It must be difficult for Jessica Lange to choose two shows for her Emmy reel each year because she has so many terrific performances from AMERICAN HORROR STORY to consider, but I think her work this year just got 50 percent easier: This episode absolutely has to be submitted, because we got to see sweet-and-sour Fiona at her finest.
Who are the eponymous Replacements? Take your pick: Madison is Fiona’s replacement; Queenie is Delphine’s replacement; the patchwork Kyle is his own replacement; Alicia thinks Kyle is a replacement for her husband; and Cordelia is unable to create her own replacement.
The story began with Fiona (Jessica Lange) flashing back to how she took over the coven in 1971: by killing the old Supreme, Anna Leigh Leighton (Christine Ebersole) — this despite Anna Leigh warning that she had foreseen the doom of the coven if Fiona takes over. The next day, Fiona finds a disbelieving Delphine (Kathy Bates) watching President Barack Obama on TV and refuses to acknowledge that a black man could be the president. Fiona tells her she has a lot to learn and presents her with a maid’s uniform. Work, or go back in the ground.
Meanwhile, Nan (Jamie Brewer), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and Madison (Emma Roberts) are watching the new neighbors moving in – especially hunky young Luke Ramsey (Alexander Dreymon). But his highly religious mother, Joan (Patti LuPone), spots the girls and orders her son inside. Later, the girls are still having breakfast and chatting about Luke when Delphine comes in to serve them. But Delphine refuses to serve Queenie, going so far as to throw her food against the wall. They face off, but Fiona arrives and orders Delphine to be Queenie’s personal slave. Zoe goes to visit Kyle’s mother, Alicia (Mare Winningham), to pay her respects and learns that Alicia has been smoking Kyle’s pot and sleeping in his bed. When Zoe goes to the cabin in the swamp, Misty (Lily Rabe) shows her that Kyle (Evan Peters) is mostly healed. Kyle seems to recognize her, which displeases Misty. Zoe insists on taking Kyle home because his mother needs him.
Nan and Madison bring a cake (and Madison’s long legs in a short tube dress) to the Ramseys, and Luke invites them in. Before they can cut the cake Joan says she’s taking Luke to church (and it’s not even Sunday!). Madison condemns religion as a “crock of shit,” which offends Joan. They fight over the cake knife, which suddenly flies through the air and embeds in a wall. Joan orders the girls out, and before she leaves Madison sets the drapes on fire. She tells Nan she didn’t know she could that! Later, after Fiona has returned home and started drinking, Joan comes over in full holy-roller mode and scolds Fiona about the girls who visited her son and set fire to her curtains – which sparks Fiona’s interest. Madison arrives and tells Joan she conjured the devil (Devil in a blue dress — get it?). Joan warns her to stay away “in Jesus’ name” and storms out. Fiona asks Madison to light her cigarette, which Madison does with her new power.
Zoe brings Kyle home and leaves him on the doorstep. Alicia is in tears as she welcomes him home. Later, they are both lying on Kyle’s bed when Alicia says she saw his body and it’s different. She starts kissing him and then has sex with him. Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) goes to Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) to ask for help getting pregnant. Marie warns her that the Pochaut Medecine is complicated and dangerous. (It involves boiling sperm and bathing in goat’s blood. And it costs $50,000.) Cordelia is eager to perform the ritual, but Marie laughs in her face and says she’d never help the daughter of her sworn enemy. Later, Alicia calls Zoe to tell her that Kyle is not himself, and Zoe agrees to come over. Fiona and Madison visit a cafe, where Fiona regrets being a bad mother to Cordelia, and Madison asks to become her pupil. Fiona is impressed when Madison is able to influence a man to walk into the street.
At the school, Queenie is bossing Delphine around when she hears a sound outside. Delphine realizes the minotaur has come for her and panics. Queenie goes outside to investigate, and when she finds him, says she’s been called a beast, too, when all she wants is love, just like the minotaur. She lifts up her dress and offers herself to him. Minotaur embraces her – but then chokes her. At Kyle’s place, Alicia goes to Kyle’s room and demands to know who he really is. She starts to abuse him again and he freaks out, grabs a trophy and beats her to death. A bit later, Zoe arrives and finds Alicia with her skull crushed. And Kyle suddenly looms behind her.
Back at the school, Fiona tells Madison that she’s the next Supreme, and points out that Madison’s powers are increasing because she is siphoning them from the old Supreme, slowly killing her. Fiona says she killed her predecessor and gives Madison the same knife and urges her to kill her for the good of the coven. Madison refuses, so Fiona slashes the girl’s throat and tells Spalding (Denis O’Hare) to bury her deep.
Well, AHS:C certainly isn’t shy about dropping bodies in every episode – but those corpses have a tendency to not stay dead. Not completely, anyway. And I have no doubt that Madison will be no different. The only question is how she will come back; will Misty resurrect her or someone elsel? However, whenever that happens, will the Madison that comes back be the same? (Would anyone want her to be the same mean girl?) Like the movie Pet Sematary says, “Sometimes dead is better.”
But sometimes they come back. The scene between Queenie and the minotaur mirrors Zoe and Kyle’s encounter – women with good intentions confronting monsters that are stitched-together chimeras, but in Zoe’s case, it’s her own fault. In another parallel, Cordelia and Fiona both have medical conditions that prevent them for achieving their goals – having a baby and undergoing plastic surgery to look young again, respectively. Fiona’s problem is in her blood, so she probably passed it on to her daughter.
One personality trait that the Supremes seem to share is an overinflated ego and sense of self-worth. Through flashbacks, we see that the young Fiona was very similar to Madison: confident, sexy young women who could exploit their looks to control men. It’s probably no coincidence that the first test Fiona sets for Madison is to have her use telepathy to overwhelm a man’s sense of self-preservation and urge him to risk his life by walking into the middle of a busy street. And later, when the two go to a bar to drink and play pool, Fiona watches with interest as Madison attracts men in droves — exactly the same way that young Fiona did, but no longer can.
I don’t think enough can be said about Lange’s performance this week. From Fiona’s melancholy narration about “the dance” and the bloom being off her rose when it comes to men, to Fiona’s confession that she’s been a horrible mother, to her final, acid-tongued dismissal of Madison’s bleeding corpse, it was all inspired. Somehow, her line delivery makes all this lunacy palatable.
With the addition of Broadway stars Ebersole and LuPone, how many divas can this show withstand? I’m assuming they need the school set all the way to the end of the 13th episode, but at the rate the scenery is being gnawed on, I don’t know how much will be left! But it is fantastically entertaining to watch Lange and LuPone fling insults at each other, or Lange and Ebersole, or Lange and Bassett, or Lange and Bates…
What wasn’t so wonderful was the work of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who ably helmed the exposition-heavy season premiere. Here gets so carried away with the dutch angles and fish-eye lens and gliding crane moves that his indulgences become distracting. His directing was so self-indulgent I thought he was a kid playing with all the toys he got on Christmas morning at once. (“A fish-eye lens? Cooool!”) Really, there’s no need to make a viewer seasick just for a tracking shot in a corridor. So, boo on him.
And sympathy for poor Denis O’Hare – tonight’s program implied that Fiona cut out Spalding’s tongue after he witnessed her murdering the old Supreme, meaning that once again he is playing a horribly mutilated character on this series.
And, finally, re: that scene in which Queenie seduced the minotaur… Is it wrong to call that bullshit?
“Cat got your tongue?” – Fiona, to Spalding
“This coven doesn’t need a new Supreme. It needs a new rug.” – Fiona
“Who knows what that shit in her body will do to the lawn come spring.” — Fiona, to Spalding, about Madison’s corpse