Episode Title: “Bitchcraft”
Writers: Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
“American Horror Story” has returned! I love that each season is a self contained story; you could start watching now, in season three, and not miss a beat even if you haven't seen the first two seasons.
For those who have stuck with “AHS,” there's a slew of now-familiar faces returning for this third tale of horror, including Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, and Sarah Paulson, and a few faces such as Kathy “I'm no stranger to Misery” Bates and Emma “Little Miss Sidney Prescott Wannabe” Roberts.
Plus, a few season one favorites have returned, as well, such as Taissa Farmiga, who played Violet, and Jamie Brewer, who played my favorite season one character, Addie. With “AHS” season one, “Murder House” focusing on ghosts and season 2, “Asylum” focusing on crazy dudes drinking breast milk, seasons three, “Coven” focuses on witches, New Orleans, and, of course, voodoo!
Because each season is a self contained story, “Bitchcraft” is essentially a pilot episode. The foundation has to be laid, introducing us to each character and their purpose. By far the most attention grabbing segment of the episode is the opening with Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates). The year is 1834; the setting, New Orleans. Madame Delphine is one nasty-tempered woman, using her power as a slave owner to torture, imprison, and disfigure these poor souls for her own amusement.
Already we're seeing some of the grotesquery that “AHS” is famous for. One man's swollen face was hastily stitched shut. Madame Lalaurie manically explains what she did with this: “Hush up or I'll rip your lips open and stuff more shit in there.” More disturbing footage follows with men who have had their faces essentially peeled off and another she turned into a makeshift-minotaur. The horror of human disfigurement and the horror of slavery all combined into one painful scene. This is why we watch, people!
In present day, Violet (Taissa Farmiga), err, I mean Zoe Benson, discovers her witch powers in the worst way possible. Of course, there really is no good way to discover that if you have sex with someone it'll make their brain gush blood like a popped water balloon- that's one power I'm not jealous of. Naturally, Zoe's parents send her off to witch boarding school, otherwise known as Miss Robichaux's School for Gifted Youngsters… err, I mean Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies in New Orleans, to learn more about her powers and how to control them.
Once there, we meet the rest of our coven: telekinetic Madison (Emma Roberts- whose character is also a movie star), clairvoyant Nan (Jaime Brewer), and human voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe). A coven is typically made up of three so I wonder if we'll be losing a witch soon, or if the titular coven refers to a different trinity of witches.
It then shows the witches' showing off their powers for a little while before Madison drags Zoe to a party. Carrying on the “let's look sensitive subjects directly in the eye” theme from the opening scene, Madison gets drugged and gang-raped by a pile of frat guys at a party. Still in a drugged stupor, she exacts her revenge by flipping their bus as they drive away, killing most of them. That doesn't really make up for what was just inflicted on this character, so wing-witch Zoe takes it a step further.
One of the rapists survived the crash and lies unconscious in a hospital bed, so Zoe returns the favor by raping him and making his brain melt out his ears. While it's nice to see horrible people get what they deserve, this whole scenario seems very cliché, not to mention downright uncomfortable to watch. We'll have to wait to see if it ties into the rest of the season before truly determining if that was just lazy writing or if it's going somewhere more interesting.
Meanwhile, we find out during one of the episode's many exposition dumps that each generation of witches has one witch with command over every supernatural power, and this mamma jamma is known as the Supreme. Thus far it seems that Fiona (Jessica Lange) is the current Supreme, though most of her power use is devoted towards trying not to get any older. Jessica Lange always kicks serious ass, and here she's no different; every scene she's in just works.
Fiona and her daughter act as dual headmasters to the Witch Academy, with the daughter being a little more Professor X, and Fiona being more Magneto. After making some sassy-ass comments to the witches-in-training, she locates the coffin containing Madame LaLaurie, who is still alive after all these years thanks to the voodoo curse inflicted on her by one of her slaves' lover. Fiona breaks LaLaurie free and they head off to get a drink together. Could the rest of the season be Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates in a fish-out-of-water buddy witch story? If only we were so lucky.
Based on this first episode, season three seems like it's taking things slower with the horror. What little horror there is in here mostly felt mundane compared to the truly messed up, cheap-shot shocks from seasons past. Also, the “peephole” camera style “American Horror Story” likes to use tries to add some tension, but there just isn't any to be found so far. Only time will tell whether this Witch Academy story will bring us the kind of crazy horror we know and love from this series, or if it'll feel like a grim, all-girls version of the X-Men.