American Horror Story, Season Three, Episode 1: “Bitchcraft”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
Airs Wednesdays at 10:00 PM on FX
The season premiere of American Horror Story: Coven weaves a menacing tale of witchcraft that pushes past anything that would resemble good taste. A Teenage virgin’s vagina is used as a deadly weapon; a bull’s head is crowned upon an African American slave, which leads to a depressing transformation of a man into minotaur; and a date rape leads to a disastrous bus crash, killing several teenage boys. That doesn’t include the various men held as prisoners and tortured in an underground dungeon, the apparent deaths of several characters; and oh, did I mention face melting, mutilation and being buried alive?
Coven gets the ball rolling with some risqué subjects and sets the stage for some major conflicts, that I predict will lead to some heated discussions on message boards online. Speaking of touchy subjects, the episode’s final voice over suggests the possibility that the writers intend on using the witches as a metaphor for the victims of Hurricane Katrina? Meanwhile, if Django Unchained was met with controversy, it will be interesting to see how show-runners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk handle slavery in 1830’s USA, especially given the soon-to-be release of Steve McQueen’s film fest darling 12 Years A Slave. Its a little early to tell exactly where the season is headed, but given the show’s history, I have no doubt we’ll see every strange twist and turn along the way.
Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates:
Of course, there is a host of twisted plot-lines and eccentric characters that are set to converge. The roles this season are mostly comprised of actors from the previous two seasons playing different characters. Jessica Lange leads the ensemble as Fiona Goode, an aging witch who is struggling with her own mortality. It seems Fiona is victim to the wrong curse; its immortality she seeks, but thankfully this isn’t a season about vampires. While Lange gets most of the screen-time, its no doubt newcomer Kathy Bates will have everyone talking. Bates brings a whole lot of gusto and misery to the show as Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a real life southern socialite and serial killer known for the extensive, graphic torture and murder of black slaves.
Last year’s Asylum gave us everything from a shady, career hungry priest, a crazy nun, a killer Santa Claus, Nazis, aliens, and even Anne Frank made an appearance. Coven wastes no time delivering the same sort of craziness, only this time with a more interesting brew of revisionist history. With each season dipping further into the past, Coven leaves the 60’s Massachusetts setting of Asylum behind to jump between 1830s and present day New Orleans (a.k.a. the Salem of the South). “Bitchcraft” begins with a demonstration of just how evil Kathy Bates is, inflicting terrible pain and suffering, all in the name of youth and beauty. Delphine LaLaurie lathers her face in blood, using it as an anti-aging cream, and recounts a tale about her favourite mythological creature, the Minotaur, all before embellishing her house servant with a bull’s head. “I’ve always wanted one,” she says surrounded by disfigured and tortured men crying out in pain. This is the episodes most powerful image, pulling no punches and acting as fine metaphor, about becoming blind to America’s historical atrocities, essentially turning slavery into myth.
Cut to the future, and we’re introduced to Murder House star, Taissa Farmiga’s Zoe in a scene which seems to firmly plant the season’s more gender-minded ideas in place. Zoe a young witch discovers her unfortunate powers when killing her boyfriend while losing her virginity. We learn that the witch gene skips a generation or two in her family tree, only Zoe isn’t one of the lucky ones. She’s sent over to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies – a sort of Hogwarts-like boarding school for young witches. Their she meets her gifted peers and headmistress Cordelia Foxx (a returning Sarah Paulson and daughter of supreme witch Fiona). The bulk of the premiere episode follows Zoe and the three other girls with special abilities, some of which are demonstrated with fatal consequences before the credits role. Emma Roberts’ Madison Montgomery is a telekinetic, Gabourey Sidibe’s precious Queeney acts as human Voodoo Doll and Nan (Season One’s Jamie Brewer) is a clairvoyant. They have a wide range of abilities and it will be interesting to see how each of their abilities manifests over the season. Foxx likes to empower her students through awareness and wants to keep the girls safe by teaching them to understand and control their magic and abilities. MeanwhileFiona thinks the young students should be taking charge of their abilities, using their magic to fight back instead. “There’s a storm coming,” she says after citing the present day story of a southern woman who is burned at the stake for necromancy.
The cast in Coven is fantastic. Each character has a moment to shine; they all share great chemistry, and they are all given great material to work with. Farmiga does a wonderful job displaying a wide range of emotion, and effortlessly shifting from innocent to cunning. Meanwhile Emma Roberts gets to strut her stuff as a Hollywood diva, delivering some of the best lines, reminiscent to the snappy comebacks in Tina Fey’s Mean Girls.
On a technical note, the stylistic flourishes, mise-en-scéne, camera work and direction of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who directed some of the best episodes of Asylum, was among some of the best we’ve seen so far. He does tend to overdo the dutch angles but the New Orleans setting which is both beautiful and tragic, more than makes up this minor nitpick. Even more, this season isn’t bogged down by a theme of entrapment and imprisonment. In fact, there’s a stark contrast to Asylum’s Briarcliff Manor. Both the Manor and Miss Robicheaux’s Academy houses outsiders, but whereas Briarcliff serves as a prison, and a hell for those inside, the Academy is a safe haven that promises a better future. We can expect more world-building here, as appose to spending most of a season locked deep within the walls of an insane asylum.
“Bitchcraft” assures us this season will be different. Despite the premise, Coven so far, feels lighter in tone than its predecessor, thanks to a fair bit more humour, dry wit and lively performances by the femme-centric cast. The word-play of the episode itself, is hint of the playfulness we can expect this season. The bulk of the premiere shares more tonal similarities with The Craft and Buffy than last year’s Asylum. Yet the cold open is what I’d like to see more of, but now with Madame LaLaurie awakening in present day, I’m not sure how much of 1830’s New Orleans we’ll get to see.
Madame LaLaurie and Fiona, have much in common. They both have a deep-seated desire to be prolong their youth and beauty, and will do whatever it takes to get what they want. LaLaurie harvests human organs in her quest, while Fiona sucks the youth out of a geneticist who refuses to help her. “Bitchcraft’s” final moments and ultimate setup for what’s to come presents an intriguing opportunity for the two witches. Will they be able to successfully work together, or, will they destroy each other in the process?
– Ricky D
Every season, AHS features more female characters than males, and they are complex. If there’s a lack of strong roles for women out there, AHS isn’t to blame.
Was that a cover of the Rosemary’s Baby main theme, or something that sounded very similar?
At the end of the premiere, Madame LaLaurie was unburied and found alive, only she looked like she just woke up from a thirty minute nap. That seemed a tab bit unrealistic, even if she is cursed or a witch.
Cordelia’s going to have one hell of a fight on her hands. Bates plus Lange is the ultimate tag-team.
I’m not sure how I feel about the one incident of sexual violence, or rather how I feel about Zoe exacting revenge by sacrificing her body later on.
Based on one episode, American Horror Story: Coven’s main theme should be about persecution and survival.
Once again, AHS delivers the best credit titles.
Was anyone else reminded of Carrie when the bus flips over?
I’m not usually a fan of narration, but here it works well.
Whose stupid idea was it to include the Men in Black?
Queenie definitely has the most interesting power.
Tons of pop culture references.
Nicholas Cage did indeed buy Madame LaLaurie’s house in secrecy.
Fiona: “The world’s not going to miss a bunch of assholes in Ed Hardy t-shirts.”