FX’s American Horror Story
Season 3, Episode 9: “Head”
Directed by Howard Deutch
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Sacred Taking” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” – click here
After the head of Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) showed up at the witches doorstep last episode, we get a chance of pace in this one.
“Head” starts off with a father and son hunting in 1991. They’re sitting at camp and having some coffee together. The father calls the son Hank – is this the young version of Josh Hamilton’s character, husband to Cordelia (Sarah Paulson)? And what exactly are they hunting here? I may know, considering Hank’s dear ole dad loads the gun up with silver bullets. Then out from the woods comes a woman in tattered clothes, dad yelling to young Hank: “Put her down!” Before he can get the job done the woman, a witch, sets fire to the grass between her and the boy. Father jumps in, killing her and reminds his son: “Never forget what they are.”
Ominous past for Hank, whose entrance into the family business of witch hunting certainly began at an early age.
Fiona (Jessica Lange) shows up over at the salon to see Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett). She has Delphine’s head in town in the box. Out back, the body of Delphine still stands rotting in her cage, swatting flies off her bloody neck wound. Fiona wants an alliance between the coven and Marie’s voodoo powers. But Marie believes “witch hunters is white womens‘ worry!” There are lots of fun things happening in the dynamic between Marie and Fiona, the dual sects of witchcraft and so on.
Poor Cordelia is having a hard time as a blind woman. She and Myrtle (Frances Conroy) have a heart to heart. Myrtle worries Cordelia still might believer she had something to do with blinding her. However, she knows Myrtle would never hurt her, which is good. They need one another, especially in the new landscape of their existence with witch hunters right outside the academy’s doors.
Excellent sequence involving Hank going to see his father, Harrison Renard (Michael Cristofer). There’s “Sarabande” by Handel playing in the background, the Delphi Trust headquarters, all the witch hunting talk and much more. I love this whole aspect because I didn’t want it to simply sit in the background, as an anonymous entity Hank worked for; rather, we get a sense of an elaborate war between these hunters and the witches they pursue. And it’s not all hugely expository. We get bits and pieces from the writing which leads us to our own conclusions. They don’t go too far with it, other than to make them a viable threat and install them as a proper part of the story. Great stuff.
“You haven‘t forget what she is? What you are?”
Myrtle is having Quentin Fleming (Leslie Jordan) and Cecily Pembroke (Robin Bartlett) over to the academy for dinner. They’re thrilled to see her back, with better skin than ever, as well as very excited to hear all about Misty Day (Lily Rabe), the powerful girl hiding out in the swamps. But after a moment or two, Cecily freezes up in mid-sentence. To no surprise on Myrtle’s part. Almost as if this were planned, right? Quentin soon freezes up, too. A little “monk‘s wood“, she tells them while they remain like statues. She has at them with a good few jabs, not for revenge, but mostly for Cordelia. Okay – a little for revenge. She uses the melon baller to scoop out some eyes.
Upstairs afterwards, Cordelia comes to and has her sight once more. The ravaged sockets where her previously muddied eyes sat, scarred skin all around them, now are beautiful and wide eyes once again. Fiona is happy to see her daughter restored, though, there’s still tension between herself and Myrtle. Luckily it seems as if Cordelia is now most concerned with the witch hunters prowling around, no longer so focused on her mother’s indiscretions and faults. Sadly, though, Cordelia no longer has second sight; her new eyes have changed all that.
We’re also privy to a nasty, gory cut-scene where Myrtle disposes of the two former Council members, chopping them to bits and throwing them into a tub of acid down in the basement. Brutal, yet amazing!
“Good luck. Call the Council – I hear they‘re not seeing anyone right now.”
Nan (Jamie Brewer) is waiting at the hospital. She wants to see Luke Ramsey (Alexander Dreymon), but his mother Joan (Patti LuPone) won’t have any of it. When Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) and Madison (Emma Roberts) show up, Madison doesn’t want her to take that. They barge in and hear a bunch of nonsense from Mrs. Ramsey, but the witches overpower her. With reason. In addition, there’s a great little moment where Nan hears Luke talk to her, as we see him literally standing behind her, whispering in her ear. Instead of another big confrontation, we finally see Joan give in. She sings the song Nan brought up, the one Luke told her about a moment before, and then calls Nan to her side. It’s actually a beautiful scene in the end, and I have to say – great choice to have LuPone play this part, she is an amazing actor.
Contrasted with such seriousness, after this comes Queenie starting off a film festival for the stationary Delphine’s severed head: Mandingo, The Color Purple, B*A*P*S, and to start, Roots. Hilarious, brief scene. Delphine starts singing Dixieland to try and contrast the “jungle music,” as she calls it.
Then bam, we get another intense sequence – all of a sudden, Hank Foxx is plagued by a voodoo-style attack, his bones cracking, his body bleeding. Marie Laveau is not happy with what their former agreement is yielding so far, having one of the white witches show right up at her doorstep. So, even though Hank is a piece of shit, I feel bad watching him get bent and torn out of shape.
Back at the academy, Cordelia is helping Misty with some of her powers. Nice visuals with the flowers growing, the bright colours of the greenhouse in the basement, plus the look of the small garden itself. Very cool set design. Then, Hank shows up crawling back like a slug to Cordelia. He’s happy her eyes are back, of course. But who cares what he thinks, certainly she doesn’t, and nor should she at all. He is not just a cheater. He’s a god damn witch hunter! Even though she doesn’t know that full extent yet. Regardless, Cordelia is not having any of Hank and his drama.
Neither is Fiona. Though, she’s never had any liking for the man. She brought home an attack dog. That doesn’t last long, not after she meets Kyle (Evan Peters), who hugs the dog a bit too hard like Steinbeck’s Lenny and cracks her neck. Uh oh.
But Fiona does one better, making a real guard dog – she slightly fixes Kyle, enough to make him competent for protection, and a good game of cards.
Cut to Nan and Joan at Luke’s side in the hospital. We find out more about the dark side to Joan Ramsey. Luke discovers, in the afterlife, her father did not die by accident. Seems Luke’s dad was having an affair with another woman, someone he actually loved. Then Joan set him up to die: trapping him in his car with bees, to which he was allergic, prompting a deathly reaction. Whoa, did not expect that! Although I was sure Joan had something seriously wrong with her either way.
Hank is gearing up to lay waste to the witches. Only now his sights aren’t set firmly on Cordelia and Fiona and their coven. He’s headed directly for Marie Laveau. The guns come blazing, blood flies over the walls and the mirrors; first a shotgun blast, then Hank takes out two dual pistols. Even Queenie gets a shot in the stomach. All the while, “Oh Freedom!” is sung over top, LaLaurie’s head watching footage of civil rights marches. Queenie manages to pick up a gun and blow Hank’s head off right before he can manage to do Marie in for good. A truly incredible sequence, complete with a teary eyed Delphine and an equally sad Harrison Renard mourning his now dead son Hank.
And at the very end of this bit, Luke wakes up accusing his mother of killing his father. Then, Joan puts him back to sleep. And puts a pillow over his head, smothering him.
The finale sees Marie Laveau now show up at the academy for a chat with Fiona. What will this bring? A real alliance finally?
A great, great episode. The next one is titled “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks”. Stay tuned for a fun one!