American Horror Story: Coven Season Premiere Review: “Bitchcraft” (Season 3, Episode 1)

image7 539x360 American Horror Story: Coven Season Premiere Review: Bitchcraft (Season 3, Episode 1)

These days, it never truly feels like October until a new season of American Horror Story rolls around. Keeping with tradition and presenting a new story for 2013, this season, fittingly titled American Horror Story: Coven, focuses on a small coven of young witches.

The first two seasons conquered a few more diverse settings, and a group of witches doesn’t sound terribly exciting from the get-go. If you’ve ever seen an episode of the series, however, then you know that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk always have a few interesting tricks hidden up their sleeves. Luckily, American Horror Story: Coven looks like it has plenty to offer for the rest of the season, including some fresh twists on a centuries old tale.

As far as the plot goes, not much has been revealed in the season premiere. Taissa Farmiga returns from the first season as Zoe Benson, a young woman who discovers she’s a witch after she accidentally kills her boyfriend. Since this is American Horror Story, she obviously can only kill when she has sex with someone. Feel free to insert your own jokes here. After arriving at Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, Zoe meets fellow witches Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), snotty Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) and clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer), all under the tutelage of Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson).

Foxx’s mother, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), reigns as the Supreme witch, the most powerful witch of her generation. After a young witch is burned at the stake near the school, Fiona returns to protect the young students, clashing with her daughter in the process. Already off the bat, it’s clear that American Horror Story: Coven plans to cover multiple branching plots and characters, just as past seasons have.

You can tell just by looking at the cast whether or not you will enjoy the new season. Plenty of familiar faces are welcomed back to the screen, and fans of the series will feel rewarded for having followed the previous seasons just to watch these actors interact for another few months. Farmiga, whose turn as Violet in the first season didn’t do anything for me, has been given a significantly better character, letting her shine much brighter than she used to. Roberts is a welcome and capable addition to the party as well, but Lange and Paulson steal the show. Lange has always been the showstopper in each season, and she plays Fiona viciously. Whether she’s bitingly hilarious or draining the life out of an employee, she’s back in the spotlight, where she belongs.

The cherry on top of this sundae of a cast is the addition of Kathy Bates as Delphine LaLaurie, a witch from the 1830s infamous for torturing slaves and using their blood to keep herself looking young. Although her role was a bit small in this episode, her opening (and the reliably creepy title sequence) live up to the horror aspect of the title. The modern day plot, however, is much lighter fare than Asylum was, and the more comedic tone is a welcome change of pace.

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american horror story coven American Horror Story: Coven Season Premiere Review: Bitchcraft (Season 3, Episode 1)

I’m not sure if I just didn’t pay enough attention in previous seasons or not, but the soundtrack seems much more involved this time around. The music, much like the show, is whimsical at times and tense at others, but always in sync with the characters. I’ll admit I’m not much of a soundtrack guy, but this season’s music is much better at setting the mood than it has been before.

Veteran director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s direction is as twisty and well-crafted as always, maintaining the style that has defined previous seasons. Much of this style will most likely come from the colorful setting Coven has chosen to dump its characters into: New Orleans. A city with a culture and history richer than most American cities should be able to keep things feeling fresh for the season, giving viewers a breather from the claustrophobic and insanely dark asylum. In fact, the school itself is pure white, inside and out. It’s a relief being able to see all of the action for once.

Aside from the creative setting and reliable direction and casting, American Horror Story: Coven is dealing with a topic that should be interesting if explored deeply: female empowerment. Much of the premiere’s focus was on the group of witches, with only a few notable males butting their way in. One of these happens to be Evan Peters, who is mysteriously declared dead at the end of the episode. His name is in the opening credits, however, so he has a get out of death free card. This new theme is an exciting direction for American Horror Story to take, though. While the first two seasons either glanced issues or pounded them into our heads, the third season’s bowl of porridge seems just right.

Even if this season might be a bit more rooted than past seasons, everything is still over the top and out of control. Within one episode, we’ve seen a bus crash, death by sex, someone’s life drained away by a kiss and a bull’s head placed on a live slave. I say rooted, and by that I mean rooted for a season of American Horror Story. It’s odd that a real-life minotaur is hardly even flinched at by the third season, but it speaks wonders to how messed up the series has been up until now.

If you’re looking for a definitive opinion on the new season, look at it this way: it’s American Horror Story. Many elements and actors from the previous seasons have returned, for better and for worse. The plot is all a bit melodramatic and the characters might be just a little too sassy, but simply put, it’s a fun show. Each week always brings some new surprise, and there is never a dull moment to be had. Even if the premiere of American Horror Story: Coven was a bit vague about its intentions for the rest of the season, it’s clear that whatever happens will be entertaining, perplexing and, as always, sexy.

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