There had always been two genres that have never fared well on TV: Musicals and Horror. Musicals were often limited by their audiences, which were usually smaller than a romcom’s, and their format — forty to fifty original songs a season would be a creative strain on the average mind. Some clever executive discovered it was easier to ‘cover’ existing songs and dress it as a high school soap — thus Glee exists. Horror came with its own set of problems: a clash between the inevitability of death found in the shorter film medium (either the main character or villain, and plenty of side characters, would have to die to complete the story) and the safety of longevity inherent in the longer television medium (if the main character dies, the series dies). American Horror Story, though, has circumvented those pitfalls with a simple rule: Every season is a new story, so anything can happen.
We’ve done the haunted house and the asylum, so what’s next in our anthology of frightening tales? Certainly they could have gone with what’s popular, Vampires and Werewolves, but that’s not the style of American Horror Story. This season, Coven, will begin a new trend of supernatural baddies — witches.
Traditionally, American Horror Story opens with a prologue, and Coven begins with it’s own: in New Orleans circa 1830s. Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), the owner of a large plantation, uses blood as beauty cream and slaves’ bodies as, well, apothecaries. The show doesn’t explain the science behind it, but Delphine slices apart slaves for their organs in a constant quest for everlasting youth. What the show does portray, in gory detail, is how the slaves suffer. Trust me when I say I was relieved to cut to the opening — which turned out to be as creepy as ever.
In present day, Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) discovers she is a witch whose special power is killing men who have sex with her. That won’t scar her for life. Promiscuity and sexuality will, undoubtedly, become a theme for the season. American Horror Story has always been quick to skip the unnecessary: in this case, we avoid the obligatory “What’s happening to me?” phase inherent in most coming-of-age stories. Zoe’s mother just tells her “You’re a witch, and you’re going to a special school.” Imagine if Harry Potter had just been told what he was? That’s thirty pages Rowling could have shaved.
Speaking of Hogwarts, Miss Robichaux’s Academy seems to be similar: a magical, albeit exclusive, school for witches. Zoe is introduced to Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), who acts as headmistress to the bunch of misfits living in the old mansion. Cordelia (a name I hadn’t heard since Buffy) seems nice enough, but the moment Zoe enters the mansion three hooded figures accost her. After a tense moment, they call off the prank and reveal themselves as the three other students. Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a teenage movie star, has the power of telekinesis; Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), an inner-city foster kid, is often described as “a human voodoo doll”; and Nan (Jamie Brewer), often perceived as dimwitted due to her mental handicap, possesses clairvoyance. Hm, an exclusive and secretive school, founded in a mansion, teaching adolescents how to control their unique powers to protect themselves from a non-understanding world? I apologize for my Hogwarts comparison earlier; this is clearly the X-men.
The girls discuss some lore, confirm what myths are true and which are crazy lies, and set up the rules of the series. Apparently, there is some super-witch — each generation has a type of Avatar who can master all supernatural talents better than any other single witch. Cut to: Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) doing cocaine in a skyscraper in New York. They set up the all-powerful character as an aging, wealthy matron chasing eternal beauty and immortality (as many of reality’s wealthy and aging women are). She’ll try anything: Botox, experimental drugs, even sucking the life essence out of a young doctor. Fiona decides to visit her daughter, Cordelia, and assist in protecting and teaching the young students in Cordelia’s charge. If there is one theme American Horror Story loves to play, it’s the Mother/Child relationship.
Since Madison has become sober, she’s been dying for a drink. Her alcoholic-sense begins to tingle and leads her (and her new bestie, Zoe) to the nearest Frat party. Here’s where we meet what every girl-who-kills-people-with-sex needs — a love interest. Kyle Spencer (Evan Peters) not only seems to be the head of a prominent fraternity, but an all-around nice guy, to boot. Zoe and Kyle nearly fall in love at first sideways glance, which only means they are destined to be together, despite their clear obstacles. Don’t fret now, star-crossed lovers have a high probability of happiness, if memory serves.
American Horror Story: Coven has brought all of its flare back to the small screen, complete with fancy editing and silent era cinematography. With Halloween on the way, there is no short of creep in the ambiance, and I foresee (using my own powers of clairvoyance) another successful and frightening season.
You can catch the series Wednesday nights on FX.