'American Horror Story': The show seems to be treading water until the finale

'American Horror Story' has been inconsistent this season and the newest episode shows that the writers seem to be focusing more on what out-there storyline they can throw into the show next rather than on crafting a cohesive overarching plot. 'American Horror Story' airs on FX.

FX/AP
'American Horror Story' stars Jessica Lange.

One of the primary advantages of doing a television series in an anthology format is the opportunity for characters and the narrative to flow in practically any direction, as the series is not beholden to a greater sense of continuity, nor are characters bound to their future story in seasons down the road. There’s a freeing sense of impermanence knowing that the storyline of a particular season is only going to last 13 episodes, and in that time, there’s really nothing that can’t be done (or undone, as is the case with American Horror Story: Coven) to serve the needs of the larger story. As with anything good, however, there always comes a warning that too much of a good thing can be bad for you, or the proverbial pendulum can swing back viciously in the other direction.

‘The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks’ makes for an excellent example of the series experiencing an overload from the supposed good qualities that spring forth from its unique format. All season long, Coven has been in search of a main thrust that might align its various characters and give them something to do. That means there have been quite a few episodes that seemed to be trying different meaningful plot threads on, only to discard them when something newer or more interesting came along.

To the show’s credit, it hasn’t completely abandoned anything; the throughline of the search for the new Supreme, Fiona’s cancer and various relationships, and a mixture of vague or sometimes overtly clumsy, subtextual elements about motherhood, sexism, racism, and ageism have generally been present at one point or another. But while these elements have mostly been there, more often than not, there comes the feeling that they are being draped over an amorphous idea of a plot, rather than a fully formed one.

Generally, things just happen on the show because the writers seem to be only concerned with the next crazy thing they could have happen. While it’s largely worked in the past two seasons of the show, the problem with this is, since most things happen in the spur-of-the-moment, there’s little context or meaning to their happening. Sure, it’s a terrific in-joke that Fiona would ask the White Witch herself, Stevie Nicks, to come by and do a special performance for her number one fan Misty Day, but there’s about as much point to Nicks’ appearance as there is in having Kathy Bates or Evan Peters on the show. That is to say: not much.

The impulsive nature of this season has led to a feeling of inconsistency that breaks down the character dynamics and works against a true sense of stability in the overall plot. Marie Laveau is suddenly living at Miss Robichaux’s and comforting Cordelia, who is suddenly being attacked by Fiona after their reconciliation following an attempt to trick her mother into committing suicide. Meanwhile, Madison is convinced she’ll be the next Supreme, since coming back from the dead somehow corrected her heart murmur. Elsewhere, Zoe shrugs off Nan killing their neighbor, shortly before Nan is drowned as an offering to Papa Legba (Lance Reddick).

Such inconsistency makes it difficult to take anything Coven does at face value, and what’s more, there’s little in the way of some larger function to any of it. In essence, it feels like the season is just waiting for the big climax of the finale, and because of that, it’ll just keep tossing out the unpredictable as a way to delay the story until then.

Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.

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