American Horror Story 3.03, “The Replacements”

[Content warning: discussion of anti-Black racism, attempted suicide, child sexual abuse, fat shaming, incest, murder, violence against women]

Ttitle card for American Horror Story: CovenRecap

This week’s “American Horror Story” takes us back to 1970s New Orleans and a young Fiona (Riley Voelkel) faces off against her Supreme and coven leader, Anna-Lee Leighton (Christine Ebersole). Fiona knows she’s destined to become the next Supreme and that Anna-Lee’s powers fade as her powers grow stronger. When Anna-Lee derides Fiona’s selfishness and declares that she’ll never be the next Supreme, Fiona cuts her losses and cuts Ms. Leighton’s throat. We’ll learn that Fiona’s thirst for power and youth don’t stop there.

In the present, Zoe feels very guilty for Kyle’s death and visits his mother, Alicia (Mare Winningham), who almost committed suicide out of grief until Zoe called. A teary-eyed Zoe promises that Alicia will see Kyle again, and while Alicia wistfully believes Zoe means in the afterlife, we know she’s speaking literally. Sure enough, we next see Zoe take Kyle, who still ain’t quite right and doesn’t speak, from Misty’s little swampy cabin. Misty hates to see them leave and physically tries to keep Kyle there as she wails about how she healed him. But, Zoe takes him and drops him off at his mom’s door like a UPS package with a hard knock on the door and then running away.

Over at Miss Robichaux’s Academy, the Ramsey family moves in next door, and the other three young women moon over the shirtless and sweaty son, Luke (Alexander Dreymon), much to his very religious mother’s dismay. Nan and Madison decide to pay Luke a little visit armed with his favorite cake and a form-fitting blue dress, respectively. Nan and Luke seem to instantly hit it off while Madison gets into trouble with mama Joan (Patti LuPone) because of her outfit.  Madison uses her magic to throw a butcher knife at Joan’s head, barely missing, and set her drapes ablaze. Fiona seems alarmed by this development of Madison’s powers and suspects she will soon replace Fiona as the new Supreme. So, she takes Madison on as a sort of protégé.

While this happens, Cordelia visits Marie Laveau for fertility treatments because she’s simply unable to conceive. Marie acknowledges that she could help her and that her ritual has a one hundred percent success rate. But, she’s not about to help Fiona’s daughter with diddly squat after Fiona came in her place of business behaving like a gigantic jerk and threatening the peace between Salem witches and Marie’s clan. Cordelia appears surprised and angry to learn of Fiona’s actions.

Back at Miss Robichaux’s, Delphine LaLaurie remains utterly racist but has now been deemed the household maid and Queenie’s personal slave because, “There’s nothing [Fiona] hates more than a racist.” When Queenie and LaLaurie are alone, the man LaLaurie turned into her own Minotaur comes for blood. Queenie, who earlier discussed being loved starved, lures him into a shed and sadly says that they’re both people labeled “monsters” that are just looking for love before they get on with the sexing.

Zoe still hasn’t been seen at the school because she’s now heading to Kyle’s house for dinner with him and his mother. She arrives to find a bloody Kyle and his mother on the floor with her skull bashed in. She’s understandably horrified. But, Zoe doesn’t know what we know, that Kyle’s mother has sexually abused him (and evidently has for many years), and Kyle simply had enough and dispatched of his abuser.

The episode comes to a close when Fiona finally tells Madison that she will be the next Supreme. Fiona goes on to confess to a rattled Madison that she’s dying because Madison grows stronger and takes her life force. She also confesses to murdering the Supreme before her and thrusts the same knife she used to do it into Madison’s hands and tearfully begs Madison to kill her. Madison refuses and, in the struggle, Fiona slits Madison’s throat. It takes only a moment for Fiona to wipe away her fake crocodile tears and compose herself. As Madison bleeds into the carpet, she intones that, “This coven doesn’t need a new Supreme; it needs a new carpet.” And, so the episode ends as it began.

Discussion

I want to talk about Kyle’s mother sexually abusing him. When I watched the show, I managed to wake up my friend and roommate with my very vocal reaction to his abuse. We discussed what happened on the show between Kyle and his mother and how my roommate, zirself a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of multiple abusers including zir mother, often wished film and television would confront and explore situations in which mothers are abusers because it’s not nearly as common on television as other scenarios. Unfortunately, we both agreed, this wasn’t really what ze had in mind. It seems as though the writers appropriated the very real issue of sexual abuse and child sexual abuse to manipulate the audience into cheering for yet another scene of brutal violence and murder of women. Certainly, I didn’t feel bad for Kyle’s mother for a second, if I’m to be honest, even as I felt uncomfortable with the misogynistic implications. I do wonder if the writers will explore that in any real depth and not just use it for fodder for Kyle’s Frankenstein-the-misunderstood-monster story arc, and I also imagine my interpretation is not the only one. I am interested in how other survivors interpreted what happened there.

I also want to talk about Queenie and the Minotaur man. Many authors, scholars and other Black women have written about the hypersexualization of Black women and have talked about white supremacist constructions of Black women’s desire and desirability, especially relative to white women who have been, historically, upheld as the model of respectable and protected femininity. Certainly, white women have suffered under this sort of benevolent sexism, but they’ve also had access to protections and even to their humanity in ways that Black women have not. This hypersexualization and dehumanization of Black women has had real world consequences including the experience of higher rates of sexual violence historically and presently. I won’t get into all of that here (Google is a great resource if you’d like to learn more). But, that, along with how being fat and darker-skinned interplays with issues of desire and desirability, informed how I watched this scene. Queenie, who had made a point earlier of talking about how she wanted a special someone in her life sexually and romantically, leads a Black man who has literally been dehumanized and animalized and made faceless and speechless, into a shed to talk about how they’re “both monsters” before masturbating and then allowing him to have sex with her. I believe we’re supposed to simultaneously feel disgusted and yet sorrowful, but all I felt was the weight of years and years of racialized misogyny and the attending dehumanization, that I know intimately as a fat, Black woman, being inscribed onto Queenie and her body.

That said, I did appreciate that the show did not desexualize Nan nor infantilize. Again, many authors, scholars and other disabled women have written about and continue to write about desire and desirability with regards to disabled women. And, the show went the route of acknowledging that Nan can be and, in this case, is a sexual being. I really hope the writers handle that well and respectfully going forward.

Next week, we’ll see some of the fallout from Fiona’s actions in these last few episodes.

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Marena

Marena recently earned her Master of Arts degree in Social Justice & Human Rights & primarily explores social justice issues in the production & consumption of popular mass media. You may find her creating fanworks, testing her hand-eye coordination with beadweaving, flailing over her fictional faves, reading everything from fanfic to theory texts, or watching low budget sci-fi. You can find her writing on Marena ni yukyats.

2 thoughts on “American Horror Story 3.03, “The Replacements””

  1. Re: Nan: While I’m suepr glad that there was the positive reception to her sexuality and stuff… Someone brought up that when set next to the other issues of sexuality/deviance (necrophilia, incest, beastiality, etc) this season, it might be more a play on how our society frames the sexuality of developmentally disabled women as deviant, sometimes comparing it to incest and child sexual abuse, rather than challenging that. I guess we’ll see how it plays out… But as an Autistic woman I’m a bit skeptical that this will be as positive as it could be. *sigh* (I can’t find the link again. blargh)

    1. Ah, great points! I’m going to google around and see if I can find that. I defer to women who are cognitively and/or developmentally disabled on that issue and can see how you’d be skeptical. I’m very afraid that they’re going to do something super busted with that, and given how Nan’s sexuality was framed as you pointed out, I can see that happening. I guess we’ll see. :/

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