American Horror Story: Coven: Notes on a Landslide

Categories: Film and TV

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Elsewhere I have already penned more than a 1,000 words on exactly how this season of American Horror Story went off the rails on a crazy train, and it's not in my nature to kick someone when they're down. So with one episode left to go I thought I'd focus on the positive things that happened this week as a gesture of faith for season four.

I apologize in advance for the short length... ok, so fine. That was just a little kick, though. Barely a nudge, really.

First thing's first, I should probably apologize to Lance Reddick because he really is doing an amazing job as the voodoo god Papa Legba. Initially I dismissed him simply because he wasn't Tony Todd, which is an unfair to hold against anyone except Tony Todd. For the want of a joke, I dismissed probably the highest point in the show so far.

In a weird way he is the most human character around despite being dressed like Rob Zombie getting married and being, well you know, not human and all that. The subtlety that Reddick brings to the role is surprising considering his motivations are little more than cocaine and murder, but then again look what Heath Ledger did with Joker. Maybe that's what's so refreshing about Legba's appearances. He's the only character on the show who isn't trying to be anything but himself. He's completely comfortable in his part to play, and that makes him damned fun to watch.

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Plus, he created a fried chicken shack version of hell, and that was actually more terrifying than the more convention red hot poker up the butt version of hell he worked in later. Queenie, seeking answers about the death of Marie Laveau (LaLaurie cut her into pieces and scattered her all over New Orleans) descends into the afterlife to confront him. In doing so she re-enters a time in her life when she was useless and powerless, just another teenager serving fast food impatient and insane people.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon portrays this with absolute brilliance. From the quiet way the endless line of customers wraps around the building to the piercing brightness of the light this particular, strange hell has the devious otherworldliness of a good David Lynch outing. Yet amid this fantastic perdition Queenie has a perfectly normal conversation with the patient and even helpful Legba. The latter amusingly sends a complaining customer to the back of the line, telling Queenie that smelling delicious chicken but never reaching it was that man's particular place in hell.

The question of death and devils was brought up a lot last season but never really dealt with in any sort of concrete way. Here, Reddick as Legba shows something you can definitely take a spiritual truth; damnation is very personal. It makes me wonder if there is an objective hell behind each sufferer's specific viewpoint, or if Legba just flits in and out of perspectives with nothing behind the curtain.

Another high point as predicted was Sarah Paulson returning Cordelia to strength and badassery following blinding herself to regain her powers of second sight. Even in a house where everyone has suddenly manifested whatever powers are needed to limp the season to its semi-logical end she stands her iron strength are a force to be reckoned with. She's a natural leader, a general, and a visionary with no illusions of sentimentality. If only she'd been like this from day one then maybe the show would have found its core.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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