One would expect for a group of witches to break all of the rules. That being said, one would not expect a group of writers to break all of the rules of a world that they themselves created. But in American Horror Story: Coven, the third season of the anthological show, the writers did exactly that.
Initially, I was pumped— to say the least— for Coven to begin. At first, the season seemed to be about a coven of badass witches— the rare survivors of the Salem Witch Trials— and their rivalry with a group of voodoo practitioners, all set in the New Orleans of both present and past day. Timelines jumbled and spanned from the Salem Witch Trials, antebellum period, Civil Rights-era, and present times. The subsequent flashbacks posed to build characters, deepen storylines, and give the plot historical context.
The coven is basically a school for witches— an increasingly endangered species—to unite and learn to strengthen their powers. The show enticed viewers with deeper themes beyond witchcraft, including race, gender, family relations, and oppression.
The show stars Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) who is the Supreme, or witch who leads the coven. For Goode, however, the role of Supreme means that she has the ability to manipulate her girls and use her incredible powers in a self-serving manner. Although Goode is vain beyond measure and offers no apologies for her intense selfishness, she suffers from cancer, which ultimately makes her a little bit vulnerable.
Fiona’s daughter Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) teaches at the coven and keeps the young witches in line— and that is just about all she did throughout the majority of the season. Cordelia’s sassy and seductive mother overshadows Cordelia in every way and never fails to steal a scene. Young members of the coven include Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), Zoe (Taissa Farminga), and some other witches who are later killed and completely irrelevant by the season’s end. Aside from the main cast members, there is also a bunch of semi-random, kooky, and completely compelling recurring characters played by highly acclaimed and renowned actors. You get the gist.
At the beginning of the season, the coven is in an age-old feud with those who utilize VooDoo magic, a group led by VooDoo Queen Marie Laveau (Andrea Basset). There is a swamp-witch named Misty Day (Lily Rabe) whose obsession with Stevie Nicks defines her character. Day’s obsession with Nicks is most prevalent in her image, as the witch looks like she just walked off stage from singing “Rhiannon” with Lindsey Buckingham in 1975. The most tear-rendering thing to happen to Day was the destruction of her Fleetwood Mac vinyls, which really says something considering this character dies later on. Providing both comic relief and absolute disgust in the viewer, there is also a racist serial killer and former slave owner (Kathy Bates), who was cursed with eternal suffering by LaVeau back in the antebellum day. Madame LaLaurie is her name, and she was once the lady of the mansion that now houses the Coven. LaLaurie now spends her days as Queenie’s personal slave, which is really amusing and the ultimate payback for racist LaLaurie considering Queenie is black.
The season starts off as something fun and far less sinister than past seasons of American Horror Story— think Sailor Moon meets Sabrina the Teenage Witch but written by Ryan Murphy with thematic undertones of race and oppression. I could dig it. But by the season’s end, the show did not know what it wanted to be and viewers were left completely disoriented. The show’s plot became jumbled and moved away entirely from what it initially set out to be. For instance, the seemingly insolvable feud between the VooDoo-ers and the witches was solved in an instance, and certain storylines and characters disappeared from the show’s universe without afterthought. By the season’s end, the show’s plot moved away entirely from the rivalry between Laveau and Lange’s coteries, as if the ancient rivalry had never existed, to being about solving the mystery of who would become the next Supreme upon Fiona’s death.
Beyond an inconsistent plot, certain rules the writers set up initially for their created universe were broken by the season’s end, which really confused viewers and made it impossible for anyone to be completely invested in the show. Initially, the writers present each witch in the coven as possessing a sole power but by the finale all of the witches left in the coven exhibit many powers, proven in the Seven Wonders trial. Also, the show fails to address race relations, although at the onset it promise to do so. Furthermore, seemingly all-powerful Fiona is unable to heal her daughter’s eyesight after being blinded, yet Fiona is able to awaken the dead and do many other incredible things. The Supreme is supposed to exhibit immaculate health and it is revealed to us that Madison Montgomery suffers from less-than-perfect vitality. And yet, at the season’s end, the writers make it very possible for Madison to become Supreme. Also, certain witches possess the ability to bring people back to life (unless a witch is burned to death at the stake, of course.) Yet, certain witches are unable to be brought back. Also, a witch who was burned at the stake is brought back to life.
Inconsistencies are also present in character development. Initially, Madame LaLaurie (Bates) is for sure evil. We get glimpses of past-LaLaurie torturing slaves and treating her daughters with cruelty. Later, LaLaurie is confronted with her racism and is forced to watch hours and hours of footage from the Civil Rights movement with “Oh, Freedom!” playing in the background. LaLaurie cries, seemingly in repentance for her racist behavior and sentiments. Later on, however, the scene’s ramifications are utterly forgotten by LaLaurie and the writers as well, as she goes back to her vile, racist ways. Also, Fiona Goode is impossible to characterize throughout the scene. Is she to be loved or loathed? General opinion of Fiona takes a turn episode by episode, and even by the finale Fiona’s character is a confusing one. But what is most irking to me was that Cordelia is presented as entirely unimportant throughout the season until the finale, that is, when (spoiler alert!) she is chosen/ proves herself to be the new Supreme.
American Horror Story: Coven is perfect for those seeking mindless entertainment or those who are obsessed with Fleetwood Mac—Stevie Nicks makes multiple appearances in the show and even sings a few hits. My dad, however, is obsessed with Fleetwood Mac but would never be able to sit down and watch Coven. Entertainment is definitely chosen over quality or consistency, but I am ultimately okay with that; the season was quite entertaining.