New Show Recap

New Show Recap: American Horror Story, 3×05, “Burn, Witch, Burn!”

This week we begin with a blast from the past at Madame LaLaurie’s home on All Hallow’s Eve 1833. 

Ttitle card for American Horror Story: Coven

One of LaLaurie’s daughters attempts romance with a handsome beau, but LaLaurie interferes by bringing him to her “house of horrors,” which is really a few of bowls full of different parts of slaves she’s tortured and killed. Predictably, the scene is interspersed with scenes of Black slaves being tortured because it wouldn’t be an episode without it. The beau doesn’t care for her house of horrors and makes a quick exit as LaLaurie cackles about his lack of courage. Seemingly out of earshot, her daughters plot to kill her. I wonder if they care as much about her horrific mistreatment of slaves as they do about her controlling and abusive behavior toward them? In any case, LaLaurie knows all, and she punishes her daughters in her torture chamber as we cut to present.

LaLaurie’s daughters have returned as the undead and, along with dozens others, surround the school. All of the young witches and LaLaurie immediately begin turning off lights, locking doors, and preparing for a siege. Luke, the hot but evidently somewhat drippy neighbor boy, believes that the undead army is actually a group of teenaged pranksters and so steps outside to show them what’s what. He’s quickly disabused of that notion when one of them shows him what’s what and Nan has to come save his silly ass.

At a local hospital, Fiona finds out that whoever threw acid in Cordelia’s face blinded her in the attack. Cordelia lies prone in her hospital bed as she recovers while Fiona wanders the halls of the hospital. She ends up in the room of a young mother who whose baby has recently died. Fiona pushes the child into the mother’s arms despite her protests and encourages her to speak lovingly to the child. Of course, the touch of the Supreme brings the child back to life, and the mother cries with joy as Fiona exits to return to her own child.

Back at Miss Robichaux’s, Luke remains silly and trapped in a car outside with Nan. Zoe runs out to save them and distract the undead. LaLaurie decides it’s her turn to make silly-ass decisions and opens the back door for one of her undead daughters while tearfully insisting that her daughter must recognize her on some level. I cringe because I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to feel sympathy for LaLaurie here who, I’ll remind you, tortured Black slaves on this show and in real life. In any case, her daughter attacks her, and that may be a yes or no on her recognizing her mother, given their past relationship.

Just as Queenie gets out of bed because she’s worried about what’s happening out there, LaLaurie’s daughter bursts through Queenie’s bedroom door. Queenie tries as she can to fight her off, but to no avail. Just as things look bleak, LaLaurie herself comes in and stops her daughter. And, again, we’re supposed to feel sympathy at this little moment of redemption as LaLaurie dispatches her own daughter to save Queenie. They hug, and I try not to flip a table because what the hell ever, show.

Meanwhile, Nan helps hot but drippy neighbor boy back into the house while Zoe goes Evil Dead on everyone’s asses with a chainsaw. She’s sawing the undead to pieces when the damned thing goes on the fritz. Just as all looks lost, she unleashes a new power that knocks Marie for a loop back at her pad. When asked what happened, a visibly shaken Marie only says, “I don’t know. But, they got some real power at that witch house now.” I am vaguely annoyed because I knew Madison was a red herring, and I suspected the powers that be (TPTB) might run with Zoe as the new Supreme. To quote a friend, Zoe is like ramen noodles without the packet, bland and basic. But, we’ll see.

Back at the hospital, horrible hubby Hank has come to visit Cordelia. Fiona has precisely zero patience for him because she knows there’s something off about the guy. She verbally smacks him down before stepping out for a moment to let him visit. She threatens that if he’s not gone by the time she comes back, she will be happy to make him leave. When Hank and Cordelia are alone, he takes her hand in his, and her eyes snap open as she gets flashes of his recent, murderous escapades. Hank seems surprised, but I’m not sure if he knows what she saw. Meanwhile, I try not to roll my eyes too hard at this ableist trope. She’s blind but now she sees. Still, I am happy that horrible hubby Hank has been exposed.

Later the next day, we’re back at Miss Robichaux’s where Nan, Zoe, Fiona and LaLaurie burn the now very dead bodies of the army that attacked them. Nan is overjoyed that Luke will stay with them until he recovers, and Zoe seems pleased that Fiona thanks her for helping fight off the attack. LaLaurie and Fiona stand in front of the fire as LaLaurie laments the loss of her daughters and her awful turn as a mother. Fiona says she knows the feeling, but (thankfully, oh Gods) shuts LaLaurie down when she tries to make it a touching moment just as the council arrives.

Fiona stands accused of a litany of crimes and is about to be stripped of her title as Supreme when Fiona brings out her ace in the hole. She has proof that malcontent Myrtle has staged a coup. It turns out that Myrtle has been in New Orleans stalking Fiona for weeks without the council’s knowledge. Fiona also charges that Myrtle attacked and blinded Cordelia and triumphantly rips off one of Myrtle’s gloves to reveal an acid burned hand. Myrtle weakly bleats her innocence, but the council unanimously decides that she must burn. She declares that she’s always been a freak and an outsider and goes “proudly to the flames.”

Cut to the next day and Zoe can’t believe they’re really going to burn Myrtle. Queenie ominously intones, “You don’t mess with the Supreme,” as Myrtle is, indeed, marched to her death and burned with a drenching of gasoline and a flick of Fiona’s cigarette. Before she burns, she warns that Fiona will ruin their coven.

When we return to the school, an anxious Queenie visits Fiona and asks if she helped framed an innocent woman. Surprise, surprise, when Fiona revealed Myrtle’s acid-burned hand, we learn Queenie caused the burns by dipping her own hand in acid at Fiona’s request. That Fiona is a shark, y’all. Fiona assures Queenie that she did the right thing and then flatters Queenie by fawning over her, arguing that, surely, she will be the next Supreme, and Fiona will personally tutor her. I scoff at Queenie being so easily manipulated, but my roomie points out that Fiona’s constant touching probably worked some literal magic to butter Queenie up. I also guffaw when Fiona says that this coven needs a “Supreme of color.” Fiona, stop; your Good White Person act embarrasses all of us.

The show ends by reminding us that Spalding still has a dead Madison stashed away in his room.  Meanwhile, Misty finds poor, burned and dead Myrtle and brings her back to life.

Next week, “The Axeman Cometh,” and the girls at the school make the boneheaded decision to make contact with a dark spirit.

What did you think of this week’s episode, readers?

By 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.

4 replies on “New Show Recap: American Horror Story, 3×05, “Burn, Witch, Burn!””

“I also guffaw when Fiona says that this coven needs a “Supreme of color.” Fiona, stop; your Good White Person™ act embarrasses all of us.”

I think it was implied that she wasn’t being Less Racist Than Thou in that scene, she was manipulating Queenie by offering her the biggest carrot the coven has – unlimited power.

As for LaLaurie, she’s getting the same kind of treatment that Sister Jude did last year — I don’t think we’re supposed to excuse what she did or stop remembering it. The show rather deliberately frames all of her ‘humanizing’ moments against graphic depictions of what kind of woman she was. But it is trying to complicate how we view her, which I welcome, because Bates is the kind of actress who can give real depth and meat to that part.

“Meanwhile, I try not to roll my eyes too hard at this ableist trope. She’s blind but now she sees. ”

Is this really abelism though? It’s very old mythology — the idea of sacrifice to gain something on the mystical level has been around a long time. Tyr, the Norse god of war, loses his sword hand to Fenrir. Odin sacrifices an eye to become far-seeing. You give something up on the physical plane to gain an advantage on the non-physical one. As a trope goes, it’s overused, that I can totally agree with, but I’m not sure if I’d label it abelist.

I’m hoping the show is red herring Zoe too. Her power is death and she defeated/commanded a zombie, so you could make the argument that those powers are linked. So it’s not necessarily a new thing, maybe just a new manifestation? They haven’t been super clear on how the new Supreme is chosen — does it have to be one of the younger members? Is Misty in the running? Does the new Supreme only get her powers when the old one starts dying? (Which is implied with Fiona’s cancer.) Like in Buffy, is it absolutely someone of the next generation? (Which would include Cordelia, because she’s the next generation after Fiona’s age group.)

she was manipulating Queenie by offering her the biggest carrot the coven has – unlimited power.

I agree. Hence my discussing Fiona’s manipulations as an *act*. ;) She could not give less of a crap about there being a “Supreme of Color” and it was painfully obvious. Oh, Fiona.

I don’t believe we’re supposed to excuse her either otherwise they wouldn’t continue to remind us, in annoyingly graphic detail, of her monstrosities. But, I do believe we’re supposed to sympathize with her and have ~nuanced~ feelings toward her and think about the ~complexity~ of human nature and wonder if the true monster is not ourselves, and yadda, yadda, yadda. You’ll have to excuse me if I’m not here for it. I only speak for me , but I wouldn’t feel so nauseated by the storyline if LaLaurie were a character created by the powers that be for the show and if they had any real input from Black folk who actually deal with the legacy of slavery and the legacy of the LaLaurie’s of the world. As it were, LaLaurie is a real person who victimized real people, and if they’re going to complicate the story, I’d rather instead of doing it in such an individualized way if they’d craft a more overarching critique of the institution of slavery and how it affects Black folk. I just plain don’t give a crap about LaLaurie herself as much as what she represents, and they seem bound and determined to make me give a crap about LaLaurie herself, however so. I’m good on that.

As for the Cordelia storyline, yeah, it’s really ableism from where I’m sitting. We have…somewhat similar storytelling traditions in my non-Western culture, but I believe even tropes steeped in long tradition aren’t exempt from critique depending on the context. In this context, we’ll have to agree to disagree on our interpretations of her storyline. Though, of course, I defer to blind people on that.

That’s what I thought too — that her power brings death and so perhaps she manifested twist on her old power since she dealt with the undead. We know the AHS powers that be love pulling the bait and switch, and I’ve also wondered if Misty in particular could be the next Supreme. I’m not sure if Cordelia’s fertility issues count as “imperfect health” and so puts her out of the running? I’m very curious about how that will all unfold and how Fiona and the coven will handle it.

I found it interesting that the entire time Fiona has been protesting how much she hates racists, and has been trying to rub LaLaurie’s face in the fact that there is a black witch in the coven. Yet when Fiona was telling Queenie that she might be the first supreme of color, when Fiona pulled back, the distaste on her face was obvious. I half expected her to whip out a bottle of hand sanitizer on the spot, the way she kept trying to wipe her hands off after touching Queenie.

The way they are playing LaLaurie, I don’t know if they are going for a sympathetic character so much as a human character. Yes, she did all sorts of horrible things in the past. She would probably do all sorts of horrible things now if she had a chance and could get away with them. So I am not seeing the redemption of the character as much as I am seeing a reminder that even with zombies, Franken-boyfriends, witches and minotaurs running around, the worst monster of all is just a plain woman who had no supernatural powers at all. It is due to the talent of Kathy Bates that we can even consider that this character might be worthy of any sympathy at all.

I believe Fiona truly believes that she’s Not Racist, and it’s a great picture of the sort of liberal, anti-racism that I see a lot of people expouse. It’s all perfectly fine in theory and in the abstract, but in actuality, no so much. Certainly, Fiona has not hesitated to throw Marie & Co. under the bus for things she herself has done, and whether it comes from a place of explicit racism, one does not have to intend to be racist for their impact to be as such.

Honestly, I don’t want to see the character “humanized” in so far as we feel sympathy for her. I wouldn’t feel so strongly about it if she were just that, a character that the writers created for the show. But, this was a real woman who did really awful things to real human beings, and this attempt to “give her dimension” and on an individualized level (still no overarching critique of the institution of slavery that gave rise and opportunities to people like a LaLaurie leaves a bad taste in my mouth and especially considering that all of the head creative team are non-Black and thus don’t actually live with the legacy of slavery. Kathy Bates has been amazing though, and I think she often outshines the material she’s given so far.

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