American Horror Story Writer James Wong on Minotaurs and Horrible Moms

Photo: FX

Tonight’s American Horror Story was brought to you by James Wong, who famously co-wrote that episode of The X-Files where Mulder and Scully discover a trio of mutant brother farmers whose mother had been breeding with them for years to keep the bloodline going. (She had no arms or legs. They kept her under the bed. You remember.) Naturally, Wong, a co-executive producer on Coven, is behind this week’s panoply of terrible mothers. [Spoilers follow like so many deranged minotaurs.]

To recap: As a young witch, Fiona slashed the throat of the previous Supreme, and then (surprise!) does the same to presumptive Supreme (and surrogate daughter) Madison; the school’s new neighbor is an ultra-conservative Christian woman, played by Patti LuPone, who scolds her hunky son for taking off his shirt and flirting with Madison; Fiona’s actual daughter Cordelia wants to be a mom so bad she’s willing to fork over $50,000 to voodoo queen Marie Laveau for a freaky ceremony complete with fresh goat’s blood. And then there’s FrankenKyle’s devastated mother, played by Mare Winningham, who was way too knowledgeable about her son’s naked body. Vulture spoke to Wong about the connection between tonight’s episode and The X-Files episode “Home,” and how he was able to make that crazy scene with Queenie and the Minotaur both disturbing and emotional.

Did the other writers nominate you to handle the episode in which we discover Kyle’s mom is a monster?
Well, we all take turns, so it wasn’t a specific “This is perfect for you.” Although, I think it’s relatively perfect.

Were you thinking about “Home” when you wrote it? 
It did cross my mind in that it’s such a taboo act. Kyle’s mom has a very different motive to do what she does. It’s a way for her to survive her husband’s death. Whereas in “Home,” it was the propagation of their line. There’s a huge psychological, emotional component to Kyle’s mom’s actions versus the one in The X-Files. But both are heinous in their own way. Kyle’s mom has to pay for the price for that.

Do you assume all the actors are game when you write potentially risque material like that?
We put Evan Peters through his paces for sure. I think the actors come on board realizing that we’re gonna do some very outlandish, challenging things. I think they’re up for it. You sign on for this show, you know that sooner or later you’ll probably be killed and you’ll probably do some crazy, out-of-the-box stuff, which I believe is part of the allure for the actors. They know they’re not just going to be the exposition person or the secret agent or the cop.

Kyle can’t even speak. He just gets felt up by women.
Evan does more without lines than anyone I know. He’s doing brilliant stuff this year and he hasn’t had many lines at all. Maybe three. I was on the set for his scenes with Mare. There were plenty of questions. Mare came in with such great ideas of what she wanted to do. She even knew what kind of pipe she wanted to smoke.

What about Queenie with the Minotaur Man? Where does an idea like that come from?
This was Ryan’s idea. We loved the idea of Queenie really feeling like she doesn’t belong. She has no one to connect to. People react to her looks. So we loved that idea, and then Ryan goes, “Well, when the minotaur comes back to attack Madame LaLaurie, Queenie saves her, but in a way that expresses this vulnerability.” You know, it was hard to write. You go, Well, how does that work? But I think it worked out okay. I think Gabourey did a really good job expressing those vulnerabilities.

Queenie quotes Dr. Phil when she says kids from broken homes use food to replace love. Do you watch Dr. Phil?
Those are the things we put in to connect with the culture. I don’t watch, no, but it’s a known thing he’s said, right?. He’s said things like Queenie said. I wish I could watch Dr Phil, but I don’t have time.

Getting back to terrible moms, Fiona killed Madison! Madison’s not her daughter, but she might have made a good partner in crime, and Fiona complains that Cordelia hadn’t lived up to her potential.
Madison had usurped Cordelia in Fiona’s good graces. She became more of a daughter to Fiona than Cordelia ever was. But Fiona’s going to do anything she can to regain her power and her beauty. It seemed natural that she’d try to kill the one person who she felt was taking that from her. What I liked about the scene where she ultimately kills Madison is that Fiona’s personality is so narcissistic that she actually believes she’s offering herself up to Madison for the good of the coven — but she also has no real intentions of letting Madison kill her. It’s an interesting thing about her character.

How are we going to see Madison return? 
I don’t think I can tell you exactly how she comes back, but there are a couple of very bizarre and disgusting things that her body will be used for.

Cordelia’s vision of how Marie Laveau’s pregnancy plan would work reminded me a little of Rosemary’s Baby. Was that an influence?
No, not really. We had done a lot of research on dark magic and obviously, there wasn’t a lot from life to pull from because none of that is true [laughs]. But when we did research, we found out a lot about fertility symbols, and we wound up mixing and matching that stuff to create that ceremony.

I will admit I thought for one second that the goat was going to be used to impregnate Cordelia.
We’re not that sick!

Just me. Why is Cordelia so determined to have a baby? Is it that she’s getting older?
She wants to be a better mother than Fiona ever was to her. And I think it is partly that she is getting to that point in her life. The Academy, those young witches, are kind of her surrogate children, but I think she wants one of her own.

Do you ever hear back from FX in terms of what you can and can’t show?
The beauty of working on a Ryan Murphy show is that he gets the notes. He’ll agree or not agree to them. But we’ve never had notes say, “You can’t do this.” There have been language issues. We can’t use the C word. Actually, there are a couple of C words you can’t use. I’ve written those into scripts and then heard back, “You can’t say this!” I thought there were no restrictions whatsoever.

Do you wind up self policing?
No, I mean we’re pretty open to everything. There are no cultural stigmas that we will shy away from. There have been things were you go, Well that’s just crazy, or too campy, or it doesn’t fit the story, but it’s never because we’re afraid to put something on the air.

Madame LaLaurie is stuck with Fiona for the moment, not coming to grips with our black president. (“Liiiiies.”) At one point, Ryan had teased her as a rival for Fiona. Is that still the plan?
Rival is not the right word. There’s a bunch of stuff that comes up for her. We’re going to see more of the horrible stuff she’s done in the past. Her backstory is really important. And her relationship with Queenie will blossom.

He also said Kyle and Zoe’s story would be a sort of Romeo & Juliet for the show.
That’s complicated. There’s more than two people involved. I don’t want to tell you who. In episode four, you’re going to see Kyle in all his glory. Episode four is going to be awesome. We just saw a rough cut of it on Monday. The teaser is one of our best ever. It’s not Kyle, but there’s a heavy Kyle component in it.

I talked to Lily Rabe about Misty’s Stevie Nicks obsession. She said the writers communicate with Stevie. What kind of input does she have?
[Stevie] has talked to us about some of the song choices. She gave us a list of things she likes. There was talk earlier in having her come on the show for a couple of episodes. I’m not sure if that’s happening. But that would be amazing because I love her. She and Ryan talk. There was a time when the country was like, “Hey, she’s a witch!” but I think that time has passed, and from what I understand, she’s comfortable with what we’re doing. She certainly didn’t ask us not to go forward.

American Horror Story Writer Q&A: James Wong