When it’s on the air, American Horror Story is probably my favorite show on TV, going above and beyond what cable television was previously capable of to exploit dozens upon dozens of historical atrocities all wrapped up in the rapidly woven web of horror tropes. Also, it’s nice to see this revolving door cast of extremely talented actors and actresses pop in and out in new and diabolical ways. And so we descend below sea level to New Orleans, where American Horror Story: Coven is mostly set. Seeing as how this is all taking place in my neck of the woods, I couldn’t be more pleased, even if nothing is done to show Louisiana in a positive light. At least we have all that racism and voodoo, right?
The storyline here is pretty simplistic on face value. Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) is sent off to a witching boarding school called Mrs. Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, run by Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), daughter of Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), who is the all-powerful supreme witch. (Though supremeness doesn’t come with humility or pride apparently.) Zoe is teamed with the sassy and vapid actress Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), the clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer) and human voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe).
Also, back in the day, Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) kept and tortured slaves in order to make a concoction out of their pancreases that supposedly kept her looking young. Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) is the vengeful lover to one of LaLaurie’s latest victims, and she buries the woman alive.
It’s no small feat for co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk to play these storylines off of each other, leveling it all out to make for an enjoyable hour of television. But they pulled it off with flying colors, with much help from the visual splendor of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, responsible for some of the most memorable episodes of the series. All this, combined with an enchanting though sometimes disconcerting soundtrack, made for one pretty fantastic hour-and-twelve-minutes of television. So let’s talk about the best parts, shall we?
My Top Five Favorite Bits
1. Kathy Bates turns a black man into a Minotaur. I mean, this has to be one of the ballsiest and most disturbing cold opens in TV history. Bates' exaggerated performance is reined in just enough to be delightfully hateful, and her choice to side with her slightly rapey daughter over the honest member of the help is all you need to know about her. But then she straps a bull’s head to the man’s body while overseeing his torture, and we know way more about this woman than seems possible in just a few minutes’ time. That attic was frightening enough even before they tied the man up.
2. Zoe fucks people to death. It doesn’t take much to remind me that last season’s Asylum featured aliens, Nazis, demonic possession and crucifixion. Yet I still never thought Murphy and Falchuk would write a character that literally has sex with people until their brains explode and their faces bleed from every orifice. If anyone in TV is going to make “coma-rape” a buzz word, it’s these guys. In as much as the whole “school for young adults with powers” aspect of this show is reminiscent of the X-Men, Zoe is most compatible to the untouchable Rogue, but with a vagina that attacks like Wolverine. We got to see it in use twice tonight, so I wonder how often it will come up. (Huh huh, come up.) Also, why weren’t any hospital workers around during that coma-rape?
3. Fiona gets trashed to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Jessica Lange was as superb as always throughout this episode, cigarette always in hand, but this one scene pretty much filled us in on her lack of self-confidence and her sizable fear of aging. Not that her asking to use a non-approved youth serum didn’t already do that. And I love that this manic scene is followed by her sucking the life out of her doctor, which was extremely unsettling and goofy all at once.
4. Madison gets gang raped. Let me be clear here: this scene’s subject matter wasn’t cool, and I wouldn’t use the word “favorite” to describe it. But I really like the way the scene played, showing a confused Zoe walking around the loud, populated house party and juxtaposing it with the mostly silent sexual abomination. While mildly sickening to watch these shitbags take videos of each other molesting a drugged up girl, it was a powerful and arguably non-gratuitous way to portray it. Also, all of them got what was coming to them when Madison flipped the bus. If only they hadn’t all just gotten off before dying.
5. Fiona digs up Madame LaLaurie. I was rather bothered by the quick deaths of so many characters, even if most will be reappearing in one way or another. So I was especially happy when Nan was able to hear LaLaurie calling from her grave. All I wanted before seeing this episode was for Bates and Lange to chew some scenery together, and it looks like that’s exactly what we’ll be getting. Plus, LaLaurie has no idea of the modern world, and that’s sure to play into the weird sense of humor that this show exudes.
Now let’s all get in a circle, hold hands, and thank whatever snake-headed demon that American Horror Story is back in our lives. It’s going to be quite a wild ride, broomsticks or not.
Thoughts Stirring in the Cauldron
Frances Conroy (and whoever set up her wardrobe) deserve to win multiple awards for that half-minute she was in the show.
“Just look at this wattle.” It’s possible Kathy Bates is more menacing in this role than she was as Annie Wilkes in Misery. Pretty sure everything she does here is just as bad as using a mallet to break a man’s foot. Maybe it’s just me.
“Like my cousin Amanda; she’s just bulimic.”
It’s a damned shame that Denis O’Hare’s character apparently lacks a tongue, but he looks so goddamned creepy that it makes up for it. I hope he plays at least as sizable a part as Moira the servant in season one, though that probably won’t happen.
In case anyone wondered, “outside of Lafayette,” where Lily Rabe’s character was burned at the stake, is more than 50 miles from New Orleans. You’d think someone could have fact checked that. I guess True Blood allowed for Louisiana’s geography to adhere to any formation possible. Also, is Lily Rabe dead? That can’t be real, right? Surely she regenerates herself.
Did anyone else feel like the part of the doctor with the youth serum was originally written for Dylan McDermott? He had the same haircut, but thankfully not the same acting face.
“I get it, bitch. You’re clairvoyant.” I pretty much hate Madison, but in a good way. Not in a “Boy, I’m glad she was drugged and raped by a series of frat boys” way.
What a lame news report about Lily Rabe being “rumored” to have been burned at the stake. When has that ever been just a rumor?
“Don’t make me drop a house on you.” I love all the witch humor.