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Why AHS' "The Coven" & "Murder House" Crossover Season Makes Sense


Image: FX/American Horror Story

One of the most enduring horror franchises on TV is Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story anthology.

The American Horror Story franchise (AHS) is set in a different location and times period each season. This approach allows each season to be seen as an individual, of course always under the AHS umbrella, but none the less, each season has it’s own mythology it explores, and it’s own strengths and weaknesses.

Ryan Murphy announced via social media that this fall, “the witches are back.” Murphy alludes to the witch characters and the world they live in from season three. I would argue that season three, with it’s cohesive plot and consistent character development, is the strongest season of all.

What makes Murphy’s announcement even more important, is that the world of season three that took place in New Orleans, will crossover, with the world of the very first season.

Pairing “Murder House”, the first season, and “The Coven,” the third season, makes a lot of sense both artistically and as a strategic move for the brand.

When reflecting upon the best content AHS has delivered, inarguably, “Murder House” and “The Coven” top the list, but to understand why those seasons were so good, it is necessary to understand what made those other seasons not as memorable.

“Hotel” which ran from 2015 to 2016, had a great premise, but the action was not always evenly distributed, leaving one feeling like there was a whole lot of fillers. Their also was no central character we were rooting for, like in “Murder House,” instead everyone seemed like they were up to no good, but that makes for a less emotionally invested experience for those at home.

“Asylum” whose plot had more twists and turns than was necessary. With so much confusion and absurdity, (did we really need to throw in the alien storyline?) that season was frequently more comical, but in a bad way, than actually horrifying.

“Freak Show” debuted in 2014, in contrast to “Asylum” had a tighter script, but failed to deliver on fright, often too comfortable exploring melodrama.

Then and most importantly there are the seasons that were in dire need of a clearer direction: “Roanoke” and “Cult.”

The idea to film “Roanoke” as part reality TV was interesting, and Ryan Murphy deserves credit for always thinking outside the box, he is an artist and he is consistently pushing his content in new directions, but even so not every risk reaps fruit. And, “Roanoke” reaped a bunch of shriveled up berries. It felt like a chore trying to get through that season, and the frights, didn’t compare to the high’s set from seasons past.

Then there is “Cult,” the writing tried to play up to the political middle ground, between Republicans and Democrats in a way that didn’t work. “Cult” set out to explore how persuasively evil a cult can be; yet the season leads the main protagonist to starting a cult. In terms of discussing how “we are all alike” regardless of political affiliation, sure this worked as a study on societal behavior, but as the ending for a TV show it didn’t because the good guy doing what the bad guy was doing invalidates the protagonist. As a comparison, it would be as if Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, at the end, after dismantling the Capitol, gives support to a different tyrannical regime like the one she took 3 movies/books to destroy-it does not make sense nor is it satisfying.

For all these reasons, the cross-over between “Murder House” and “The Coven” have the seedlings to deliver a strong season. It is also important to note that the series has suffered in terms of ratings when the franchise failed to deliver a compelling and tightly scripted season. According to Nielsen ratings, the season finale for “Cult” saw a 49.9% decrease in views from it’s premier episode. Even worse, “Roanoke” experienced a 52.3% decrease in viewership from its premiere episode to the airing of the last season’s episode.

Image: Nielsen Rating Data

“Murder House” is the only season that actually finished its season with a higher viewership number than the viewership number it premiered to. “The Coven” experienced a decrease in viewership, but by only 23.5%. Ultimately, the numbers don't lie.

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