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American Horror Story: Coven Review: “The Seven Wonders” (Episode 3.13)

January 30, 2014  |  5:02pm
<i>American Horror Story: Coven</i> Review: &#8220;The Seven Wonders&#8221; (Episode 3.13)

Last week, I theorized that if you took the season premiere and finale of Coven, you could probably get away with missing the eleven episodes in-between. Coven has thrown so much crap into a season that started off focusing on a school of witches that everything became convoluted and weird for the sake of just being weird, that nothing mattered at all in the end. Put those first and last episodes together, and you’ve got a fun little TV movie. Add a ton of stuff between these two episodes, like Coven did, and you have a mess.

Looking back at this third season, the biggest problem for Coven is the overabundance of cast. Yes, Coven had plenty of great actors, such as Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates, but the show absolutely did not need them. Unfortunately, they feel thrown in, probably because how do you turn down Bassett and Bates for your show? Even worse, in hindsight, spreading so many characters thin this season made nothing feel like it possessed true importance.

But Coven also had no idea how to work all of its insanity into a cohesive plot that actually made sense. The first two seasons of American Horror Story had their fair share of craziness too, but they ended up pulling all these elements into the main story, giving the craziness meaning. Coven just had far too many tacked-on elements that seemed to serve no other purpose but to shock. Remember when this season had zombies for like twenty minutes? How about a raping minotaur or—as we see for the first time in this episode—the ability to spit memories into other people’s mouths. When you’ve got a show that’s still adding ridiculous things in at the last minute, it becomes clear that they’re just rattling off a list of weird ideas for the hell of it.

“The Seven Wonders” has more structure than any episode this season, as the possible future Supremes compete in seven events to see who is Fiona’s replacement, but, really, at this point it’s hard to care about who will become the leader. Misty, Zoe, Queenie and Madison all compete in the events, all of them doing well at first, until during a trial that involves a descent into the underworld, Misty gets trapped in her own hell of reliving a dissection of a frog in school. Misty turns into ash, and boom, Misty is out of the running. Then the remaining competitors compete in transmutation before breaking into a game of transmutation tag, which ends in Zoe transmitting herself onto a spike. Cordelia has the power to bring back Zoe when Madison refuses and Myrtle suggests that hey, maybe Cordelia should compete, too. This has always seemed like the obvious route, especially since she is actually the descendent of the last Supreme, and of course it turns out Cordelia is now the Supreme.

It’s all so incredibly anticlimactic. Madison gets choked to death by Kyle, with Spalding showing up once again to help bury her. Myrtle insists she gets burned at the stake … again … to help the new Supreme avoid any controversy, and Cordelia opens up the school’s doors to any goth girls who think they might have what it takes to be witches.

We also find out that Fiona isn’t actually dead, but has pretended to be dead in order to kill the new Supreme once the Seven Wonders test is done. Fiona is now on the last legs of her battle with cancer and desperately wants Cordelia to put her out of her misery. Their last conversation has some interesting moments in it, as Fiona admits that as her daughter, Cordelia was a constant reminder of her own mortality and inevitable death, which is why she was always so cold to her. But this is the first time that Fiona has ever shown that she is even close to feeling remorse for treating her daughter like crap for years, and it just feels like too nice a conclusion for these two.

In the last two seasons, the conclusion to each season has been a well-managed event, concluding a season-long arc in a successful way (and in the case of Asylum, actually making it a powerfully emotional conclusion). But since there hasn’t really been any sort of story told over the course of the season, the finale doesn’t have the power as it has in the past. This show has been about young vs. old, race issues, the Axemen, motherhood, vampires vs. vampire hunters … or whatever the hell they felt like this show should be about on any given week. Nothing tied together in a way that made Coven feel like anything more than jumbled mess.

Too often, Coven failed to gird its ideas with any logic, or to convey any sense of there being real stakes to it all. When almost any possible situation or danger can be waved off with magic—even death—nothing has any weight to it, and every decision this entire season felt like it could be turned around the next moment.

Coven has been fun at times, and it’s been enjoyable to watch Kathy Bates hamming it up with racism at a disembodied head, but trying to base a season of television around a bunch of thrown-together, if hilarious, water-cooler moments doesn’t actually work. Considering how well previous seasons have pulled everything together, Coven has been a huge disappointment, minotaurs and all.

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