How Queer is American Horror Story: Coven, Episode 4?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Oct. 30 2013 11:00 PM

How Queer Is American Horror Story? “Fearful Pranks Ensue” Edition  

Robin Barlett as Cecily, Frances Conroy as Myrtle, Leslie Jordan as Quentin
A very queer council convenes: Robin Barlett as Cecily, Frances Conroy as Myrtle, and Leslie Jordan as Quentin

Photo by Michele K. Short/FX

For the duration of American Horror Story: Coven, June Thomas and J. Bryan Lowder will gather each week in Outward to call the corners and charm the most recent episode of its queer meaning, whether brazenly obvious or bubbling just below the cauldron’s surface. Don’t be afraid to add your own cackles in the comments.

Bryan: June! I hope you have made all your harvest offerings and prepared the bonfires for the coming All Hallows Eve. As Mme. LaLaurie warned us, and as we saw at the end of this episode, it is a night where monsters run amok and "fearful pranks ensue." Come to think of it, this episode was chock full of tricks and treats. Which were your favorite moments?

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June: Treats, Bryan, treats? I saw lots of insanely disturbing, freaky frights, but nary a treat.

Bryan: I was thinking mostly of Myrtle Snow's glasses.

June: Oh, OK, yes. Love them. I adore her style. It is so hard to be different, after all.

Bryan: And her rubber ... mittens? But you were going to talk about the frights.

June: For me, the creepiest sight was Spalding's self-mutilation. He sacrificed his tongue for the sake of Miss Fiona Goode; he added her most recent victim to his dolly collection; and apparently his position as faithful retainer doesn't come with dental insurance.

Bryan: Yes, Spalding's twisted allegiance was a turn I didn’t expect; but then again, one doesn't expect a butler to have a dolly dress-up tea-party room either. But let's not shame the fetish community in this safe space.

June: I am suitably chastened. And perhaps it's silly to focus on Spalding when witches are about to go to war.

Bryan: Oh, not at all! It's creepy, but some people are into creepy! In any case, you’re right that the beginning of the witch battle is the true focus of this episode, and I am very excited. Marie Laveau is coming for the Salem witches (or rather, sending zombies after them), and I'm not sure Fiona is ready for that kind of attack, especially with the council on her back.

June: This show has been fearless in setting up the racial—or perhaps it's more tribal—war between witches. And I can't help noticing that this current skirmish was set off by Queenie—the only African-American resident of Miss Robichaux's Academy right now—starting something with the minotaur.

I mean, sure, Fiona is technically responsible for dispatching Bastien the minotaur and sending his severed head to Marie, but Queenie volunteered to head out into the night to face him. Mme. LaLaurie believes Queenie did it to save her, but it sure seemed like there was pleasure in it for Miss Q.

Bryan: Yes, I'm hoping we get to revisit that encounter, because it's not exactly clear what happened to Queenie after she presumably projected her lust onto the minotaur. I could not divine the nature of her injuries in this episode, but no one was acting like it was a rape case.

June: Or did Fiona manipulate the whole situation? Given her contempt for the girls' powers—they couldn't pull a rabbit out of a hat, she tells Cordelia—maybe she set the whole mess in motion, knowing that the council would be less likely to condemn her to the fire if there's a war going on.

Bryan: That's a compelling conspiracy theory, June! I'm not sure I think Fiona is quite that in control, but I may be proved wrong. I do think it will be interesting to see how race plays into Queenie's position in the "white bitch" coven. Will the Voodoo women try to lure her to their side, or is tribalism, as you said, more than skin deep?

Bryan: Speaking of tribal order, we should talk about the fabulously queer council that assembled to investigate Madison Montgomery's disappearance. Was Quentin meant to be Quentin Crisp?

June: An echo at the very least. However, a witch’s blessing would explain Leslie Jordan's career as well as anything else.

Bryan: Ha! The shade of it all.

June: I adore the bitchy battle between Myrtle and Fiona. It's Breaking Bad's Hank vs. Walt showdown all over again: On one side, the forces of order and bureaucracy; on the other, virtuosity and twisted genius.

And Myrtle is a very queer figure. The outsider who stands apart, has different values, and just isn't appreciated by her so-called peers.

Bryan: Yes! What was her power again? Guardian of veracity in the vernacular? What an annoying, arcane power—not the way to win friends and influence people. But definitely an inoculation against Fiona's wiles. But back to Quentin for just a moment: I must say, I love the acknowledgement that "a vicious old queen" could be a witch just as easily as a woman. Whatever genetics carry, the powers must be passable to women and gay men. That seems new to me.

June: And it's very striking that, other than vile Hank and the boy next door, he's just about the only man we've met so far who can speak. Fiona enchanted the cops who visited the school, Spalding is stuck in silent mode, and FrankenKyle's vocabulary is like a caveman's. Quentin has the gift of the gab, and it really stands out.

This episode left me terrified of Halloween—and also of next week's episode. There are so many terrifying unknowns. What happened to Cordelia in the women's room? An acid attack? And what's with her man, Hank: a liar, a cheat, a selfish lover, and—oh yes, a murderer.

Bryan: Hank is the one man I'm scared of. That violent sex scene was jarring, not to mention his abrupt ending of the post-coital meal. Is he picking up on Zachary Quinto's serial-killer deal from last season? Or perhaps that creepy ritual he and Cordelia did turned him dark? We shall see. But, um, it seems like Cordelia will not be seeing any more. Acid attacks have got to be in my Top 5 scariest forms of random assault—not to mention in the bathroom after you've had one too many Maker's neat. We've all been there, right, June?

June: Indeed we have. And I suspect that many of us have also, like Mme. LaLaurie, spent some time cowering in a closet. Mr. Murphy, we have received the weight of thy message!

Bryan: And Mme. LaLaurie seems poised to receive the weight of her dearly departed daughter's rotting corpse. Knock, knock, June. Won't you let us in?

June: Send Spalding. I'm off to get one of those green juices that Miss Queenie enjoyed so much.

Don't miss our discussion of Episode 3 and Episode 5.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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