History is a dark, blood-soaked place for American Horror Story. Each season, Coven included, has bounced back and forth in time, using violence and terror from the past to influence its characters’ present. The past isn’t behind us in AHS. Rather like Madame LaLaurie, it’s right underneath us, alive, straining at the grasp of history until it can cross into the present, bringing evil with it. History, for AHS, is horror—and history has occurred everywhere.
“The Axeman Cometh” begins in 1919 New Orleans with a voiceover from perhaps New Orlean’s most famous real-life serial killer, the Axeman of New Orleans (guess his M.O.?). His words, taken from a letter he sent to New Orleans newspapers (as serial killers so liked to do in bygone eras graced with more refined social skills): “They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your Earth.” The Axeman, murderous spirit of the Jazz Age, has a lot in common with history: we see neither, but we’re soaked in them, they are the context.
The real-life Axeman disappeared after that letter, seemingly never to kill in the Big Easy again, and AHS has its answer: the suffragettes of Miss Robichaux’s School lured him inside and stabbed him to death. Like much of history, the Axeman doesn’t rest easily, though. Zoe is determined to find Madison—missing now for two episodes—and comes across a Ouija board that she believes can help her. With the assistance of Nan and Queenie, and the Oujia board, they reach across time and bring a spirit from the past into their present: the Axeman (odd, though, that this was the first opportunity he’d had in nearly 100 years to be in touch). History may be packed with evil, but in this case it’s also got good information: the Axeman points Zoe to Spalding’s attic apartment, where she finds Madison’s body a-molderin’ in the trunk.
Surprising history unfurls elsewhere when Cordelia’s cheating, murdering husband Hank shows up on Marie Laveaux’s doorstep with that often-said-before-commercial-break-chestnut: “We’ve got a problem.” Hank, it turns out, has an interesting history of his own. (Spoilers, of course) He’s not just Cordelia’s ruggedly handsome cheating husband, he’s also a witch hunter who was hired by Laveaux years before to infiltrate and destroy Fiona and Cordelia’s coven. Hank’s history is about to pose a problem for the witches: after Laveaux questions his dedication to his mission, and his competence, she orders him to kill every witch at Ms. Robichaux’s and to burn the school to the ground.
For one character this episode, history is blurred, unreachable, and so keeps a vital bit of information just out of reach. After Zoe finds Madison’s body, she corrals Misty into using her “power of resurgence” to snatch Madison from death’s cold claws. Misty isn’t enthused about the prospect—”She’s rotting,” she says. “I’ll help you dig a hole.”—but after an intense bout of palpating Madison’s midsection, she’s back. The catch, though, is that Madison can’t remember what happened to her (“was I in a car crash?” she asks). With her recent past inaccessible to her, Fiona is safe for the consequences of her actions, at least for now.
But Fiona’s not so lucky when it comes to Zoe’s actions. When the Axeman menaces Cordelia, Zoe casts a spell that releases him from his imprisonment in the house, letting him set foot again on the streets of New Orleans, a “fell demon from hottest hell” and darkest history prepared to terrorize again. His first target? Fiona, who he sidles up next to at a bar, charming a big smile out of her. Exactly what effect history has on the present—be it in the form of blood, intrigue, betrayal, or something more mundane—will be seen next week.