Don't be silly and read this if you haven't watched the finale yet. But if you do, don't be mad about the spoilers.
In spite of its shallowness, American Horror Story is and always will be an unavoidably entertaining, beautiful tornado of a show. Cordelia got a blowout and became the new supreme of the Salem witches; Fiona went to her knotty-pined hell in District 12; and Myrtle got the fiery, diva-stating death she deserved. So much beautiful hair, so much Stevie Nicks, so much masticated scenery, and so many umbrellas .... and, unfortunately, so little logic. Wednesday night's season finale highlighted the show's best qualities, its worst flaws, and made us question if something this fun really needs a brain behind it.
The question that's haunted Ryan Murphy's past two seasons of his dark, melodramatic anthology, and Coven especially, is how much we are supposed to care or how much of this is all supposed to matter. The first season taught us about love (we think), and the second season played with horror of being a powerless woman. But if you measure the weight of this particular season by the amount of care and logic that the show's creator has poured into it, then you're left with not very much.
Murphy created the science and rules of Coven's world. And the show stuck with those rules for about three episodes. Characters died, went blind, shot themselves in the face, went to hell, and were burned at the stake, only to come back in two more episodes with a careless explanation: new witch powers. By the time Queenie resurrected, there was barely a flinch when she said she manifested one of the "Seven Wonders", supposedly the greatest feats a witch can perform.
If you're going to set these rules in this world, as Ryan Murphy did in Coven this season, the very least you could do for the audience is abide by them. And Murphy did not. Last night's episode was no exception. My questions:
- Couldn't Misty just have faked descensum/going to hell? It seems like everyone just kinda takes your version of hell at your word.
- Why would you go through with the descensum trial if you knew it was going to kill your already dwindling number of witches?
- Why were the girls laughing/playing transmutation tag right after Misty's hard-hitting death?
- Why was Queenie not able to resurrect Zoe, despite resurrecting Misty and herself in previous episodes? Performance anxiety?
- Do your six extraordinary powers stop working when you're in grave danger and being killed by your zombie ex-boyfriend, Madison?
- Wasn't Madison unable to be harmed since she came back from the dead? She was burning holes in her hand and felt no pain when she first returned.
- If witches can't use powers when their lives are in danger, then what's the point of these powers?
- How long was Zoe rotting in that greenhouse? Did she suffer any after-effects? That porcelain skin can't have rebounded so quickly.
- No one seems to care about what happened to the immortal slave owner/maid or her immortal nemesis/sworn enemy of the coven.
- How did these witches start manifesting multiple powers?
- What exactly are the benefits of being a Supreme (besides endless drybar appointments and a master colorist)?
When that logic starts breaking down, it makes you question how much weight to put into the show's bigger themes and (confused) messages about things like race, being a minority, being a heterosexual man, and this season's alleged theme of mothers and daughters. Those arcs and themes—buy me a drink and I'd love to discuss Murphy's idea of heterosexual men being violent guard dogs—begin to feel as haphazard and slapdash as the characters.
It's a testament to the actresses—Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange, Jamie Brewer, Emma Roberts and Gabourey Sidibe (my personal ranking from best to really really good)—that we did care so much about and had so much fun with Myrtle, Cordelia, Marie, Delphine and rest of this coven despite their inconsequential lives.
There's a moment in the finale — one of the highlights of the episode — when a balding Fiona comes back to haunt Cordelia and for her final "ta-da" flourish. There's a moment there where you think Fiona had one last sucker throat-slicing left in her broken body. And for a fleeting second, you were sure that Cordelia had one last "wow, I'm an idiot moment" in her when she came in to hug her serial-killer mother. Paulson, Lange, and their chemistry delivered in a rare spot where this season's material and its bevy of talented actresses aligned.
But it wasn't Lange or Paulson who gave the most telling or symbolic moment of the episode. That belonged to this season's true star, Frances Conroy, and her Diana Vreeland-Grace Coddington mashup, the indomitable Myrtle Snow.
"I want my death to have some meaning," Myrtle tells Cordelia while asking to be burned at the stake. We kinda hoped for the same for Coven, too.