RJ Bayley – ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Retrospective Part 13
“Childhood is over my girls”.
Here we are; the end of our thirteen part journey through the female gender constructs and explorations of American Horror Story: Coven. As Cordelia’s quote that starts this piece illustrates, for the younger women of the coven, this episode is the final step of their journey. Not just in narrative terms, with the characters undergoing the test of the seven wonders to determine who is the new supreme; it’s about their transcendence into adulthood. It’s an appropriately arduous process as well. There are multiple difficult skills to master and only by achieving each one do you rise to the very top. Of course, this being an occult-based analogy, the stakes are much higher than in real life. In reality, if someone really fails at a particular, necessary skill, it’s a setback, something to be learned later or one that’ll just have to be done without. In The Seven Wonders however, it can equate with death.
Now hold on, I know that sounds a particularly cruel parallel for the show to draw, but it’s not that cut and dry. Sure, Misty does die by not making it back from Hell in time, and in terms of the story, it’s a real misstep. It’s such a meaningless, trivial death for one of the best and most different characters and it’s deeply unsatisfying and disappointing. It doesn’t reward the caring and life-giving qualities that ultimately defined Misty either. Perhaps, however, in a sudden and brutal display of logical realism, Coven is making the point that life isn’t fair and despite the best of intentions life gives you a kicking for absolutely no reason at all.
However Zoe too dies during her transmutation challenge, impaled on a fence spike she accidently teleports onto. This death is not permanent for this nurturing and sweet character, and she is later brought back from the dead, rewarded by the show’s gender matrix.
Conversely Madison, refuses to bring Zoe back for her revival wonder test, instead killing and then resurrecting a fly. It’s not failing her later divination wonder that costs her her life however, but Kyle, enraged by her not bringing Zoe back. It’s a fitting end for the brat, who chooses not to use her gifts for the qualities the show bestows on women. And it also, one final time, links men, sexuality and violence.
Not all the women perish by not making it through the test however. Queenie lives on when it becomes apparent who the new supreme is. However I don’t think that’s the show saying “when you recognise your natural superior you will be OK as long as you step aside and allow her ascent”, and is more just a logical decision. Indeed, while she’s committed some cruel acts, Queenie too has been shown to be a largely good person, and as such graduates from her childhood into a higher position as the member of the witches council. This is alongside Zoe, again rewarded for her decency.
And who is the new supreme? It’s the one who’s clearly displayed all the qualities of nurturing, kindness, compassion and self-sacrifice: Cordelia. Her position fits right in with the gender matrix that the show has been building from episode one. You can see it coming a mile off, but it is wholly consistent with the show’s ideology, and perhaps that’s the very reason you can see it coming from so far away. She even gets her eyes back.
Fiona also manages to rear her ugly head (figuratively, not literally, I’m not that tasteless) again, essentially coming to beg her daughter into killing her and explaining she was a mother, just not the kind Cordelia wanted. Cordelia correctly rejects this however, and insists her mother dies all by herself, though her caring side wins through and allows her birth mother to die in her embrace.
There is one last death for Coven to dish out however, and that is who Cordelia considers to be her true mother: Myrtle Snow. Cordelia was self sacrificing enough to gouge her own eyeballs with gardening shears and you can see where she got this most noble of traits from. Knowing that Cordelia’s new reign of prosperity for the witches will be tainted by having a witch by her side who has hurt her own kind, she insists on being burned at the stake. The ultimate sacrifice for the good of her peers. It’s also worth mentioning that her final word, “Balenciaga” (the name of a fashion designer), makes the point that loving things on an aesthetic level should not be seen as a sign of superficiality and solely associated with her fashionista rival, Fiona.
For the most part the sinners have been punished and the just have been rewarded for conforming to the gender ideology set out and developed by the show. And so the witches finally come out to the world. The show has explored how women have been shackled to stigmas originating in the past that still impede them today. Yet, this is an optimistic ending. Now, in a more enlightened world they are accepted for who they are, their qualities and differences, and witches in hiding flock to the school, no longer having to hide in the shadows. They are heading for a future in which they no longer have remain chained to or hide from outdated social constructs. A future of harmony.