‘American Horror Story’ started it’s third season on Thursday night with a bewitching brew of horror and mayhem. After the insanity of of it’s first season, I gave up on watching the second, but with a stellar cast and promising storylines, I am so here for ‘Coven!’
We open in 1834 New Orleans in the house of the vicious Madame Delphine LaLaurie, played by Kathy Bates. Desperate to preserve her youth, she slathers herself in the blood of the slaves she keeps imprisoned in her attic. To punish one of the men her daughter has been cavorting with, she has him chained up and fitted with the head of a bull, just like the minotaurs in the stories her father read to her as a child. We were only 5 minutes in and it was pretty gory.
Flash forward to the present where Fiona Goode ( Jessica Lange), is begging a doctor to shoot her up with some experimental drug. When she summons him to her apartment later because the medicine hasn’t been working, she literally sucks the life out of him. She looks about 20 years younger for about 10 seconds before it all fades away. So Fiona and Madame LaLaurie have a lot in common, even before they meet.
We’re also introduced to the young Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) who has the unfortunate ability to kill her sexual partners. She’s like Rouge from the X-men, but with bloodier results. Her mother tells her about her true nature and sends her off to the Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, think Hogwarts for misfit muggles,which is presided over by headmistress Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson). There she meets three other young witches, the annoying, self-absorbed actress Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) who can control things with her mind. Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) who describes herself as a “human voodoo doll,” she can make others feel the pain she inflicts upon herself. Then there is the quiet Nan (Jamie Brewer) who has psychic abilities, which come in handy when she discovers the mystery of what happened to Madame LaLaurie’s body. The dynamic between the girls is interesting, if not a bit cliche. We’re supposed to be delighted when Fiona knocks Madison against a wall with a flick of her wrist because her character is irksome and laugh at Queenie’s (ugh at her name) sassy wisecracks, but it made me wonder if the girls would get any kind of development outside of their stereotypes Ryan Murphy gives to too many of his characters.
At a frat party Madison is raped by some fratboys and exacts her revenge by flipping the bus they tried to escape on. Causing a number of deaths, including Kyle (Evan Peters) who Zoe was just staring to like. To right the wrongs, she later kills the one surviving fratboy in the hospital by well, giving him a hand and mounting him on his hospital bed. Weird, gross and hilarious, this is more of the completely over the top madness that got me into the show, but also turned me away from it. Back in the past, Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) presents Madame LaLaurie with a potion to help her keep her husband from sleeping around. The potion actually kills her and gives Marie a chance to free LaLaurie’s slaves, one of whom was her lover. In the present, Nan discovers that Delphine was buried in the backyard of her house, which prompts Fiona to dig her up.
One of the low points of the episode for me was Cordelia, who seemed like a bit of a non-factor. Then again she’s not as wild as her overbearing mother Fiona. Denis O’ Hare, another veteran of the series, appears as the mute butler, and it’s a shame that he had his tongue cut out because Denis can deliver a witty line like no one else. I expected more of Kathy and Angela, and now that they’re characters exist in the present day I hope we get see more of them. ‘Coven’ is an improvement from last season’s wonkiness, and with what the cast and Murphy promise, I’ll be sticking around for all of it.