Witches Suck: Jessica Lange's Hexy-Sexy Glamor

Curator's Note

The latest cycle of American Horror Story balances its horrors and humor with terrifying flashbacks into pre-Civil-War New Orleans, modern takes on the sassy teen witch trope and, as expected at this point, doses of sex appeal unique amongst modern programming delivered by 65-year-old, stunning Jessica Lange as Supreme witch Fiona Goode. A scene in the season’s first episode depicts Goode, in an effort to retain youthful beauty, seducing a middle-aged, handsome scientist with both a shot at and a moral conflict with finding a cure to the affliction of age; at his ultimate refusal, Goode turns her seduction deadly by sucking the life out of her companion leaving his face shriveled and her own with the striking looks of the real Jessica Lange. Despite Goode’s magical transformation into what audiences recognize as the modern Lange, the actress’s age, in current media standards particularly set forth by television, renders her ineligible for many roles of traditional sex appeal.

Fiona then appraises herself vainly in the mirror, content with the relapse into youth she attained; if the Supreme witch finds satisfaction with her mid-60s breed of beauty, the scene challenges, perhaps mere mortal and un-magical audiences should reappraise current standards of beauty and the exclusion of even many middle-aged actresses as too old. Still, the scene acknowledges the stigma surrounding older actresses in roles fraught with sex appeal. Fiona Goode’s beauty directly relates to her identity as a witch and results from her power and determination to retrieve it at the cost of human life. Given the series’ continual blurring of the lines between the fictitious divisions the independent seasons impose (Jessica Lange is Fiona Goode now, but we cannot forget that the current witch was, not too long ago, Sister Jude in Asylum and Constance in Murder House), the actress as one of the unifying factors between the seasons offers an interpretation to the scene that in turn blurs the line between Goode and Lange: while the reclaiming of and displaying of beauty, respectively, might pose a challenge to the witch and the actress, a little (dark) magic and the right casting by Ryan Murphy can result in a supernatural sex appeal.    

Comments

Dorothy Hendricks's picture

Spoiler Below!

Bella, this is such a powerful scene to choose! Jessica Lange’s Fiona Goode is portrayed as the most renegade of Supremes and between the witchy cocaine infused dance to the soul sucking, I think she properly encapsulates everything terrifying of the imagined uncontrollable feminine. I wonder what you make of the ending of the season? Fiona’s power is systematically drained (or sucked!) by the next Supreme (a younger, more vibrant witch). Though the show teases at which one of the “sassy teen witches” her successor could be, it is ultimately Cordelia (her good hearted daughter who champions nature, maternity, and community above all else) that ends up being Fiona’s replacement. Allegorically, it’s disappointing to me. (And I don’t think it’s just because I’m a huge Jessica Lange fan, though I think that would be a fair criticism!) That Fiona’s feminist power should collapse in the face of the younger, self-sacrificing, post-feminist version of herself seems to deny the certain kind of modern radical feminism that Fiona’s character embodies.

Your post also made me think of Fiona’s beauty in relation to her experiences. You mention that it’s tied to her identity as a witch and we might also say that it’s directly tied to her final punishing scene at the end of the season. Her allure becomes her downfall, like so many strong female characters before her. What do you make of this move that renders her powerless to masculine desire?

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