Note: Do not read on unless you've seen "American Horror Story: Coven," Episode 10, titled "The Magical Delights Of Stevie Nicks."
An email from my HuffPost colleague, TV critic Mo Ryan: "Let's hope Stevie Nicks can rescue this hot mess..."
Sorry, Mo. Sadly, it was not meant to be.
Back when I was a teenager, one year my mother kept hinting that my brother and I would receive a shared gift for Christmas. She said we could travel with it, it was big, and ultimately we had to share. Of course, my brother and I thought we were getting a car. We waited in anticipation for Christmas morning, and we rushed downstairs to open our gifts. My brother and I received luggage. No car.
That horrible empty feeling is what I felt after tonight's episode of "American Horror Story: Coven." I was expecting so, so much more, but nothing seems to be working out the way I was hoping with this show. With the promise of Stevie Nicks' guest appearance in this episode, I thought it was going to be a humdinger. Instead, Nicks literally just sits at a piano for two brief scenes, and we only see one set of twirls. ONE. The singing was a treat, sure, but Nicks looked like she was in a coma most of the time. Maybe just tired after a long tour?
It's odd how much star power "Coven" has, yet it doesn't deliver the goods on a consistent basis. It's the same with Nicks: here's one of the biggest rock stars of the past and present, and all you have her do is sit at a piano and croon a little bit? Where's the magic? The power? It feels like a missed opportunity, and that same sentiment can be applied to this entire season. So much promise, so little result.
Of course, as with all the "Coven" episodes so far, there are some gem moments thrown in the mix, small rewards for slogging through the rest. A lot of tonight's episode was set-up for things to come, and that led to several characters being absent, including LaLaurie (damn) and Kyle (hooray!). At the start of the episode, we see Fiona and Marie circling each other, feeling each other out to see if they can really trust. We can tell that neither of them can ever be 100 percent trustworthy, and their faces indicate as such -- flared nostrils from Marie and a raised eyebrow from Fiona are enough to know this pair is never going to be BFFs.
We/the characters learn a few truths tonight: one is that Marie is 300+ years old, and she sold her soul to a demon spirit named Papa Legba (Lance Reddick as a coke-snorting, red-eyed otherworldly being), who visits her once a year demanding "services" in exchange. Marie's first sacrifice was her newborn daughter, and it devastated her. But hey, she's looking fabulous, so there's that. The second truth is that Hank was a witchhunter (as we already knew), and when Fiona and Cordelia find out, it's not good. Fiona attacks Cordelia and basically disowns her. It seemed over-the-top harsh to me, and an obvious set-up for Cordelia to develop strong powers, and perhaps become the new Supreme, taking over for Fiona. Anyway, Fiona and Marie vow to go after Delphi and the witchhunters; they break out what I can only assume is the witch's version of Mouse Trap, which is essentially a mini mouse maze with piles of money surrounding it. Somehow this causes the police to swarm Delphi's HQ, and the witchhunters fall under scrutiny and start to lose company value. The promised war between witches and witchhunters is finally starting, as Hank's father declares the coven the enemy.
It's no surprise that the best scenes of the episode feature Misty. When I see her on-screen, it's like a rush of relief. When she meets Nicks for the first time, she faints -- which is the absolute best. Nicks even gives her one of her scarves. Madison, who lost her heart murmur when resurrected, is convinced that she's Supreme (and insinuates that she's Jesus), and is majorly jealous of Misty and Fiona's adoration of her (even though we know that Fiona just wants to kill the next Supreme). Misty and Madison go for a walk with a funeral procession, and Madison does her best to intimidate the swamp witch. Madison resurrects the man in the coffin (!! -- her powers are increasing), and when her intimidation tactics don't fully work, Madison nails Misty in the head with a brick and knocks her into the coffin, which is then pushed into a crypt. I don't even react to character deaths anymore -- they always come back to life.
Speaking of character deaths, I was totally wrong in December. Luke is dead, smothered by his mother. Nan and Zoe go over to the Ramseys' house to find out more -- in the guise of mourning friends -- and Nan reads Joan's mind, discovering the truth about what really happened. God, I loved badass Nan. Didn't you? Hearing her swear and seeing her kill Joan in the best way possible was reason enough to watch this episode. Nan's powers, like Madison's, have been getting stronger; Nan can now control other people's thoughts ("put that cigarette in your vagina") and has an evil streak a mile long.
[Just a warning: reading this final scene description is like reading about someone's bad acid trip]
Fiona, after finding out about Marie's immortality and how she came about it, summons Papa Legba back to Robichaux with an offering of the finest cocaine. He appears but denies any deal because apparently Fiona has no soul; she decides that hey, she has no soul, so she might as well kill everyone at Robichaux. Luckily for Fiona, Marie has kidnapped a newborn baby from the hospital for Legba's yearly "service," and that child has a pure soul. Nan hears the baby in the cabinet, and tries to rescue her. Fiona and Marie thwart her plans, and drown Nan in the bathtub. Then they somehow convince Legba to take Nan, who walks off with him at the end of the episode. I'm assuming Nan has crossed over to the dark side of things, and now she's dead -- albeit with stronger, beyond-the-grave powers.
That's a guess, though. I've given up trying to understand exactly what's going on. Stevie Nicks sings us out of the episode, but her sweet song isn't enough to wash my mind of the convoluted jumble of events that just happened.
Witch, Please: (every week I'm going to award the witchiest witch of them all) Was there ever any doubt? It's Nan this week, who finally turns the corner into badassery. She control's Madison's thoughts, kills Joan and then joins an evil spirit in the afterlife. Not bad for the underdog, eh?
- If Stevie Nicks has more guest appearances on "Coven" with meatier parts to play, I'll eat my words, but her cameo in this episode felt tacked on and weak -- she didn't really contribute much to the proceedings and was missing for 95 percent of the episode. Even the Good Witch Glinda in "The Wizard Of Oz" did more.
- Despite the plodding pace of the episode, the camerawork and shot angles were spectacular, as always. Loved the funeral procession, loved the shots of Madison and Misty in the cemetery. New Orleans has such a haunting beauty.
- Can someone find out how tall Lily Rabe is? (Not from IMDB, which notoriously lies about celeb heights.) In the cemetery, she was towering over Madison, just like she towered over Cordelia in Episode 9. I have to believe she's a tall woman. Sorry to obsess, but it's bothering me!
- Lance Reddick is the best. Can we get him cast in every show?
- The scene with Cordelia and Myrtle in the greenhouse was such a fun cutaway. Of course Myrtle plays a theremin, and of course she suggests that Cordelia become a cruise-ship hostess. Classic. If only all of "Coven" could be like this.
- Angela Bassett's Xena call is spot-on.
- Zoe: "Both of you skanks, enough!"
- Nan: "Do I have to wear this outfit for all of eternity?"
- Fiona has no soul? Really? What about her kindness to that woman in the chemo treatment room? What about her bringing that baby back to life in the hospital? What about that scene, not more than two episodes ago, where she told Cordelia that she was finally respecting her? I'm telling you, the "no soul" thing had to happen so Nan would die (and thus not be in the running to be the next Supreme), and so Cordelia has the motivation to emerge as the all-powerful next Supreme. But that's my theory this week. I'm sure it'll change by next Wednesday.