“As I get stronger, you get weaker.”
Everyone likes a new rug. It’s surprising how easily things can be replaced. We love new things. A fresh new face and a diamond-studded commodity. These are the things we place value on. Not family, not justice, not love. Vanity and greed is a killer. In what is surely the most screwed up installment of American Horror Story yet, characters are threatened to be substituted. Permanently. And in most cases, violently. The third season finally kicks into gear in the way we‘ve been waiting. There’s an all or nothing turn that occurs here. Things go dark--like Asylum dark and then some. How many women can relate to the horrible feeling of being replaced as they age? Where do the ones that get replaced go? What is their place in society when the crown is passed down? The feeling of replacement lights a ferocious fire of desperation under our main protagonist, Fiona Goode. Being drained of one’s power and life-source will do that to anyone. The tense struggle between the new and the old helps build the season’s frightening and devilish momentum. When new blood reigns supreme, true American horror reaches new heights.
Fervently pushing hot-button issues is something that a series like American Horror Story does with a significant amount of style and some thought. It's the type of series that makes itself at home in cringe-worthy taboos. Some still may argue that the show is going too far--but really, when hasn’t it? If you’re not used to the crazy by now, you may need to stop watching. Yes, incestuous molestation, Minotaur seduction, and premeditated murder are all pretty dark areas in which we venture through in this unhinged hour. Thematically, it works almost seamlessly. Each character is faced with the idea of being replaced or replacing something in their lives with something else. The great socialite Delphine LaLaurie has fallen from grace, now a maid of the house and Queenie’s own personal slave. Fiona is greedy, vain and selfish more often than not, but we also get to see a moralistic side of her, full of some integrity in this episode. It’s a little odd, this turn, considering Fiona’s rather blunt racial implications in her meeting with Marie Laveau in the previous installment, but it doesn’t seem like a distracting continuity issue. Pretty interesting to find that Fiona did vote for Obama though.
Apparently, Fiona hates nothing more than a racist and LaLaurie is the pinnacle of ignorance. The brief moment in which we see her weeping in disbelief at the fact that a black man is President of the United States is one of great humor and still manages to speak on an issue of race in our society that still exists. If you think there weren’t people weeping in the same manner as Delphine when that reality hit them, then you’d be mistaken. The resulting scenes between Delphine and Queenie are golden and it seems to slowly be building into a very dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. One that will take some time and some harsh words to build. Their dynamic is already campy and terrifying. When maid Delphine and Queenie lock eyes tension boils and its like a bomb about to explode. We don’t know how these two will react to one another. Forcing Delphine to face her racist ugliness in the modern-day shows the very real presence of racism that taints America's history. The race relationships in the series are going to become more and more intriguing and intense as the season continues. Things get especially terrifying and bizarre when Queenie faces off with Marie Laveau’s lover, the Minotaur who is there for Delphine. Queenie tries to take advantage of the situation in the oddest manner--attempting to replace comfort food for the love of a beast (it also touches on some racial aspects that could get messy). Frankly, it turns out being the most absurd turn of the hour, skipping right over provocative and landing in on ridiculous. Still, it gets the job done and one can’t say they weren’t on the edge of their seat during the entire sequence.
The panicky newcomer witch, Zoe has good intentions. But they continue to lead to conflict. Her naivete results in more disturbing drama and trouble than it solves. In all reality, she and Madison have replaced what is essentially Kyle with random boy parts. It’s especially tragic as Kyle seems highly aware of what’s happening to him, but he has yet to get the hang of language or movement again, which will likely take a great deal of rehabilitation before he can even seem “normal” again. We find Misty Day attempting to do her best in that field with more Fleetwood Mac when Zoe shows up to take him home. Misty’s reaction to the very idea of Kyle leaving her begins to highlight some things about the mystical character. She is the one with the biggest question marks at the moment.
When Zoe leaves with Kyle and promises she’ll return, Misty replies “No, he wont”. Who is this “he”? An ex-boyfriend, an ex-husband, or her father? Something is causing Misty’s severe abandonment issues and we get the feeling we might be crying our eyes out when we discover where they came from. Lily Rabe is perfect here as well. Her character shifts are honestly to die for. The “crazy” is there for a reason and maybe so is her obsession with Stevie Nicks. Probably the biggest shock of the episode comes when Zoe takes Kyle back home to his grief-stricken mother and her affection turns to molestation. Mirroring just how disturbing the rape scene from the first episode was, the molestation scenes between mother and son are some of the more horrific and deranged. Depicting just how demented a situation like the one Kyle has likely suffered in time and time again, even before his death on the frat bus.
It’s a startling plot twist that is forever burned into the viewer’s brain. Kyle finally roars his first word: No! All while putting a bloody end to his mother’s sexual abuse. Evan Peters is doing expressive work with the physical and eye acting this season, by the way! Zoe has yet another mess to clean up and it is clear that she’s not equipped to handle this kind of tragedy. So far this season, Zoe hasn't had much to do really. We don't know about her at all. She's kind of a one-dimensional protagonist with some hints at interesting character development potential. Things just seem to be happening around her and she reacts. We're three episodes in and still no significant development for Zoe, which is rather disappointing. This needs to change soon...
Cordelia’s desperation for a baby has her ready to replace her respect for magic for the dangers of something potentially dark and deadly. After more disparaging news from her doctor, Cordelia turns to the enemy. Her trip to Marie Laveau is one of great torture. Angela Bassett knocks it out of the park as she goes about the motions of dramatic possibility. Can we talk about the mason jar of semen, though? The entire voodoo ritual is deviously portrayed, yet only a fantasy that Cordelia will never get to see become a reality as Marie is not about to help the daughter of her sworn enemy. Laveau dingles the reality of Cordelia’s unfortunate circumstance--she’s tied to the wrong tribe and she is the one to suffer because of it. This will either push Cordelia to utilize her mother, Fiona in someway or maybe she will fall deeper into the storm of desperation resulting in even more horrifying disaster.
The meat of the episode is that of Fiona’s dance of death. It’s slow and steady, but deadly affective. And it all comes about as Fiona begins to feel herself fading. The vain ideals Fiona had been so concerned of--her dark but whimsical search for youthful exuberance--becomes a very real struggle to survive. There is a poetic and tragic blood pulsing in this week’s main story, as Fiona jumps to the conclusion that Madison is the rising new Supreme and feels herself drifting slowly into death and irrelevancy. Drama and flash, Jessica Lange commits to all of it and it certainly pays off. After an incident at the new neighbor’s house involving both a horny Madison and a flirtatious Nan clamoring after the hot new boy next door, Fiona smells trouble. The Tony-award winning, Patti LuPone enters as the prude, bible-thumping Joan Ramsay and we’ll certainly be seeing more of her this season if Fiona doesn’t sharpen her claws on Joan first. Eyeing Madison, Fiona quivers with sadness, anger, desperation, and the horrifying anticipation of wondering whether she too will be taken out in the same manner Fiona killed the previous Supreme. Because let’s face it, young Fiona and Madison seem to mirror each other in the same vindictive manner.
Fiona does her dance with Madison, but it ends with a blood-soaked flicker than with the usual quick flash she‘s accustomed to. Fiona is forced to raise hell in a new fashion, the repercussions of which are yet to be foreseen, but at least Fiona can now feel her essence returning to her. For now at least. The last scene is biblical. One’s eyes cannot help but be glued to the screen as Lange pulls out her A-game as always and chews the scenery to bits while bringing down the house in a tragic and horrifying final bow. And like that Madison is a casualty. It’s a fantastic bookend to the opening sequence, starring a younger Fiona forcefully taking the crown from the Supreme of her time. This episode helps raise Coven from being a fun hour of twisted and dark escapism to being something of pivotal entertainment with relevant themes and fleshed-out characters. It is the best installment yet and it’s no mistake that it is mostly Fiona-centric.
As deranged as can be, Coven goes down dark paths and doesn’t care to look back at the light. Ryan Murphy promised fans this season will be lighter; more camp, less bleak devastation. There hasn’t been much evidence to support that promise yet and that’s fine by this reviewer. The campy, provocative glam horror works well when it digs its hands deep in the dirt and isn’t afraid of the dark. The only element of the episode that is distracting is some of the cinematography choices, namely that tired use of the fish-eye lens. It worked well with Asylum, given its claustrophobic settings and bleakness, but all it does for Coven is pull the viewer out of the experience with its overemphasis. It simply needs to be toned down a bit, but otherwise Murphy and Falchuk are wise to keep Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directing most of their episodes, because contrary to my slight annoyances with his over-use of certain shot choices, he can direct his ass off! And as long as Coven can continue the momentum that is built to damn near perfection in this week’s installment, it should be a banner year for American Horror Story. Showcasing that a slow and steady dance of terror does not need to be replaced, “The Replacements” gets 5 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2013