How Queer Is American Horror Story: Coven: Episode 8?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Dec. 4 2013 11:00 PM

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

Gabourey Sidibe as Queenie
Queenie out shopping for spell ingredients.

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: Bryan, it's so nice to return to New Orleans after the Thanksgiving break (when, thank Hecate, we were spared Fiona's raisin and styrofoam stuffing). American Horror Story: Coven is back, with bonus resurrections. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if they killed all the viewers next week, then sent Misty on a nationwide tour to bring us back from our dirt naps.

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Bryan: And what a feast of delightful developments and Ryan Murphy-written one-liners this week's episode was! As you say, M. Day was up to her old resurgence parlor trick again (and in the parlor, too!), but so many other animating things happened that I was less annoyed by the trope than in previous weeks. For starters, Auntie Myrtle said the words charcuterie, bidet, and little bird. Also, mother Fiona and daughter Cordelia bonded over the latter's emerging fiendishness. I so long to live in a world where I can orchestrate elaborate attempts on my loved ones’ lives in the evening and chuckle over it with them at breakfast the next morning.

June: Indeed, indeed. The message of this episode was that there are always more than two choices. If you settle for believing that the options are voodoo vs. witchcraft, jerking off to porn vs. improving one's mind, the merry-go-round vs. the roller coaster, life vs. death, you'll eventually be surprised by another alternative. And just because you can't be killed doesn't mean you'll get to enjoy life. I'm not sure what that all means, though, other than that you should never play chess with Marie Laveau. And if you do, keep your hands on your side of the board.

Bryan: You know, I have to give it to the AHS press team: When they sent out the press release for this week's episode, it said that the rivalry between Laveau and Delphine would "come to a head." A hand well-played if you ask me. But yes, choices! I do wish they would explain more clearly the difference between voodoo and witchcraft—apparently Queenie's vigilante harvesting of a rapist’s heart is going to give her more innate powers, while Laveau is still presumably stuck with multi-hour set-ups for every spell. But Fiona's choice (with a little prodding from ghostly Spalding) to LIVE, DAMMIT! was a welcome one. With all that queasy, "I'm losing it" camera work, I was starting to feel like I had taken her chemo drugs and cocktail gulps myself. I said in a previous chat that Fiona could probably do a lot more if she'd just sober up, and I took her state at the end of this episode to be a good sign.

On the bad sign side of things, our Christian neighbor seems to be suffering from a hard-core case of internalized witch-o-phobia. I'm convinced she is charmed herself—why else would the witch hunter shoot her?—and that she really did "make" her omg-beautiful son, Luke, out of clay, just like gawd! Methinks our ladies have a new, self-hating enemy who may be worse than the voodoo contingent—especially coming armed, as she does, with an enema full of Ajax.

June: We had enemas and emetics, and over at Chez Voodoo, Marie bleeding Delphine. So I guess the thought for the week is: It's better out than in.

But again, I have to ask, "And then what?" Misty doesn't have the right stuff to be the supreme—she lacks the tingle in the cooch, for one thing—and I can't see it being one of those undead witch bitches, either. Fiona was obviously excited by Misty's powers of resurrection, realizing, it seemed, that she could be the once and future supreme, but that coven is such a collection of sad, mad, scheming little birds, being supreme is like being mayor of Mudville: a crappy job that no one would want anyway.

Bryan: That's a good point—I'd much rather be hanging in Laveau's beauty parlor than in that sparse, intrigue-filled old house (though, of course, I'd want someone to come over and dish about the drama from time to time). And you're right that Fiona seemed tantalized by the possibility of coming back—but I'm not clear whether her powers would be retained in a new lease on life (or as a ghost for that matter). But aside from all the scheming, there were some heavier moments in this episode. I was struck by how similar Fiona's vision of her death was to certain AIDS narratives: bodies degrading rapidly, lovers leaving when it gets too hard, dying alone. One can't help but think that her newfound interest in the coven is about surrounding herself with community as much as about settling some score with Laveau.

June: And it doesn't seem too fanciful to see Marie's voodoo charms—which she also makes available to her witchy sister Queenie—as parallels to the remedies and unapproved drugs that desperate people with AIDS sought out from places like Ron Woodroof's Dallas Buyers Club early in the crisis. I've read about the New York People With AIDS Health Group's efforts to cook up egg lipids—they didn't involve a still-beating heart, but it wasn't an easy recipe, either.

My biggest question—more puzzling to me than, say, how many silver bullets Hank has in his witch-hunting arsenal, or how many pieces Marie can chop Delphine into—is what's going to happen with Patti LuPious. As you said, she's from a different strand of crazy, but she's yet another terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mother with no sense of boundaries when it comes to her son. Between Kyle and Luke, we've got two nice young men who were horribly misused and abused by their moms. The Salem coven has kept them alive—after a born-again fashion—so far, but it's not clear if that's a positive outcome for either of the lads.

Bryan: Oh lord, when my partner and I finished this episode, he was like, "What is Ryan Murphy's deal with mothers?" I stared at him kind of blankly, because what gay man doesn't have mom issues of one kind or another? But you're right—the ominous “don’t do it” scoring during the LuPone resurrection segment and Misty's immediate fainting spell signaled to me that there is more to this particular mommie dearest that a godliness fetish and a J.C. level devotion to cleanliness. (That’s Crawford, not Christ.) I guess we'll have to wait until next week to see. Until then, I plan to spend my time searching for Myrtle's North Korean wig hook-up. I need more frizz in my life!

June: I'll be researching where 17th-century covered wagon trains got their charcuterie platters.

Bryan: June, they didn’t have them. Can you imagine?

June: That’s absolutely savage!

Don’t miss our discussion of Episode 7 and Episode 9.

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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