American Horror Story: Coven finished its season last night by attempting the fulfill the promise of the season’s witch-off/bitch-off through-line. What happened instead was a powerful message about the availability of power for women, wrapped up in a mess of an ending that left me more frustrated than anything.
Let’s start with Fiona Goode, now trapped for all of eternity as a housewife. I find it fascinating that Fiona’s hell is both super specific and generalized at the same time. Her fear all season was of growing old, weak, and her powers being gone. Her fear was death equalizing her with all other humans…because everyone faces death and everyone dies. But instead of her hell being stuck in a nursing home, or constantly fading, or some other death/weak focused scenario, its even more intricate: Fiona is damned to be plain, ordinary, and subjugated for all of eternity.
For the entire season, Fiona has been portrayed as a world-traveling, fame and fortune semi-goddess Supreme that has it all. The world is at her feet…men want her, and women want to be her. In her hell, Fiona is going to live the same day over and over, in a plain shack, eating unremarkable food, with a husband that longs for simplicity. There is no complicated make-up routine, no notoriety, no friends or lovers. There is just him.
And make no mistake, it is a complete imbalance of power. There are too many women who live in backwater shacks who are abused by their husbands. Fiona is now one of them. Her fate is completely reversed. She spent her entire life being able to handle men because she was special…she was smart, beautiful, and powerful. The Axeman’s slap made it abundantly clear that she has no power here, and the way he forces her to dance afterward shows that she will be oppressed and subjugated for the rest of eternity. Fiona Goode’s hell is a sign that her greatest fear was being powerless.
Instead, her power has flowed into Cordelia, in what was called the “Law of Thermodynamics”. Unfortunately, it is a realistic scenario facing women in the workforce that many believe there is a finite amount of power available to women. The glass ceiling is real and in place and women in power constantly have to fight against each other, to keep their piece of the pie. American Horror Story made that struggle fantastical, by making it about the transfer of power between Queen Witches. But this same story takes place over all of eternity. It is the medieval queen disliking the king’s lover because she courts more favor. It is the idea that Hilary Clinton has to be angry Sarah Palin could be vice president. It is Katy Perry and Lady GaGa in competition for sales and attention. Powerful women must compete against each other because their isn’t enough room for all of them at the top. Last time I checked, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs competed for lots of things, but at no point was one taking the place of another because there wasn’t enough room in the CEO lounge.
In a strange case of simultaneous-yet-unconnected thought inspirations, I thought last night that Fiona Goode reminds me remarkably of Madonna. They both crave relevancy and fear living an ordinary life, or doing anything normally. Madonna has had an amazing career and has found a way to reinvent herself countless times, and has used various pop tartlets and trends to aid this process: Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, and now Miley Cyrus. Pop stars do this all the time, but no one has embraced and succeeded doing it like Madonna. But she has partially been forced into this process by being pitted in competition against many of the people she has worked with. They are labeled her successors, or taking up her mantle…except she is still around, and still working, still making music. But for some, she has outlived her usefulness. A fifty-year-old cannot be sexy. She can’t make relevant music. She should just retire and raise a family. An old witch cannot lead a coven.
The same is starting to be said about Britney Spears or Mariah Carey. One is known for dancing, one for her amazing voice, but both are entertainers. “Why can’t they just retire to their kids?”….”They can’t perform like they used to”…”Her body just isn’t the same”. Society cycles through powerful women because they only have a finite usefulness for those in power (Read, white men), and that usefulness is up when we are tired of looking at them.
So Fiona knows that the key to power is staying young and alive forever. She denies the tears of Marie LaVeau, since they would keep her alive but old and weakened. Youth and beauty are the key to her existence. American Horror Story: Coven’s end message is incredibly powerful, since it examines the power structure forcing powerful women to discourage other powerful women. It would be interesting to see, in 30 years, what Cordelia’s transition would look like. There are women that circumvent the system, that outrage those in power and work to improve the opportunities for others. She could be one of them, who age gracefully, serving to continually influence and support the Coven as her power wanes. Or she could scratch and grip onto power with such a force that a body count that rivals Fiona stays in her wake.
But Coven ends with Cordelia smiling on the bannister as hundreds of budding witches attend the Academy. Surrounding this end was the messy finale that saw every witch but Cordelia and Queenie die (Queenie did die earlier, and then came back… so every witch in the series died but Cordelia at some point). The Seven Wonders Competition was entertaining but oddly-paced and once Cordelia was introduced, easier to divine than the location of the Supreme’s token locations. For a season finale, it was less intricate than prior the Asylum season, but less satisfying as well. So the final image I choose to take away is not Cordelia happily leading, but Fiona unhappily following Mr. Axeman around the house, cooking his fish and dancing away in his heaven, and her hell.