“I have faith in the future.”
What fearful pranks don’t occur in this special Halloween episode of American Horror Story? Everything is thrown at us in a cluttered, yet undoubtedly frightening and thoroughly entertaining hour. Appropriate for the Halloween air! If Hallow’s Eve provides everyone the chance to be who they really want to be, then this is the point in which Coven sheds its skin and dances around in nude hedonistic delight! And so does its plot and characters. History repeats itself in some of the darkest ways at times, but when we’re lucky the sting of the past can be a healing set of consequences. The insane, theatrical momentum is still going and it is hard to believe that we’re only four episodes in right now. “Fearful Pranks Ensue” is quite brutal. It holds the least amount of camp and “light” horror of the episodes this season, so far anyway. It may also be the best installment thus far. It never lets up or down and moves along at a sprinting pace. Suspenseful and full of throat-gripping tension and a few genuine frights, Coven really is shaping up to be the best and most important yet…
The continued racial tension of the past between the descendants of Salem witches and the voodoo practitioners does well to present some powerful commentary for the current day storytelling. This series has always utilized flashbacks, quite well to fill in needed exposition that strengthens the impact of its present day plots. The cold opening sequence of this particular episode sets the entire theme and tone of the episode: The past is doomed to repeat itself. The brutal reality of that assertion is what causes so many characters in this installment to reach point of despair and show their true monstrous side. Voodoo queen, Marie Laveau exacts revenge after one of her friends’ son is lynched for attending a white school. It’s a great sequence right down to the diverse group of zombies eating the crap out of the murderous racists. A fight that has existed for decades and a truce that covered up old wounds but never healed them is ripped open with haste as the hour transpires.
Everything that Marie Laveau does is compelling--she is arguably the most compelling character with a lot on her shoulders. She is going for glory and gore. Her fight is more righteous and rageful compared to the other witches of the series. And yet, one is likely to find themselves conflicted concerning which side they are rooting for. A sign of good characters and attentive plotting comes about when the viewer finds themselves juggling their alliances from episode to episode. Take Delphine LaLaurie for example. She’s started off this terrible, racist old socialite who took pleasure in torturing her slaves. And here she is now, taken down a few pegs and slowly trudging down a tortured path of hopeful reconciliation for all of her sins. Delphine is not a good person, but the series is making some interesting strides to show various sides of her. Fiona is another good example. She’s the baddest witch and we all love that, we really do! But she still does and says some pretty reprehensible things. There’s a lot of grey area to consider given the various circumstances of each character and their tribes. Salem witches and voodoo practitioners. Both have their own personal fights to deal with while also tending to the consequences that affect them all.
A certain bit of history that continues to repeat itself this season especially is that of Zoe and her ridiculous decisions of how to handle what she and Madison started when they resurrected poor old Kyle. The guy can’t catch a break. And Zoe’s best assumption is to feed him rat poison, trying to kill him again? The lack of responsibility is startling and so is Zoe’s frustrating incompetence. Surely, this is all part of some big story that will come to a head as the season transpires but for now Zoe simply continues to fall apart in the decision-making department. The fact that Kyle runs away in the midst of the Halloween day is notable as well. That makes two of Zoe’s friends dead before we reach the middle of the season. What horrid decisions will Zoe make in future episodes? Her personal endeavors are just bringing about all kinds of trouble, but probably not compared to Fiona’s. She has, in many ways, adequately screwed the whole coven at this point. When the Witch Council pays Miss Robichaux’s Academy an informative and eventful visit, we get some fantastic guest stars and some electric performances in which characters get to chew up the scenery in the usual theatrical, gripping and campy fashion.
Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) returns with a vengeance that stems from some imperative events of the past. Fiona has a bit of harsh history with nearly every other female character in the series and her past is still hunting her down. Myrtle accompanied with Quentin and Pembroke add more dimension to the world of Salem witches while also doing battle with Fiona and learning of Cordelia’s disconcerting trip to Laveau. It truly is a treat to watch Jessica Lange take on all of these lovely ladies, sinking their fangs into one another every week. A mix of jealousy and discernment has Myrtle’s decades-long feud coming to an echoing climax in a tense interrogation that does well to involve the loyal and mute butler of the academy, Spalding (Denis O’Hare). This minor character’s own history is ambiguously touched on while still leaving some mystery to him. He’s a keeper of secrets with an affinity for Fiona and lucky for him he finds a younger replacement in Madison’s dead body. In his own weird, disturbed way all Spalding really wants is love, as the image of him hugging a scarecrow indicates. That and his room full of dolls to keep him company. Spalding is the key to what could be the entire coven’s doom or at least Fiona’s but he stays loyal and quiet--mute. Myrtle’s crafty truth spell is intercepted when Spalding’s unmoved loyalty makes him remove his own tongue to remain faithful to his unrequited love. It’s much like his character from the first season of American Horror Story, just a little more disturbing.
Myrtle’s tussle with the past ends with Spalding’s decades-long love helping Fiona prevail yet again. And she is steamed! One would be wise to assume she won’t be letting this one go anytime soon. History will repeat itself. After murdering Anna-Lee and now Madison, Fiona is holding onto the power she has acquired for dear life. Meanwhile, Fiona helps take care of other disastrous issues at the academy involving the especially weird situation Queenie had gotten herself in for the good of Delphine LaLaurie. Something she did not have to do at all. In fact, most would say she would have been very justified not to but did out of the goodness of her heart anyway. It officially makes Queenie another favorite and further confirms the idea that Delphine and Queenie will form a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship as the season transpires. Delphine is essentially indebted to her now.
While Queenie is one to keep an eye on, so is Nan who is more than what she seems to be. Her character is also a catalyst for many of the happenings in the episode, especially concerning the rising suspension of Madison’s death. Fiona’s defensive disposition concerning her fading youth and power cause her to miscalculate a situation; Madison was not the new Supreme because she lacked perfect health and suffered from a heart murmur. Then who is? I’d like it to be Misty Day or Nan (the most reasonable person in the house). Though it is likely to be Zoe. The more imperative question is, who will Fiona throw under the bus for this mistake? And how did she kill Laveau’s minotaur-lover? Did she? So many questions unanswered, such as with history…
The ending comes with a few brutal stabs to the gut. After the most peaceful conversation Fiona and Cordelia have had yet in a bar (drinking together like true mother and daughter) Cordelia receives a face full of acid from a hooded assailant to top off the night. A piece of action that adds insult to horrific injury as we witness her husband, Hank have a very aggressive, twisted affair with a beautiful red-headed woman (Alexandra Breckenridge) who falls hook, line and sinker into this monster’s trap. A “monster” that oozes charming craziness and seduces women online only to kill them off when the fun is over and he returns home to his wife. Of all people who don't deserve acid thrown in their face, it is Cordelia. In an episode full of major and brutal twists, we end with Delphine LaLaurie coming face to face with her undead daughters. Potentially one of the most brutal of the "pranks", Delphine's reaction is a little gut-wrenching. Enter Laveau’s diverse crowd of zombies swarming around Miss Robichaux’s Academy, ready to inflict more horror and violence upon Marie’s request. The curse of historical repetition.
While history is destined to repeat itself, it is ultimately up to the characters to make the appropriate decision in order to combat the curse of historical repetition. All of the stage setting this episode gears both the audience and the characters up for really kicks the season into high-gear. With the head of her minotaur-lover delivered in a cardboard box, Marie Laveau’s rage helps the violent, horrific and relentless cycle continue. American Horror Story’s eventful Halloween episode in one for the books, for sure. With everyone showing their true, terrifying and raw selves, someone is bound to end up crushed by history taking a stab at them. The truce is over and war has officially begun. Will Coven right the hellish wrongs of the past and look to the future with faith? We shall see once the deadly pranks cease. “Fearful Pranks Ensue” receives 5 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2013