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.

I rewatched the flashback scene between Fiona and the Axeman several times. I timed it once, and by my estimation, it lasted about 5 minutes and 20 seconds -- of which 5 minutes and 13 seconds took place all in one long take. It looked like there was a secret cut at the four minute mark, when the Axeman throws Fiona on the bed, but the effect was very much in keeping with the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, the defining long-take experiment by the man who made every groovy camera angle mean something. This was Meth Gomez-Rejon, probably the most elaborate camera setup the director has done in his American Horror Story run. But the effect was more than just "look at me!" cool. In a little over five minutes, you saw the very painful end of a very specific kind of relationship -- Fiona stopped telling lies to the Axeman, but really, the Axeman stopped lying to himself. It was also, quite unexpectedly, the Final Statement of Fiona Goode, filled with moments of brutal honesty and a final moment of unexpected anti-catharsis. She was killed mid-thought; she brought it on herself, but she never saw it coming.

The camera was the third member of their little showdown, the invisible lover but also the cruel eye of some higher power casting judgment upon these two very bad people. The Axeman talked to Fiona about taking a little trip. Going catfishing, or hunting; leaving Fiona on the porch, with her Gin Rickeys. She laughed it off -- not telling him "No," but also not saying "Yes." He checked her bag while she had her back turned. Sure enough, there were the boarding passes. The camera moved closer to the Axeman: His face dominated one side of the frame, while in the distance Fiona told him the truth. "I guess I loved you. Although I don't really know anything about love, if I'm gonna be honest." The Axeman was a distraction, a life preserver. But she's coming back to dry land. She'll have 30 years of vitality after killing the next Supreme. And then -- having killed off all the Millenials -- she'll wait thirty years and kill off whatever they're going to call the next generation.

Was Fiona lying in these moments? Or was she misinterpreting her own life? Earlier in this season, when Fiona was drowning, her internal monologue clearly identified the Axeman as a very special and unique lover in her life filled with romantic escapades. She expressed the desire to share her life with him. Now, she changed her story. She just wanted to feel something. She felt it; now she wanted something else.

The Axeman didn't like where this conversation was going. He insisted that he had made her feel things like no one else ever had. Was he right? Or in that moment, was he just another sap -- another guy stupid enough to think that he's the One True Love of a woman he barely understands? This was all pulpy melodrama, but as played by Jessica Lange and Danny Huston, it had serious bite. Huston forced her onto the bed; she kicked him off. Stumbling over to the cupboard, she poured herself some whiskey. "I live in a floating world," she said, "Always two steps ahead of our prey." You could read this whole scene as further evidence that Fiona Goode was always a Stone-Cold World-Class Uber-Bitch. But the delicate way Jessica Lange played the scene -- how she seemed to be trying to cheer up the Axeman before she decided it was better to be blunt -- deepened her character. She was trying to explain herself, maybe. She remembered a long-ago day: "My mother brought me a little calico cat-"

But was all she got out. The Axeman lived up to his name, carving her up with his instrument and feeding her to the alligators. When we first met the Axeman, he was specifically coded as a kind of gender terrorist, a serial killer attacking the women of New Orleans. And after a season that built Fiona Goode into a kind of simultaneous Superhero and Supervillain of post-'60s Femalehood, it was eerie to see her cut down by this final beau. I don't want to talk too much about this for fear that she'll stage one final comeback next week, but this really was the best kind of shock: Ending a character before you even realize they're finished.

At Miss Robichaux's, the witches had a brief debate over what to do with the Axeman. Myrtle suggested: "Where there is music, there can be no evil." Kyle offered to finish him off. (Kyle described himself as "the Coven's guard dog." Kyle is still on the show, guys.) But the witches of the next generation all joined together to take down the Axeman. "Nobody messes with our Coven!" said Zoe. Maybe it was a hopeful moment: An indication that the young witches really can unite against their common enemy, like the long-ago witches in the days of Meryl Streep's Daughter. Like I said, hope is a strange thing in American Horror Story: It springs eternal, and runs dry just as often.

Hope running dry: The Madame LaLaurie found herself imprisoned in her torture chamber, where she brought an end to so many human lives. ("It wasn't 152," the old madwoman said earlier in the episode, "It was 62." She kept a ledger.) Her beloved daughter was a few cages away from her. And there was Marie Laveau, too, threatening that daughter with a branding iron. But Marie became confused. She didn't want to do this. She didn't want to hurt anyone. Why was she living through this hell: Why had she become the very thing she had once despised, the mistress of the house abusing the innocent souls entrapped in her torture chamber?

That's when Papa Legba strolled in, to inform them that these hellish conditions existed for one simple reason: They were in Hell. And not the fun Hell from the Inferno, where at least you get to hang out with other sinners. This was the Hell of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, with your own specific misery entrapping you for eternity and beyond. Marie couldn't understand why she was here. She was good to people. But not to everyone: Papa reminded her of all those babies, banished to his realm for all eternity. "No one gets away with sin," he said. "Eventually, everybody pays, everybody suffers. Now get back to work." And the screams began again.

We didn't get to see Fiona's afterlife. Perhaps we'll get a look at that in the finale. Or perhaps we've moved on from the days of Fiona and Marie; they had their chance, they did as best they could, and now they're dead. The witches of the Coven all spoke well of Fiona, because that's what you do when someone dies. Not Delia, cleareyed albeit eyeless: "She was a horrible Supreme." It was time to start again. Maybe the next Supreme would be better. Certainly she wouldn't be worse.

The season finale of Coven airs next week. It's another Gomez-Rejon episode -- fingers crossed that the whole thing is shot in one take pointed towards a mirror! -- and if nothing else, it seems destined to finally answer once and for all who the next Supreme will be. I still maintain that it will be Zoe: The season began with her as the focal character, and truthfully, it's hard to know why the show has kept her around except to finally crown her the Supreme By Default. But Queenie seems like she'd make the best Supreme...and Madison would clearly make the worst Supreme, which in the amoral universe of American Horror Story could make her the most likely pick. What do you think, fellow viewers? Will Nan stage a comeback? Will Misty begin a new era of shawl-twirling peace for the Coven? Will Myrtle play the theremin?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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