Thursday, January 30, 2014

American Horror Story: Coven--FINALE

3.13: The Seven Wonders

--Thus it comes to a close once again. The story ends, the curtain’s drawn, the actors go home, and only a single light is left burning to indulge the ghosts of the theatre. And, yeah, I’m getting all profound and shit, but even a show as loopy as American Horror Story has its profundities. The season finale of Coven was a bit refreshing: nothing really zany happened, the death count was lower than previous seasons have led us to expect, and the ending was...wait. Did they give us a happy resolution? Did Sarah Paulson actually have something good happen to her? What are these strange warm, glowy feelings in my abdomen? Did I watch the wrong show?

--Yeah, the overall mood of the finale was weirdly upbeat a lot of the time. Starting from the beginning. What’s the oddest, yet most appropriate way to ring in the Seven Wonders? A fucking music video! Stevie Nicks drifts about the golden-lit interiors of Miss R’s like the hippest angel in Heaven, lip-synching her heart out. Which begs the question: did she literally sing the song, as a kind of blessing/invocation, or was that sequence a sort of fan-servicey breaking of the fourth wall, a brief acknowledgment that none of this is real? Up for debate. Then it was time for Zoe, Misty, Queenie, and Madison to take on those infamous trials.

--Telekinesis. They moved some candlesticks. Easy.

--Mind Control. A bit of tension here, as Zoe and Madison used their powers to fight over poor FrankenKyle. Madison made Kyle choke Zoe, in a delicious bit of foreshadowing. But everyone passed.

--Visiting the Afterlife. This was where the one truly upsetting thing happened, as the Seven Wonders claimed their first casualty. And it wasn’t who we were expecting. All the girls crossed over, but Misty Day got stuck. Her Hell was a classroom where she had to murder a frog, over and over, while all the kids laughed. She couldn’t wake up. Dawn broke. I was relaxed, expecting a last-minute save. And then Misty’s body crumbled to dust. The most innocent of the witches was lost forever. I am legitimately saddened by this. I guess you could call it a rumination on how the good aren’t always rewarded for their goodness. Poor Misty. Like Nan, she deserved more.

--Transmutation. The high-strung girls all nailed this power, and used it to unwind with some teleport tag. Things went downhill very abruptly when Zoe bamfed herself onto a spiky iron rod and was killed. OOPS. In a moment of sublime bitchitude, Madison was asked to bring Zoe back and instead revived a squashed fly. Good lord. Are all the good witches doomed? Is the coven really going to be cursed with a new version of Fiona? Cordelia and Myrtle despaired, until Myrtle had a eureka moment that you’d think someone would have thought of already: what about the dark horse in the room? The witch who’s literally born of great power, and has never been able to see it within herself? Who is now (almost) free from her debilitating mommy issues? What about Cordelia?

--Pyrokinesis. Cordelia lit a candle with her mind. Simple, but triumphant. She breezed through the earlier Wonders as well. Suddenly, Madison looked worried.

--Divination. The blind seer studied some pebbles and played a hidden-object hunt with great success. Madison, tasked with the same simple game, utterly blew it. She’s not clairvoyant. There’s something she can’t do. So she can’t be Supreme. Pissed and petulant, unable to cope with not having something she wants, the starlet stormed away to ragequit Miss R’s forever. Delectable irony: during her tantrum, she grabbed a cigarette from Anna-Lee Leighton’s silver dispenser, the very object she was supposed to find. HA.

--Finally, Resurrection. Cordelia breathed her sweet breath into Zoe and revived her. At the same time, Kyle was upstairs, strangling Madison to death for manipulating him. RIP, wasted young woman who blew every single chance you were given. Kyle’s done being used. Well, maybe not entirely, because Spalding’s ghost showed up to, er, claim the body. “I’m the help,” he leered, and left the rest of the sentence unspoken: And now, Kyle, so are you. At least Kyle gets Zoe as consolation. Downstairs, Zoe gasped back to life. Cordelia’s eyes were magic. Her greenhouse bloomed. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the new Supreme: Cordelia Foxx, daughter of Fiona.

--It was too good to be true. As Cordelia went public, inviting aspiring young witches into the coven, ushering in a new era of witchitude, I waited for something dreadful to happen. Some enemy to swoop in and undo all that happiness. Instead, we got a fiery swansong. Myrtle, who has always acted for the good of the coven, pointed out that she kinda sorta murdered her fellow council members -- and if Cordelia is going to be a legit Supreme, she has to take the bad along with the good. Justice had to be done. It was a lesson, the final lesson, Myrtle had to teach. Thus, Myrtle Snow was burned at the stake. Again. But this time, on her own terms. She’d done her work; she was ready to ascend into what I’m sure was the most fabulous, fashionable Afterlife of them all. Frances Conroy Frances Conroy Frances Conroy Frances Conroy FRANCES CONROY.

--One last piece of business. Fiona. As I suspected, her “death” at the Axeman’s hands was a big old fakeout. But her true death couldn’t be averted. Skeletal and wasted, she appeared in Miss R’s for a final heart-to-heart with Cordelia. Would Fiona make one last desperate grab at life? No...she was tired. She’d figured things out. So had Cordelia. Their meeting wasn’t one of those sappy, forgiveness-drenched reconciliations, but a regretful acknowledgment of all the mistakes they’d made as mother and daughter. It was powerful. Cordelia could have satisfied herself by killing Fiona in mercy and revenge, but she didn’t. She made Fiona accept death. And did Fiona? Well, after collapsing lifeless in her daughter’s arms, the ex-Supreme found herself in a rustic cabin with a smiling Axeman offering her catfish. To her, it wasn’t a bucolic Heaven but a backwoods Hell. (“Knotty piiiiiiiine!!!!”) There was Papa Legba, laughing. However, I found that scene to be a bit ambiguous. Not necessarily a Hell for Fiona, more a Purgatory. I think that, sooner or later, Fiona may find happiness in that cabin with that man. After all, she has eternity. Her move.

--We ended with a reminder of the beginning. Welcome to Miss Robichaux’s. Enjoy your new career as a witch. Only now, Cordelia is the warm, smiling Supreme. Zoe and Queenie are her faithful council. Kyle’s the butler. And a swarm of eager young girls are flocking in to inject new life into the place, to fill those blank white rooms with laughter and color. Whatever happens next, things are looking up for witchcraft. Cordelia smiles on all those fresh faces. Curtain.

--So what are my final thoughts, my final grade? Well, I loved it, obviously. That said, Asylum was better. This show is always gonna be a bit unfocused, but Asylum managed to pull everything together for a very strong, poignant final act. When it ended, I felt like one big story had been told. With Coven, it felt like a lot of different stories clamoring for time, and at the end, they quickly picked one subplot and tossed aside the rest. This season was unmoored, for better and for worse. Regard how some promising subplots (Zoe’s deadly vagina, Cordelia’s infertility, the immortal minotaur) were dropped early on, as though the show got bored with them. How other subplots (the witch hunters, Joan and Luke Ramsey) existed awkwardly within the narrative and ended without amounting to much. Note how certain characters (Fiona in particular) seemed to change their motives on a whim, and how others (Zoe and Kyle, oy) were diminished, wasted. American Horror Story takes the narrative approach of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. It gets frustrating, not gonna lie. I’m especially annoyed that they took two great characters, Madame LaLaurie and Marie Laveau, and got rid of them too early; somehow, I wanted more from their ultimate fate. And I have to ask: what exactly happened to that poor baby in Spalding’s attic?

--So, yeah, this season was a bit structurally weak. Okay, it was very structurally week. But did that make me dislike it? Was I disappointed? Nope! I know this show’s faults. And I accept them. Because the reward is one helluva fun time. I love being surprised and shocked into laughter...or, sometimes, shocked into silence. I love the actresses and actors they’ve found to inhabit their stories. AHS taps into the love of playing a character that’s the reason so many people want to act in the first place. Look at Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, or Lily Rabe, and see how much fun they’re clearly having. Then look at Sarah Paulson, and see how seriously they still take the material. For them alone, I award the show high marks. And I will keep coming back.

--Season Four! What do we know? Well, they revealed it’ll be set in the year 1950. A ton of faces will likely be returning. It’s probably going to be Jessica Lange’s last season, and she may be playing a German. Maybe. Place your bets. American Horror Story: Atomic Age? American Horror Story: Red Scare? American Horror Story: Invention of the Credit Card? Whatever they choose, I’m aboard. My seat in the audience is reserved. I’m waiting for the curtain to go up again. You’ll always see me here when it does. Because this is my Heaven, and Papa Legba can suck it.

--Witch out.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 12

3.12: Go to Hell

--I can’t decide if this was an amazing ep or an infuriating one. I think I’ll go with amazing, because so many scenes moved me on some level, or at least made me gigglesnort. The infuriating part comes from the fact that a lot of stuff happened that you’d think would have been saved till next week’s finale. I mean, if you take “Go to Hell” at face value, the show just blew its load way too quickly by offing the three women who most make Coven what it is. But I have my theories, so read on.

--For sure, there were many climaxes this week, though none of the orgasmic variety. Seemingly the only thing that didn’t happen were the Seven Wonders, which were set up via a highly amusing silent-movie skit with some cute Salem girls frolicking in a barn -- complete with dialogue cards and dawn-of-cinema special effects. Loved it. Now we know that the Wonders consist of telekinesis, pyrokinesis, transmutation (basically teleporting), transfer of life force, mind control, clairvoyance, and a trip to the afterlife. So, every power we’ve already seen done. And it’s easy for an aspiring young witch to get herself killed attempting the Wonders. Foreshadowing? Probably. Fiona was back to her old plan of making Queenie the next Supreme, or so it seemed, but Queenie had more important things to do...

--Such as bidding farewell to Madame LaLaurie. Maybe. Queenie figured out that LaLaurie had gifted New Orleans with many, many, many separate pieces of Marie Laveau, then went to confront the evil Grande Dame in her old house where, hilariously, LaLaurie had taken over as tour guide and was painting a far more flattering picture of herself for confused tourists. If this was LaLaurie’s swansong, it was a doozy. She revealed to Queenie that her earlier tears were not because she’d seen the light, but because she despaired to exist in such a “degenerate” world. The scary thing is, her words rang true in an awful kind of way. An argument could be made that racism still thrives, just more insidiously, disguised as sympathy. When Queenie suggested redemption, LaLaurie just laughed: she’d seen how little forgiveness matters in a world where you can just cry crocodile tears on TV, especially if you’re famous. Ouch. It takes someone from the past to point out the demons of the present. It was a good speech, but it bit LaLaurie in the ass, because Queenie had already struck a deal with Papa Legba during a trip to a fried chicken-themed afterlife, and she proceeded to truly, actually, for-realsies, stab LaLaurie to death. Maybe.

--Queenie was one courageous figure this week. The other was Cordelia, back in badass mode, whose powers were initially reluctant to show themselves. It took a tender moment with Fiona to open Cordelia’s third eye once again, and what did she see? A nightmare. Miss Robichaux’s strewn with the butchered bodies of all the witches, and a wraithlike Fiona smoking over Cordelia’s corpse. The final, desperate act of a desperate, dying woman. Cordelia saw some other useful things too. Where Misty was buried, for instance. And Fiona’s plans for the Axeman. We all thought he was gonna desert her, but nope: it was Fiona who had decided to jet off to warmer climes and leave her undead sweetie-pie to rot. Cordelia paid the Axeman a visit and showed him proof. He reacted about how you’d expect.

--Zoe and Kyle are back! BOOOOOO! Seriously, I wanted them to be gone for good, I really did. I wanted this show to make a statement about how power and glory aren’t for everyone. But, no, Zoe decided she’s the Supreme after all (after reviving a dead vagrant who really should’ve stayed dead) and dragged her useless frankenboy back for more scenes of hanging uselessly in the background. Being useless. One episode left to make these two matter, show. Just saying.

--Despite all the Emmy-worthy material being tossed around by Lange, Bates, and Bassett this week, my favorite scene was when Misty returned to the coven and decided her usual peace-loving ways could take a backseat in favor of beating the ever-loving snot out of Madison while the other witches watched with varying degrees of relish. (Cordelia’s icy “I’m good” when the catfight began was beautiful.) Good lord, was that satisfying. And not exactly out of character; remember way back when Misty murdered some rednecks with her crocodile buddies? She’s a true witch, all right. Also awesome: the Axeman popped in, all bloody and vengeful, and every single witch in the coven smacked him down. It was then Cordelia’s turn to be bitten in the ass, as she realized the blood came from her mother...

--Yes. Fiona Goode is dead. Maybe. Her final confrontation with the Axeman was shot largely in a single take and was yet another example of how good this show can be when it tries. All Fiona’s demons, her inner conflicts, her bitterness and fear. All there. She was spiteful. She was sad. She was self-pitying and self-loathing. Still stuck in her selfish cycle. And the Axeman couldn’t take it any more. He killed her. And then, back at Miss R’s, the young witches of the coven drew knives and stabbed him to death, just as their predecessors had done. And Cordelia wept, because her modern, liberal mindset just doesn’t work on witches; she can’t even stick to it herself. To be a witch is to shed blood. Fiona demonstrated that best, and now she is gone, fed to the gators, nothing left but an unfinished painting. Maybe. LaLaurie and Laveau are gone too, banished to a hell that looks an awful lot like LaLaurie’s torture attic. One of them is in a cage, forced to watch her mistreated loved ones suffer. The other one is the torturer, forced to cause pain and anguish for all eternity, trapped by her own rage. Papa Legba watches and laughs. Maybe.

--Why all the maybes? Because I just don’t quite buy that this is the end for these women. I want to believe this show is smarter than that. Fiona’s end in particular seemed way too premature and way too ignominious. Here’s my theory. Two theories, actually. The final episode will deal directly with the Seven Wonders, one of which is a voyage to the afterlife. I suspect that said voyage will allow more closure for LaLaurie and Laveau, a chance to give both of them a more definitive kiss-off. As for Fiona, I wonder if she might be playing a long con. What if the vision she gave Cordelia was a hoax? What if she tricked the Axeman as well, muddled his mind into thinking he’d killed her? What if she is indeed planning to run away, but for the good of the coven? Cutting ties with the witches by making them believe she is dead and digested? Letting them start afresh, with her shade haunting them as an example of what not to do? I’d like to believe this is the case. We shall see. Oh, yes. We shall see.

--Final shout-out to Priceiswrong on Not only are his photo recaps of Coven hilarious, they have provided me with many of the pics for my own recaps. I have celebrated by sticking extra photos in this post! And the next one.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 11

3.11: Protect the Coven

--First off, I had another dream about AHS last night. I dreamed that Madison was trying to kill everyone else in the coven, which she did by causing a train crash. Then she set Zoe on fire. Honestly, I’m putting nothing past this show right now.

--So much for Delphi Trust, I guess. Nice to see the continuing trend of not really taking the witch hunters seriously. Fiona and Harrison Renard agreed to a nice, peaceful meeting to negotiate some terms, and you expected it to be a trap for the witches, but no: Renard was legitimately prepared to show his belly and let the witches win for now. For now. What he didn’t realize was that witches are not businessfolk. They are goddamn witches. Hence, Fiona unleashing her cuddly-wuddly Axeman on the Delphi Trust suits in a hilarious, cathartic massacre. Laveau imbibing a Diet Sprite and then snapping post-murder pics with her phone was, like, the epitome of beauty. And I gotta say, I was impressed by Renard’s totally chill approach to his own death. Dude had class. Now the question is, will Fiona take up the Axeman’s offer to run off and become a cute farm couple? His love for her seems legit. That was the question of the week: to protect the coven, or to abandon it, knowing how rotten it’s become?

--I predict Madison’s going down. Or, I hope she is. I just kind of fucking hate her now, and the way she’s acting -- prancing around like she already owns the joint, treating everyone like shit -- makes me think someone’s gonna re-murder her ass before she becomes even worse than Fiona. Hey, we already know Myrtle has a psychotic streak. Wouldn’t mind seeing it again. It’s funny how the whackjob Myrtle with her melon baller of death and her shout-outs to famous fashionistas is the one person who’s honestly acting for the good of the coven. Well, not entirely, because Cordelia, in her desperation and shame, gouged her eyes out all over again. That twist was easy to see coming, but I’m glad, because I prefer blind hardass Cordelia over whiny, guilty Cordelia. Make it so.

--Queenie’s alive! Because it’d been awhile since an apparently dead character showed up without a scratch! Chalk it up to the fact that as Fiona fades, her witchy power pinballs around, looking for a new vessel -- but in the meantime, everyone’s power levels peak. Which basically means any witch can do any spell as the plot requires it. No idea what role Queenie has to play in the endgame, but I’m not displeased at her return.

--Zoe and FrankenKyle got some actual material this week, and it wasn’t bad. The show seemed to acknowledge that both of them are kinda helpless in the face of the ruthlessness committed by the other characters. Zoe figured out what really happened to Nan, but how could she challenge Fiona and Laveau? Madison dropped some jealous hints that when she’s in charge, Zoe and Kyle are fucked. Then the well-meaning Myrtle offered Zoe tickets to Disney World, insisting that she and her boytoy had to flee before they became either corpses or selfish shitheads. Poor Kyle, as I pointed out way back at the beginning, is a Nice Guy, and his mind has been repaired just enough for him to fear his own monstrosity. How can he function in the real world? Zoe’s there for him, though, and the episode ended with victory music as the two lovebirds hopped onto a bus like something out of a rom-com. Know what? I’m fine with not seeing them again, because they’re superfluous, but also because it would be a neat thing to have these two characters escape the dreadful fate that seems to befall AHS protagonists and win a true happily-ever-after. But with two eps to go, I’m not counting on their lasting getaway.

--The meaty stuff went to Madame LaLaurie this time around; she even got a voiceover! Put back together by Queenie, she was returned to Miss R’s to continue living in servitude and humiliation, and I guess all that Civil Rights footage didn’t take, because she didn’t waste her time disembowling a fresh black man in Spalding’s creepy doll museum. Apparently, this has to do with some sort of vague fascination with human biology, or maybe it’s just because she snapped after encountering some chicken blood one time in 1830; the flashbacks and voiceovers were a bit vague on that. Oh,’s like you’re laughing at us for feeling sympathy toward you (can’t deny, her slipping Madison’s zombie poo into the coven’s evening soup was epic). Spalding’s ghost popped up and manipulated LaLaurie into attempting to kill Laveau with Benadryl, which obviously didn’t work, but things did end up with the voodoo queen at the mercy of the vengeful house staff. Funny how, in his own wrongheaded way, Spalding is also trying to protect the coven. And now he has a real-life baby to play dress-up with! Awwwwww! But bad things are in store for Laveau, unless LaLaurie’s more reformed than she thinks. Who’s the bad guy here? I DON’T KNOWWWW. And it’s amusing.

--Two more episodes remain, during which the coven has to figure out who the hell is ascending and who else has to die in the meantime. Will Fiona do the right thing? Will Madison get smacked down? Is LaLaurie a redemption story or not? Who will rescue poor buried Misty (the early graveyard scene suggested it’s gonna be Cordelia)? Are Zoe and Kyle through with all things witchy? Whatever happens, I’d like for the show to break from tradition and not end with pretty much everyone dead. Or a ghost. Or killed and brought back to life. Or killed, brought back to life, then killed again. Or cursed with immortality and buried alive. Or killed, buried, brought back to life, buried again, dug up, killed again....uh.......

Friday, January 10, 2014

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 10

3.10: The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks

--Can you believe this episode title? I half-expected the showrunners to appear onscreen, kowtowing before Ms. Nicks and wailing, “WE ARE NOT WORTHEEEEEE!!!!” I admit that, while the return of AHS is cause for jubilation, I’d been dreading this ep just a little bit, because I feared it was gonna shoehorn Stevie Nicks into the story for purely masturbatory purposes. Figuratively, that is. I hope. However, this ep was as chilling, shocking, and morbidly did-they-really-just-do-that hilarious as ever. And Nicks’ participation, plus that stupid title, are actually kind of ironic. Those magical delights don’t mean much when surrounded by betrayal and murder galore.

--I’m kinda pleased that the witch hunters of Delphi Trust aren’t overshadowing the coven’s inner problems. Not yet, anyway. After the massacre of her people, Marie Laveau is a far more contrite woman, and now that she’s moved beyond merely hating Fiona, she’s seeing her own, twisted reflection. The two witchy bigwigs proceeded to fuck Delphi Trust all to shit with my new favorite spell on this show, a summoning of the Greek goddess Hecate via bundles of Benjamins and a doomed mouse in a maze. Which somehow caused economic collapse and an abrupt FBI crackdown. Neat! Now Delphi Trust has been toppled, but that just means Hank’s dad, Harrison Renard, is gunning for the witches. Which is what they want? Maybe?

--The whole sisterly bonding thing between Fiona and Laveau reached very bizarre heights when Laveau revealed her backstory: she’s immortal because she sold her soul to voodoo deity Papa Legba (Lance Reddick, even better than I dreamed), who turns up once a year, bedecked in dreadlocks and bones and snorting coke, to demand an innocent soul. The first sacrifice Laveau had to make was her own baby, and she’s been nabbing hapless infants for Papa ever since. Fiona’s ears perked up: immortality, and all she has to do is murder people? Sign her up!’s a little sad to see Fiona reverting to her bad old ways, but after spurning Cordelia for being stupid enough to marry a witch-hunter, Fiona must be feeling like all her newly-built bridges are burnt anyway. Ah, but Fiona’s soul is long-gone, so no immortality juujuu for her, says Papa. So she’s desperate. And she’s not the only one.

--This week, FrankenKyle went and...oh, wait, he didn’t even appear. Because THAT’S HOW POINTLESS HE IS.

--Right, right, Stevie Nicks. Prior to her decision to kill absolutely everyone, Fiona was courting Misty as the new Supreme, sealing the deal by inviting Nicks (who’s a witch, duh) over for drinks and music. Needless to say, Misty was knocked flat (literally), but her special treatment caused Madison to throw enough shade to cause a solar eclipse. Madison sez: I’m more powerful, I came back from the dead, and I’m richer, so why am I not Supreme? And in case we forgot, Madison is a giant, giant bitch. Which is why she lured Misty to a neat jazz funeral, demonstrated her power by bringing the dead guy back to life, then knocked Misty out, stuffed her into the coffin, and told the bedazzled cemetery dudes to inter it. Well, SHIT. No more magical resurrections for our heroes! At least until Misty gets out of that coffin, because she obviously will, because at this point, she’s the only person on the show who isn’t a horrible human being in some way. And that includes...

--Nan. Poor, poor Nan, whom I really loved, and who actually could have been the Supreme, I think. But despite her newfound badassitude and rapidly growing powers (“Put out your cigarette. Now stick it in your vagina”), Nan was just too damn nice to live. True, she laid down a shocking revenge-killing on Joan Ramsey by forcing her to drink bleach, but that was justified. And let me just say that it was a rather abrupt way to end the Ramsey subplot. Now that it’s all over, what was the point of Joan and Luke? I guess they were on hand to instigate Nan’s slide into darkness. But it was all for naught, because when Nan found the baby Laveau had kidnapped, Fiona and Laveau decided Papa Legba might prefer a different flavor of “innocent” and drowned Nan in a bathtub. GOD FUCKING DAMMIT, I WANTED HER AS SUPREME. FUCK. So Nan is yet another tragic character, struck down before she could find true happiness, but maybe she’ll become buddies with Papa Legba and get to be a voodoo demigod or something. She deserves that much.

--Meanwhile, Madame LaLaurie was...oh, wait, she didn’t appear either. Her, I actually missed. I wonder...presumably the cops were all over Laveau’s hair salon, so did they or didn’t they find the living, disembodied head of a reformed racist socialite? I’m picturing LaLaurie’s head on the desk of a bewildered police captain, growling, “Look, I’m only gonna explain this one more time...”

--The episode ended not with a shocking cliffhanger, but with Stevie Nicks singing some more while Fiona listened, crying sweet tears for all she’s experienced in life, and for the shitty human being she’s become. Note the composition: Nicks’ seat at the piano was right beneath the portrait of former Supreme Anna-Lee, Fiona’s first victim. And not her last. Meanwhile, Madison only cares about herself, Cordelia has decided she’s worthless, Zoe might as well be a fucking coat rack for all she contributes to the plot any more, Misty’s in a coffin, and Myrtle...just wants to play her theremin and be all aloof. Jesus, is it gonna have to be Marie Laveau who unites the coven and kicks witch-hunter ass? I’m down. Her stankface alone could cause human flesh to evaporate.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Top 10 Unhappy Endings

You may have noticed something: most fictional stories have happy endings. The bad guy is defeated, the lovers are together, the world is saved. Yay, confetti and champagne! The reason for this, of course, is that fiction offers an escape from real life and we want it idealized. We want to reassure ourselves that happy endings are not only possible, but probable. There’s nothing wrong with that. BUT, sometimes a downer ending can have a considerable impact, even if we kinda wish we could rewrite the tale. Here are the feel-bad story resolutions that I most love to be depressed by!



And Then There Were None: One Helluva Murder-Suicide Plot
You expect a murder mystery to end with a devious solution, and Agatha Christie always delivers, but you don’t expect it to also end with absolutely everyone dead. The Grande Dame of crime yarns threw a wrench in the works by introducing a parcel of victims who, for one reason or another, all deserved to die, then sticking them on a remote island to be picked off one by one. (I think we’re all grateful that the novel’s original title got changed, yeah?) I’m not gonna go so far as to tell you who the killer is, but I will spoil this: the killer isn’t sparing him/herself the same fate. After everyone is indubitably deceased, we learn that the mastermind faked their own death, kept on murdering from behind the scenes, then committed suicide in a way that made it look like they’d been dead the whole time. BWUH? Needless to say, there’s plenty of clues throughout. But it’s a pretty epic way to end a story on a nihilistic note. No heroes, just one giant bastard who out-murders even themself.

Bloom County: This is a Comic Strip; Why Do I Feel Dead Inside?
Comic strips and existential grief don’t go well together, but Bloom County was always ready to grace convention with a giant middle finger, which is why it remains my favorite newspaper comic of all time. You knew author/artist Berkely Breathed was gonna end things on a surreal note, and did he ever: Bill the Cat gets Donald Trump’s brain implanted in his body, buys the comic, and fires all the other characters. Last-minute save, though, right? Nope. Although Breathed did create sequel strips, Bloom County was over forever. The cast is forced to go their seperate ways, and lovable penguin Opus finds himself wandering through a bleak, bullet-ridden skeleton of the world he once knew and loved. The final Bloom County strip shows Opus trudging away from the viewer as the beloved, abandoned environments of Bloom County fade to white. Holy shit...that’s, like, the bleakest thing ever, and it’s what newspaper readers had to deal with one Sunday in 1989. Wonder if the national alcohol consumption stats went up that week.

The Dark Tower: Better Luck Next Time, Roland...*RESET*
It is ballsy as fuck to spend decades writing an epic saga of dark fantasy and end it by dicking over the hero...but this is Stephen King. He actually included a disclaimer within the final Dark Tower novel, warning the reader that haunted gunslinger Roland Deschain was not destined for a happy resolution...or even any resolution. After finally reaching the legendary, quasi-metaphysical Dark Tower, after losing all his loyal companions, Roland climbs to the top of the Tower, opens the final door, transported back to the beginning of the entire narrative, with no memory of having undergone the quest before. It is implied that Roland is doomed to repeat the whole thing over and over and over until he hits some sort of karmic plateau. I think many Dark Tower fans would have preferred Roland to die in a hail of bullets in the final paragraph. But you gotta admit, it’s sort of profound. And there is a note of hope, almost an easter egg, implying Roland’s journey is nearing its true end. But we’ll never see that end. Mr. fucking suck and you’re brilliant.

Don’t Look Now: That’s Not Your Daughter, Donald
Don’t Look Now is a movie that really should be better known, because it’s a minor masterpiece of atmospheric suspense and dread. It stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a grief-stricken couple living in Venice; both are mildly psychic, and Sutherland keeps catching glimpses of a small figure in a red raincoat...possibly the ghost of his drowned daughter. Meanwhile, someone in the city is committing murders. In a slow build-up of tension and eerie images, the hero casts aside his skepticism and chases that little figure in red, ignoring the pleas of his wife and friends, who realize the truth: it’s not a ghost, it’s a warning. In one of the creepiest WTF moments in movie history, Sutherland catches his “daughter,” who turns around to reveal the visage you see above. And then she slashes Donald’s throat and he dies in agony. If only he’d paid more attention to the signs. Although this ending doesn’t entirely make sense, the overall dream logic of the film adds more heft to such a shocking, gruesome punchline.

The Empire Strikes Back: Is Everybody Fucked or Is It Just Me?
This has lost a bit of its impact because these days, we treat the Star Wars movies as a single entity. But when you really think about it...damn, the ending of the second film is just sucky. Luke has lost his right hand, his lightsaber, and his entire understanding of good and evil -- knowing as he now does that Darth Vader is his father and saintly Obi-Wan lied to him. Han’s been frozen in carbonite and his friends utterly failed to rescue him. The Rebel Alliance suffered a crushing defeat and now has to somehow pull itself up from the ashes. The final shot of the film has a huge, ominous question mark hanging over it: how the HELL can things get better for our beloved heroes? Compare that to the ending of the first film, with Luke and Han sporting gold medals and goofy grins. Everything’s looking up, NOT. This is why The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film, and why a downer ending can sometimes ensure the fans will drool for more.

 Ex Machina: Happy Birthday, Mr. Friendless Vice President
Brian K. Vaughan is a comic book writer who always takes his stories to their logical conclusion, no matter how harsh it may be. He gets a lot of deserved praise for Y: The Last Man, but don’t overlook Ex Machina, which focuses on Mitchell Hundred, the world’s only superhero (he can talk to machines), who becomes mayor of New York City after his failed stint as a crime-fighter. The comic contains a stellar balance of politics, witty dialogue, and sci-fi, as Hundred attempts to not suck as mayor while gradually discovering that we’re under attack from a bunch of parallel universes. With that comes the realization that being a savior means being unhappy...and alone. By the end of the series, Hundred has alienated himself from his loyal sidekicks and become Vice President, knowing he must do whatever it takes to protect our world. And the comic implies -- merely implies -- that Hundred might be gay, and doesn’t dare reveal his true feelings. Ever. This isn’t what’s supposed to happen to superheroes. But the real world is cold, cold, cold.

Gyo: Dead Fish Take Over the World. Seriously.
Speaking of comics, let me introduce you to Junji Ito, an author/artist whose warped imagination would make Lovecraft go, “DAMN, dude.” In his Gyo series, Japan suffers one crazy-weird crisis as dead fish, mounted on metallic spider legs, begin rising from the sea. Turns out that during WWII, the Japanese military attempted to design war machines fueled by the gases of necrotizing tissue. As usual, the experiment ran amok and has been quietly evolving under the ocean, and now...payback time. Moving from fish to sharks, whales, land mammals, and finally humans, the machines continue to develop, forcing humanity into a nightmarish symbiosis where we become their engines, like The Matrix but a thousand times more disgusting. Like all the best horror-apocalypse tales, Gyo ends on a note of grim ambiguity. Is this our ultimate fate, to die and become stinky fuel cells for robo-bugs? Eh, could be worse.

His Dark Materials: Better to Have Loved and Lost....?
Phillip Pullman’s infamous fantasy trilogy has its share of controversy -- the Catholic Church is evil, there are gay angels, and the climax includes the literal death of God -- but at least the two young heroes, Lyra and Will, have each other, right? Sadly, there was no happily ever after for our lovelorn leads; they had their sexual/spiritual awakening only to learn they had to separate forever. See, Lyra and Will are from different universes, and it turns out that spending too long in the wrong ’verse causes you to sicken and die. Worse, all means of traveling between the worlds must be sealed off, or else the End of Everything might occur (it’s complicated). Not only was this heartbreaking for the couple, it was tragic for everybody, because how awful to know that there are a million other worlds to map and explore, but you can never visit them! All you can do is close your eyes and imagine them brushing up against you...which is all Lyra and Will have at the end. Sniff.

The Snowman: Innocence Melts
Oooh, can’t forget to include some childhood trauma! Let’s see...Bambi’s mom, Mufasa, Fox and, screw Disney, I’m going indie! The Snowman is a gorgeous book by Raymond Briggs that became a gorgeous animated film by Dianne Jackson. Wordless, it tells the tale of a young boy whose snowman comes to life on Christmas Night. It’s funny (they explore the kid’s house together) and magical (they fly to the North Pole and meet Santa), aaaannnd you can totally see where it’s going, can’t you. Next morning, the boy wakes up and finds the snowman has melted. That lifeless pile of snow with a hat and some coal scattered atop it is about the saddest visual in any cartoon ever. Suddenly, it’s not a happy story about whimsy and magic, but a rumination on how precious -- and fleeting -- childhood innocence is. Hell, maybe the boy dreamed the whole thing. And maybe the memories of one marvelous night will last him into adulthood. Hope so; otherwise life sucks and then you die. Merry Christmas!

The Thing: You Still Human, Friend-o?
Horror movies are often allowed to get away with unhappy endings because, well, they’re horrific. And you can’t kill off the monster/slasher/ghost when there are so many jump-the-shark sequels to be wrung out! The Thing is unique in that it ends on a note of fearful uncertainty, yet has no sequels (prequels don’t count). No sense of safety or closure. A shape-shifting alien attacks an Antarctic base, just about everyone is killed and/or assimiliated, and by the end, the two survivors have resigned themselves to death once the rubble stops burning. But are they human? Despite a few fan theories (Childs’ earring? Gasoline in the scotch bottle?) there is really no way to tell. Was the Thing destroyed, or is it biding its time, knowing it can survive freezing? We want to know that the hero at least didn’t die in vain (even though I wrote a whole post on how he might not be the hero), and we are denied that knowledge. And that is scary as fuck. A good unhappy ending leaves you checking your locks at night.

This might be a downer post, but don’t worry...I plan to make a list of my favorite happy endings. As well as a list of happy endings that made me want to drink paint thinner and forget I ever saw them. Stay tuned, spoiler lovers.