Thursday, October 31, 2013

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 4

3.4: Fearful Pranks Ensue

--Is there going to be a single male character in this season of AHS who is not, at some point, a monster? Geez, Ryan Murphy, it’s easy to take your themes a little too far. On a lighter note: Frances Conroy Frances Conroy Frances Conroy. That makes up for the last two episodes.

--So it’s Halloween, which means AHS is pulling their usual two-part holy-shit-stravaganza. Zombies! Snakes! Creepy dolls! Random murders! And cliffhangers galore! We’ll get to those. This ep, for a large part, dealt with the fallout from Madison’s accidental (?) death. When Fiona ordered Spalding to dispose of the starlet’s body, she perhaps didn’t take into account that Spalding has a very colorful private life. One which involves dressing in nighties and holding pretty pretty tea parties with all his little doll friends. Ooooooookay. I honestly feel like this might be something stuck into the show just for the sake of schlock, but whatevs. Spalding decided Madison’s corpse was his new best tea party friend and now has her all dolled up in a chair. She’s gonna get ripe pretty quickly. And worse...

--The Council has arrived. I guess it’s the closest thing witchcraft has to a governing body: three (or more?) powerful witches who aren’t quite on the level of the Supreme, but exist to lay down the law...on the Supreme too, if need be. The current Council is headed by Myrtle Snow, in all her fabric-swathed, ditzy glory (Frances Conroy Frances Conroy Frances Conroy), and also includes a Mary Poppins-type and a cute little gay dude. Interesting to note that both the past and present Councils included a man. Are male witches a thing? Does the Council always need one? Are they making up the rules as they go along? Anyway, we got one of those scenes where somebody (Cordelia, in this case) blurts a lot of incriminating evidence in a comical manner, and then we learned that Fiona and Myrtle haaaaaaaate each other. Which is just another excuse to put brilliant actresses together and let the sparks fly.

--Back to men being monsters. FrankenKyle has flown the coop, narrowly avoiding  Zoe’s badass attempt to kill him with rat poison, and since it’s Halloween, a bloody, shambling young man isn’t gonna attract as much attention as usual. Fiona dealt with Bastien the minotaur (who didn’t abduct Queenie after all, just badly wounded her) and sent his head to Laveau in a cardboard box. Godfather reference or Se7en reference? Take your pick. I noted that Bastien’s severed head still looked alive, so maybe Laveau just needs a new hunky body for him, but what matters is that the big truce between witches and voodoo-ites, made back in the ’70s between Laveau and Anna-Lee the Supreme, is broken. And the last male monster? Sigh. Guess it was too much to hope for Cordelia’s husband Hank to be a decent bloke. Not only is he canoodling, he’s canoodling with Alexandra Breckenridge, who bit off a man’s penis in Season One of this show, so you know things can’t go well. After fooling us by allowing her to develop her character a bit, Hank, for absolutely no known reason, shot Alexandra in the head. So...I guess that’s a new subplot. But why? And do we care?

--Not much of LaLaurie this week, but we did see her struggle with the task of thanking Queenie for saving her life. Man, it’s looking like LaLaurie might have the redemptive character arc this season, though it takes a lot of redemption to make up for, I dunno, slicing a person’s face off while they’re still alive. Just saying.

--In the land of flashbacks, we got a whole lot of history on Fiona and Myrtle, intercut with the present-day Council hearing. They were fellow witches-in-training, see, and Myrtle was the one who sensed Fiona had murdered Anna-Lee. We were initially led to believe that, yes, Fiona cut out Spalding’s tongue to keep him from talking after Myrtle enchanted him so he couldn’t lie. As it turned out, Spalding severed his own tongue after proclaiming his love to Fiona. Awesome, except that he dresses in nighties and has tea parties with dolls and corpses, so Fiona was probably wise to ignore his advances. In the present day, Spalding still refused to finger Fiona, leading to an awesome/pitiful meltdown on Myrtle’s part. Even better, Cordelia stepped up to defend Fiona, revealing that Madison had a heart murmur that negated her being Supreme (OH SHIT, Fiona), and leading to legit familial bonding. Awwwwww! Only Sarah Paulson never has anything good happen to her on this show, so Cliffhanger #1 occurred when a black-clad figure approached Cordelia in the bar bathroom and flung a painful liquid in her face. Team Voodoo is a likely culprit, but my theory is that Myrtle did it in revenge, and she’s gonna be one of the villains this season.

--Two cliffhangers? Why not? Marie Laveau is all kinds of pissed, and -- as the opening flashback to 1961 showed -- her favorite method of retaliation is to summon up some honest-to-god zombies and sic them on her enemies (racist child-killers, in that case). Ugh...I am so, so sick of zombies. So sick. HOWEVER, if anybody can make them rock, it’s these showrunners. As Halloween night wore on, the coven got a visit from three familiar faces: Madame LaLaurie’s desiccated zombie daughters. And they are only the first of a very large undead posse bearing down on Miss R’s. Trapped within are Zoe, Nan, Queenie, LaLaurie, Spalding, Madison’s corpse, and poor Luke Ramsey, who is probably going to try and beat the zombies by quoting Scripture at them. So get ready for American Horror Story’s inevitable tribute to zombie movies next week, along with Cordelia possibly turning into Two-Face. Yay!

--Frances Conroy. And also, Frances Conroy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 3

3.3: The Replacements

--Queenie is Marie Laveau: descended from a source of magic, unafraid to be a monster, royalty in her very name. Nan is Myrtle Snow: kooky and eccentric, powerful without seeking power. Zoe is Cordelia: peaceable and haunted by her power, yet not without a dangerous edge. And Madison is Fiona: extra-witchy, spoiled and regal, poised to take control. I see what you did there, show. Except history may not repeat itself after all, not if Fiona has anything to say about it. Holy SHIT, this fucking episode.

--I mean that in a good way. “The Replacements” was the strongest ep yet, mixing deep tragedy and horror with laugh-out-loud comedy. I literally did laugh out loud at the sight of Madame LaLaurie weeping in despair as she watched Obama on TV (“Liiiiiiieeeeeeeeeessss!!!”). Other giggles include Nan’s huge red earphones, Laveau playing Solitaire on an iPad in her voodoo lair, and pretty much everything involving the new neighbors. But the darker twists, well, they hit me in the gut, all right. You really can’t predict anything, can you.

--Yeah, it was pretty hilarious seeing LaLaurie reduced to a maid, forced to wait upon a smug Queenie hand and foot. (Fiona’s hypocrisy in calling out LaLaurie’s racism made it even more amusing.) Perversely, this led to what looked an awful lot like a budding respect between the racist slave-killer and the fat, insecure witch-in-training. Well, maybe. I think we’re going to see LaLaurie grapple with this radical new idea that black people are human beings, while Queenie starts to see the strength in herself. See, when Bastien the minotaur came sniffing around, presumably looking to murder the shit out of LaLaurie, Queenie protected the bitch by making a literal virgin sacrifice. Yep, she schtupped the minotaur. And it was frightening, messed-up, and weirdly poignant. Poor Queenie’s stuck in monster mode, but since the scene appeared to end with Bastien abducting her, I’d say she’s gonna have a forced entry into Team Voodoo. Can’t wait.

--Those new neighbors? Heh. Who’re the worst possible people to live next door to a gaggle of snarky witches? Jesus freaks, of course! Joan Ramsey (Patti LuPone) is an uptight Bible-flinger, while her son, Luke (Alexander Dreymon), is an unfairly gorgeous galoot who’s firmly under mommy’s thumb, for now. You can imagine how stellar their first impressions of the coven were; flaming drapes ensued. I can’t tell if the Ramsey subplot will lead to comedic hijinks or dark bloodshed, but I like how the show’s mocking the stereotypes of hardcore religiosity (note how quick Joan was to threaten legal action) while also pointing out that people tend to be assholes to the devout, just because. Once again, no real good guys. Except Nan, who I think may wind up getting snuggly with Luke. Which would be epic.

--And that’s about the end of the funny stuff. Cordelia’s sinking into pathos as she learns she cannot, in any way, have children. And the spell didn’t take. So she went to Laveau, who toyed with her, describing the voodoo fertility rite (which we saw, of course, in lurid and glorious detail. Only AHS would feature a bubbling jar of jizz) before whipping the rug out from under Cordelia and telling her to fuck off. Okay, Cordelia really needs to kick some ass soon. Also, they need to make an entire video of instructional sex-themed magic spells, starring Sarah Paulson and her “weirded out” face.

--Still no Frances Conroy. AAAAARGH. That TEASE.

--The Zoe/Kyle business this week....Jesus, did that hurt. Poor Zoe, always wanting to do the right thing, went to Kyle’s mother, Alicia (Mare Winningham), who appeared to be a suicidal pothead who just wanted her baby back. So Zoe retrieved FrankenKyle from the swamp (leaving the attention-starved Misty bereft) and dumped him on his doorstep. Alicia was as shocked and delighted as you could expect, but Kyle wasn’t, because -- in one of the most shocking, did-not-see-that-coming twists this show has ever pulled -- we discovered that Alicia sexually molests her son. A lot. And Kyle, reduced to pure id by his death and rebirth, snapped and beat Alicia’s face in with a trophy. And Zoe doesn’t know. All she saw at the end was a monster who’d murdered his own mother. I am chilled by the places this subplot is going, and riveted by not knowing what’s next.

--The other riveting thing, of course, being Fiona. She’s dying. Sinking deeper into a haze of booze and drugs. She has cancer, it turns out; no youthening procedure, magical or otherwise, can save her. A new Supreme must be chosen, but who’s ready for it? Fiona looked at Madison -- powerful, proud, spiteful -- and saw herself. Which terrified her. Because, as a flashback revealed, young Fiona murdered her own Supreme (Christine Ebersole, who I’m sure we’ll see more of), ascending too early. No one knew, except a character I haven’t even mentioned yet, Spalding the butler (Denis O’Hare, is that you?), who Fiona apparently silenced by cutting out his tongue. And thus it is implied that everything wrong, all that deterioration of modern-day witchcraft, is all Fiona’s fault. She took power that she didn’t deserve, and wasted it on her own desires. And she believes the new Supreme-to-be, Madison, is literally leeching away her power, killing her faster. Is that true, or is Fiona just paranoid? And how much of that bloody final scene was calculated on Fiona’s part? Apparently sinking into despair, she asked Madison to kill her. Madison refused. And in the drunken struggle, Fiona cut Madison’s throat. Once again, Spalding was the sole witness to the terrible cycle, and Fiona, in control again, ordered him to bury Madison and change the damn carpet. So, again, how much is Fiona’s genuine emotion and how much is her being....evil?

--So that’s where we stand; the coven has seemingly lost two members, one to death and one to the other side. Half the witches are struggling to find their path and the other half are terrified that they’ve reached the end of the road. There’s no guarantee Madison will stay dead. Or how long LaLaurie will put up with being belittled. Kyle is getting worse, not better, and Misty is a time bomb waiting to explode. My heart’s still thumping from the episode. As is always the case with this show, things can only get worse. And that makes it better.

--Oh, hey, will someone tell the camera guy to stop turning the camera sideways like he’s a fucking gangbanger with a 9MM? It’s not that hip.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 2

3.2: Boy Parts

--Let’s discuss stereotypes for a moment. Lord knows American Horror Story likes discussing them, often in a manner than would make the politically-correct gape in outrage. I’m talking mainly about black people in this case. Last season touched upon mixed-race marriages, but in a very positive and forward-thinking way. Coven is going down a riskier path by portraying black people as...well...having equal potential for villainy as white people. Which is true, but you’re not supposed to admit it. I mean, look at Queenie: she worked in a fried chicken joint (racial clichés!) and dealt with an asshole customer by magically Kentucky-frying his arm, which was just a teeeeny bit excessive, yeah? And Marie Laveau -- damn, what a bitch. An awesome and kick-ass bitch, but still unafraid to do terrible, inhumane things. If this were a Hollywood film, all the black characters would be glowing saints (see: The Help). it right to address stereotypes by utilizing them, rather than hiding from them? I think so. I think that blinding ourselves to racial prejudice is its own form of prejudice. But I shouldn’t be taking any of this too seriously, not when the episode opens with rednecks getting eaten by zombie crocodiles.

--What? Yeah, as we kinda expected, Misty Day is still alive and hiding out in the swamps. Just a reminder that Lily Rabe is an awesome actress who keeps knocking these roles out of the park. Her Misty is part vengeful hippie, part zealot, and all Stevie Nicks fan, and she’s also got all kinds of warning lights flashing around her. I mean, the “rules” of witchery seem to imply that wild cards like Misty are a problem, and now Zoe is torn between school and swamp, between order and chaos. She’s struggling with her womanhood, hindered by her killer sex powers, and Misty -- who, I’m pretty sure, has a raging sapphic crush on Zoe -- is gonna be the devil on her shoulder. And she may not have an angel.

--Back to the rules of witchery. Are there any? We already know most witches have one specific power or strength, but it also appears that any witch can perform a cool spell from a recipe. Who made up those recipes, anyway? I really want to know. One such spell: bringing your dead, stitched-together boyfriend back to life. The theme of empowered women continued as Madison took Zoe to the morgue where all the fratboys’ dismembered manflesh lay awaiting categorization. It was just the kind of icky hilarity this show excels at. Not sure which bits are Kyle’s? Just grab the comeliest chunks of male anatomy and assemble yourself a dream guy! It’s so wrong, and so right. The spell to revive Kyle involved your typical mix of salt and pentagrams and blood offerings, and it totally didn’t work. Good thing Misty wafted by and revived FrankenKyle herself! (Or did she?) Only FrankenKyle is, shall we say, not handling his rebirth well. Probably confused that he now has a foreskin, an outie belly button, and one Hispanic buttock. Tee hee. Misty’s taking care of him for now, but I don’t trust her one tiny bit. Hijinks!

--On the subject of stereotypes: Jamie Brewer. I really like watching her and I’m not sure why. If you somehow haven’t noticed, she has Down Syndrome, and it’s hard to discuss her acting without sounding either condescending (“Oh, she’s doing such a GOOD job!”) or overly PC (“She’s really no different from any of us!”). She faces the challenge of only being able to play characters written with a Down’s sufferer in mind, which, let’s face it, is the same challenge faced by black actors unless their name is Will Smith. Brewer’s line delivery isn’t great but she has a lot of screen presence, and her condition actually works in her favor because of her emotional acting style. Or something. Again, I believe it’s wrong to ignore her differences; I’d rather just admit that they aren’t hugely important. AHS sort of does that. In a very unsubtle way.

--More magic spellcraft was going on in the world of Cordelia, whose subplot came into focus: she can’t conceive. Her husband, Hank (Josh Hamilton), seems like a decent guy who sure is open-minded about witchcraft. Enough that he preferred a consummation rite over in vitro fertilization. Damn right he did! What’s more fun: watching while your wife gets knocked up by medical technology, or writhing around with her in a circle of fire while newborn snakes glide sensually over your sweaty bodies? Magic can be fun! But we’ll have to see if the spell worked, and/or if it will have horrible consequences. Knowing this show, probably the latter.

--How crazy is this: I felt a bit sorry for Madame LaLaurie. Yes, in spite of all that slave torturing. In the present day, Fiona grilled her for info on immortality, which led to more revelations about her fate. Marie Laveau didn’t poison LaLaurie, she gave her eternal life. Then lynched her family. Then stuck her in a coffin. In that scene, despite the context, LaLaurie was the tortured victim and Laveau’s black mob were the murderous monsters. Takes a monster to defeat a monster, it seems, and now we’ve got a three-way monster battle. Because Fiona went straight to Laveau, who OF COURSE is still alive in the present day. This led to some absolutely sublime acting from Lange and Bassett, and a further breakdown of witchcraft vs. voodoo. See, voodoo came first. As they so often do, white folk took something from black folk (and, it would seem, Native Americans) and claimed ownership. Now witchcraft is more powerful but voodoo is older and more insidious. And Laveau is not about to let some uptight white bitches push her around. And neither is her minotaur boyfriend, also still alive and still a fucking minotaur. No idea how that works. I also have no idea whose side I’m on any more.

--I predict that Fiona, Laveau and LaLaurie will plot and scheme and maybe destroy each other in the end, clearing away the misguided old ways and making room for the younger generation to bring witchcraft into the modern world. I also think Queenie (who, we learned, was descended from Tituba, the slave who introduced magic to the women of Salem) is gonna be Pyro from X-Men 2, if I may bring back that analogy. She’ll switch to Team Laveau, probably at the worst possible time. Shit will totally hit the fan. And then Misty will collect it and smear it on FrankenKyle’s suture wounds.

--No Frances Conroy this week. BOO!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Top 10 Worst Types of Video Game Enemies

You’re playing a video game. Having an awesome time, because (unless you’re slogging through the life-ruining shithole that is WoW) why wouldn’t playing a video game be tons of fun? And then your good mood plummets, you groan and consider flinging your controller, because here comes that fucking enemy. Gamers should know exactly what I mean. In the olden times, when games were actually hard, it was the foe that you knew would probably lead to a quick Game Over screen. These days, video games as a whole are easy and bland, but there’s still that flavor of baddie that, for whatever reason, makes you gnash your teeth. Here are some types that most if not all of us can agree........suck.

Dang-Blasted’s Top 10 Incredibly Obnoxious Types of Video Game Enemy That Everyone Hates

Anything That is Invincible and Chases You
Your video game character is a badass; they have big guns and health potions and they can take on any pissant foe that crawls out of the woodwork! Well...except for Croctopus. Or Phanto. Or Lisa Trevor. You know, the enemy who literally cannot be killed, and appears at certain points to force you to run like a scared toddler. Where are your BFGs now? Seriously, fuck the unkillable foe. It’s such a dick move on the game’s part. The only scenario in which it works is when it makes a horror game scarier, but even then, it can hardly be called fun to sprint around in panic mode, praying you find the spot that triggers the next cutscene before some jawless bulletproof monstrosity pours your spleen on its Cheerios. At least with some of these types, you get to kill them eventually. But “eventually” never seems to come.

In terms of anti-awesomeness, nothing beats the first time you encounter a bad guy that wants to give its wretched little life in the name of the Glorious Evil Cause. Of course it’s running at you -- bad guys always run at you. Huh, you’re shooting it but it’s not dying fast enough. Eh, so you’ll lose a chunk of health, no huge deal. And then the foe reaches you and fucking EXPLODES, its burst body-meat blending with yours in a smoothie of icky failure. Bob-ombs are the famous example, but way too many games think it’s a good idea to feature this damn thing, which you often don’t see coming or can’t deal with in time because there are other enemies around. So once again, you’re wearing your legs like a helmet and cursing the one time video game A.I. does what it’s supposed to. Weird that one of my favorite games, Killer7, features nothing but kamikazee foes. So I’m a hypocrite; this still bites.

The Handicapper
You’re helpless. The fight’s going on but you are no longer in it. Why? Because the enemy turned you to stone. Or they sprayed goo everywhere and now you’re glued to the damn floor. Or they hit you with some trippy toxin that reversed the polarity of your controller, causing you to stumble off a cliff. You are now dead weight, thanks to a monster that doesn’t play fair, that eschews simply killing you in favor of crippling you so all its monster buddies can point and laugh. Status effects suck no matter what, but it’s worse when you run into a foe that you know is gonna hit you with this bullshit, and all you can do is brace yourself and say a prayer. The stupider the ailment, the worse this type of enemy is; I’m looking at you and your damn Pig spell, Final Fantasy IV.

Little Swarming Fuckers
When playing a game, there’s this subconscious satisfaction you get from tackling foes that you consider your equal. Picking on someone your own size, as it were. So it seems a bit insulting when you get rushed by a horde of pint-sized critters, each of which you could squash with pathetic ease were they not backed up by a zillion identical buddies. The fuck is this, game? I have a big fancy sword and many interesting attack combos befitting a worthy adversary, so why am I pounding away at the X button, flailing about and murdering little grunts by the score, only to have more take their place? This isn’t combat, it’s Whack-a-Mole for masochists, and what could be more embarrassing than actually succumbing to sheer numbers? It’s happened to us all at some point, and even a skilled player can be taken down by the jabbering throng. Tedious doesn’t even begin.

“Only [X] Can Kill Me!”
I have no problem with fighting smarter rather than harder; it can be a lot of fun to figure out an enemy’s weaknessness. What I don’t like is the type of enemy, often a boss, who can only be killed by doing something really specific, something that has jack-all to do with actually fighting the bastard. Combat? No, none of your weapons or moves will work on this guy, but you can damage him by luring him onto this dias, whacking both his kneecaps at the same time, then running across the room to hit this switch and electrocute him before he recovers. And he recovers in three seconds, so we hope you like performing the same series of steps over and over. Yeah, I like strategy, except when the result is me wasting the day trying to prompt my foe into doing the arbitrary thing that will allow me to do the other arbitrary thing that is the only thing that can hurt him. Confused?

Foes of No Reward
This applies to games where killing your foes nets you more than just a sense of victory and a possible boner. Games where there is a tangible reward for defeating something. Because a lot of the time...a whooooooole lot of the time...the reward ain’t worth the trouble. You pray for something good, a monster who’ll drop a weapon or rare item, a Pokémon who kicks ass. Then you facepalm as, for the tenth consecutive random encounter, you’re facing some pissant little thing that’s easy to kill and offers nothing more than a few minutes of blown time. You have to wade through them to get to the bigger, more interesting foes, and you do it, because the game has you by the balls. Keep fighting the low-level rodents and you might find a Legendary or an Esper or whatever. Keep dreaming. Sucker.

The Ultimate (Optional) Kill
And on the flip side, you have the one enemy in the game that’s so big, so powerful, so fucking near-impossible to beat, that you’re not even required to. This battleship-sized bruiser sits atop a peak somewhere, or lurks in the darkest, foulest dungeon hole, daring you to come take him on. If you try, he’s gonna pulverize you in two seconds flat unless you’ve spent days of optional gameplay time beefing yourself up, and even then, the fight’s gonna last about as long as a Netflix original series. Your finger joints will bleed. You can, of course, just ignore him. But he taunts you with his existence. “Is your completion bar at one hundred percent?” he sneers. “No? Then keep grinding, girly-man, because if you don’t kill me, YOU ARE AN INCOMPLETE EXCUSE FOR A GAMER.” This enemy’s sole purpose is to make you wretched. What a dick.

Thieving Sons of Bitches Who Steal Your Shit
Remember playing Super Mario 64 and suddenly noticing, with dawning horror, that you could see Mario’s mullet because his hat was missing? What the FUCK? Did you comb all the levels in a panic before finding it in a vulture’s claws, or gracing the noggin of that shithead monkey? Bad guys who steal your stuff are absolutely awful. Half the time, you don’t even notice at first. Even if you do, you have to get your property back somehow, and it’s far from easy. And they never seem to take minor stuff, either. It’s like, c’mon, I have five Frost Rings. You’re welcome to one of those. NO, NOT MY FUCKING BROADSWORD! COME BACK HERE, YOU LITTLE TURD OF A CUNT! And there he goes, giggling all the way. If only you could kill foes more than once, because thieves deserve worse than they get.

Enemy Spawners
I’ve been fooled by this thing on numerous occasions. Fighting a battle against a bunch of minor foes (often the little swarmers mentioned above) and noticing that this fight seems to be taking an awfully long time. Almost as if something were churning out an infinite number of......oh. This is why you shouldn’t just stand in one place and let enemies come to you. Sometimes, there’s a specialized foe nearby that spews smaller foes from its guts in complete denial of the laws of mass and energy. It usually has a ton of health, and its own endless spawn will rabidly defend it as you try to curb the unholy birthing stream. The battle can’t truly be won until the spawner dies. Quick protip: unless you’re a masochist or consider XP more important than fun, for God’s sake, TARGET THESE FIRST. If you can even find them.

The One You Dread
The image above will be meaningless to young gamers. However, those of the first gaming generation, who were kids in the ’80s, may be suffering unwilling bowel evacuations right about now. We all have the video game bad guy who fills us with terror. Not anger or frustration. Fucking terror. You play the game knowing that it will appear, rising into view from some dark netherworld, to eat your tender gamer’s soul. It’s not that this foe looks scary (although it might...fucking Pyramid Head, amirite?), it’s that it will kill you more inevitably than Liam Neeson after you ran over his dog. It has killed you countless times, resisting your efforts to defeat or evade it, until dread of its appearance is hardwired into your brain’s nightmare factory. Like I said, it’s different for everyone. And it’s often something that hits us as kids, when we form our fears. I mean, Snacker the Shark from Banjo-Kazooie was terrifying to me once upon a time, but these days, it’d just be pathetic to get scared of a cartoon foe from a silly, colorful N64 game. Right?


Video games. They will destroy you.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

American Horror Story: Coven--Episode 1

3.1: Bitchcraft

--Ahh, I get it. This is the “fun” season. American Horror Story is always dark, it’s always morbidly kooky, it always mixes over-the-top absurdity with dead-serious social issues. Murder House was the “soap opera” season, Asylum was the “society is fucked” season, and now here comes Coven to just have a goofy old time. Comparatively speaking, that is. They did warn that it’d be a bit more lighthearted. I guess I’m okay with that, though I already fear that Coven won’t pack quite the same emotional punch as Asylum did. I mean, look at all those tilted angles, fisheye lenses, and iris shots. The weird camera hijinks were such that I sometimes couldn’t quite tell what was going on. But technical gripes aside, “Bitchcraft” remained a blast.

--A quick history on witches. Witches are foul, inhuman creatures with blue saliva that...wait, no, that’s Roald Dahl’s take. Witches are shrill, goofy klutzes played by Bette Midler who run amuck and...nope, not that either. Ah, here we go. Witches are women with interesting genetic gifts who have historically been persecuted. After the whole Salem business, most witches went underground, and New Orleans became their unofficial HQ. These days, they’re mostly but not entirely extinct. All this exposition was delivered to us by Zoe (Taissa Farmiga), a shy young girl who learns the hard way that she’s basically an R-rated version of Rogue from X-Men: every guy she bones, dies. Zoe is sent to Xavier’s School for...I mean, Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, which has long been both a cover for witches and a sizable source of income for makers of blank white paint. Counting Zoe, there’s only four students. The other three are Madison (Emma Roberts...yeah, yeah, she’s in this, get the fuck over it), a snarky movie star who can fling shit with her brain; Nan (Jamie Brewer), a friendly if obtuse clairvoyant; and Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), who’s a “human voodoo doll”: she wounds herself, other people suffer. Quite the dysfunctional batch of X-Ladies.

--Let’s hope they can find some cool matching outfits and kick ass, because thanks to religious paranoia and social media, it’s hard to hide your witchiness any more. Case in point: Misty Day (Lily Rabe), a woman who can raise the dead, which does not endear her to the snake-snogging holy rollers she hangs out with. Yep, poor Misty got burned at the stake, old-school. Her story was rather awkwardly shoved into the narrative, but since Rabe’s a main cast member, I imagine she’s not perma-dead. Silly people, don’t you remember last season? She’s literally the devil! Well, maybe not. But her tragic tale is a catalyst for......

--Jessica Lange in the house! This time around, she’s Fiona Goode, the “Supreme” -- basically the most powerful witch out there. She’s been banging around LA, living the high life while also living in terror of her own mortality. Is she good or bad? Hard to say. She did suck the lifeforce out of a hapless lackey (it didn’t seem to work), but now she’s back in N’awlins to help the four young witches come into their powers while also forcing them to compete in the Most Ridiculous Black Outfit trials. (Madison wins with her bathrobe-dress, narrowly edging out Nan’s Thanksgiving Pilgrim costume.) This does not sit well with Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), Fiona’s daughter and current headmistress of Miss R’s, who’s damn good with herbal remedies but seems determined to repress her powers and those of her students. I love Paulson, so I really hope she didn’t get handed the Biggest Fucking Tool award, previously held by Joseph Fiennes in Asylum. We shall see.

--I. Adore. Frances. Conroy. Her role in this ep was tiny, but, clad in acres of fur and sporting a vaguely Eurotrash accent, she fucking walked away with the scene. Although they didn’t say so, she plays Myrtle Snow, the head of some sort of witch congress. I want to see more of her. Waaaayyyy more of her.

--Anyone else? Oh, yeah, there are one or two men on this show. Most prominently, there’s Kyle (Evan Peters), a decent chap who heads a frathouse. He and Zoe experienced love at first sight during a bangin’ frat party; you could tell because they stared at each other through an ice sculpture. Meanwhile, poor Madison was getting roofied and gang-raped by Kyle’s bros. Kyle tried to make things right because he is a Nice Guy, but a vengeful Madison pulled a Magneto on the bros’ bus and Kyle was killed. Wait, WHAT? They seriously killed off Evan Peters in the first episode? Did not see that coming, and I love it. I also love how, at the end, Zoe used her fatal vagina to euthanize the asshole responsible for the rape, who’d survived the crash. All of which is probably some sort of metaphor for females taking control of their own sexuality, but whatever, it kicks ass. Let’s not write off Kyle, though. I mean, remember Misty the resurrectionist? If she’ll be back, so will Kyle at some point. Hopefully not as a floppy-haired zombie.

--Finally, historical hysteria! Meet Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Motherfucking Bates), a high-society queen of N’awlins in the 1800s, known for throwing lavish parties and also for caging and torturing slaves. And using their pancreata as face cream. Yes, LaLaurie really existed, and no, the real one probably never punished a slave by sticking a severed bull head on him and calling him a Minotaur. But it was still fucked-up in the best of ways. In case we all forgot Misery (how could we?), Kathy Bates can play a psycho to end all psychos. But she, too, fell victim to the pursuit of youthfulness, and was done in by another actual historic figure, Marie Laveau (Angela Motherfucking Bassett), a mistress of voodoo. So that makes three of the main cast who are dead by the end of the episode -- a record! Except that “Bitchcraft” ended with Fiona digging up a chained coffin and opening it to find a bound, gagged, and very much alive LaLaurie. Can’t wait to see her reaction to modernity. “Well, fuck smearing slave guts on my face; I’m just gonna get Botox!”

--That was a ton of ground to cover, and the episode handled it admirably, though I still feel like some of the exposition was rushed. And I’m not fond of Zoe’s voiceover; is that gonna be a regular thing? Ah, well. Coven is looking promising if you can accept that it’s going to take itself less seriously than Asylum. And I think I can. If I don’t, one of these women will probably kill me for having a penis.