How Queer Is American Horror Story: Coven, Episode 11?

Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Jan. 15 2014 11:00 PM

How Queer Is American Horror Story? “Protect the Coven” Edition.

Frances Conroy as Myrtle Snow.
Myrtle Snow, dreaming of figs.

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: After last week's rather thin episode, which had lots of Stevie Nicks but not much else, this one was positively stuffed with Myrtle Snow zingers and fancy-pants literary references. But I'm not quite sure what it all means. Queenie came back from the dead with Delphine on a leash; Cordelia put out her own eyes, which seemed a bit redundant since her name already had us thinking about King Lear; the witch hunters were dispatched ridiculously easily; Marie's out cold; and Spalding finally has a living doll of his very own. There was no shortage of developments, but I don't understand the characters any better now than I did at the beginning of the episode, and I have less of an idea of where the show is going.

Bryan: Yes, this episode indeed had my mind twirling, as Misty no doubt continues to do in her coffin. So many happenings with so little to show for it. (And I do mean "happenings"—Myrtle Snow playing that theremin with silent accompaniment from a JAR piece and two Epcot tickets in a carved box would have fit right in with Yoko and the Fluxus crowd downtown.) I guess I'm glad a few of the actors we'd lost were able to make time in their schedules to come back, but I'm not sure I understand the significance of the realignments—if any indeed took place. If there is one theme I can put my dainty doll finger on, it's decadence—basically every character except for Myrtle seems to have completely descended into some kind of narcissistic behavior, whether it's Fiona with her Axeman or Cordelia with her garden clippers. I would have predicted that all that self-involvement leaves the door open for something wicked, but then the Delphi guys were all dispatched more quickly than a freshly poured Diet Sprite. As Myrtle said, the threats are indeed internal at this point, but I'm not sure anyone has enough room in her schedule to really cause that much trouble.

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June: The sight of Zoe and Kyle joyously running toward an Orlando-bound interstate bus—with its echoes of last year's transcendent ode to youthful excess, Spring Breakers—allowed me to finally give in to a feeling I've been fighting for a few weeks (or perhaps for a lifetime): Screw politics; maybe worrying about the health of your community and the outside forces that threaten it—whether in the form witch hunters or homophobes—is a waste of precious energy. Maybe it's time to give up on covens that have been around since the time of Salem (or June 28, 1969, in the Gay Calendar) and just run off with a sweet, dim boy who loves you.

Bryan: That's a provocation as striking as the scent of an Olympian's ejaculate, June! Staying in the game may be tough, but at least it's where the action is. My feeling as I watched the two least interesting characters on this show depart for the Most Middlebrow Place on Earth (TM) was kinda the same as when the two annoying dudes would pair off in college: Good, they're finally out of the pool, and now we can get on with our fun, however messy it may be. But that's all a matter of taste; and as Delphine and Spalding articulated in this episode, there's no accounting for that. Didn't you just love (you know what I mean) witnessing the origin story of LaLaurie's particularly gruesome kink. Racially inflected torture—it's just the result of ennui!

June: It was certainly a powerful image: the bored, unfulfilled woman who comes alive when she finally discovers the element that switches on her inner light. Her thirst for blood seemed positively life giving—for her at least.

But let's go back to our perfectly matched pair of nonentities. Remember, Myrtle quoted Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" to Zoe. Myrtle found all that “More happy love! More happy, happy love!” stuff supremely romantic, but the "still unravished bride," perpetually being chased and never caught can just as easily seem like a horrible fate. Must we keep fighting the same battles over and over? Even Fiona says she's getting off the roundabout. Do you think she really will head off to the Axeman's family farm and become "normal folk"? Has she finally accepted, as John K put it, that “ ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’—that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know"?

Bryan: I think she thinks she wants to, but they probably don't have perfectly hewn twists for her martinis there. Seriously though, I see what you're getting at—assimilation has its numb pleasures, certainly. But then not everyone is capable of that, are they? A figure like Queenie, displaced from two subcultures and, as we've seen, supremely ill at ease in the outside world, may well have to maintain a queer existence. Likewise for radical fay Misty, assuming she's out there somewhere. Not everyone has the privilege of giving up. Also, let's recall that Laveau and Fiona hardly accepted tolerance from their version of homophobes; they massacred them—a queer fantasy if I ever saw one, and one that suggests not everyone is as well-adjusted as they might want to be.

June: You're right, turning one's back on the struggle is an option that's only available to the privileged. Still, given a choice between Madison's manifesto of crotchless panties for all, Fiona's future as a farmer's wife, and Spalding's deepest dolly desires finally being fulfilled, Cordelia's self-mutilation almost starts to seem appealing. I don't know if I'd be able to look at all that, either.

Bryan: Can we just acknowledge that one of Sarah Paulson's magical powers is making me feel sad for her, like, deeply so. Everyone has been so mean to Cordelia, and she is the only one trying to keep any order in place. She's pathetic in certain ways, I know, but damn if I don't want to give her a hug.

June: You and Myrtle both, Bryan. You and Myrtle both.

Don’t miss our discussion of Episode 10 and Episode 12.

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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