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American Horror Story: Coven - Chapter 8, “The Sacred Taking” - Early Review

After a week without American Horror Story and just about every other series that I follow, it sure is good to get back into the swing of things with new episodes. Perhaps that absence is why the opening of this weeks Coven installment felt a bit jarring to me. For the first time in a while we open in present day rather than with a flashback, and this time we focus on Queenie. I love that Ryan Murphy is superbly ambitious - while people were complaining about the overlapping and seemingly unconnected arcs during parts of last years Asylum incarnation, I was waited with bated breath to see how it all came together. And it did. So I’m trying to hold out hope that by the time episode 13 wraps, all will make sense. Right from Queenie’s opening sequence, though, parts of this episode started to make some of the story feel thrown together for me. Now before you get worried, know that I still REALLY enjoyed this episode. The acting is, as always, a standout, and pretty much everyone gets at least one scene to knock out of the park in episode 8. There are still five shows to go, so maybe I’m jumping the gun in thinking that the season has been a little off. I’ll get into the good, the questionable, and everything in between in my first look at this weeks episode, “The Sacred Taking”.

First off as I noted a few weeks ago after the superb third episode “The Replacements”, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is untouchable as by far the series’ most exciting and recognizable director. His work just jumps off the screen and seamlessly brings audiences into the eerie and unsettling world of the coven - every shot, every camera movement, every damn frame is straight out of a classic horror flick. His techniques bring weight to even the lighter scenes and when the script calls for straight-up-terror, dude knows how to deliver. There’s a great creepy scene early on between Patti LuPone as the schools neighbor, Joan Ramsey, and her son Luke. As much as it was great to see LuPone back, though, that scene was also part of what stuck out to me as a problem. The stories here feel like an odd mix of under-developed, jumpy, and - I really hate to say this - sort of lazy. The Halloween episode was weeks ago but we are JUST seeing Miss Ramsey deal with her anger over her sons misadventures now, as if it happened last night. I hate when a story is introduced or reintroduced conveniently as a plot device, especially when it's this obvious. There are clearly plans for LuPone later in the season - her final scene in this episode is supposed to be exciting and shocking, but the effect just was not there. And while Nan and Luke have shared barely any scenes together we’re now supposed to believe they’re in love. This subplot just sort of falls flat for me. What’s troubling is that a lot of the side stories seem to be taking away from the more exciting and meaty stuff.

Fiona is growing sick at a rapid pace as the increasing strength of the coming supreme causes her cancer to spread very quickly. She’s in pain, balding, terrified of fading away, and Jessica Lange gives one of her best performances of the season throughout the episode. My fears that The Axeman was introduced purely to give Fiona a quick fling seem to be proven here, but I really hope that in the coming episodes we see Huston out of bed and spreading some terror (he was great as the menacing spirit in “The Axeman Cometh” but hasn’t been used much since). Queenie is doing full time with Marie Laveau now and when we see her in the opening she is fending off Madison and Zoe’s request that she rejoin the coven. Cordelia is well aware that her group of witches is quickly dwindling and after Misty Day shows up with reports that she is being hunted, the coven bands together to figure out who the next supreme may be. Cordelia tells the girls about the ritual “The Sacred Taking” in which in an ill supreme may give her life so that the next supreme may be called. Clearly Fiona won’t go down without a fight, and the way it all pans out is pretty damn entertaining. Emma Roberts delivers one of her best scenes of the season as Madison shows up to taunt Fiona with her resurrection. Ditto for Frances Conroy as Myrtle Snow who totes the line between hilarious and haunting throughout her several scenes in the episode. The strength of her and Lily Rabe in this episode really make me wish they had been used more throughout the first part of the season, but hopefully we’ll be seeing much more of both of them in the final five.

Queenie on a mission for Marie Laveau

The bizarre love triangle that was hinted at last week after the dead/dead/living menage a trois is explored more tonight as Kyle demonstrates that he’s in love with Zoe. Who knew that all he needed was a few hours with a computer to learn how to talk? Madison, meanwhile, makes it clear that she’s content to keep Kyle as a sex-toy and really doesn't seem too happy to learn of his growing feelings for Zoe. I'm not really sure where this is going. I like Kyle’s character and Evan Peters is always great, but I fail to see how it relates to the main narrative at this point.

There’s a lot of great stuff in tonight's episode. I’m excited to read some comments afterwards to see what you think of the installment, because it really seems to have me split. While there was a lot to enjoy, a lot of things really bugged me too. Cordelia seems to have been reduced to being a useful tool due to her new power rather than an actual character, and at times logic must be completely suspended - the witches try to hide Madison and Myrtle from Fiona early on and do a spell which she cannot know about, but they do it in the damn living room! We clearly saw that Fiona was also in the house just moments ago. In addition, while I love Denis O’Hare as Spalding, the fact that he (and ANOTHER character) also come back immediately after being killed is really killing any sort of urgency in the universe. The witch hunters turn up here, but if Misty can just bring everyone back to life or they live on forever as a spirit, who really cares if they die? Perhaps some feelings will change after another viewing or some more episodes air. Let me know what you’re excited for tonight and if you share any similar frustrations about this season so far. Think I’m way off base? Let me know that too! I’ll also check back after the episode airs tonight so feel free to post your thoughts in the comments after as well. Scroll down for a few more things to look forward to before the episode airs.

Stuff You’ll Love:
- Kathy Bates. Not that I really need to say more, because she’s been consistently one of the best parts of the season, but we get to see Delphine in a whole new light tonight. The tables have been turned and Marie Laveau plans to make sure the “evil bitch” gets her comeuppance...
- Spalding speaks! While the fact that he's popped up again so quickly sort of makes any future deaths on the show lose a certain weight, I won’t complain over more Denis O’Hare. As a speaking spirit in the Academy, Fiona’s admirer is as creepy as ever.
- Lots of Misty Day and Myrtle Snow!
- The ending. Sort of saw it coming, but it was great none-the-less and I’m definitely excited to see how it pans out next week. Murphy sure knows how to leave us wanting more.

American Horror Story: Coven airs Wednesdays at 10 on FX. “The Sacred Taking” premieres tonight. Feel free to follow me on twitter for updates on Horror Story & all my work for SpoilerTV.

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