How Queer Is American Horror Story: Coven, Episode 7?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Nov. 20 2013 11:00 PM

How Queer Is American Horror Story? “The Dead” Edition.

Emma Roberts as Madison -- CR. Michele K. Short/FX
Thank Salem chokers are back on trend.

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.

June: So, Bryan, you were right that resurrection is the big theme this season. As soon as I heard Kyle say, "I got one life, and I'm not wasting it" at the beginning of the episode, I knew they'd all be yelling YOLT—You Only Live Twice—before the credits rolled.

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Bryan: Indeed, though it seems that with the community of the "sort of dead" increasing, perhaps some solace—or at least recorporealized fun—can be found with those of one's own kind. Heck, even make that bi-mortal and throw a breather into the mix for some kinky group action. June, despite all the fancy-pants analyzing we do of this show, I must admit AHS warms this cold queen's heart most when it goes unaccountably, unapologetically balls-to-the— you know what I mean. (The threesome. It was ridic.)

June: Ah, yes, the lure of being with your own kind was very strong this week. From Madison and FrankenKyle finding solace in some up-against-the-wall boning to the Ghost and Mrs. Goode, from Delphine's tentative reaching out to Queenie to Queenie's breaking with her sister witches and allying with her voodoo sisters, we saw this again and again. And how well we know this pull, eh? I especially resonated with Fiona's outrage when she asked the Axeman, "Do you actually think my destiny is here in this roach-infested shit hole." Because of course it is. Many's the time I've had dinner in a lovely restaurant then ridden out to a crappy part of town to spend the rest of the night with my people.

Bryan: So true. (Though I hope the gay bars you’re referencing didn't actually have roaches!) I've been waiting all season for Queenie's racial status within the "white" coven to be explored, and I'm looking forward to more of it—something tells me she may not be as at-home on the voodoo side of town as she might think. But the Fiona developments have me a bit flummoxed. I get that the central struggle of her character is whether she can stay sober long enough to do something useful with her immense (if waning) power, but I just don't buy that she would be this out of touch with the coven for so long, nor that she would go all wobbly for daddy ghost. Perhaps he has some supernatural hold on her, given his transition from father-figure to lover, but otherwise I wasn't convinced.

June: The Fiona-Axeman coupling was certainly the least convincing. She seemed to have been won over by his revelation that he helped her outdo Helen the Milk-Spilling Bully, and while I believe she would be impressed by a guy who made her look good and then kept quiet about it (shades of Spalding), I'm not convinced that she would fall for a creepy stalker.

But Queenie and Delphine LaLaurie are something else. You know who that odd couple reminded me of? Ron and Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club. When they meet, one's full of blind hatred for the other’s kind, but as they get to know each other, and tell some home truths, they realize that they each meet a need in the other, and they come to rely on and even love one another.

Bryan: Yes! Which is why, very unexpectedly, I was upset that Queenie betrayed Delphine in the end. AHS is the only show I can think of that might get me to feel sorry for a sadistic racist, but there it is. LaLaurie genuinely seems (or seemed) to be on a (very, very long) path toward, if not redemption, at least humanity, and I think the show is asking whether such a thing is possible for a person who has sinned so much. Plus, Marie Laveau becomes more crazed with revenge, however righteously, with each episode. Imitating the blood beauty regimen of your enemy is not a good sign; it'd be like deciding to string up Matthew Shepard's killers to a fence. Maybe it's my New Testament upbringing speaking, but I'm not sure that's where we want to go.

Of course, a lot of people went dark this episode—Zoe stabbed Spalding, Queenie bled LaLaurie, and Hank neatly arranged an arsenal of witch-beheading gear.

Even Cordelia has finally resolved to kill her mother once and for all. Maybe this won't be the light season we were promised after all?

June: Yes, this week everyone kept talking about wanting—heck, needing—to feel something. Cordelia and Fiona numbed their pain with booze, but everyone else seems to be through with lightness and quietness and felt ready to rage. I'm choosing to read that as a rejection of assimilation.

Bryan: That seems apt, though I've felt like the threat of extinction from the outside has been downplayed somewhat. I'm increasingly interested in what it means that the white witches somehow received or "stole" magic from Africans back in Salem, going on to a kind of discreet prominence (see elite gays pre-Stonewall) while the other caste suffers. The analogy isn't perfect, of course, but there are echoes here of how much mainstream (white) gay culture has stolen from black and Latin queer communities without attribution, often dismissing those groups from the "agenda" and sometimes even literally relegating them to other parts of town while consolidating our affluence through "gay mafias" and gay marriage.

June: Marie Laveau and her voodoo clan might be outside of the mainstream agenda, but they certainly seem more united than the Salem coven. We haven't seen any rivals looking to cut Marie’s throat and take her place, but perhaps that will come if she chooses revenge over reconciliation.

Bryan: I wouldn't be surprised—we've already seen certain members of her family look askance at her more vitriolic moments. But who knows? This is AHS, so she could just as easily end up giving Mme. LaLaurie that new do she was so excited about.

June: I think old Delphine should consider herself lucky if she gets through the week without finding some strangers' tattoos on her extremities.

Don't miss our discussion of Episode 6 and Episode 8.

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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