'American Horror Story: Coven' Review: Witches Come Together In 'Bitchcraft' For Drama, Gore And Young Love
Last night, American Horror Story delved into the wonderful world of witches with its third season debut, aptly titled “Bitchcraft.” As a long-time fan of the series, I was prepared for gratuitous amounts of gore and misery (typical staples of the show), references to other witch-based shows and films, and Jessica Lange as a bad-ass leader. And that’s exactly what the show delivered.
The premiere kicks off in 19th century New Orleans, in the home of psychotic wealthy socialite Delphine LaLaurie, played by Kathy Bates (Misery). LaLaurie applies a blood mask to her cheeks in hopes it will make her face as “tight as a drum.” I immediately thought of the Hungarian queen Elizabeth Bathory aka “The Blood Countess” who supposedly killed thousands of peasant girls to bathe in their blood and regain her youth. LaLaurie’s face mask blood comes from the slaves she keeps in a grisly torture chamber in her attic. Her newest addition, a manservant who was also her daughter’s lover, is chained and fitted with a bull head – LaLaurie loves Greek mythology, and her favorite character is the minotaur.
In the present day, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga, who played jaded daughter Violet in the first season of AHS) and her boyfriend are in the midst of a lovers’ embrace when he begins to bleed out of every orifice. Zoe freaks out and learns later that she is a descendant of the Salem witches, the unlucky generation the “genetic affliction” did not skip. Her frightened mother ships her off to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies in New Orleans. Zoe wanders through the imposing mansion for fledgling witches, down long, white hallways with dizzying fish-eye camera angles. There, she meets her fellow students Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), the human voodoo doll, Madison (Emma Roberts), the telekinetic starlet, and Nan (Jamie Brewer), the clairvoyant. Headmistress Cordelia Fox (Sarah Paulson) wants to teach the girls self-control in a world where a witch’s very existence is threatened. She references Misty (Lily Rabe), a local necromancer burned for her powers.
Meanwhile, Fiona (Jessica Lange), a Supreme witch – one which possesses every power – begs her doctor for injections of a drug that promises eternal youth. Her doctor cannot guarantee its success and refuses her; in turn, she sucks the life out of him a la The Mummy. When she returns to the Academy, she bickers with Cordelia, who is revealed to be her daughter, over teaching methods. Cordelia wants the girls restrained, Fiona wants them liberated.
Madison drags Zoe to a frat party, where jock Kyle (Evan Peters – another AHS alum) is partying with his fraternity brothers. Kyle spots Zoe from across the crowded room and the two ogle each other through an ice sculpture (Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, anyone?). They flirt, but Zoe doesn’t think it’ll work out. When she can’t find Madison, Kyle searches for her upstairs, and finds his fellow frat members gang-raping a drugged Madison. It’s a highly disturbing, cringe-worthy scene, an event reminiscent of the Vanderbilt University rape scandal. Horrified, Kyle chases them out and onto the party bus they arrived in. As the bus drives away, Madison comes out and flips it over with a flick of her hand.
Seven of the boys die in the crash, and Zoe fears Kyle might be one of them. Later, when she visits the hospital, Zoe cannot find him and presumes he’s dead. Instead, Madison’s first rapist has survived. In a weird, ironic twist that is so quintessentially American Horror Story, Zoe avenges Madison by raping him and thus, killing him in return.
In another part of town, Nan’s clairvoyance leads Fiona to dig Madame LaLaurie from an underground prison. She’s alive and well, contrary to history. In a flashback, Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen, played by Angela Bassett poisoned LaLaurie and supposedly killed her.
While the first episode introduced somewhat predictable plotlines and banal references to social media, Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz, I will definitely tune in to the second episode. American Horror Story always seeks to push the envelope in terms of shock value, a trend that may be becoming a bit too unimaginative. I think sometimes the show relies too heavily on gore or other graphic situations to make a point, so much so that the point is lost. Even after two seasons, I’m not entirely desensitized to seeing people with their skin torn off or a prolonged sexual assault.
This season, I’m most interested in seeing the witchy dynamics play out. Evan Peters and Taissa Farmiga have such an interesting chemistry. If you’re a fan, then perhaps, like me, you are rooting for another version of Tate and Violet, their characters in the first season.
Based on next week’s preview, it seems as though Kyle may not be gone for good:
American Horror Story airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.