Take a seat folks because the strangest, most provocative show on television is back for a third “season”. It’s October, so it must be time for the return of American Horror Story. This time we’re tackling witches, New Orleans and a powerhouse cast of wicked ladies destined to make Wednesday nights a whole heckuva lot of fun
Let’s bitch it out…
Reading early reviews of AHS: Coven, I was prepared for the lighter tone so I anticipated the delightfully amusing bon-mot quips between the various women when I watched this first episode. What I wasn’t expecting – and in hindsight, probably should have – was a whole lot of sex = death.
It’s clear from the opening moments (once we get past Kathy Bates doing her “Lady Bathory with slaves” routine) that the young witches of Coven are going to be a troubled lot. Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) is a girl who kills the men she sleeps with (it’s not quite the vagina dentata of Teeth, but it’s not far off), while Emma Roberts’ diva movie-star Madison is clearly a sexual provocateur who acts out for attention and ends up on the receiving end of a Bret Easton Ellis gang-rape. After last season’s touch-and-go depiction of female agency and sexuality, it will be interesting to see how viewers (and critics) respond to the storylines of a nearly all-female cast*. I have no doubt that the series will push the envelope (it’s one of the things it does best), but as it stands there’s a lot of heavy mixed in with the sarcasm in ‘Bitchcraft’.
*I’ll also be interested to see if witchcraft ends up being synonymous with (or at least metaphorically connected to) “women” or “sexuality” as so many stories involving witchcraft are. As it stands the motto “fight or burn” can easily be applied with a small amount of finessing into a call to action for women and their sexual/reproductive rights.
Back to ‘Bitchcraft’: as far as season premieres go, this is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of this feels familiar and, were it not all in a single episode, would probably work quite well on its own (the girls, the bookended scenes of LaLaurie and her macabre attic of torture). It’s Jessica Lange’s Fiona that feels the most out of place – she’s got a completely different sense of energy and, dare I say it, camp aesthetic. From her introductory shot – a close-up of black heels emerging from a limo that cuts to a bird’s eye point of view revealing only her moving umbrella – the Supreme witch is shrouded in mystery. It’s only when we actually see her interact with the doctor who’s pumping her full of experimental youthful vitality crap that we realize what strange ju-ju Lange is bringing to the table. In these scenes, the character reminds me greatly of last season’s Sister Jude, particularly when the former lounge sister fell off the wagon or sung.
Perhaps it’s that Fiona is less of a main character and more of a stand-out in an ensemble that this first episode goes to great length to introduce. Unfortunately the result is that no one really gets fully-fleshed out. At this point we have a general idea of who these women are, but not what they’re up against. Take, for instance, the first instructor of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies that we meet: the deliciously named Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson). Why is her goal simply to educate the girls on how to
suppress control their power? Especially when they have a power, as in singular. How long would such an education take? And shouldn’t they be, I dunno, taking classes, or being looked after? A lot of the scenes in the Academy make very little sense (Cordelia seemingly spends her time hanging out in the greenhouse mixing concoctions to poison her mom or something). Even when Fiona take-over and drags the girls out on a field trip, they are almost immediately sidetracked, never reach their destination. And at episode’s end – for no apparent reason – Fiona digs up LaLaurie for a drink. Say wha?! But why?!
Like the other AHS seasons, it’s clear that Coven is going to employ the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to storytelling. Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk once again seem destined to put anything and everything they can into a single series (in this episode alone we have witchcraft, voodoo, racism, slavery and torture, fatal female sexuality, frat rape, and media commentary). This is pretty much their modus operandi. Let’s hope that something sticks soon, because as Liane Bonin Star suggests, it’s not quite working yet.
- Full disclosure: I despise voice-over narration. I think it’s an inherently lazy way to convey information (and often that information is unimportant). Occasionally – very rarely – voice-over will be used in an appropriate manner. This is, alas, not one of those times
- In terms of witchy powers, what would you rather have: Madison’s telekinsesis, Zoe’s man-killing vagina, Queenie’s (Gabourey Sidibe) human voodoo doll, Nan’s (Jamie Brewer) clairvoyance or Misty Day’s (Lily Rabe) resurrection? Seems like an easy choice to me, but I’ve been surprised by the responses before
- I spent most of her scenes wondering what Cordelia’s power is. Surely it can’t be something as boring as potions?!
- Also, what’s the deal with creepy servant Spalding (Denis O’Hare)? And the whackadoodle recruiting agent Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) and her albino henchman? As always, AHS seems to be more in love with wacky and weird rather than making us care about who these people are. I know, way harsh Tai
- Angela Bassett barely appears in the first episode as Marie Laveau, but since she’s in the 1864 storyline, it’ll be interesting to see when/how she returns (because if we’ve learned anything from previous seasons of AHS it is that characters always return). Same goes for Evan Peters’ Kyle, whom I expected to survive Madison’s bus crash, but who seems to have perished
- Since it’s nearly Halloween, what will your costume be: authentic Minotaur mask or face-peeled back slave? Ugh…vomit
- Finally, aren’t you glad I’m not doing these reviews in stream of consciousness format any more? Man, TVAngie hated trying to edit those!
- Zoe (discussing how witchcraft doesn’t affect every female in her family): “Like my cousin Angela – she’s just bulimic” Har har?
- Fiona (when Cordlia comments she doesn’t have a broom): “That’s ironic”
- Fiona (“The world’s not going to miss a bunch of assholes in Ed Hardy t-shirts”
How did you respond to this first episode? Are you intrigued by any characters? Does it feel a little too jumbled to you? Is Jessica Lange acting like she’s in a completely different show? Which power do you want to co-opt? And what will Madame Lalaurie do now that she’s in the present? Add your two-cents below
American Horror Story: Coven airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST on FX