From the title “Boy Wonder” I had high hopes that episode 5 (written by John J. Gray and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton) would focus on the test of the Seven Wonders used by the coven to determine the next Supreme and it did not disappoint! Normally the Halloween episode each year is the biggest treat for AHS fans but this is my favorite episode so far as a huge Coven fan, with the “Seven Wonders” episode being my favorite from that season. As viewers, we also get the freedom I was looking for in the Halloween episode 3 of being able to leave Outpost Three and visit past favorite AHS locations due to flashing back three years before doomsday, just as the spirits normally have the freedom to leave the places they’re attached to on Halloween night in the AHS universe.
Coven fans rejoice! The witchy flashbacks continued this week with a return to the pre-apocalyptic Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, the return of some of our favorite witches including long lost Misty Day (Lily Rabe) and our favorite IRL rumored to be witch Stevie Nicks, and even a return to the delightful silent film style first used to introduce viewers to the test of the Seven Wonders in the penultimate episode of Coven. In that episode we first learned about the test of the Seven Wonders with a silent film of old-timey witches dressed in Puritan attire, attempting to prove themselves worthy to be named the next Supreme, leader of all witches and (we’ve recently learned) warlocks. In this silent film, we learned about each of the tests of the Seven Wonders and that attempting any of them can result in death, even in the most talented of witches. We’ll delve into the tests a bit later.
In the cold open, Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) wakes up by the ruins of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies and is immediately attacked and eaten alive by zombies, while a white faced demon—who looks not unlike Michael Landon (Cody Fern)—laughs maniacally. Suddenly we pick up back where we left off from last week’s episode right after Cordelia fainted from the shock of seeing that Michael had successfully rescued Madison and Queenie when she had previously failed in her efforts to do so. Cordelia wakes up from this post-apocalyptic vision back in the “three years before the bombs exploded” timeline and back in the dark Hogwarts world of the Hawthorne School for Exceptional Young Men, the counterpart to Miss Robichaux’s Academy. She is immediately relieved that Queenie (Gabourney Sidibe) and Madison (Emma Roberts) are really back, though sobered by both her vision of the future and the unmitigated power of Michael Langdon.
Cordelia, the current Supreme, shares her bleak vision with the warlock council, Michael, and the witches. In recognition of Michael’s ability to rescue the lost sisters when she could not, and in light of his other proven powers, she agrees that he’ll take the test of the Seven Wonders in two weeks’ time at the rise of the blood moon to determine if he is the Alpha, the male Supreme. The timing of the blood moon is a nod to the Roanoke mythology that ghosts can walk the earth and take on human form on the blood moon. In Roanoke mythology, the blood moon is the most dangerous time for humans as they can be killed by ghosts who have taken human form so it is notable that she has chosen this time for his test. The witches are in shock that Cordelia would allow Michael, whose strong powers already seem dangerous, the opportunity to rule them all. She announces that “Something in my blood is telling me that the only hope we have of surviving depends on what I do next.”
Back in New Orleans, Myrtle rails at Cordelia for offering the test of the Seven Wonders to a male and says that the tale of the Alpha is a “child’s tale, a lullaby impotent men tell flaccid little boys to make them believe one day they’ll be something special.” Cordelia relays that she seen the future —“carnage, end of the world, her girls dead” and she can’t risk that her own hubris in not wanting to cede to Michael could bring about the end of the world.
Every word that Francis Conroy utters as Myrtle Snow is a gift. After seeing Frances Conroy reigned in in so many of her roles, it’s fun to watch her chew the scenery and cut loose as an eccentric and extremely opinionated character. Her memorable quote after quote about the foolishness and pride of men was a needed balm, and a welcome bit of humor after the soul-crushing Kavanaugh hearing week. In the world of witches and warlocks, the witches are in charge, and Myrtle strongly discourages Cordelia from even allowing Michael to take test of the Seven Wonders. She’s not concerned about him possibly being the Antichrist just yet, she just believes that women are better suited to leadership. She asks Cordelia and perhaps the audience, “Have we learned nothing from Attila the Hun? Herod the Great? Mark Zuckerberg? Men make terrible leaders.” I’ll just leave that right there. Thank you, Myrtle! Also…Goode/Snow 2020!
In this flashback, we finally get to learn more about the witchy skills of Mallory (Billie Lourde) and Coco (Leslie Grossman), and get a glimpse of them before they were under identity spells. Myrtle advises Cordelia to cast her net wide, as Cordelia’s powers were overlooked when they last chose a Supreme, and cautions that her mother Fiona has proven that being able to pass the test of the Seven Wonders does not make one fit to rule the coven. She says there’s “magic within these very walls,” and mentions that she saw Malory undo the wounds on a deer and bring it back to life as a fawn when they were out hunting herbs for ratatouille. It was “unlike any magic she’d ever seen.”
This idea brings up the possibility again that Mallory could be an angel or strong power of light, and introduces the idea that maybe she will be able to undo the wounds to the earth with the help of the witches, and possibly the warlocks if they’ve survived bunkered down somewhere and seen the error of their ways.
Myrtle continues to beg Cordelia for more time to find a successor. Cordelia reveals that there is no time as she reveals that she is dying. We see her uncovering a wound in her mirror. As an aside, my first thought was “Oh no, not another robot reveal!” One per season is enough! But unlike Miriam Mead (Kathy Bates) the android, Cordelia is capable of having her powers fade and even dying as a new Supreme is revealed. Myrtle cries at this news and tells her she has just reached her prime. Myrtle has always been a mother figure to Cordelia and her style of mothering stands in sharp contrast to the style of mothering we’ll see from Miriam Mead later in this episode. Their grief is cut short as Mallory knocks on the door to let her know that her 2 o’clock appointment is here. It’s our shallow friend Coco with her father. He believes she needs to go to the school and she says her only skill is as a gluten detector for rich ladies. Cordelia sees potential after she reveals how she saved her brother from a potentially serious allergic reaction and tells her that “sensing danger is a good place to start.” We now know that Mallory can undo damage and age, and that Coco can sense danger. Both of these skills are likely to come in extremely handy in the upcoming battle against the Antichrist.
On the cusp of the blood moon, the warlock council confer their blessings of salt, water, blood and fire on Michael. John Henry (Cheyenne Jackson) looks at him warily and Michael quickly flashes him a white face with black pupils. John makes haste to New Orleans to warn Cordelia that he has found the white-faced demon of her vision.
Michael’s extreme helicopter mom figure, Miriam Mead, pulls up to the remote gas station where an unfortunate John Henry has stopped, puts on an act that she’s a frail woman who can’t reach the gas tank and asks for John Henry’s help pumping gas. As soon as we see Miriam we know that the Antichrist’s plan for taking over the world is in full effect, with his most ardent acolyte ensuring no obstacles slow him down. Notably she says “God bless you” which are not words you would expect to hear a Satan worshiper say. She slashes his Achilles’ tendons (major Misery nod) and when he tries a Harry Potter spell “accio”, a charm that allows the caster to summon an object, she says “no more spells” and slashes his neck, and sets him on fire for good measure. Nothing is going to get in the way of her Michael being all he can be. John Henry would appear to be an ex-wizard but in a universe where people are resurrected weekly, all bets are off. Also notably, Miriam teases him that he “has so many things left to do, so little time in the hourglass,” which brings to mind the hourglass featured prominently in the ads for the season. The thing about hourglasses is that they can be turned over and restarted. This almost certainly seems like a hint that a reset will come, which would explain why the world looked fine in the 2022 flash-forward at the end of Hotel even after the nuclear apocalypse setting of 2019 this season has been set in.
Miriam reunites with Michael outside the Hawthorne School, assuring him that the “problem is now a stack of overcooked country BBQ.” Michael reveals his plan of destroying the coven from within once he becomes Supreme. He’s not interested in merely being a Slytherin. Miriam has a reveal of her own, and she has brought headmaster Ariel Augustus (Jon Jon Briones) who is in on the John Henry execution. Ariel only cares about power and doesn’t want anything to ruin the chances of the men being in charge.
In a brilliant and nostalgic callback to Coven, the Test of the Seven Wonders finally begins in black and white silent film style with title cards explaining the history and reason for the tests. “Guided by ancient tradition, witches survive only if united under a strong, singular authority,” and this leader is chosen by testing who can master “Seven acts of magic so advanced each pushes the boundaries of craft into art.”
In Coven, the test was filmed in the regular style but only the information film of the test from an earlier era was a silent film. In “Boy Wonder”, the first six tests (Telekinesis, Concilium-control of the mind, Transmutation, Divination, Pyrokinesis and Vitalum Vitalis-balancing of scales of one life force for another) that Michael passes with flying colors are shown in the silent film style in the exact barn setting of the Coven’s silent film of the test from olden days.
We only switch back to the regular style of filming when Cordelia changes the rules of the seventh test, Descensum: “a perilous descent into the nether worlds of afterlife.” The witch or warlock must descend to their own personal hell and return before daybreak or turn to dust. This is the test that Misty Day failed in Coven so she turned to dust and was forced to live in her own personal vision of hell.
The warlocks are ready to celebrate what will surely be an easy success for the seventh test when Cordelia asks Michael not to not simply perform, but to conquer the last test by rescuing gentle soul and animal lover Misty Day from her personal living hell of endlessly dissecting and reviving the same frog in a middle school science lab. As a girl who grew up being a huge fan of frogs and toads, it was tough to watch and even tougher when you realize that she’s been reviving and slicing up frogs since 2014! Michael rescues her by brutally dissecting her science teacher and a chorus of demon children speak to him.
Michael appears to return from science lab hell alone until Misty reappears from dust after a dramatic pause and her reunion with her coven sisters is cut short when Michael and the warlocks demand that he become the Supreme. Misty draws back in fear of Michael. Cordelia’s nose bleeds and she collapses as she proclaims that there can be no doubt that he is the next Supreme.
The witches convene in another room and Misty conveys her concern that he gives her the “heebie-jeebies” and she smells the “perfume of death” on him. She reveals that in the classroom after the teacher was killed the students tilted their heads back, their eyes went white, and they gargled in a backwards language that he understood and she knows that evil was speaking to him. Cordelia reveals that he will never be Supreme but she had to allow him to take the test of the Seven Wonders to see how strong his powers were, and trick him in to returning all her witches to her so they can prepare to fight him. There is also the possibility that Cordelia may be exaggerating or completely faking her powers fading and illness but that remains to be seen.
Misty tearfully reveals that she can’t fight anymore after her years in hell and Cordelia tells her she’s done enough and sends in the White Witch a.k.a. Stevie Nicks, who announces herself with “Hello, witches” and sings “Gypsy” for her to remind her who she is and re-energize her. In a wink to the rumors from back in the day that Stevie Nicks was a witch in real life, the lyrics of “Gypsy” are changed from “She was just a wish” to “She was just a witch.”
While Baldwin Pennypacker (BD Wong) plays piano accompaniment and the other warlocks are distracted by the White Witch’s performance, Cordelia meets with and sends Mallory and the wonderfully named Behold Chablis (Billy Porter)—who has his own concerns about Michael—on a recon mission to learn about Michael’s origin in “the place where it all began”: Murder House. Fans may finally get a chance to find out if Mallory Montgomery is descended from Dr. Charles Montgomery who built the house. Both Mallory and Charles have a knack for bringing people back from the dead so it looks likely. Murder House fans, you may now exit the Murder tour bus, we’re going inside next week!
I had hoped to explore more of my comparison from two weeks ago of the robot Miss Mead trying to come to terms with her humanity and the monster in the novel Frankenstein, but the android version of Miriam was not part of this episode as the whole episode was in flashback. Next week we’ll likely learn what happened to Michael’s grandmother Constance and whether her appearance in the preview was as a ghost trapped in Murder House, and we may also learn how Michael ended up in human Miriam’s care. We may also learn what happened to the human Miriam that resulted in Michael needing to create an android recreation of her.
This was the episode that Ryan Murphy had hinted would be a game changer. There was no obvious game changer in the way that Roanoke went into a reality TV show (in the universe of the show) within a show format. However pieces are starting to fit together, universes of each season are connecting, witches have been resurrected and there’s a possibility that this whole apocalyptic mess can be turned around by witches and a possible angel. We might even let the warlocks help, if any survived.
Favorite Quotes from Season 8 Episode 5:
- Time and time again, history has shown that the hubris of men knows no bounds.
- Have we learned nothing from Attila the Hun? Herod the Great? Mark Zuckerberg? Men make terrible leaders.
- The problem is now a stack of overcooked country BBQ.
- They may be wizards but they’re not exactly whizzes.
- Hello, witches.