American Horror Story: Coven Review: "The Replacements" (Episode 3.03)
American Horror Story has often tried to combine the unrealistic “terrors” that each season brings with very real possibilities that ground the show’s universe. For every haunted ghost house, there’s a story of teen suicide or school shootings. A mental hospital might have alien abductions happening left and right, but there’s also the fear of losing loved ones and your sanity. Coven is also trying to make this balance work, but both extremes are becoming so crazy, there’s very little to ground it besides the show’s central theme.
Let me start with two examples of these extremes. First is Kyle, the Frankenstein monster created by Madison and Zoe out of dead frat-house guys. Zoe decides it’s best to just send the thought-to-be-dead Kyle back home. Kyle’s mom has been considering suicide since her son’s death and welcomes him back with open arms, no questions asked. It seems like a great family reunion, buuuuuuuut then she starts kissing him. More sensually than a mother should. And then her hands start…exploring her new son’s body, discovering he’s not the son she used to touch. Having had enough, Kyle snaps, smashing his mom’s head into a bloody pulp, which seems like a suitable punishment.
Was it necessary for Kyle, who is already a monster in the most literal sense of the word, to also become a sexually abused by his own mother? I can’t really see what the long game for this one could be, other than just another weird idea to throw in.
And speaking of weird ideas, how about Queenie this episode? When a new Christian family moves in next door to the coven, Madison and Nan drool over the son Luke doing lawn work outside with no shirt. But Queenie states that she’s just waiting for the right one before she loses his virginity. Who might be the right one? Well, it’s the minotaur, who she runs into and immediately presents herself for his pleasure. That’s right folks, Gabourey Sidibe and a minotaur…Maybe AHS should distribute the crazy a little more evenly than this.
But amongst all the insanity that can be expected from AHS, there’s a very strong theme running throughout this season, and it’s much more defined than in previous seasons. We flash back to 1971 to start off the episode to watch a young Fiona murder the reigning Supreme, which places her in the newly vacant position. Flash forward to the present. Fiona is no longer as attractive as she once was and now that she has cancer, she won’t live past the current year.
“The Replacements” is an encapsulation of Fiona’s character so far, fearful of the youth coming up behind to take her place and of inevitable death. By the end of the episode, we discover that Madison is the next Supreme, somewhat of a surprise since it’s been hinted that it is likely either Zoe or Nan. But to stop the cycle of replacement, Fiona slits the neck of Madison, another big surprise since Emma Roberts is probably the show’s most popular young star.
But that’s sort of the point isn’t it? Consider that Coven has three actresses—Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett—who must constantly deal with the next generation of actresses coming up from behind. If eternal life isn’t the solution to the next wave of youth, then bringing about the next wave should be, as Cordelia continues her desperate desire for her own child. However she is told that there is no possible way that she can have a child. Even a visit to Marie Laveau, who has a pregnancy ritual with a 100 percent success rate, won’t help her because her mother is her lifelong enemy.
So far this season though, American Horror Story has had the balance of craziness and real world problems in check, but here, it doesn’t feel quite as solid. “The Replacements” also has some really unusual camera choices, throwing in canted angles and fisheye lenses for no discernible purpose and with the new neighbors in town, we get to hear more of Ryan Murphy’s stance on organized religion, as if any of his other shows haven’t already made his position abundantly clear.
But what “The Replacements” lacks in balance, it does overcome with surprises. Instead of letting certain storylines play out for several episodes, such as Queenie’s search for the right man/minotaur/manotaur? and the battle between Fiona and Madison, AHS gives us conclusions almost immediately to make way for more nutso storytelling. “The Replacements” almost falls into too much craziness, but pulls it out in the last few minutes. I never thought I’d have to say this about a TV show, but maybe it’s time to pull back on the incest and minotaur sex?