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RJ Bayley – ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Retrospective Part 9

by RJ Bayley

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Part One.

Part Two.

Part Three.

Part 4.

Part 5.

Part 6.

 Part 7.

Part 8.

I’m going to go a bit off piste for this installment of my American Horror Story: Coven retrospective, that’s so far been examining the roles of women and their qualities therein. This episode, Head’s, lynchpin is the actions of Hank, the witch hunter who’s been masquerading as Cordelia’s husband for the better part of the series. And so it’s men’s roles that are explored more in this episode.

We open with a childhood Hank, being taught by his father, to hunt and kill his first witch. His hesitation and mercy gets his father burned and scarred as thanks. This sets up the briefly explored storyline that’s been developing of Hank desperately trying to win the approval of his dismissive father, head of the witch hunters and their corporation. Hank has not been chosen as his father’s successor, telling of show’s gender matrix. The women, the witches, are closely connected to nature, living in a place of nurturing, a school, generally looking out for each other and being punished when not.

The men, on the other hand, are witch hunters, and so the hunters of women. They are defined as corporate, the Delphi corporation precisely, and explicitly having financial interests alongside their witch hunting. They are depicted in sleek boardrooms, sharp suits and gold rings; anti-nature, the world constructed by humans to be apart from it. Given the time the programme was made, the financial corporation was also, and still very much is, seen as the villain in real life. In not selecting his son as his successor he has been seen as protecting the male representatives of Coven, an act of neglect which, for a man, is rewarded.

So far younger and less experienced men have been unable to divorce sex from violence, deliberately or not, and have turned it into a weapon. Hank himself, an apparently inept witch hunter, exemplified this earlier in the series by sleeping with Kaylee before putting a window in her skull. As the men grow older and more experienced however their weapons simply become weapons: pistols and shotguns. As younger men, at least weaponised sex was tangentially linked with an act that created life. With the older men however, they have cast off this unnecessary life-giving aspect and have instead chosen to carry forward with them simply the harmful aspect, in doing so increasing their harm to the point of becoming instruments of death. So men become the antithesis of women, both anti-nature and anti-life.

The men’s world is definitely more savage than the women’s, where survival is far more Darwinian. This is exemplified in the final bloodbath. An inexperienced Hank, desperate for his father’s approval due to his inability to dispose of witches correctly, storms Marie Laveau’s salon and guns down as many witches as he can catch between his crosshairs. His rash and naive actions are ultimately thwarted however, as Queenie, true to the show’s gender framework, seemingly sacrifices herself for her fellow women, putting a gun in her mouth and ventilating her cranium, and so his through her human voodoo doll powers.

And yet it’s easy to see the appeal of the man’s world. Perhaps it’s the show’s problem that none of the characters attacked are particularly likable after this amount of betrayal, backstabbing and torture, but there is something very thrilling and gratifying in seeing Hank annihilate a group of witches in a short space of time. Perhaps there’s some comfort in seeing guns, a recognisable and real-life weapon, easily conquering witchcraft that is beyond our mortal grasp in the twitch of a finger. The scene is deliberately glamourised, the guns sleek, powerful and instant. Problems, are immediately and permanently solved, at least in the short term, with the pull of a trigger. More experienced witch hunters are depicted as feared in the show, so Hank’s fate is clearly not that of others of his creed that solve problems with gunfire.

Or maybe I’ve just been brought up on too many films in which the witch must burn.

Or it could be that stylish gunfights are just cool.

Or perhaps it’s just because there really is a little piece of Matthew Hopkins in me, because I am a man.

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