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By Emily Holland · October 13, 2013
American Horror Story is back, enchanting viewers everywhere with its third season, subtitled Coven. As hinted at by the title, this season will focus on witchcraft, an interesting turn from last season’s insane asylum. Hopefully, there won’t be any aliens this time around.
The third season of AHS is the first to actually film on-location in a real “haunted” area in the United States. Although many speculated that the witches would be rooted in Salem, AHS focuses on New Orleans-based witches, even hinting at themes of voodoo and black magic that will be explored later on in the season. The main witches are descendants of the original Salem witches who migrated as far south as possible to escape from the witch-hunts up north.
In its typical AHS fashion, Coven jumps from the past to the present. The first look into the past reveals Kathy Bates' Madame Delphine LaLaurie, the Supreme witch in the 1800s who is known for her horrifying cruelty towards her slaves. She tortures them “just because [she] can” and uses their blood as a beauty product to keep her looking young.
The present-day Supreme is Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange). She is not without her own set of issues, trying to remain youthful by utilizing all of her powers, which are clearly fading. Already in the first episode we see Lange is up to her old tricks, with her witch toting a cigarette everywhere she goes and exuding an aura of confidence.
As much as these Supreme witches and supreme actresses could be the sole focus of Coven, it is the younger witches who seem to play a larger role in the season opener, aptly titled “Bitchcraft.” My favorites from the first season (Taissa Farmiga and Jamie Brewer) are back after taking a gap-year during Asylum and they carry enough power, both literally and figuratively, to make this a stellar season.
Farmiga plays a major role as the young witch Zoe, who is only informed of her powers after she accidentally kills her boyfriend with her vagina. It is still unclear exactly what her powers entail, but that is why she is sent to a school for young witches in New Orleans. The academy is run by Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), a gifted witch and the daughter of Fiona Goode.
Zoe meets three other young witches at the academy. Jamie Brewer plays a clairvoyant named Nan. Emma Roberts, new to the American Horror Story cast, portrays Madison Montgomery, an actress with a telekinetic power. The last witch, Queenie, is played by Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) and is, as she puts it, “a human voodoo-doll.”
While all of the girls are at the academy to learn how to control their powers, they do not get along at all and Cordelia has difficulty controlling them until Fiona intrudes. Both witches know that they are in danger after a young witch with the power of resurrection was recently hunted and burned at the stake.
With all of these plot elements working at once, as well as coupling the typical teenage urges of Madison and Zoe, which lead them to a frat party, Coven throws a lot at the viewer in the first episode. Much of the material is very dark, as to be expected, but the tone is kept lighthearted for now with the use of many witch-related pop culture puns.
Fiona is the source of most of the humor, joking about Hogwarts and even making a quip about dropping a house on Cordelia. While these jokes are somewhat expected, it almost seems as if the writers are playing off their prevalence and including them to show the audience that yes, they know that witchcraft is nothing new, but that this story is going to be different. In fact, Coven featured very little stereotypical witch paraphernalia, aside from black outfits and a few decorations around the academy. There were no wands, no real spells, and no broomsticks.
There also wasn’t very much of a scare factor in the first episode, but that should pick up as the plots progress. Coven introduces a more mature type of horror than the first two seasons, which relied mostly on jump scares and shock factor. I’m interested to see how this will evolve as the witches learn more about their powers and about who is trying to hunt them to extinction.