When a Good Premise Goes Bad: American Horror Story Coven

January 30, 2014--

The Seven Wonders, last night's season finale of American Horror Story: Coven, was problematic and perplexing. The plot holes were the size of New England winter potholes, the motivation was worse than when I try to get up early on the weekend, but that's really just scratching the surface of what went wrong this season. And last season.

First off, it wasn't a horror story. Misnomer. The first season was full-on terrifying, season two (while not nearly as good as season one) was creepy and atmospheric, but Coven was gory but lacked the emotion that would make the audience afraid. And the main reason it wasn't scary: there were no stakes.

You could die, then come back. You could gouge your eyes out, then get them back. You could die again and come back again. You could gouge your eyes out A SECOND TIME and get them back. (Fellow Whedonites: I know Buffy dies and comes back twice. This is ok because it's Whedon.)

Secondly was the lack of an engaging protagonist. First we meet Zoe, who...can kill you with intercourse? Ok. I'm quaking in my boots. Then there's what should be the ace-in-the-hole, Jessica Lange's Fiona, but she's just a sort-of-evil-but-nicely-dressed non-entity. We gain some compassion for her, and then it's dashed, and then we get more, and it gets smashed again. Kind of like the resurrection and eye-gouging stuff. Are we supposed to like her? Hate her? I don't even think the writers know. The cast of other witches had potential to be interesting and cool, but most of them also vacillated between being likable and deplorable, except for Nan. Who should have been the Supreme.

And...can we talk about the big "stakes" here? Becoming Supreme is supposed to be amazeballs, right? You are the head witch in the world, and you have "everything" at your disposal. Ok, so why did Fiona only have that one black dress and why did she just mope about New Orleans drinking? Show us why being Supreme is enough for girls to kill each other over! Also, guess what, you'll be reigning Supreme over...four misfit girls. Great. I did like, at the end, (much in a Buffy fashion, erm) there were tons of witches that joined up, but come on. Most of the season was like "Yay, I'm going to be queen of this handful of awful people!"

But there were some potentially awesome characters who were squandered. You had Kathy Motherfuckin Bates and all you did was have her spit racist comments and get dismembered (several times...hmm, this seems to be a theme). She starts to grow on people, then does something reprehensible again. See a pattern? Then there was Marie Laveaux. Can you say badass voodoo queen? She was the highlight of the show, for a while, then  they killed her with Benedryl and a spill down the stairs. Or something. I barely remember because at this point I just watched the train wreck. How do you screw this up?

It had so much potential. Such a great city. Such fantastic talent. But what they did was, yet again, throw too many balls in the air. There was a rival bunch of witches. AWESOME. There was racial tension. COMPELLING. There were top-notch actors and actresses involved. BOOM. And then let's add unnecessary villains, the Axe Man and the Witch Hunters. UM... And then let's have an unbalanced love triangle. WELL... Now let's throw in a weird council. YOU GUYS... And Stevie Nicks. DUDE!


Now, next season once again has potential. It's set at a carnival in the 1950's and Jessica Lange sports a German accent. To me, that sounds like a recipe for a creep-tastic season. Please, writers, take it down a notch. And make it scary, not gross or shocking. Take some cues from season one and give the audience what they want.

And by that I mean Dylan McDermott.