When critiquing why some aspect of a story, some plot twist or allusion, doesn’t work from them, many people talk about how a moment “took them out of the story.” That is, the development broke the spell that each TV show (and movie, book, comic, etc.) casts on the audience, the spell that creates out of the show a world for us to enter, a place where we can believe that what we’re seeing is almost real. These moments that take us out of the story puncture that veneer of reality and remind us that we’re folks in the real world, sitting on our couches in front of the TV, and that what we’re watching is fiction. The title of the 10th episode of American Horror Story: Coven—“The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks”—provides a literal preview of the moment, just a few minutes into the episode, that tore me of out the show for the night, never to return.
Prior the the holiday hiatus, current reigning Supreme Fiona had concluded that swamp witch Misty was the next Supreme, a threat to her throne and her health (her cancer, remember, is being caused and exacerbated by the presence of the new Supreme). Fiona, ever the cagey political animal, decides in this episode that it’s best to keep her enemies closest and so sidles up to Misty, promising she has a friend, a white (in the sense of good) witch, that Misty has to meet. From practically Misty’s entry into the series, we haven’t gone an episode without being reminded that she idolizes Stevie Nicks, modeling her clothes and style after the singer. So, it should come as no surprise that when Fiona presents her friend, she reveals herself to be Fleetwood Mac star and ’70s rock legend Stevie Nicks.
Which, from the couch I suddenly felt myself sitting on so acutely, is ridiculous and stupid—and something that took me right out of the story. When Nicks showed herself, it was as we’d jumped into another show, as if the false reality of the world of AHS had been torn and someone from our real world stepped through into it. And then, and I am not kidding, she sits down at a piano and plays “Rhiannon,” one of her biggest songs (big enough that I, profoundly not a fan of Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, or music of that ilk, recognized it, though I didn’t know its name).
I know that one segment of AHS’ audience, the one that watches the show for its queerness, its camp, its diva moves, will likely enjoy this guest spot quite a bit, which is valid. Those are key themes and elements of AHS and its great to see queer themes crop up in a show on a basic cable network that’s not specifically about being gay. I’m not part of that audience, though. The audience I’m part of might be no fun, too serious, abstemious, but every frame with Stevie Nicks looked to me like a different show. The light around her looked different, the color palette of the show seemed off. She stood out against the backdrop, larger than the show, separate from it, forcing us to remember that this isn’t real. Which is the opposite of what good fiction should do.
(To make matters worse, there’s a throwaway line implying that Eminem is also a witch.)
There’s more to the episode, of course:
- We learn the secret of Marie Leveau’s seeming immortality (she’s been alive 300 years, we learn tonight): a blood bargain with the powerful voodoo spirit Papa Legba. The deal cost her a baby and she’s regretted it since. Fiona, on the other hand, seeing a way to beat cancer and stay alive and beautiful forever, agrees to do virtually anything for Legba. But his price for this is her soul, and her tells her she doesn’t have one, the deal is off.
- Madison, jealous of the certainty that Misty is the next Supreme, attempts to assert her own claim to the title. When psychological manipulation fails, she clocks her with a brick and inters her in an characteristic New Orleans aboveground crypt.
- Nan also has pretensions to being the new Supreme, which leads me to believe that perhaps it’s Zoe who will end up being the real Supreme. (Plus, Nan ends up drowned by Fiona and Levee, so she’s seemingly out of the running.)
- Lastly, when Fiona, Leveau, and Cordelia realize that Hank, Cordelia’s soon-to-be-former husband, is a witch hunter, they vow revenge. Upon finding out that his family business (the Fortune 500 company from a few episodes back) is actually a witch-hunting organization, they cast a spell that causes the SEC and FBI to descend on the offices. “We lost 50% of our value in 10 minutes,” one of the workers says. Surely this isn’t the only conflict between the groups remaining in the series, but it seems a cheat to blow off at least part of the fight so casually. Part of the fun of fiction is that when heroes are wronged, we can enjoy watching them balance the scales and achieve vindication. Given that Hank and his witch hunters have been aimed at the women of Ms. Robichaux’s for years, robbing the audience of the chance to see the ladies take revenge by stripping the company brick by brick seems fast, cheap, and unsatisfying.