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American Horror Story returns tonight, dripping with all of the blood, mutilation and chaos we've come to know, love and fear -- in all the right ways -- about FX's horror series. Newcomers to the show are once again welcome to dive in, as American Horror Story: Coven begins with a whole new story, with new characters and fresh drama right from the start. You don't need to have seen the first two seasons to check out tonight's premiere. As you may have surmised by the title, Season 3's focus is on witches, both young and wishing-to-be young.

Because it wouldn't be American Horror Story without viewers squirming in their seats, Coven begins with a demonstration of just how horrible Kathy Bates can be when she wants to. In the case of "Bitchcraft," the formal title of tonight's season opener, Bates plays Madame LaLaurie, a woman living in the slavery days of our country, and making the most of her "pets" by keeping many of them locked away while she does horrible things to them, all in the name of youth, beauty, power and plain-old bitchcraft. Cut to the future, where Taissa Farmiga's Zoe is discovering one of the nastier side effects of being a witch, a fact she's only just becoming aware of.

The bulk of the premiere episode follows Zoe off to a small New Orleans-set boarding school for witches, where she joins three other girls with special abilities (Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sidibe and Jamie Brewer), being trained by Sarah Paulson's character Cordelia, daughter of supreme witch Fiona (Jessica Lange). It isn't long before we're introduced to each of the young women's special talents, some of which are demonstrated with disastrous consequences by the end of the episode. These girls are strong, but they need guidance, and it's hard to say who's better suited to give it to them, the powerful but unstable Fiona, or her seemingly more sensible minded daughter Cordelia.

As a fan of the show, it's easy to look at the first episode of Season 3 with enthusiasm and optimism, especially given the series starts over each season, with a new horror and a fun new title sequence. With that in mind, Coven's opener doesn't disappoint. The season premiere offers a little bit of everything we've come to appreciate about American Horror Story, in that it pulls no punches, twisting violence, sex and gore into a wickedly dark but altogether entrancing introduction to Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's next dark tale. Season 1 gave us the Murder House. Season 2 brought us into the Asylum. It seems like the timing is right for a witch-focused season, and this one comes packed with an excellent cast of females, Bates, Sidibe, Roberts and Angela Bassett included among the newcomers, with returners Lange, Farmiga, Paulson, Lily Rabe and Evan Peters, among others rounding out the cast.

There's no way to predict the direction this season will take -- or how enthusiastically I'll want to follow it once things really heat up -- but the season premiere sets the stage for some intriguing arcs, including a feud between Bates' Madame LaLaurie and Bassett's Marie Laveau, the lover of one of LaLaurie's victims. By the episode's end, we get a glimpse of how that feud and the present-day story at the school for witches may tie together.

If you're looking for fun and soapy witch drama, I recommend Lifetime's Witches of East End. But if you like your witchcraft drama with a dark and twisted edge and have the stomach for gore and the sight of people doing some really terrible things to other people, it's looking like American Horror Story: Coven is poised to deliver the goods.

American Horror Story: Coven premieres tonight, Wednesday, October 9 at 10:00 p.m. Et on FX.

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