It was All Hallows’ Eve in New Orleans, 1833, which meant the Madame LaLaurie was hosting one of her famous parties. Apparently, there were two main activities for a young unmarried gentleman attending the party: Flirt with one of the Madame’s daughters, and suffer through the Madame’s rigid potential-husband vetting process. One gentleman was making bedroom eyes at the Madame’s daughter, who was named something like Beargita. The Madame brought a lusty suitor into her Chamber of Horrors. “Guess what’s in the bowl,” she demanded. The suitor laughed and asked her how long it took her to peel so many grapes. Wrongo! The Madame revealed a bowl filled with the eyes of her imprisoned slaves. Then she told the suitor: “Guess what’s in this bowl. Hint: It’s long, wet, and slippery.” The suitor, attempting to recover the situation, complemented the Madame on her ability to cook intestine-esque sausages. Wrongo! The Madame revealed a bowl filled with intestine-esque intestines. It was just like that dinner scene from Temple of Doom, except less gross.
We already knew that the Minotaur-coveting Madame LaLaurie had a thing for Greek mythology, and her suitor test is vaguely suggestive of the myth of Atlanta, who would only marry the man who beat her in a footrace. The Madame’s daughters did not appreciate her unmatchmaking. They talked idly of a murder plot. (Apparently, everyone in the LaLaurie family was plotting to murder each other.)
The ever-careful Madame took steps to protect herself them upstairs in the torture chamber. When the cage didn’t properly close on one daughter, the Madame instructed her slave: “Break her leg if you must.” She promised to set them free in a year. She turned to the daughter who started the plot – Porguita? Borcleva? – and gave her a promise. “On Christmas morning, I’ll stuff your conniving mouth full of s—.” With that opening sequence, the fifth episode of American Horror Story: Coven announced its thesis: “Motherhood is Complicated.”
Earlier episodes this season focused more on ambient generational anxiety. Old women trying to stay young; ascendant upstarts figuratively killing their elders by literally killing their elders. “Burn, Witch, Burn!” zeroed in on the show’s mother-daughter relationships. While LaLaurie’s daughters returned from the grave to torment their mother, Fiona had to witness her own daughter’s pain. Delia’s face was burned by a mysterious robed figure. The doctor at the Emergency Room said it was sulfuric acid – a favorite weapon for many men in the epidemic of violent acid attacks on women. The acid burned through Delia’s optic nerves. They couldn’t save her eyesight.
Fiona did not take the news well. She raged against the doctor. The lights of the hospital fitzed on and off, on and off, as Fiona walked with aimless purpose. She found her way to the hospital’s drug supply and took all the drugs, plus a few more. She saw a robed figure, clad all in black – like the Grim Reaper, or the Angel of Death incarnated by Frances Conroy in Asylum. A man clad in nothing but a diaper grabbed Fiona and said, “You didn’t throw that acid, but you might as well have.”
Fiona found a woman crying. For a second I thought it was Delia. But no, it was a new mother. Her baby was stillborn; the doctors hadn’t even said whether it was a boy or a girl. “She’s a girl,” said Fiona. She grabbed the dead baby – little more than a blue-tinted husk with a cute dead face – and forced the mother to cradle it. “Hold her,” said Fiona. “Tell her she’s your daughter. Tell her you love her more than the whole world.” The weeping mother complied. As Fiona walked away, color appeared into the baby’s face; it started moving; it made a sound. Fiona brought the baby back – and perhaps, as a kindness, let the young mother think that it was the strength of her love that caused the resurrection. (ASIDE: In the “Who’s the Next Supreme?” sweepstakes, this little interlude might shine a light on Misty, the other witch floating through Coven with the power to bring the recently-deceased back to life. END OF ASIDE.)
It was a stunning sequence, beyond Freudian in its staging. Fiona, a mother grieving for an adult child who hates her, found a mother grieving for a child that never had a chance. She brought that child back to life…but the tension of the scene was in the ambiguity of that action. We have yet to see a good mother-daughter relationship on Coven. When the young mother said, “I’ll be your mother until the day I die,” it was a tender moment. It could also be a threat: “You’ll be dealing with me for the rest of my days.”
NEXT: Zombies in the front yard, zombies in the kitchen