American Horror Story: Coven, Episode 303: “The Replacements”

“The Replacements” has some seriously icky moments. Really. Icky. That being said, the more disturbing elements are vital to this season’s consistent emphasis on life, death, and everything in between.

Fiona is trying to prevent her own death; Cordelia is trying to produce life. Both are willing to take extreme measures to get what they want. Fiona would strike a deal with the devil to reverse her aging, and clearly has no qualms about murder if it means sustaining her reign as the Supreme. Meanwhile, Cordelia is willing to drop $50,000 to marinate in goat blood while her man’s baby gravy comes to a boil, all for the sake of conceiving a child. The main commonality here is that both mother and daughter are willing to pursue unnatural routes in order to get the immortality that they seek – Cordelia wants to live on through her offspring, and Fiona just wants to live on indefinitely.

Speaking of the unnatural, Kyle and the Minotaur, in their current states, are about as far from nature as you can get. They are essentially both resurrected – they both currently have life, but it is in the form of something different than they originally were. They exist through a perversion of natural reproduction, and thus the act intended for creation can only exist to them as a perversion. For this reason, we have lots of uncomfortable sex scenes in this episode. Although Queenie seems perfectly willing to do the deed with Mr. Minotaur (as Tarah explained, “I guess he’s the special someone she was saving herself for”), he still resorts to force in the end. Due to his resurrected and corrupted state, he cannot have a romantic roll in the hay with Queenie – it has to be deviant and violent.

Kyle’s situation is arguably ickier and a somewhat more complex. I don’t know if I was more disturbed by the incest, or the fact that it immediately gave me a sense of déjà vu – I had encountered incest like this before. I mean, not personally, but in literature. As I’ve mentioned 1,500 times or so, I have spent a large portion of my life reading Frankenstein, and I know a Frankenstein reference when I see one. I’m not talking about the obvious fact that Kyle is sewn together from a variety of corpses and has been reanimated from the dead. The following excerpt occurs directly after Victor Frankenstein has spent almost two years toiling on his creation, and he is less than thrilled with the end result. He decides to take a much deserved nap:

I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel.

If you are unfamiliar with the text, then go read it right now – it’s short and you’ll enjoy Coven a whole hell of a lot more. If you are a bit fuzzy on the details, Elizabeth is Victor’s betrothed, and in the 1818 version of the text, she is also his cousin. So, to clarify: after creating life from death, Victor dreams that he makes out with his cousin/girlfriend, only to have her turn into his dead mom. Clearly this sort of behavior didn’t sit too well with Shelley’s audiences; in fact, it is said that the prevalence of incest may have been behind Elizabeth’s demotion from cousin to adopted orphan in the subsequent 1831 version of the novel. Nevertheless, it’s only mildly bothersome to today’s audiences. Ryan Murphy clearly was aware of this, so he amped up the incest. The bottom line remains the same, though: the natural state of things has been corrupted. Kyle is simultaneously life and death – he is neither and both; thus the sex has to be unnatural and grotesque, because his rebirth and his very existance are unnatural and grotesque.

Shelley plays out this theme beautifully, and Stephen King does the same in Pet Sematary, because I can’t seem to get through a post anymore without mentioning Pet Sematary. I’ll say it again for good measure – Pet Sematary. In these novels, though, the protagonists are punished for their unnatural deeds. As Jud Crandall points out, “Sometimes, dead is better.” Some things are just beyond the realm of man, and for Shelley and King, playing God never ends well. I somehow doubt that Ryan Murphy’s conclusion will serve as an affirmation to the natural order of things, but it should.

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