American Horror Story 3×13 ‘The Seven Wonders’: Sic transit gloria nonsense

Source: FX

Coven left an impression, I’ll give it that. The setting was brilliant, the conceits mostly landing towards the passable side of excellent. A lot of the characters popped in ways AHS characters don’t normally do. And come on, easily the best title sequence so far: the standard discordant shrieking, this time accompanied by an impressively deep set of occult references and always, in the background, a group, no, a team of witches moving as one, acting as one. It was cool, in the way that Horror Story needs to be, and it was so damn promising. Maybe that’s way the rest seemed like a torpid slog; it was the first time I actually got excited to see how the show would pull this off.

Let’s leave Murphy and Falchuk’s bizarre mishandling of tone aside: did any part of this episode, of this season, make any bit of goddamn sense to any of you? Narrative necessity often connected certain things happening to certain other things happening, but can anyone give me a rational (or, hell, ranting unhinged irrational) reason why Madison, Queenie, and Zoe got through hell but Misty is trapped forever vivisecting and resurrecting a frog? Seriously, I feel like an idiot for what I wrote last time; this conception of hell doesn’t just lack rhyme or reason, it just sits there, lying a rotting piece of roadkill. Why did the rat or raccoon die? Well, because it came up against a force that didn’t notice it. Why is it still sitting there, rotting? Because no one noticed and bothered to get rid of it.

Source: FX

Source: FX

Piling onto the trite and frankly visually unimpressive series of tests that constituted the titular seven wonders was the fact that this episode lacked any sort of a climax. That Cordelia is the new Supreme is surprising, but only because I honestly stopped caring about who the supreme was right about the time Madison went at got her throat slit. The “reveal” kind of felt like being in a room where everyone’s sharing their guacamole recipes, with none of the awesomeness that came with the renewed focus on Sarah Paulson’s character at the end of Asylum.

There was a seat-of-the-pants-urgency last year, and this year the end was, what? Outing witches to the world? Really? I like the girl power fake-out, but honestly it was more felt like a well written fanfic ending to Harry Potter than Coven, which never really bothered to deal with or, I don’t know, make glancing references to the kinda screwed up way the witching world intersected our world. When Fiona showed up without hair, that was it. Whether she actually killed Cordelia or not, there would be no success for her, and that collapsed the only other viable avenue for the show to take. Queenie and Zoe, possessed with such narrative urgency in earlier episodes, were basically lobotomized and castrated 15 minutes in. Witches Council indeed.

In the visceral void left by the absence of Bassett, Bates, and (for the most part) Lange in this episode, we just ended up killing a bunch of time killing a bunch of people; deaths, I guess we are supposed to think this time, that are permanent. They didn’t really sting to me, either. I have a friend who was really into Misty Day and he felt betrayed, which to me sounds like about as much emotion as anyone felt after the events of this episode. There was no reason to kill Misty, whose death was meaningless once the inevitability of Cordelia became clear. There was even less reason to kill Madison, seeing as absolutely no one, not even Emma Roberts or the writers, actually believed that she was in love with Kyle. And Fiona’s death was just, well, just pathetic.

Source: FX

Source: FX

This didn’t really ruin anything because, as much as I’ve been expressing my frustration with this season, with Horror Story there’s really nothing to ruin. It was tone deaf because Horror Story is straight deaf and it was more focused on spectacle and confused genre mashups because that’s what this show is. The dutch angles and the forced perspective and the beautiful, lovingly constructed stark shots and eclectic pop culture vocabulary have lost some of their charm over the years, but they’re still there.

And this season was also pretty funny! Sometimes! Kyle and Zoe’s courtship is so deliciously unhinged that every moment played as something in between unintentional satire of modern supernatural romances and madcap postmodern screwball comedy. Madison’s half-assed combination of Daria, April Ludgate, and Alexis Neiers killed it a lot of the time. But most of all, there were Danny Huston and Jessica Lange, falling into a surreal Tennessee Williams-esque nonsense play. There’s so much to unpack there, and I kind of ignored it for a long time, but…

Look, it’s the whole taming-of-the-male thing we got with Kyle, but even more absurdist. The Axeman is an explicitly bloody and misogynistic serial killer, but somehow he becomes this protection fantasy for Fiona, and before long he’s just a symbol of pure domesticity for her. It’s not transgressive, it’s almost reactionary. It’s a firmly tongue-in-cheek joke about directionless masculinity and driven femininity, and with the mid-century feel to all of their scenes together, it could easily be read as a dig on Mad Men’s revisionist 50s glamour. Things like that relationship will always come to the top of my mind when I think of Horror Story, and as much as I want to write it off for its sins, a show like this is just a member of the charmed elect.

Source: FX

Source: FX

Stray Thoughts:

  • Of course Stevie Nicks’ song would be Seven Wonders.
  • Hey, maybe Coven was actually about the futility of thinking that anything in America is important or that anything will ever change.
  • This last supper nonsense could have been pretty balls out. To bad it devolved quickly into the standard quick-cut-hard-angles stuff.
  • None of these powers or tests make for a very convincing magical universe.
  • Are you kidding me with these half-assed visions of hell?
  • Misty Day’s trick in hell did remind me of my favorite part of Chris Moore’s Lamb, when 8 year old Jesus is smashing and resurrecting a lizard.
  • By the second half, the frame fills become crazytown bananapants.
  • There is an…inordinate amount of biblical ideas of succession and duty here.
  • Oh and look, Frankenstein Kyle is killing his creator. How novel.
  • Lotta Sarah Paulson and cameras, huh?

 

John M.

works for a legal newspaper in Baltimore and lives within three blocks of Tilghman Middle, the alley where Omar and Brother Mouzone have their showdown, and Pearson’s Florists. He enjoys putting his liberal arts degree to good use by watching a lot of TV and reading a lot of internet. He occasionally blogs (about Dawson’s Creek) on tumblr.

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  • Zayne Mills

    I was very disappointed with the finale. Last episode was actually my favorite of the season and for it to be followed by this makes me upset. They could have done so much more with it. It was so boring that Cordelia was the supreme because it was all about how the coven is being “restored.” Yawn. Who do you think would have been the best pick for supreme? Personally, I wanted Madison to be the next supreme and then FIona come out of nowhere and they have a battle for the title.

    • John M.

      Honestly I don’t think there’s good choice for actual supreme that doesn’t challenge the shitty assumptions of the writers. I’m a Zoe partisan, but even that seems like nonsense because there’s literally no conclusion that would satisfy any of our expectations.