As always, American Horror Story comes through with another excellent episode set during Halloween. That is, of course, the time of year when the show is most effective (and probably the most-watched), so it's important the show gets it right. This time, Coven uses Halloween purely as exposition, but there's an amazing scene late in the episode that should be used as an example of how to depict Halloween without having to focus on it throughout the episode.
For the most part, "Fearful Pranks Ensue" tries to clean up what happened in the previous episode. If you recall, there was a shocking twist at the end where Fiona murdered Madison in cold blood, then demanded that Spalding clean up the body along with the bloodied rug as though a dead mouse had just been found underneath. It was a calculated move, however; in her attempts to remain the Supreme, Fiona committed a similar sin to the one that made her such a powerful witch, although this time the repercussion seem a bit more dire.
The loss of Madison isn't realized by the rest of the girls until Nan speaks out, saying she can't hear Madison's thoughts anymore. That's enough proof to her that she's passed on, so she calls in the Council - a group of witches meant to maintain peace and order in the coven. One of those witches is Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), the fiery redhead who grew up under the shadow of Fiona years ago. In a flashback, we see that Myrtle resents her for taking the Supreme position by force; we're also privy to some information about Spalding that I won't ruin for those who haven't seen the episode yet. Let's just say it'll catch your tongue.
A lot of events happen in this episode, so many in fact that it's hard to cover them all succinctly in one review. The most important is the introduction of the Council, because it signifies more than just one problem for the coven. Fiona has also begun a war with Marie Laveau now that she murdered her minotaur and sent the head back in a box; there's mention of a truce signed between the two sides, although that's something that's only hinted at in flashback.
Frances Conroy rules this episode - she's excellent as the jealous Myrtle, and she gets her moment to shine after she's spited by Spalding. It's great to see Fiona and Myrtle pitted against each other, because both are strong characters in their own right and bound together by past grievances.
Other plot lines running around this episode are piecemeal, however. Zoe gets little to do in "Fearful Pranks Ensue"; she gets a quick moment with Kyle before he disappears, but that storyline has sort of been left to molder while the show focuses on the main problems at hand. Likewise, Coven remembers that Cordelia does have a husband who has been missing for an episode; he's on a "work trip," with work being a metaphor for sex with a mistress. It's not as surprising to the audience as it could have been; we barely know the guy, so it's not a shock that he's cheating on Cordelia. What is a surprise is that he seems to be a murderer. But this is something that's dropped on us quickly and then forgotten about - it's less effective than it could have been.
"Fearful Pranks Ensue" is often scatter-brained, jumping all over its varying plots to try to mine as much emotion out of each as possible. It's not always a good way to deal with a massively expanding plot; but as an audience that's sat through two seasons of insanity in the other American Horror Story arcs, Coven is a lot more focused.
Did I mention there's zombies? One of the best moments in the episode comes from a trick-or-treating gag. It's helped along by some fantastic makeup effects, but even if the zombies had been less gory and rotting, the moment still would have worked simply because of the pacing. Bravo!
The episode does suffer from an abundance of ideas, but Coven is slowly becoming my favorite season of AHS yet. It's not because of any one thing, but the whole conceit of this season - anything is possible, and if you know American Horror Story, the unexpected will almost always show up in every episode. Though some of the plot lines get buried under more pressing ideas, "Fearful Pranks Ensue" is a solid episode - and it looks like it will pretty much continue into next week's installment.