RJ Bayley – ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Retrospective Part 10
As Coven nears the end of its run, the interesting postulations on female gender politics keep coming thick and fast. After last episode’s climactic murderfest at the voodoo witch salon/lair by Hank, Marie Laveau ended up on the doorstep of the Salem witches. In part 9 of this series I took the time to discuss that men are here depicted as anti-life, set apart from nature. So, true to the gender ideology of the series, despite being sworn enemies for a long time, when a common enemy that destroys life presents itself, the women put their differences aside to defeat it. So much so that Laveau freely admits that she hired Hank to assassinate the Salem witches to little admonishment. It’s interesting however that it’s Cordelia who literally gets a faceful of punishment for the crime of being unobservant, arguably a form of passive neglect, and is ostracised severely by her mother and made to feel worthless. This could present a contradiction in the show’s earlier ideology that causing deliberate harm is a greater natural crime than the more passive one of neglect. However, this can be countered by the show’s other earlier ideology; women nurture and care, and are closer to nature. And nature thinks little of causing death as a means of self defence. So, as enemies, using a death as a way of protecting the lives of those closest to her makes sense. Just as in nature all lions are lions, but different prides will freely battle and kill for territory, safety and dominance.
We also return to the show’s earlier exploration of the extreme pressure put on women to remain eternally youthful. Here that concept takes a very literal form. It’s revealed that centuries ago Laveau wished for eternal life, synonymous with youth forever. Here it was from a moment of desperation during a fatal childbirth, but all through the series, via the medium of Fiona, we have associated death with ageing, giving way to a younger generation. In this moment of death Laveau was dying from giving way to a younger generation, just not from ageing, but in the most direct way possible. So she makes a deal with the voodoo loa Papa Legba for eternal life. So much is her wish for this that she is forced to make the sacrifice of handing over her newborn to Papa Legba, and bringing him an innocent soul every year for eternity, generally a baby by default, as they’re yet to lose any innocence.
But while the show earlier looked at the pressures applied to appearing forever young on women and the way it is cruelly stigmatised by the media, this sub-plot considers it from a different angle. While the media stigmatising ageing in women is totally wrong, there is nothing unnatural or ‘wrong’ in just ageing. It is simply how life works. And so by going against this absolutely fundamental mechanic of nature Laveau is severely punished by doing something that grossly contradicts her role as a women within the show’s gender framework.
Correspondingly Fiona is close to death herself due to giving way to a younger generation, but this time against her will. So she conjures Papa Legba (who for some reason the makers of Coven have chosen to deliberately confuse with the voodoo loa Baron Samedi – whyever so is anyone’s guess) and makes the same bargain, but with the explicit stipulation that she wants to cease ageing. Having nothing to barter with, however, no soul, she resorts to the only way she knows can stop the aging/dying process: killing off the younger generation that would usurp her. A damning indictment of the media stigmatising aging in women and its arising pressure if ever there was one.
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