“AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN” ‘The Replacements’ and The Replacee (TV Review)
Three mothers (hey!) face usurpation, each in their own way. A spectrum is covered, from an intimate, humane place (Fiona), to something entirely warped (Kyle’s Mother); to what many so-called “traditional,” but in fact racist individuals are afraid is happening around them (Delphine).
AMERICAN HORROR STORY has never been particularly subtle, but it’s wonderful in being tasteless and pointed, as is happening when Delphine LaLaurie, a character quite literally from the past, is horrified by our current leadership and then in turn, made to be the servant of a young black girl. Those she abused, denigrated and devalued are recognized as the human beings they are, leading society as Delphine feels she did. It is as particularly satisfying to see her antiquated attitude be the one to feel “less than,” as it is to have a show that gives Kathy Bates a reason to hiss “Liiiess!” in that incredible fashion. Whatever wickedness Fiona may hold — and “The Replacements” revealed aplenty — dressing Delphine up in a maid outfit was a sweet move.
The less rousing, entirely more heartbreaking aspect of “The Replacements” found Zoe reuniting the stitched-together Kyle and his mother (Mare Winningham), unknowingly returning him to a household of abuse. Here Kyle’s mother resumes what we can only imagine is a lifetime of inappropriate and predatory behavior on her son (the Frankenstein’s monster-esque Kyle is no monster, but his original creator is!). In an interview, writer James Wong (FINAL DESTINATION, THE X-FILES) explains her actions are a “way to survive her husband’s death,” giving gross layers to her speech about him becoming the man of the house. In her mind, Kyle did so replace his father, and now his mother is giving in to ghastly impulses, concerned with Zoe replacing her. Cathartic trophy head-bashing ensues from a mostly wordless Kyle, not dissimilar to the wordless butler Spalding and the snarling, but still wordless Minotaur that’s survived into the modern world.
The center of this replacer/replacee-centric episode is of course Fiona understanding that Madison is the heir apparent. Seemingly grooming the young girl for her future of Supreme-ing over the state of witchcraft, Fiona’s actions were actually not unlike the gang of horrid frat boys in season premiere, “Bitchcraft.” Fiona aids Madison in honing her powers, then gets the girl wasted and after a disarming conversation about life regrets, jams a knife in her throat. The grim sequence is made more so by the balance between expert performance from Fiona and the sense that some of her confessions were truthful. Only, it’s clear her selfish manner will not let her die a shitty Supreme.
On the fringe of the episode lied Patti Lupone as new neighbor Joan Ramsey, another mother fearful of being overtaken. In this instance, she is frightful of the effect the house of witches/open women will have on her son and their religion.
Perhaps the most melancholy aspect of “The Replacements” and COVEN thus far is the notion that the three horrid “mothers” are paralleled by three women with great love to give, but are left lonely and unable. Cordelia will attempt anything—including a vibrant, goat’s blood soaked Vodoo ritual denied by Marie—to bear the child she so wishes to have. Steve Nicks-obsessive Misty Day has only her radio to accompany her sad spirit. Queenie, recognizing and opening up about the lack of love in her life, is able to empathize with the manbeast Minotaur. To what end? It doesn’t seem a good one.
Despite the “more fun” tone of COVEN, the world of AMERICAN HORROR STORY has always been a cruel place. Perhaps it is not so far off from our own, where the lovelier people receive the most abuse and the least out of life. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, now as synonymous with the series as Ryan Murphy, certainly creates that atmosphere out of skewed perspective — this episode was absolutely steeped in dutch angles and fish eyes —so that we’re always off balanced. Any moment of relative respite is seconds away from being replaced.