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RJ Bayley – ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Retrospective Part 6

by RJ Bayley

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Part One.

Part Two.

Part Three.

Part 4.

Part 5.

The link with empowered femininity and witches could not be made any stronger with the opening sequence of this sixth episode, The Axeman Cometh, in American Horror Story: Coven. Set in 1919 the witches of the school during that year mark themselves not only as witches, descended from those of Salem, but also as suffragettes. As we’ve discussed in previous entries in this series, they’re women and witches and therefore the protectors of natural justice and harmony. Combined with being participants of the female emancipation movement, they are the very distillation of what this show has been looking at. So what happens when we throw the darkest representation of Coven’s interpretation of man into the mix?

A serial killer known only as The Axeman, with similarities to the real-life zodiac killer, named not only for this weapon, but also instrument of choice; a saxophone (another instrument known as an “axe”, which was news to this metalhead). He’s passing through New Orleans at the time and has issued a public demand in a newspaper that all houses in the city contain a live jazz band playing in full swing that evening. Houses which are not are eligible for a deadly visit. This is no coincidence as jazz music at the time was considered sexually provocative and dangerous to society. As American Horror Story: Coven  has already posited, sex reduces men to their base instincts, using it as a weapon. There’s also no coincidence in the fact stereotypical jazz parlance uses sexualised language and tones, the way in which the Axeman speaks. As a male who makes his trade from and takes such immense pleasure in a sexualised art, and as not just a killer, but a serial killer, who does so on the whim of this artform not being indulged in by others, he is the epitome of the male represented in the show so far.

And so, as the zeniths of the show’s representations of femininity and masculinity, there can be only one result. The witches deliberately blast opera out into the street for the Axeman to hear. As he enters the witch school to make good his warning, he is surrounded by the cloaked witches, and is stabbed, not once, not twice, but dozens upon dozens of times in a savage and bloody murder. And this is all just in the opening few minutes of the episode. How’s that for a show rammed with sexual politics?

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