As part of our Women in Horror Month celebrations, RJ Bayley will be looking back at the third season of American Horror Story: Coven – particularly with regards to it’s female driven cast.
The Replacements is a very appropriate name for the third episode of American Horror Story: Coven. For as long as there has been stigma there has been the unpleasantly patriarchal, if not downright misogynist general social principle that while men get better with age, women degrade. The accumulated experience that broadens a man’s mind and accentuates physically masculine qualities is the same experience that renders a woman a dithering biddy with an eroded body, apparently. Chances are, you know at least one woman who’s expressed discomfort at societal pressure to remain eternally youthful, the expectation of them to be able to fight off that one universal constant, entropy. The one thing nothing in the universe, nor the very universe itself, can repel.
And so in The Replacements, Coven does what only fantasy and science fiction can truly do: make literal and personify social constructs and ideas and have them play out in direct proximity to characters. Here it’s the Supreme. The greatest living witch, able to demonstrate the “seven wonders”, all the major supernatural talents of witchcraft, which other witches only possess a few of, at best. As demonstrated by Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), in her prime the Supreme has the world at her feet. She can do anything and holds absolute power over the opposite sex (even without having to employ her mystic powers), something she takes great pleasure in. Ultimately however, the power of the Supreme fades. Her ability to sway men gone, her powers fail her and her body begins to slip down a biological slope that eventually becomes freefall. She comes to the realisation that thanks to some unfathomable rule her time is passed and all that’s left for her is a trudge towards irrelevance, impotence and history.
But The Replacements explores this theme further. As the current Supreme becomes the old supreme, a new, younger Supreme literally drains her of her vitality and power, and takes her place. In The Replacements it’s Madison (Emma Roberts) who’s poised to be the new Supreme, beautiful and increasingly powerful. Just like the media pushes on us, this is a constantly moving conveyor belt. As the previous part falls off the end, the newer one is already on at the starting point, and as soon as you see that other part enter the scene, you know your time is up. Today’s Selena Gomez is tomorrow’s Vanessa Hudgens and the speed at which young women are prepped then sexualised in increasingly cringe-inducing obviousness is accelerating (by the Disney corporation a lot of the time, it seems). There’s always the proverbial “younger model”. And intentional or not, that’s a threat.
But American Horror Story is known for its own twisted justice. For we’ve seen women in Coven as the enforcers of natural justice even if that’s against other women, with primal measures. Self-preservation is the most basic and, using the show’s logic, justifiable aspect of nature. It’s also misogynist and ageist to simply be expected to step aside for a younger model, then go and die without fuss. So not only is it perfectly just, but it’s practically feminist when Fiona slashes Madison’s throat.