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.

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