How Queer Is American Horror Story: Coven, Episode 10?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Jan. 8 2014 11:00 PM

How Queer Is American Horror Story? “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” Edition.

Lily Rabe as Misty Day and Stevie Nicks as herself.
Misty Day meets Stevie Nicks.

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: Rev up the theremin, Bryan. My soul needs soothing after that violent, disturbing episode. It started so peaceably with Fiona and Marie making nice, but it ended with a senseless murder. When the witches are getting ready to face off against the witch-hunters, it seems crazy to trade a descendant of Salem with all kinds of skills for a stolen mewling baby.


Bryan: Mewling! Could we perhaps describe the intriguing mixture of Cordelia's "I'm a failure" temper tantrum with Myrtle's dulcet thereminizing with that word? You're certainly right that this episode was full of murder, but then, I think we're at the point in the AHS season where we start to slough off characters in a race toward some Shakespearean finish. In this case, perhaps two old, soulless witches surrounded in blood and SEC-summoning mice.

Perhaps we should start with our new, hasty alliance. Did you buy it? I get the appeal of having two HBIC, but I felt like certain hatchets disappeared quicker than a cheeseburger around Mme. Delphine.

June: I did not buy that shotgun marriage of heretofore dueling traditions, but that wasn't the only rushed bit of business. How could Misty, who's so powerful she can bring back the dead (and get Stevie Nicks herself to demonstrate a shawl twirl), fall for Madison's trick, which was to magic what a kick-me sign is to comedy: a very blunt instrument? And how could Nan, who could hear everyone's thoughts, not get an early warning that Fiona and Marie were coming to get her?

Bryan: Good questions, all. Nan, I think, was just about done with everyone being so shady about her potential to snatch the supremacy; walking into the darkened hallway with Papa Legba was probably a welcome change of scenery. As for Misty, I don't think we've seen the last of her. I doubt that brick move could kill a resurger, and without her, we really have no one, like, nice to root for. Well, except for that wide-eyed girl whose name I can't remember. But she’s so boring! June, don't let the rest of the season be about her.

June: Zoe? As downright depressing as it would be to have her crawl from the ashes of the final Götterdämmerung as the sole survivor and reigning supreme (of nothing), you know why I think that might be possible? Because she never gets any good lines. Madison had some corkers this week, which puts her squarely in Myrtle Snow category—a bitter kitten with limited powers. On the other hand, to return to our overarching theme of how AHSC pertains gay life and culture, it wouldn't surprise me to see the old guard dethroned … only to find that there’s no one really suitable able to step into their shoes. We see it so often: Members of the Gay Establishment use whatever tactics they can get away with to hold onto power, alienating and isolating innovative young activists, aka potential successors, all along the way. Then, when they finally exit, there’s no one left but time-servers and yes men.

Bryan: That's an astute reading! One of the most striking things about this cycle of the show is how the whole scenario—a boarding school for witches—is basically a misdirect. As you say, the old guard is so concerned with its own issues and infighting—invariably for the good of the coven (read: community!)—to attend much to the next generation in their care. Little to no teaching has gone on. To the contrary, the old queens are, in stereotypical fashion, regarding the spring chickens with jealousy and condescension. In fact, if I were a young witch, I could be forgiven for deciding that there wasn't much in "mainstream witch culture" that interested me or applied to my life. Maybe I'm post-witch? The similarities abound.

June: I confess I'm not quite sure what to make of Fiona's lack of a soul. Papa Legba must've offered his Faustian bargain to all kinds of people over the years. The fact that he didn't ask if she had a soul suggests it's pretty unusual to be without one—even among the kinds of people he deals with. And yet she's clearly able to experience loneliness and perhaps even transcendence in the face of Stevie Nicks’ singing. Myrtle said she finds that the theremin soothes her soul, which means she has one; Marie had one before Papa Legba took it. What happened to Fiona's?

Bryan: I was wondering that as well. I doubt that sin took it away, but perhaps being the supreme comes with costs heretofore hidden. Perhaps the supreme power is that person's soul, which is why it must leave them when the next upstart comes along. Speaking of Legba, I loved the queer misunderstanding that transpired between he and Marie—it wasn't sex he wanted, but the end of her reproductive potential! Grad students looking for a queer theory diss topic, take note!

June: Word! I would watch an entire season of American Horror Story that followed the adventures of Papa Legba and Nan at the Crossroads. Perhaps next time around? (By the way, this episode demonstrated the benefits of an anthology format like AHS, where everything resets at the beginning of a new season. A more conventional show would never kill off so many stars, for fear of losing the audience in the hiatus.)

Bryan: Indeed. Well, June, it's cold here in New York, so I'm going to wrap myself in an extra embroidered shawl and twirl myself right on home. Don't you try to snatch it from me unless you want to be cleansed.

June: Here's a demitasse of réalité for you, darling: I'm far too busy making up a batch of June's Jinxed Jerk Juice to even be thinking about shawl-snatching. Never fear, though, I'll be back next week to see what these witches have been brewing.

Don’t miss our discussion of Episode 9 and Episode 11.

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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