn about Cordelia’s gift, we may want to follow show patterns and start looking at her more charitably as a potential candidate for Supreme. (It’s not like the show isn’t making a guessing game out of identifying the next Supreme, after all, even if it’s pretty obvious that it’s going to be Zoe.)
Not that Fiona will give that mantle up willingly to anybody. Is Lange ever going to be cast as a person of pure heart and intention? That’s a silly question, of course, since seeing her play someone who isn’t layered and complex would be incredibly boring; Constance and Sister Jude have their better and worse qualities, but they’re both human, and the same can be said about Fiona, too. There should be no doubt that her fateful confrontation with Madison contained a wealth of honest emotion, even if it did end with the latter wrapped up in a rug like a grisly burrito; Fiona may be selfish, scheming, and underhanded, but she’s not a total monster, either. Just as with Asylum, exploration of her many facets makes up a huge chunk of Coven‘s airtime – and that’s not likely to change going forward from here.
Fiona makes for a powerful contrast against Delphine, who we learn was quite as awful to her own flesh and blood as to the slaves we get to see her abuse yet again in Burn, Witch, Burn!; it says something about either Kathy Bates or about the way the character is written that she feels totally worthy of our sympathies, particularly as she sobs into Gabourey Sidibe’s chest with unabashed abandon. What a shock: a Ryan Murphy show confronts deep-rooted prejudice by turning its bigoted characters around on their own ideology. Part of me expects Delphine to betray Queenie – and hell, why not the rest of the Coven she’s serving, too – at some random opportunity for friction’s sake, but I’d like to see Coven develop the camaraderie between these two very different women even further. What an interesting dynamic.
Lest we forget about Angela Bassett, she…well, she hasn’t gotten a ton to do in the last couple of episodes, if you consider controlling a zombie army to be nothin’ special. Her showdowns with Paulson, Lange, and Bates have all been gripping; Marie is a force, and ideally the show will round her out more as Coven continues plowing along. At the moment, she’s mostly defined by her dislike of the Salem witches and her righteous sense of voodoo vengeance. That’s enough of a sketch to give her an intimidating, fearsome agency, but she’s missing the same characterization given to Fiona – something she needs if she’s going to be more than the hair-styling, minotaur-loving antagonist to American Horror Story‘s most valuable veteran. Once Marie becomes more fleshed out and Coven finds a center, this already deliriously fun season could end up turning into the best the show has ever had.