There was plenty of evidence suggesting that I shouldn't watch American Horror Story. It's gory. It's more interested in providing oh-shit moments than in story. It's helmed by Ryan Murphy, whose self-indulgence and plot anvils have been driving me up the wall lately. But on the flip side of the coin, there were intriguing elements, too. This recent season was about witches, which I find more interesting than haunted houses. It starred actresses I adore and admire (including Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, and Frances Conroy). It was a good opportunity for a fun TV night with a friend, who could narrate the gory bits as I hid my face behind a sofa pillow.

Eh, what the hell? I dove in. And my verdict is... What sort of a goddamn mess did I just devote 13 hours to? This was not a television show. This was someone sitting down and writing a first episode and a last episode, and then just throwing ideas into a blender to come up with any sort of connective tissue. Was this show about a war between competing witch groups? Was it about witches banding together to fight off a group of hunters? Was it about a mother and daughter grappling for power within a coven? Was it about the protection and development of the next generation of witches? Was it about identifying the next Supreme leader of the coven and the current one coming to grips with her waning abilities? Was it about the redemption-or-maybe-not of an evil, immortal slave owner? Was it about a murderer whose spirit is released, but now he inhabits an actual body, even though the regenerated butler ghost doesn't, but he can still interact with the world, because why the fuck not? Minotaur rape? Murderous Christian neighbors? Voodoo? Zombie boyfriends? I could go on like this, because AHS: Coven wanted to be about all these things, and more. As a result, it wasn't about anything. Every time it threatened to focus on an actual story, it would be like "Oooh, something shiny over there!" and gallop off on another tangent.

Speaking of shiny things, there were some bright spots. Frances Conroy up and stole the season, swanning around as Myrtle. Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates chewed their scenery delightfully. Jessica Lange imbued Fiona with genuine menace. Acting-wise, I really have no complaint, except for the chunk of wood wandering around and masquerading as a person named Taissa Farminga. Some of the scenes were compelling in their determination to be as weird and flamboyant as possible. But you can't ground an entire series just by tossing up a series of events crafted to shock and confuse people; there should probably be some thought put into boring stuff like plot and characterization, as well.

So, Coven will be the first and the last season of American Horror Story that I watch. I'm all for gonzo craziness, but I'm also one of those old-fashioned guys who likes my TV to have some internal consistency. Pass the matches. Let's burn this show at the stake.

American Horror Story: Coven: C-


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