“Head,” the ninth episode of American Horror Story: Coven, is the series’ 2013 finale, its final episode before taking the rest of the year off and returning Jan 8, 2014, to complete its run. You’d be forgiven for expecting that it would be a crescendo, tying up some plot points and pushing others to greater heights, leaving the audience panting for the series’ return. For a show so bent on shocking its viewers, you’d expect at least one WTF?! moment. Instead, “Head” turns out to be a muddled, disjointed excursion that, while wrapping some plots, never quite coheres.
If you’ve read my earlier recaps, you know that my preferred approach is to tease out a theme or two that runs through an episode and use that as the structure around which I examine each episode’s story, characters, ideas, and execution. “Head” never quite puts together a single theme, or even a limited set, rather touching on many plots, but not quite landing on one. As a result, I don’t have a single theme to build this recap around, so I’ll attack this episode in the way it was presented: as a series of related, but not cohesive, ideas and vignettes.
- The opening scene, in which young Hank is initiated into the family tradition of witch hunting, seemed to promise an episode focused on him, which would have been interesting. We’ve gotten relatively little insight into him. He loves Cordelia (maybe). He’s working for Laveau (ineffectively). He occasionally kills witches (sexily). But we haven’t really gotten a sense of him, his inner life, what motivates him. An episode delving into that could be interesting. Alas, this isn’t that episode. Hank spends some time being told by his father—who was a down-home woodsman in the opening and now runs some kind of financial powerhouse company with a sideline in witch murdering—that he’s not a very good witch hunter, and by implication, not a good son.
- Other than Kyle talking to his frat brothers, this is perhaps the first time two men have spoken directly to each other this season. And in doing so, they only speak about the witches, which would make this a failing of an inverted Bechdel test. I’m thinking this has to be intentional at this point. I appreciate that.
- While Hank may be the witch hunter at work currently in New Orleans, his dad’s assistant confirms that it was they who ordered Cordelia attacked with acid.
- Picking up the issue of Cordelia’s blindness, Myrtle Snow takes the opportunity to both help Cordelia and take revenge on the other council members who let her be burned at the stake. After feeding them melon balls soaked with a paralytic agent, she uses the baller to scoop the woman’s eyes out. This is, in the grand tradition of AHS, both super gory and super stupid. If this was an option for curing Cordelia’s blindness all along, why hadn’t someone done it? (This is what I mean about magic making no sense on this show.) Myrtle later mentions bringing back secrets with her from being dead, but you’d think that Fiona, as Supreme, might have access to them, too. Once again, magic is a get out of plot-jail-free card.
- After Laveau threatens to kill Hank if he doesn’t complete his mission, he goes to see Cordelia one last time. Maybe, in fact, he really does love her? Since her visions showed her his duplicity (but not his witch killing? Why not? Again, how do you work, magic?), she’s having none of it. She tells him she’s filed for divorce, that his things are packed, and that he can get out and never come back. This pushes Hank over the edge and, in his hotel room, he loads up his arsenal and gets ready to make with the killing.
- In a turn that we’re supposed to find shocking, Nan’s clairvoyance allows her to speak to comatose Luke, who reveals that he knows that his mother was involved in his father’s death. The pious Christian woman is a hypocrite who not only administers bleach enemas to her kid, but she also kills? Wow, scalding commentary, AHS.
- In further magic can’t do everything except when it can news, Fiona “spruces up” Kyle, restoring his ability to speak and, it seems, the skills to play cards. The girls are surprised by this, but Fiona replies, “what we need is a guard dog who can attack on command.” Coven does do some fun things with gender, and Kyle is at the heart of this. On most TV, women are weak, in need of rescue, primarily useful for sex. They’re essentialized. So is Kyle: he’s there for sex, a little caretaking, and violence.
- Gun-toting Hank doesn’t attack Cordelia and clan. Instead, he shoots up Marie Laveau’s beautyshop, before Queenie kills him by shooting herself in the mouth. Finally, Laveau arrives at Miss Robichaux’s, ready to talk truce.
- There was indeed one WTF moment in this episode, but not in the way the show intended. LaLaurie, reduced to a deathless, disembodied head last episode, is being taken care of by Queenie. As part of Queenie’s campaign to educate and modernize her, she plays LaLaurie civil rights songs by Odetta and shows her TV footage of fire hoses and dogs turned on black protestors. LaLaurie watches all this and, eventually, is so moved, so changed, so contrite that she cries at what she’s watching and, presumably, the terrible things she’s done. Keep in mind, that this is a woman who drained the blood from a newborn black baby, and then joked about that to its mother, to make an age-defying blood potion. The same woman who sewed the head of a bull onto a living slave, who had no limit to the depravity of the torture she inflicted with her own hand. This woman, upon seeing some TV, is changed, has her heart opened and cleansed. All she needed to do was watch some TV to experience the most profound sort of moral awakening and transformation. WTF indeed.