AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN Review “The Axeman Cometh”
"There's nothing on the other side. Just black forever."
Now this is more like it.
After last week's lackluster episode, I can scarcely believe the improvement in "The Axeman Cometh." In fact, I almost can't account for it. Something nebulous in the tone and pacing of this week's episode felt more vigorous and charged than previous weeks'. Moments into the opening scene, in which we're introduced to New Orleans' infamous Axeman, I was sitting upright in my chair, aware of some enriched entertainment value. As tawdry and absurd and sexy and weird as American Horror Story and especially American Horror Story: Coven can be, "The Axeman Cometh" is the most pure fun it's felt in ages. The cold open, with the suffragette students of a 1919 Miss Robichaux's banning together to banish the Axeman, just serves to remind the audience how great this show can be when it's firing on all cylinders.
It also worked as a thematic precedent for the rest of the episode, as "The Axeman Cometh" featured the first time the girls worked together for a purpose - and it's a noble one. Zoe, who's really started taking charge in a way that I'm loving, shored up Queenie and Nan in a reminder that they have to watch out for each other because witches appear to be a dying breed, an alarming fact that no one else seems to have noticed. The girls work together to bring back Madison (hooray!), and inadvertently sorta-kinda free the Axeman, too. I look forward to seeing how his pickup line works on Fiona next week.
In fact, the episode did a great job of bringing in nearly every character and making them feel relevant to the individual story, the greater arc and each other in a way that the series hadn't quite accomplished yet (except Madame LaLaurie, who wasn't in the episode, and if Kathy Bates doesn't have a hefty story next week I will start to cry foul in earnest). In addition to the four girls, Cordelia, Fiona, Kyle, Misty, Marie Laveau and even Cordelia's rotten husband all have something substantial to do this week, and none of it felt like arbitrary loose end-tying, although not all of it worked on a story level. Powerful Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau has to hire a run of the mill witch-hunter to rid herself of her enemies? I find that hard to swallow.
"The Axeman Cometh" made a great showcase for all of the talent these performers have to offer, too. Cordelia's new role as blind and scarred clairvoyant has made her cooler than ever, and Sarah Paulson is fairly imposing in her new role. Lily Rabe is so warm and sensual and earthy as Misty; I loved her more in this episode than I've ever loved her before, and that's saying something. Angela Bassett takes up all the air in every scene she's in, just a pure force of presence. Taissa Farmiga, Gabourey Sidibe and Emma Roberts have such a strong, unusual chemistry together, and Jamie Brewer as Nan continues to be my favorite of the girls, giving off this serene wisdom that I find so compelling. When Jessica Lange actually isn't giving the most engaging performance in an episode, as wonderful as she is, you know that means that this is a hell of a cast.
Michael Uppendahl directed this episode, and he's directed many others for AHS, and "The Axeman Cometh" was written by the great Douglas Petrie of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, whose only previous AHS credit is the great season premiere, "Bitchcraft." Let's get these two together more often, because some sort of unknowable alchemy made this week's episode as good as I always suspected American Horror Story could be.
Using an absinthe shot glass as a Ouija board planchette is some boss kind of style, girls. I dig it.
AUGHH, Spalding's creepy corpse sex thoughts made for the most unnerving moment in an episode full of them.
I'm glad Misty's still searching for her tribe, because she's too cool for Miss Robichaux's. Will she find it when the white witch arrives? Or when her Myrtle plant finally flowers?