Genre: Horror | Drama
Creators: Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
Air Date/Time: December 11, 2013, 10/9c
Written by: Tim Minear
Directed by: Howard Deutch
American Horror Story: Coven tells the secret history of witches and witchcraft in America. Over 300 years have passed since the turbulent days of the Salem witch trials and those who managed to escape are now facing extinction. Mysterious attacks have been escalating against their kind and young girls are being sent away to a special school in New Orleans to learn how to protect themselves. Wrapped up in the turmoil is new arrival, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga), who is harboring a terrifying secret of her own. Alarmed by the recent aggression, Fiona (Jessica Lange), the long-absent Supreme, sweeps back into town, determined to protect the Coven and hell-bent on decimating anyone who gets in her way. American Coven features an extraordinary cast including Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sidibe, Frances Conroy, Lily Rabe, Denis O’Hare, Patti LuPone, and Danny Huston. Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Dante Di Loreto, Tim Minear, James Wong, Jennifer Salt, and Brad Buecker are Executive Producers of American Horror Story: Coven. It is produced by Twentieth Century Fox Television.
Episode Synopsis: Chapter 9 “Head” – Sorry, I’m redacting this one, it’s too distracting and unintentionally misleading. Kudos, though, to last week’s synopsis’s nod to the final scene: “The rivalry between Marie Laveau and Delphine comes to a head.” Well played, FX synopsis writer.
That’s right, her head is separated from her body but we are not yet done with Madame LaLurie. In fact, this is arguably Kathy Bates‘s best episode to date. Not to disparage her work in prior episodes, but what that woman can do with just her face and voice is really something.
It helps that she’s been given a terrific part this week by the wonderful Tim Minear, who wrote this season’s “Boy Parts” as well as three episodes of Asylum and two episodes of Murder House, and has written for a ridiculous number of other excellent shows, from The X-files to Firefly to Terriers, one of my favorite non-sci-fi series ever.
Angela Bassett also shines in the episode, as does Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe, though hers is nearly a cameo. They absolutely relish their lines, and they are a joy to watch. And each of them, in different ways, is nearly as good as Jessica Lange. This week we get the completely-comfortable-with-herself version of Fiona, my personal favorite, and seemingly one of Ms. Lange’s favorites as well. Cool and composed and confident yet langourous. I would love to have Tim Minear write every word I’ll ever speak, as long as I could look and sound like Jessica Lange while saying them.
Speaking of visuals, this season continually surprises me with how absolutely gorgeous it is. I love how they’ve coordinated the sets with the costumes for the best harmony and punch. The camera work is also coordinated with the sets, so, for instance, the handheld camera goes with the reds and brights of the vibrant Marie Laveau set, the Dutch angles with the mansion. I had to laugh, though, at scene where the camera spins to upside down for no apparent reason. I mean sure, it’s fun, but really, why? And yet it stuck in my head and still makes me laugh, so I guess, why not?
Music plays a bigger role than usual this week, and no, I don’t mean the music of Stevie Nicks, who (spoiler) does not make her appearance this week. Sorry, Stevie fans. There are two powerful pieces of music that do more than anything else to set their scenes, yet they could hardly be further apart in style. One is Handel’s “Sarabande”, used for a new set, and the other is for the biggest scene of the episode, and – sorry, you’ll just have to wait and see. They work quite beautifully, so kudos to whoever was in charge of those choices.
Overall, this episode has plenty of completely delicious scenes, some interesting character development, some plot “twists” that you’ll see coming from a mile away, but also a couple of unexpected turns, just as you always hope. It’s the last episode before a dreaded three-week break, but don’t worry, this one will stay with you. Record it and watch it again, because I loved it even more the second time around.
I give American Horror Story: Coven, Episode 9 “Head” Five Out of Five Stars.