How Queer Is American Horror Story: Coven, Episode 12?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Jan. 22 2014 11:00 PM

How Queer Is American Horror Story? “Go to Hell” Edition.

Lily Rabe as Misty Day, Taissa Farmiga as Zoe, Evan Peters as Kyle, Sarah Paulson as Cordelia, Emma Roberts as Madison
For now, Queenie is hidden behind Madison's shiny boy shorts. Next week will she lead the pack?

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: Talk about a much-anticipated climax! We now approach the final episode knowing that we're going to see the seven wonders attempted, and—it is devoutly to be wished—achieved by at least one young witch. (Sad to say, the new supreme will not be me: This morning my powers of telekinesis failed utterly when the B train idled for 30 minutes on the Manhattan Bridge.) Shall we make predictions? I was impressed with Queenie's manifestation of her powers—and she wasn’t just using them as parlor tricks; instead, they provided options when she sorely needed them. Most important of all, she's already seen her own personal hell: It's Chubbie’s chicken shack and a long line of impatient, mean-mouthed customers.

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Bryan: Compared with last week's scattering of loose threads, this episode was tightly wound in the best way. As you say, an endgame is finally in sight, and, wonder of wonders, barring some last-minute resurging Fiona won't be a part of it! I have to say, I was not expecting her to go out so unceremoniously, but then again, getting an ax in the back right as you begin your "momma had a calico cat" story easily made my camp hall of fame.

Ah, but you asked about predictions! Queenie seems to me to be the best option, both because she's more mature than the other girls and also because that would fit with the show's (admittedly shallow) exploration of racial justice. With Marie Laveau now working as the devil's fire-poker maiden, the voodoos need a queen, and the Salem sisters have long needed some color in that white-washed mansion. Unification is in the air, I divine. 

June: Yes, between the air of unification, all that talk of repentance and redemption, and her plodding but successful demonstration of some key powers, Queenie seems to be in ascendance. I couldn't help interpreting all that talk of dying while attempting the seven wonders as a (very subtle) reference to the murders of civil-rights leaders. Showing off your skills isn't just dangerous in a metaphysical sense. Drawing attention to yourself also attracts the attention of your enemies—what the Brits call Tall Poppy Syndrome. Think: Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Harvey Milk. In the American Horror Story version of the world, though, the Twinkie Defense doesn't work. Here, our tormentors are themselves tormented for eternity.

Bryan: Indeed. I did wonder how you felt about the equating of Marie Laveau's sins with those of Delphine. It's true, Marie wasn't always perfectly scrupulous, but she did, as she herself pointed out, protect her community with a vengeance—shades of Larry Kramer and ACT UP here. Delphine, on the other hand, was just despicable. In fact, what struck me this time was how her fearsome predilection for black bodies echoes the old-fashioned "trade" relationship with out gay men—erotics sours into bashing (or torture, as the case may be). I'm just not sure I see the equivalence.

June: It did seem like a false equivalence! The show wants us to treat Marie Laveau—who supported her community, including a woman whose teenage son had been killed by white supremacists, and prevented Delphine LaLaurie from torturing more slaves—the same as LaLaurie herself? Papa Legba demanded that Marie provide him with an innocent child every year, and then he punished her for snatching an innocent child every year? That seems harsh—but simultaneously comforting. Supporting your community won't expiate your sins, however commendable your service is. As Papa Legba says, "Eventually, everybody pays. Everybody suffers."

Bryan: Oof, yeah, I guess that's just a hard pill for me to swallow. But what I would accept with pleasure is, to borrow a phrase from that famous sorority sister, a "cunt punt" from Misty Day. Can we just revel in the amazingness of her smackdown of Madison for a minute?  I'm sure many viewers have been waiting all season for that girl to get learned a little, and my goodness if the hour wasn't nigh this week. Plus, it clearly had to happen before the wonders could commence.

Switching gears, we need to talk about Cordelia. I felt like she finally came into her own this episode, taking charge of the situation and leading Axeman by his, well, ax into a fitting end for Fiona. Were you as enamored as I was?

June: I was! Though I was rather confused by her visions. She saw Fiona killing the academy's residents by various rococo methods, so she ran off to the Axeman to clue him in to her mother's duplicity, leading him to kill Fiona, thus preventing the events in the visions from occurring. I thought only Cher could turn back time?

Bryan: Cher is clearly a white witch of the same order as Stevie Nicks, though her familiar is leather fringe rather than woven shawl. But I digress. Cordelia's visions have been somewhat promiscuous in nature, it's true—previously they seemed like visions of the past, but now they also function as GPS locators and crystal balls. Her tragic Shakespearean premonition could still come to pass, of course, if Fiona isn't really dead, but I tend to think her actions changed the course of the narrative. Which, I'm sad to say, ends next week! I'm going to go ahead and begin gathering buckets of deadly nightshade—delirium is the only means by which I can imagine surviving the end of our time with the coven.

June: It's true, we have but one more hour with Myrtle Snow. Until the final minute comes I'll be polishing my spectacles collection and editing a slim volume of our favorite redhead’s bons mots.

Don’t miss our discussion of Episode 11 and Episode 13.

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

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