Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Bitchcraft - What American Horror Story: Coven tells us about power

Original image source: FX
Like the seasons before it, American Horror Story: Coven has some things to say about society. It's going to say it, and it is going to be brutalised. This season is set in New Orleans and revolves around an academy for young witches. This season tackles issues of slavery, persecution of women, sex and the subversive nature of female power. It can be easily said that so far in the story, the irrelevance of masculinity and male power have been a dominating force in the show's message.

At Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, the residential butler Spalding remains a tool of convenience for Fiona, and his tongue has been cut out. So you know, he couldn't exactly argue with her sassy orders even if he wanted to. Following the gang rape of Madison (Emma Roberts) at a fraternity party, she (Madison) flips the bus that carries her attackers. Zoe, played by Taissa Farmiga, gives any man she has sex with a fatal aneurysm and murders Madison's main attacker after he survives the bus crash. We also see the innocent Kyle (Evan Peters) brought back to life when Madison and Zoe create their own frat boy Frankenstein. Male life has never seemed so disposable, but at the same time crucial to the motives of the characters of the show. What if that were the real American horror story? What if an uprising in female power brought the overly dominating male power down, and threw it into the gutters? That's not to say AHS hates men, it's empathetic towards the men who deserve it. This show is about female power, and what happens when we get it? Would we share it, or do we do what we can to protect it and keep it to ourselves?

"Don't make me drop a house on you." - Fiona Goode

Jessica Lange's portrayal of The Supreme makes you hate Fiona and sympathise with the hefty duality of her character at the same time. Her character, Fiona Goode, possesses the same cold nature as Jessica Lange's AHS predecessors (Constance from Murder House, Sister Jude from Asylum). Last week's episode, Burn, Witch, Burn! saw Fiona revive a stillborn baby in the hospital, only a few weeks after we saw her slice open Madison's throat. Lange's character is a fine example of an amped up and socially destructive femme fatale; aggressive, calculating, and dangerous. Consumed by ageing and the limits of her power, she's faced with her own desperate anguish as she grows weaker as each episode passes. Will AHS conform to the traditional femme fatale formula and see Fiona get what she deserves in the end? Most probably, but as questionable as her morals are to the audience, we will be devastated to see her get her just deserts.

The closest character we have to Glinda the Good Witch is Fiona's daughter, Cordelia (Sarah Paulson). Although following her attack and her revelation that her husband is a cheat (and a murderer, that's important too) it will be interesting to see the path she takes for the rest of the season, now that she has been blinded by an enemy but had her eyes opened to her husband's wretched deception.

There are potentially problematic narratives of the show that need to be resolved responsibly, such as the Madame Delphine LeLaurie story line - based on the barbaric and true crimes of a high society woman against her slaves. This story of the abusive use of female power against subordinated and oppressed members of society will surely come full circle by the end of the season.

The women in Coven are capable of anything, and the battle that unfolds week by week is not a united female power against the domineering force of masculinity, but against a force rivalling their own strength- other women. These women will go to extraordinary measures to protect themselves, the witch war is not about a unifying experience and the solidarity of sisterhood - although we get the feeling that showrunner Ryan Murphy is trying to throw some of that in there with the character of the Stevie Nicks fangirl witch Misty Day and her pesky resurrections. It's a dark war in New Orleans, off with their heads - or out with their tongues.
Image source: evnpeters.tumblr.com

Some things we can learn from Coven:

  • Building your perfect boyfriend isn't a good idea, ever. There, there, FrankenKyle, we all want you to be our dead boyfriend.
  • Setting curtains alight is a sure-fire way to annoy religious mothers- I'm looking at you, Madison.
  • Don't step on another witch's turf, witches hate it when you cross the border.
  • Don't keep a dead body in a chest in the attic, unless you want to carry it out limb by limb.
  • Don't mess with The Supreme, you'll go up in flames.

Image source: http://johnkrasinski.tumblr.com