American Horror Story: Coven: The Hamlet Approach
Somewhere in the thousands of hours of television I have consumed in my lifetime, I once heard an adage that goes something like: "Everyone dies, not everyone truly lives." I have never seen that sentiment more perfectly, if slightly ironically, expressed than in the season finale of Coven.
First things first, and there's no getting around it. The episode opens with a Stevie Nicks music video. Seriously. It is a music video for Fleetwood Mac's 1987 song "Seven Wonders", which I went back and looked up the official music video for, and let me tell you, it's pretty much the same exact approach except done with the cast of Coven.
I'll say it again, I have nothing but love for Stevie Nicks, but it's like this...I rewatched the entire season before catching the finale because my wife had a break in her nursing studies and wanted to try the show out. She lives in a perpetual state of disappointment that they never made a movie out of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, you see.
She also grew up with a sister who was obsessed with Stevie Nicks, and throughout the course of viewing the whole shebang in one big chunk, she would pause it continuously to show me a whole bunch of references to the White Witch I had missed. Little musical cues and costume choices that were subtle homages to times in Nicks's life.
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That should be cool, but it never, ever pays off. Nicks sings her song as the four remaining girls prepare to try for the position of Supreme, then saunters out in a top hat because why the hell not? Nicks is never revealed to be any sort of figure of true importance, and her music doesn't offer a leitmotif that takes us there as a plot device. It's like the makers of the show just had a bunch of her songs stuck in their heads and exorcised the earworm through television.
It's not the only thing that was pointless.
We're far off into the review now that I shouldn't have any problems dropping a fairly mild spoiler for anyone who has followed the show consistently. "The Seven Wonders" goes completely Hamlet here at the end, with characters dropping off left and right for their permanent deaths and even a few looks into the eternal torment they will suffer in Papa Legba's various hells.
Which would be great, but unlike in Hamlet, the people behind Coven have spent every moment they could invalidating the concept of death itself. I counted at least a dozen resurrections this season and I'm sure I missed at least one or two. So by the end, death becomes little more than pest control, and the refusal to save others is nothing more than pettiness.
Asylum got away with the essential hopelessness of its universe because it left us with mysteries that offered answers that we simply couldn't understand. A lot of people hated the alien angle, but it was a necessary red herring that got the show out of a lot of plot scrapes, as did the never fully explained presence of the devil. Asylum was grand.
Coven was small. Plain and simple. The ideas were small. The characters were small. Only at the very end, when what looks like a whole new world for witches begins, do we get a tiny glimpse of what could have been. "The Seven Wonders" should have been where the show was ten episodes ago. Now it's too little too late.
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