American Horror Story recap: Play It Again, Axeman

Death is all around, and eternal punishment awaits the damned. Also: The Seven Wonders revealed!
Ep. 12 | Aired Jan 22, 2014

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE Everybody who didn't die briefly set aside their differences to take down the Axeman. But symbolically, they were striking back against the male patriarchy, probably.

Death, death, and death again. The penultimate episode of Coven took all the Queens off the show's narrative chessboard, while once again removing the man who would be King. I often use the word "messy" when I describe American Horror Story, which sounds like a critique but is really a compliment. "Go To Hell" appeared to bring the story arcs of three central characters to their conclusion, more or less out of nowhere. Maybe they'll return in the season finale; maybe not. Coven has been about many things, but it feels most of all like a portrait of generations shifting, of daughters rising to take over from their mothers. Which is another way of saying: Nobody over 50 is safe. (Except Myrtle. But she has a theremin. It keeps you young.)

"Go To Hell" wasn't just another Gomez-Rejon joint. This was the showiest hour the great American Horror Story director has had since Asylum's finale. It kicked off with an extended silent-film homage, presenting the Seven Wonders with the jumpcut rhythms and analog-ish special effects of Fritz Lang. This was the first time we ever got final confirmation about the Seven Wonders. In order: Telekinesis, Concilum (mind control), Transmutation (teleportation), Divination (painting a flower that someone is holding behind their back), Vitalum Vitalis (bringing the dead back to life), Decension (going to the afterlife and returning safely), and Pyrokinesis (burning stuff good.)

"Perform them," explained Fiona, "And you are the next Supreme." She was giving Queenie a pump-up speech, announcing that the one-time traitor would perform the Seven Wonders on Saturday. Queenie didn't seem impressed. She had Fiona's number. She knew the old Supreme just wanted to kill off the competition. Fiona said that was all wrong. She was tired. She was ready to go. Queenie called BS. Fiona found Queenie's lack of faith disturbing, and gave her the old telekinetic strangulation. Argument over.

But Queenie was worried. She wanted to know what happened to Marie Laveau. She heard her onetime mistress screaming -- echoes in the garden. So she took the initiative. She performed some Decension, sending her soul out of her body and into the nether regions beyond the living. Apparently, the universe of American Horror Story conjures up a bespoke afterlife: For Queenie, it was the old Chicken Shack. "This was the worst time in your life," said Papa Legba, who stood in front of the line and wouldn't let anyone else in. (ASIDE: One poor denizen of the afterlife had his own punishment: Waiting in line outside of Chubbie's, always smelling the chicken but never tasting it. It's the modern-day fast-food version of the myth of Tantalus, which apropos of nothing got me wondering if American Horror Story would ever do a complete season set in the afterlife. Maybe with Zachary Quinto as bisexual Lucifer caught in a love triangle with the archangel Gabriel (Evan Peters) and the deceased soul of Cleopatra (Sarah Shahi). With Danny Huston as the voice of God and Jessica Lange as Mary Mother of God. Just a thought. END OF ASIDE.)

Papa Legba gave Queenie a vision of Marie...and of Delphine, finally getting revenge on her old nemesis by chopping her up into various tiny pieces. I'm not sure what else to say about this season of American Horror Story except that it featured a scene where Academy Award Winner Kathy Bates chops off Academy Award Nominee Angela Bassett's arm, which is just not a sentence I will ever get to write about Mad Men. Queenie announced her intention to kill Delphine, but Papa Legba -- nursing some hot chocolate, more marshmallows please -- said that Delphine couldn't die so long as Marie Laveau lived. I'm 90% sure this is the first time that has come up this season, and I have to admit that I couldn't quite figure out why Queenie would go along with killing Marie Laveau. Although I like how, at this point in the season, there is an all-encompassing sense among the younger witches that they cannot trust their authority figures. They failed us; they failed themselves; maybe it's time they move on.

Queenie tracked down the Madame LaLaurie, now well-ensconced as the tour guide at the LaLaurie house. She got a new haircut and some new clothes; she was telling her life story, revising some of the bad parts out of the official history. The torture chamber was closed off. All those nasty rumors were just lies invented by her enemies. For much of this season, Delphine's arc appeared to be trending towards redemption. But redemption requires making a meaningful change. That's difficult. Much easier to take control of your story, to pretend the bad things simply never happened.

It was a sad turn, one that especially affected Queenie. She thought that all of her education was helping the Madame turn over a new leaf. Hadn't she cried a few weeks ago, after a daylong marathon of Roots and old Civil Rights footage? The Madame laughed in her face. She didn't cry because her mind had been opened. She cried for the state of this world: "To tell a colored man he can be equal to a white man." Queenie told her that it didn't have to end here. Delphine could go to the local shelter, could help the descendants of the people she brutalized. Delphine refused apology, refused even the idea of redemption.

We saw a montage of public apologies: Paula Deen, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, the apology circus of our modern media life which requires people to make a show of sorrow. "You think they were sorry?" asked Delphine. "Sorry they got caught is all." This has always been one of the boldest things about American Horror Story. All three seasons traffick in hope-mongering, in the idea that goodness can win out. But all three seasons also make a counter-argument: Sometimes, hope is not enough. (This was best exemplified by the finale of Asylum, which seemed to be building towards a redemptive reunion of Mother and Son but turned into a very cathartic myth of a long-delayed abortion.)

And so Queenie gave up on helping Delphine. She stabbed her, and the immortal felt the wound. All her bluster faded away. "I don't want to die!" screamed Delphine. "Tough s---! Who does?" responded Queenie.

NEXT: Fiona Says Farewell

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