Oftentimes when dealing with a show that’s consistently a mixed-bag, the stars will align there’ll be one stand out episode that will perfectly balance all the elements within it and serve as a shining example of what ought to be the show’s regular standard. While I have enjoyed American Horror Story: Coven thus far, entirely because it’s numerous fantastic elements overshadow its mediocre ones, I would be lying if said I believed the show had really embraced its potential. That is, until I saw Fearful Pranks Ensue.
For the first time all season, the Coven writers have crafted an episode that works on every level. Every character and every subplot are engaging and work marvelously. The draggy “zombie-Kyle” subplot that was a bore to sit through features very little here, and what is presented works much better than it had previously. Without the mediocrity to muddy the waters and weigh the show down, the truly phenomenal parts of Coven shine twice as bright; Jessica Lange gives her best performance of the season thus far in this episode, as biting and quick-witted as ever but with an added layer of emotional resonance that had been lacking prior. The world of witchcraft is beginning to fill itself out as well, for the first time we really get the sense that other, magically-related things are happening outside of the scope of this particular Coven. The horror elements also work as well (which shouldn’t be quite the achievement it actually is given this shows purported subject matter), it’s creepy, it’s gory and it’s moderately intense; everything I wanted this show to be.
The universe Ryan Murphy and Brad Fulchuk built for themselves in Coven is one that will only be properly utilized as long as it doesn’t take itself too, too seriously. The first three episodes were weighed down by incessant preaching and heavy-handed “messages”, as well as subplots which were too dramatically serious for a show this silly to handle in a satisfying manner. Pranks does away with most of these problems by focusing on the strengths this particular story lends itself to; bitchy, violent, sassy, creepy drama. The themes of marginalization and oppression are relegated to the position they should have been in from the start; subtext. The oppressive straight-faced performing is done away with entirely. In its place we’re given Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy going at each other in a battle of wits and deception, we get voodoo zombies tearing people apart, we get a mute Denis O’Hare having a tea party with a corpse in a room full of creepy dolls, we get THIS LINE: “If she’s dead she probably got wasted and tried to offer the Grim Reaper a handjob or something.”, AND we get voodoo zombies that tear a bunch of racist murderers limb-from-limb! The entire thing is completely insane and every second of it is monstrously entertaining. Coven is slowly but surely learning how to have fun, and is finding the best, most satisfying version of itself in the process.
If this episode is a one-time anomaly, then I’m glad it happened. If it’s a sign of the quality of the show to come, then color me excited. Very, very excited.
Every other line in this episode was a venomous and sassy insult and it was just the best thing. Also, it has Leslie Jordan as a wonderfully flamboyant member of The Council, I mean, how can you beat that?
The cold open flashback to the sixties was killer in every way possible. And voodoo zombies are even better than regular zombies!
On a less jovial note: kinda unclear on exactly what happened with Queenie there… Did Bastien rape her? Or did he just attack her? Was her proposition to him last episode just a diversion tactic or an act of lonely desperation? Even bigger question: do I actually expect the show to address any of the preceding questions? (The answer being “No, you idiot”)
I will never get over that “Grim Reaper Handjob” line.
And I’m actually slightly depressed that Bastien is dead (? Kinda? Just decapitiated?). The literalized Minotaur was just too creepy and zany to feature significantly in only one episode. I’m hoping they find a way to bring him back.
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.