Critics’ Roundtable: “American Horror Story: Coven”


Taissa Farmiga, Jamie Brewer, Emma RobertsTaissa Farmiga, Jamie Brewer and Emma Roberts as witches in training.

Most outrageous thing you’ve seen on the show thus far this season?

Scott Huver: Gabourey Sidibe twerking on a minotaur may rank among the most out-there moments of the season. That one’s gonna stick with me.

Liane Bonin Starr: Zombies! Really, it’s hard to pick just one thingwhat makes American Horror Story so watchable is that, for better or for worse, Murphy and Falchuk throw everything at the wall with little concern about what might stick. If you don’t like an episode, don’t worrythe next one will go in an entirely different direction.

Brian Juergens: I love a Clorox enema and a zombie fratboy as much as the next guy, but I’ve always felt that this show’s most brilliantly subversive move has been to pull actual historical elements into its batty genre universe (the Black Dahlia, the Lindbergh baby, Anne Frank). So for me, the suggestion that the notorious Delphine LaLaurie has been living in a box beneath the streets of New Orleans for over a century is the most over-the-top element so far. It’s so wrong on so many levels. For me the show has truly succeeded when I turn to the imaginary arbiters of culture in my living room and ask, “Can they actually DO that?!”

Elaine Atwell: For me the most outrageous thingand I’ve found it hard to move pastwas Queenie offering herself up to the Minotaur, who then nearly killed her.  It undermined everything we knew about Queenie as a person who demands respect from everyone around her, and it hasn’t been addressed since.  Although for all I know, next week will involve the whole Coven trying to deliver a breached baby minotaur without poking Queenie with the horns.

So many big names in the show this season. Who has been the best revelation? Who is struggling?

Scott Huver: Even in the most wacked-out, WTF momentsand AHS always has them–each key actress among the cast of women have been delivering, but for me the big revelations have been Emma Roberts, whose shown a bitchy, steely side she’s yet to fully reveal, and Gabourey Sidibe, who’s shown she’s capable of many more dimensions then the Precious role she became famous for. The gentlemen have fared well, too: Danny Huston has practically perfected seductive menace, while Dennis O’Hare has shown just how much he can accomplish without uttering a single word. I wouldn’t say the Angela Bassett’s struggling in any sense of the word, I’m just still waiting to see a really blow-our-minds moment for her character.

Liane Bonin Starr: I’m not sure I could really call Angela Bassett a revelation (hey, she’s an Oscar nominee), but watching her bring a nobility and simmering rage to Marie Laveau has been nothing less than awe inspiring. As far as who’s struggling, I think the performances from Taissa Farmiga and Gabourey Sidibe have been flatbut their characters suffer from a lack of coherent development, so I can’t entirely place the blame on the acting. In one episode, Zoe (Farmiga) is a cold-blooded killer, the next a doe-eyed innocent. The plot demands whipsaw reversals from some characters to keep the frequently loopy story afloat, but it doesn’t benefit all of the cast.

Brian Juergens: She may not be the biggest name, but I’m in love with the completely fresh and different character that Lily Rabe has been delivering this season. We knew that she could do brittle and cruel, but her hippy-dippy swamp gypsy routine is left-field brilliance. For me, Emma Roberts and Gabourey Sidibe haven’t found nearly as much nuance in their characters yet.

Elaine Atwell: I found Lily Rabe’s Sister Satan to be the highlight of Asylum, and I think killing her off was one of the biggest mistakes in a season full of mistakes.  But as much as she made me laugh in that nun’s habit, I was totally unprepared for the massive, raging crush I have on her as Misty Day.  I don’t even know how she makes the Stevie Nicks-obsessed swamp-dweller so appealing, but it is pushing buttons I didn’t even know I had.  And I just feel bad for Evan Peters, who I believe was lied to about the number of lines he would have in Coven.  Hopefully Zombie Kyle’s learning curve improves sharply, because Peters is a much more capable actor than this season has allowed him to show.

Angela BassettHas Angela Bassett been knocking it out of the park as Marie Laveau? Discuss.

No one can deny that the show knows how to shock us but what do you think of the overall writing and storytelling on the show? Emmy worthy or just fun pulp?

Scott Huver: I’ve been enjoying how this season has developed numerous interesting subplots and vignettes that have contributed to the slowly revealing whole, but while sharply written I’m not sure the storytelling’s had the heat or shock value of the initial two seasons, as far as attracting Emmy notice. It’s been well-made pulp, but perhaps not groundbreaking enough for trophy time.

Liane Bonin Starr: The writing, like the storyline itself, is all over the placesometimes poignant, sometimes ridiculous, frequently illogical. This roller coaster ride is what makes the show fun, but ultimately prevents it from digging deep. The core of the show is absolute pulp dressed up with a mostly talented cast, brilliant sets, intriguing (if often dizzying) camera work and the best opening credits sequence in town. Without the window dressing, the scripts are featherweight.

Brian Juergens: This season I’d say is fun pulp more than anything else. Last season’s story was the most resonant, in my opinion, in how it dealt with women’s and LGBT issues in the broader context of our society’s dealings with mental health. The “I Am Anne Frank” two-parter and the finale were absolutely rivetingnot to mention ballsytelevision that absolutely ranked as Emmy-worthy. You felt the tumblers of the story clunk into place, and it shook you to the core. This season hasn’t matched that level of writing (yet).

Elaine Atwell: I have never found this show to be Emmy worthy.  Sorry.

Which Jessica Lange character over the show’s three seasons is your favorite and why?


Liane Bonin Starr: I loved her Sister Jude in Asylum. As the troubled sister, Lange was given lengthy monologues, a deep conflict about possibly having killed a child in a hit and run, and, really, many of the best scenes in the season. That she eventually ended up humbled as an addled patient in the institution she had once run was a great arc, and of course Lange ran with it.

Brian Juergens: I would have to say Constance [in Murder House]. Yes, she had great one-liners and seethed camp nastiness at a pitch that television hadn’t seen in ages. But she was also the architect of her own hell on earth, stashing all her dead kids in the Harmon house like that and then kidnapping the antichrist. She was colossally screwed up but she never stopped trying to get motherhood right, bless her rotten little heart. I think she’s the most complex and satisfying of the three.

Elaine Atwell: My adoration of Jessica Lange knows no bounds, and I have enjoyed all her incarnations. However, as a lesbian, I feel obligated to say that my favorite character is likely to be the Marlene Dietrich figure she is set to play next season, because: tuxedo.

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