Things got off to a rousing start with the latest season of “American Horror Story,” this one subtitled “Coven.” On the season premiere, the amusingly-titled “Bitchcraft,” we met the main players and they were a promising lot. Basically, the series revolves around a Hogwarts-type school for witches called “Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.” (Perhaps, needless to say, the show made the Harry Potter reference to get that whole potential criticism out of the way early.)
Our way in was through a new recruit, Zoe, played by the returning Taissa Farmiga (what a lovely name!), back for the first time since the first season. Possessed of a “Rogue”-like ability to kill any man that tries to have sex with her, she’s sent there to curb her ability, or at least learn how to control it. We’ve also got Nan (Jamie Brewer, also making her first return appearance since Season One), a clairvoyant; Queenie (“Precious”-star Gabourey Sidibe), a “human Voodoo doll” in her own words; and former movie star Madison (Emma Roberts, of “Scream 4” fame), who has telekinetic abilities, a la “Carrie.” Rounding out the gang is headmistress Cordelia “Delia” Foxx- another great name!- played by three-timer Sarah Paulson, who I just adore and totally should have won that Emmy for her work last season; and as her mother and the reigning “Supreme” witch, Fiona, fellow returnee Jessica Lange, already in full scenery-chewing mode.
Also back are Dennis O’Hare (“True Blood”) as Spalding, a tongue-less servant who looks to be the only man about the house thus far, and Evan Peters (“Kick-Ass”), once again playing Farmiga’s potential love interest, though he ends up dead by the end of the episode- for now. Other new recruits include Oscar winner Kathy Bates as the Elizabeth Bathory-esque Madam Delphine LaLaurie, who tortures and kills slaves for their blood and other parts in a vain attempt to stay young forever; and Angela Bassett, perfectly-cast as the legendary- and real- voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau.
I got a kick out of this last one in particular, as I spent some time in New Orleans, where the show is set, and became fascinated by her and her history. I’ve no doubt the show will likely play fast and loose with the real-life elements in the show, but I like the way they are incorporating the real with the fictional elements, as they also did with the Salem Witch Trials, mentioning a “Mercy” Osborne, who was a real person actually named Sarah Osborne, or at least, I’m sure that’s the name they intended to conjure up, pun definitely intended.
It’s way too early to say if I like this season better than previous seasons of the show, but I did appreciate the relatively streamlined storyline. One of my and many critics’ complaints about last season was that they got a little too carried away with all the various subplots and stuff going on, setting so much in motion that it was near-impossible to pay everything off in a truly satisfying way. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I did like it overall, but the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach was a bit much at times, and some of the wrapping up of the plots at hand seemed a bit perfunctory and way too abrupt for their own good, making the season as a whole a bit much- or too little, as the case might be.
The show-runners seem to have listened to that criticism moving forward, and I think that’s wise. I think we’ve already got plenty to keep us interested and occupied for an entire season. Thus far, I am loving Lange’s character the most. As always, creator Ryan Murphy and company give her a part she can really sink her teeth into with a vengeance. Loved the hate-hate vibe between her and her daughter, Delia (who I think is likely adopted, as there was a reference to her being related to another “Supreme” witch), and the “Hunger”-esque scene set to, of all things, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” (Shades also of the underrated “Manhunter.”)
Also great as an über-bitch witch is Emma Roberts, who may have gotten a little too into her role, given reports of her whooping up on her boyfriend Evan Peters, also on the show. Maybe she didn’t care for him playing someone else’s love interest. Watch your back, Taissa! I loved it when she flipped that party bus after getting gang-date raped by some insidious frat boys. Although, you’d think a witch would know better than to accept a drink from one of those guys in the first place. Bad move.
Oh well, they got theirs, including the lead d-bag, who survived, only to get payback-raped by Zoe…to death. Yikes! These witches do not play around. “Bitchcraft,” indeed. Can’t say I had much of a problem with it, though, save poor Kyle, who actually helped put a stop to it. From the looks of things in the preview, he might be getting “Frankenstein”-ed back to life, though, so maybe he’ll get a happier ending. Probably not, but you never know.
Worth a mention was the great musical score, which ranged from tribal-like whooping and hollering to “Rosemary’s Baby”-type child-like singing. Pretty creepy stuff. And of course, there were plenty of horror references, most of which I already mentioned. I’m going to go out on a limb and say we can expect some allusions to the likes of “Suspiria,” “Burnt Offerings,” and “The Craft,” among other witch-themed horror classics. By all means, if you haven’t seen any of these, you might want to brush up on them if you want to get all the references. I’ll do my best to try and catch them all, for those less versed in horror history.
So: so far, so good. Consider my interest properly piqued, and my thumbs-up in approval for where this all seems to be heading, judging from the preview of the season to come. It was a solid premiere, and I think the more straight-forward approach bodes well for what the season will hopefully turn out to be if they don’t get overly ambitious.
What did you think of “American Horror Story: Coven” so far? Do you like the more bare-bones approach to the material? Are you digging on the characters? Do you have a favorite yet? Catch any horror references I might have missed? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll see you next week!