It may be an odd thing to say, but the premiere of the new cycle of AMERICAN HORROR STORY, dubbed COVEN, seemed… relatively restrained. Not counting the bloody bull’s head used to make a minotaur, of course, or the girl who kills with her vagina.
Yes, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN is about witches, but witches who seem more like the characters in superhero comics because they each are gifted with one specialized ability; they don’t perform magic per se — reciting spells over bubbling cauldrons, etc. — but rather use their “mutant” abilities, like telekinesis and clairvoyance. It’s an interesting way to go, but makes the series seem envious of the X-Men movies.
The story begins in antebellum New Orleans, where the viciously racist Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) tortures her slaves in an attic chamber, going so far as to put a freshly severed bull’s head on one man to create a minotaur. Too bad for her the guy was the lover of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), who poisons LaLaurie in revenge.
In the present day, Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) accidentally kills her boyfriend during sex, so her mother reveals she’s descended from a long line of witches and ships her off to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies in New Orleans, where she meets fellow blossoming witches Queenie (Gabourey Sibide), Nan (Jamie Brewer) and movie starlet Madison (Emma Roberts). They are instructed in controlling their powers by Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), whose mother, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), is the most powerful witch on the planet, the Supreme. Fiona has interrupted her quest for eternal youth when she hears that young witch Misty (Lily Rabe) has been burned alive. Fiona wants to change the school curriculum to teaching the girls how to fight.
One night Madison and Zoe attend a frat party where Zoe meets nice guy Kyle (Evan Peters) and Madison runs into Dalton (Grey Damon), who roofies her and leads his frat brothers in gang-raping her. Kyle breaks it up, and all the guys flee to their frat bus and take off. Madison emerges from the house and with a gesture flips over the bus and kills most of the boys (including Kyle) but not the rapist. Zoe visits the comatose Dalton in the hospital and kills him by having sex with him. Meanwhile, Fiona learns that Delphine’s body was never found and, acting on a tip from the clairvoyant Nan, Fiona has men dig up a pine box. Inside, is Madame LaLaurie, bound but alive!
First of all, I’m excited to see Taissa Farmiga back on the show and in a central role; her storyline was my favorite from the first season. And, of course, there’s no stopping Jessica Lange when she’s given a meaty role she can really tear into. Scenery, you have been warned! Kathy Bates plays a great psycho sadist, and here she’s firmly back in Misery territory.
As an opening chapter, this episode’s main task was to set the table; to establish who the players are, if not the stakes. I think it accomplished this goal pretty well, and in a pretty interesting way. We know Zoe’s the good girl and Miranda’s the mean girl, and Fiona is flamboyant and willful, and her daughter Cordelia is something of a mystery. Also a mystery: which of the girls will become the next Supreme. If the Supreme has all the powers a witch can have, the other powers must come later. Unless someone is hiding their abilities or unaware of them. (Looking at you, Zoe. That aneurysm-inducing private part cannot be the only thing you have going for you!) Does Madison appear to be an analog for Lindsey Lohan to you? And you can bet Misty will be back; they didn’t hire Lily Rabe for 20 seconds of flashbacks!
I must commend Emma Roberts for her bravery in taking on this role. The story calling for a gang-rape of her character was awful enough, but it must have been terrifying to shoot the sequence over and over again from different angles.
It seems like the show is setting up a war not only between witches and humans but also between Fiona’s witches and the voodoo of Madame Laveau. Marie Laveau was, of course, a real-life person and authentic voodoo priestess, but so was Delphine LaLaurie! (But that doesn’t mean that either one had any mystical powers. In fact, neither did.)
Denis O’Hare, is that really you as Spalding under all that makeup again, just like in the first season? I’m sure creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have some bravura material coming up for you.
And I cannot wait to see what Ryan and Brad — along with the twisted genius of Tim Minear — have coming up for us this season.