AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN Recap: Bitchcraft
By Matt Cohen on October 10, 2013
I like American Horror Story… a lot. The first two seasons have been some of my favorite television in recent years, and when the newest incarnation of the show was announced, I was very excited. Coven is that new show, and, I’m happy to report, the first episode did not disappoint.
But don’t take my word for it (you hardly know me and I could be a bad-guy); Check out my recap of the premiere episode of the new season (of the witch).
EPISODE #1: BITCHCRAFT
Part 1: Alligators are Ornery
The year is 1834, and we find ourselves at an elaborate and gorgeously appointed dinner party in the New Orleans Garden District mansion of Madame La’Laurie (Kathy Bates), who I will henceforth refer to as Madame Mama Boucher (or MMB), because I can’t take anything seriously, which is fine with this show, because as we’re about to find out, the “camp factor” has been upped exponentially this season. MMB tries desperately to set her young daughters up with the various gentlemen callers at the dinner party, but her progeny would rather flirt with a house slave then chat it up with some of New Orleans most eligible and boring bachelors. It’s all very… Downton Abbey 4th Ward.
Cut to later that evening, and MMB is busy prettying herself with a poultice of human pancreas. Remember when you thought she was a sweet, matronly, southern grandmother? Forget all that. We quickly meet the real Madame Mama Boucher, a vulgar, cruel and murderous slave-owner who seems to despise her own children as much as she does the helpless slaves she keeps locked in her attic. MMB’s nightly beauty ritual is interrupted when an attendee alerts her that her slave-flirting daughter had taken it one step forward, and is caught “in flagrante” with said slave. MMB decides that the slave was obviously trying to rape her daughter, and banishes him to the attic, where we get our first peek at the horrors of which MMB is truly capable. The attic is full of misinformed and tortured slaves, each with a physical malady almost too grotesque to describe. If you were worried that the show wouldn’t be as “gory” this season… there’s a guy with his face skin flayed off. So, there’s that.
Lover-Boy Slave becomes MMB’s personal Minotaur, forced to stay chained forever like a beast, in a truly nightmarish prison. This show is messed up, in a very good way.
Part 2: Not Hogwarts
Back in modern day, we meet Zoe (Taissa Farmiga from season 1), a seemingly normal teenage girl, as she and a boyfriend sneak into her bedroom for some “one on one” time (hint: they’re gonna do it). This is Zoe’s first time, and her generous and thoughtful lover is only concerned with not hurting her, which was fool-hardy, because as soon as the act commences, lover-boy starts gushing blood out of every available orifice. You never forget your first time, especially if you accidentally kill your partner.
Zoe is a witch, and now that her powers have manifested, her mom (and a group of random CIA looking dudes) inform her that she’ll be attending an all-girls school for “special teenagers,” and that she has zero choice in the matter. Zoe heads off to New Orleans and the tutelage of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies… or, “Hogwitches”. Zoe meets her classmates, who pull of a pretty mean prank on her right off the bat. She is joined by Madison (Emma Roberts), a former teen star and current telekinetic witch, Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), a human voodoo doll, and Nan (Jamie Brewer, returning from season 1), a powerful clairvoyant. The girls get along about as well as you would expect a group of late-teenaged girls to get along, mixed in with superpowers.
Before long, our house “matron” joins the fray, and we meet Cordelia Foxx (AHS season 1 and 2’s Sarah Paulson), who takes Zoe aside and explains the world she’s about to enter. Hogwitches prepares young ladies for a life of secrecy, for as the Salem Witch Hunts proved, being a witch isn’t exactly the safest job in the world. Times are tough for witches, as evidenced by the burning at the stake of a young witch with the power over life and death (played by Asylum‘s baddie Lily Rabe). Cordelia also gives Zoe the skinny (foreshadowing) on witch hierarchy; there’s only one “top” witch of each generation; the “Supreme”, and she is said to be more powerful than any other witch on the planet.
Part 3: Oh, that lady’s back!
Enter the supreme, a/k/a – you guessed it, it’s Jessica Lange as “Fiona Goode”, witch supreme and a bad, bad, lady. She is as obsessed with youth and appearance as MMB was back in the day, and is using her vast resources to fund medial trials for a “fountain of youth drug,” which if works, will really cut down on her pancreas budget each month. Doctor Science Guy informs Fiona that while the trials have been successful, they are far from being able to test the drug on humans… or witches. Fiona doesn’t exactly agree, and cut to about a week later, when we see that Doctor Dude knows better than to mess with a witch (or Jessica Lange), and that Fiona has been taking the drugs to no avail. She is still “kind of but not really old”, in a very “oh, she’s a gorgeous woman” type of way”. She is obviously not happy that her wonder-drug seems to not be working, and takes it out on Doc Man Fella, by tossing him around the room telekinetically before sucking the very life force out of his body, ala “every genre movie/tv show in which characters have sucked the life force from someone’s body”. Doctor Cool Guy McYoung quickly turns into Doctor Old Guy McDead.
Fiona is all like “Damn, yo,” and then she sees a TV report about the young witch burned at the stake and decides to pay a little visit to Hogwitches and Cordelia, who happens to be her daughter. BOOM. I bet you probably saw that coming! With witches being “Salem-ed”, Fiona the supreme decides its time to assert a little bit of her supremeness over the girls at the Witchcademy. Cordelia is less psyched (you can’t tell, because instead of being like “I can’t wait to see you mom!,” she’s like “When are you going to die?” These ladies are all the best of friends!!!
Part 4: Frat Dudes are the worst
Zoe and Madison sneak off to a frat party, which is also being attended by a busload of “Brothers,” led by AHS regular Evan Peters as “Kyle.” Kyle is the designated dude for the evening, and quickly lays eyes on the shy and yet painfully gorgeous Zoe. The two begin to awkwardly flirt, as upstairs, party girl and “not nice person” Madison gets drugged by one of Kyle’s more neanderthally looking frat brothers. While Zoe and Kyle chat downstairs, Madison is brutally raped by the rest of his fraternity, who film the proceedings on a camera phone. For a show that is pretty damn shocking, this moment absolutely disgusted me. I don’t want to say that the creators/writers went “too far,” but…. damn. This is basic cable!
Zoe can’t find Madison, and when Kyle tries to lend a hand, he walks into the horror show that is the rest of his frat having their way with a near-comatose Madison. Kyle, nice guy that he is, chases the boys out of the house in an attempt to get back the footage of the incident. His brothers steal the party bus they arrived on, knock Kyle the hell out, and proceed to speed off into the night, all the while being chased by a helpless and scared Zoe. Just when it appears that the rapists are about to get away with it and drive off, Madison comes silently and stoicially marching down the street, walks right past Zoe, stops, and telekinetically FLIPS THE ESCAPING RAPE BUS OVER, LIKE 20 TIMES! SO BADASS, and the first moment where I let out an audible “Yeahhhhhhhhh!” (which I tend to do a lot with this show).
Part 5: Field Trip
Back at Hogwitches, the bus crash is all over the news, with 7 of the 8 frat dudes killed on the scene. Our teens then meet the returning Fiona, who quickly shows that she is no nonsense. “You wanna be witches? Let’s go be witches” is what she basically tells the gals, and then leads them on an historic “field trip” to the house of MMB/Kathy Bates, whose tales of atrocity and evil have now become New Orleans legend. A tour guide tells us that MMB was eventually murdered by the famed voodoo practioner/queen, Marie Laveau (both MMB and Marie are actual historical figures), played by the always wonderful Angela Bassett. You see, Ms. Laveau’s boyfriend was under MMB’s employ — you might even remember him! He’s a minotaur — and in a flashback, we see Leveau feed MMB the poison that ends her wicked ways… maybe. MMB’s body was never found, and that’s something that seems to particularly interest Fiona. With the help of the all-seeing Nan, Fiona manages to locate the final resting place of Madame Mama Boucher. I think I can see where this is headed, and lemme tell you: I like it.
Part 6: Prologue
This week’s episode ends pretty fantastically, with Zoe paying a hospital visit to the one surviving frat guy (sorry, Kyle), who just happens to have been the ringleader of the nightmare back at the party. Zoe does what she does best… and has sex with the unconscious frat-monster until he too joins the big band in the sky, and… bleeds out of every orifice on his body. These witches are all right, man.
We cut back to MMB’s final resting place, where Fiona has managed to dig up her coffin, and after some opening of locks and removing of chains, we see MMB… alive, confused and angry, hundreds of years after her supposed murder. I have a feeling these two gals are not going to play nice.
“C’mon, I’ll buy you a drink”.
I really, really liked this episode. The show seems like it’s injected a good dose of “camp” into Coven, and I, for one, am happy about it. With so many shows of similar genres on TV right now, the brutality and comedy of American Horror Story put it at the top of the “haunted food chain,” in my opinion. With a fantastic cast, this unflinchingly edgy show is always one of my favorites to watch, and this season appears to be no different. It’s also kind of awesome that this show is 95% women, which is rare these days, especially women this empowered and, frankly, awesome. Color me excited to see the developing adventures of Fiona and her witchlings, and I hope you’ll join me each week for a look back at the episode that was.
Now c’mon…. I’ll buy you that drink.