By Ethan Renner
For The Baltimore Sun
8:48 AM EST, January 30, 2014
"I've made many painful mistakes in my life. I want my death to have some meaning." -- Myrtle Snow
"American Horror Story" wrapped its third season with a strong finale, focusing on themes of mortality and motherhood.
The show got lost when it strayed from those ideas this year, often attempting to shock its audience, seemingly at the expense of cohesive plot and logic. But as the finale showed, when it wanted to, Coven could tell a compelling story, even without much of its trademark violence and gore.
We start with a Stevie Nicks performance, kicking off a montage of the witches preparing to perform the seven wonders. There is a lot of fire-starting and Misty twirling, making this already the most fun this show has been all season. Stevie wishes the girls luck.
The ladies of the coven sit down to a last supper, which Myrtle points out will actually be the last supper for many of them. She also says she is certain that Da Vinci was a warlock. Again, why would you agree to participate in this charade? Why not run away. Just run away.
Cordelia points out that the reigning supreme customarily identifies her successor, but that in Fiona's case, she had neglected to do that. She actually tried to kill her successor.
Cordelia paraphrases some scripture in an effort to encourage her students to face the fact that they are about to do something serious. "Childhood is over, my girls," she says. "Put aside fears, reservations and petty things."
We cut to the next day, where Myrtle presides over the first wonder, telekinesis. All of the ladies pass the first test. All of the witches also perform the second wonder, concilium, also known as mind control. Madison and Zoe demonstrate their ability on Kyle, continuing their rivalry for his affection.
The third wonder involves descending to and returning from Hell before the next day dawns. Queenie is the first to return. Madison is second, noting that in her own personal Hell, she was "stuck on a network musical." Oh, I get jokes. Get it? She managed to get a dig in at the live "Sound of Music" special as well. How dare they disparage Carrie Underwood.
Zoe returns quickly as well.
Misty's personal Hell sees her being forced to dissect frogs over and over again. Misty can't snap herself out of it in time, and turns into a pile of dust. Cordelia takes Misty's death pretty hard, but no one else seems too phased by it. Farewell, Misty. You were my favorite.
The next wonder is transmutation, which the witches turn into a game of tag. Things are going well, and it's a light, fun moment. Then Zoe somehow impales herself on an iron gate. This show couldn't let me get away without seeing one more graphic puncture wound, could it?
Zoe's death allows for the next wonder, vitalum vitalis, to commence. Queenie tries and fails to bring Zoe back to life, meaning that she isn't the next supreme. Cordelia orders Madison to attempt to bring Zoe back, but Madison balks. Why should she bring her competition back to life? She argues the point, even killing a fly and bringing it back to life to pass the test anyway.
Myrtle tells her that she doesn't deserve to be supreme if she won't bring Zoe back. Madison remains unconvinced and orders Cordelia and Myrtle to crown her, or kiss her posterior, so to speak.
Madison storms off, leaving Myrtle and Cordelia to huddle up. "If Madison Montgomery really is all that is left to us, maybe it is better this way. Maybe we deserve to die out," Cordelia says.
As they talk, Myrtle has a revelation, and begins to wonder if Cordelia is actually the next supreme. "I was a fool not to have realized it earlier... You have great power, my girl, power that has been seeking expression in these young vessels. But it's in you. You must let it out. You must perform the seven wonders," Myrtle tells Cordelia.
Cordelia performs the first six easily, while Queenie, Myrtle and Madison look on. Wait, why didn't Queenie die? I thought that you were either the supreme, or a goner? That was clearly stated in the last episode. This business has passed me by.
With one wonder left, we are seemingly down to Madison and Cordelia, who will have a divination showdown. Cordelia passes the test easily. Madison stalls, then falters, accusing Myrtle of fixing the test. "You would accuse us of chicanery?" Myrtle asks. Madison storms off, calling the coven a "jacked-up version of celebrity rehab." Indeed.
As she packs her things to leave, Madison is confronted by Kyle for allowing Zoe to die. While Cordelia brings Zoe back to life in the greenhouse, Kyle ends Madison's life by strangling her. When I said Madison had to pay, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind, even if this was the most logical ending for this character. Spalding appears and offers to help Kyle bury Madison's body.
So, the big reveal of Cordelia as the next supreme sort of got buried there. By bringing Zoe back, Cordelia performed all seven wonders. Her sight is restored and her scars disappear.
Next, we see Cordelia going public with her news, doing a media interview to promote her school for young witches. "Thanks to you, we're entering a new era," Myrtle tells Cordelia, before insisting that Cordelia kill her, as punishment for killing the council.
"I'm not suggesting, I'm insisting," she tells her. "I killed, and I must pay for it."
"No. No way. You were my mother, my true mother," Cordelia protests.
"Stiff upper lip, my dear," Myrtle insists.
So, Cordelia, Zoe and Queenie march Myrtle back out to the spot where she was burned at the stake once before, and do it again. "Delia, my sweet daughter, I am nothing but proud of you," Myrtle says, before she goes up in flames. A poignant scene, if there ever was one. Lots of parasols, hats, sunglasses and wonderful fashion that I'm not qualified to critique here.
"I need both of you to help me fulfill the promise of all this coven can be," Cordelia tells Queenie and Zoe. So, someone misspoke last week when they suggested that the only two options were supremacy and death. I wish that had been made more clear. Cordelia appoints them as the members of her new council, before ordering them to stay put while she handles one last bit of business.
That business, of course, is the matter of Fiona. Cordelia walks into a room and finds her mother there, smoking. Fiona reveals that the vision of her death that Cordelia had seen was an illusion, one that Fiona had planted in The Axeman's mind.
Cordelia gets closer to Fiona and we see that her cancer has ravaged her. She looks 20 years older than she did when last we saw her. Fiona implies that she came back to kill Cordelia, but Cordelia isn't buying it. "You didn't come here to kill me. You were hoping I'd put you out of your misery. But I don't need to," she says. "You're close. I doubt you'll make it through the night."
"It was nothing personal, darling," Fiona tells Cordelia, as she explains why she treated her so poorly throughout her life. She says that Cordelia was just a constant reminder of her own mortality, her biggest fear. "I loved you plenty, though."
"I have to die for you to truly live," Fiona tells her daughter. "Crying over me. Isn't that the ultimate twist?" Fiona says.
Tears well up in Cordelia's eyes. "I'm not crying over you. I'm crying for me. You were the monster in every one of my closets. A lifetime spent either trying to prove myself to you, get close to you, or get away from you. I'm crying for the girl in me who dies when you die."
"For god's sake, have mercy on me," Fiona says, as she passes her daughter a blade. "Put me out of my misery. I hurt everywhere."
"You're scared, maybe for the first time in your life," Cordelia says as she embraces her mother. "No powers. No magic. Just a woman facing the inevitable."
As they hug, Fiona goes limp, slipping from one realm to the next.
Fiona comes to in her own personal hell, which turns out to be living on a farm with The Axeman, who brings her catfish to fry up every morning. Papa Legba looks on and laughs. Fiona's Hell is a mundane, ordinary, mortal existence.
In the season's final scene, Cordelia, Zoe, Queenie and Kyle welcome a new class of young witches to their coven. "It's our time to thrive," Cordelia says.
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