How exactly does one review an episode of television like this? It’s something of a challenge to grade something which seemingly has no intention of adhering to the generally accepted criteria of storytelling by which one can assess its quality. The Replacements is not something I can strictly refer to as a “narrative”. Although it has running themes and connecting sequences that bookend the episode, it plays more like an assembly of increasingly strange (and increasingly disturbing) set pieces that have little or no relation to each other, while they still all somehow connect to the overarching plot of the show. Never before in my life have I been subjected to an episode of TV that contained incestuous rape, animal-sacrificing fertility rituals, surprise masturbation, three murders and semi-bestiality all within its 42 minute runtime. But my goodness does AHS take the plunge and somehow manages to shove all of that and more into The Replacements, and it’s as off putting (presumably intentionally) as it sounds.
The overarching theme of this episode happens to be sex (go figure), and how sex relates to a group of people who all have identity issues in most cases related to aging. Fiona’s struggles with youthfulness (more specifically, the lack thereof), are expressed through her inability to attract men at this point in her life. Madison uses her young female form to try and attract the sights of the Coven’s new, hot neighbor boy (who I’ll get to momentarily). Cordelia’s inability to reproduce leads her to attempt to enlist the aid of Marie Laveau and her ability to grant fertility. And finally, Queenie apparently has sexual fulfillment issues, leading her to attempt to initiate sex with a Minotaur she finds wandering around the backyard (in a scene I have not yet fully processed and am not sure I really want to). One way or another, every story this episode ties back to sex. And where sex and American Horror Story meet, things get weird. Like, really, really weird.
In an unusual move for this show, however, none of the sex in this episode is particularly graphic or provocative. On the contrary, it’s actually quite disturbing, which presents us with an unusual message for a Ryan Murphy show: in Coven, sex is the enemy. It is a desirable fruit that many desire (see Queenie, Madison and Fiona), but turns out to be a poisonous weapon used for harm (Zoe’s murderous vagina, Madison getting raped, Kyle suffering molestation at the hands of his own mother). Aside from the scene last week between Cordelia and her husband, sex has been an uncomfortable, repulsive thing all season long. And it’s a theme that shows no sign of dissipating, which makes me wonder how crucial it will be to Coven‘s endgame.
Now, back to the neighbor boy I referenced before. As it turns out he’s the son of Patti LuPone’s character (I’ve been waiting for her to show up!) and, rather disappointingly, she’s relegated to the Ryan Murphy staple role of “Bible-thumping nutter”. And maybe it’s my personal faith, or maybe it’s just my distaste for stereotypes, but this particular character feels very tired and very thin. At this Murphy has basically run out of angry things to yell at the Christian conservative contingent (of whom I swear he has never actually met a single one). I mean really, when Fiona hisses “you’re the biggest perverts of them all.” What’s that supposed to mean? Does she mean that they do some kinky stuff behind closed doors? Does she mean they’re literally rapey perverts? Does she mean they use religion to repress their own sexual desire? Really, what is that even supposed to mean? It’s the broadest, thinnest kind of attack one could make. And I found myself utterly confused rather than offended (not that I get offended at this point, I’ve developed a thick enough skin from watching TV and know what to expect when a “Christian” character walks onscreen). And I’m concerned that Murphy thinks a character simply walking around with “The Good Book”, going to Bible study and saying “Jesus” on occasion (btw, who does that?) actually qualifies them as some sort of villain. The show certainly treats her as such, but comes up with no sufficient reason other than “because we don’t like people who think like that” (a rhetoric which, apparently unbeknownst to Murphy, sharply goes against the themes of acceptance and diversity he so decidedly threads through all of his shows). The character is tired, she’s a bore, she’s thinly written, and I’m not really looking forward to seeing more of her around this show, which is a bummer as I was pretty excited to see some Patti LuPone on my TV.
That unfortunate plot thread aside, in regards to it’s apparent mission statement: “hammer home the overarching themes and be super weird about it”, The Replacements is a smashing success. Say what you want about the characters having thin motivations (actually, that’s mostly been me saying that), but it cannot be said that this episode of American Horror Story was ever boring. Which is all anybody ever wants out of this show, isn’t it? To never, ever be the slightest bit boring? Welp, good Mr. Murphy, Mr. Fulchuk and the rest of the writing staff. Mission accomplished.
Grade: B (I think? I dunno. Let’s just say it was a “B” and call it a night)
Again, WTF was that scene with Queenie and the Minotaur? How am I supposed to process watching Gabourey Sidibe touch herself in front of a dude with a cow’s head?
Speaking of which, that is a kickin band name: “Queenie and the Minotaur”
Also, apparently getting voodoo resurrected with a bulls head on you gives you hooves and Minotaur hands? I’m so confused. Why didn’t Laveau just take the stupid bull’s head off and then resurrect him?
Sorry, I’m really stuck on this Minotaur business. It’s just so weird.
A lot of people seemed surprised at how early Madison got killed off. Which makes sense considering Emma Roberts is playing her. But from a writing perspective? Killing off the bitchy movie-star early on makes the most sense.
Killer Quote: “This coven doesn’t need a new Supreme, it needs a new rug.”
Andrew Allen is a television (and occasionally film) writer for Action A Go Go. He is an aspiring screenwriter and director who is currently studying at the University of Miami. You can check him out on Tumblr @andrewballen and follow him on Twitter @A_B_Allen.