Sasha's just another young lady, until her heart gives out. Then she gets a knew one, and life gets strange.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 3, Episode 1: “Bitchcraft”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Boy Parts” – click here
This season, Coven, begins with Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) in 1834 New Orleans. If you don’t already know who she was, then saddle up.
Quickly there are shots of Delphine brushes blood all over her face. She complains the blood isn’t fresh, though. But even worse, there’s been indiscretions on the part of one of her daughters; the young girl slept with a black man, the help. Madame LaLaurie was viciously racist. But Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk & Co. have taken it up a notch – or twelve. In a spooky attic, LaLaurie has her slaves all in various states of torture. Most disturbing is when a young black boy brings in a stag’s head and she has it placed on the man who had sex with her daughter, Bastien (Ameer Baraka). She explains it’s all inspired by the Minotaur in Greek mythology. One of the most unsettling openings to any season, what a brutal start.
We’re introduced now to Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga). She brings a boy home, they sneak upstairs making out. Of course it goes to the next level. But then the guy’s nose starts to bleed. Everything bleeds, and he goes into shock.
Cut to Zoe on a train. Headed elsewhere. She’s come to discover her lineage is that of witchcraft; her grandmother had the same affliction. Nice little sequence with Zoe reading a book about the Salem Witch Trials, a few brief black-and-white clips. Zoe’s mom ends up shipping her off, bound for a school where she’ll be taken care of appropriately. Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) has facilitated the new shift in life for Zoe. She’s headed to New Orleans – Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.
Upon arrival, the other girls already there decide to have a bit of fun at Zoe’s expense. There’s young, famous & bitchy Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), sweet little Nan (Jamie Brewer) and the ever so chill Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe). At first it’s as if they’re about to sacrifice her – only a joke. Sort of an initiation, I guess. Why not? They’re a bunch of witches. It’s Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) who runs the place, though. Along with the help of perpetually silent servant Spalding (Denis O’Hare).
We get lots of tidbits on the Murphy-Falchuk witches. There are regular witches, then there is, once a generation, a Supreme – who embodies ALL the possible powers of witches.
Even better is a short scene with Misty Day (Lily Rabe), who has the ability to resurrect the dead. Certainly the Southern folk who witnessed her abilities were progressive enough to hang her out in a field, douse the poor girl with gasoline and light her on fire. So this is how Cordelia explains witches as “being under siege” and advises them to “know this or face extinction.” Sets up lots of great societal style tension, which will no doubt come up more and more throughout this season.
Finally, Jessica Lange!
She’s back once more as Fiona Goode. It seems Ms. Goode is getting ill, or has been ill anyways. She has a doctor named David (Ian Anthony Dale) working on a cure, but the race is on. Immediately there’s a suspense about her situation. You can even just see it right on Lange’s face in the performance. But right afterwards there’s a glimpse into Fiona, who she is and how she deals with things: booze, coke, dancing. And it is obvious her witch power is strong, the way she deals with David. Such an amazing scene with the lights, how Fiona shuts the doors and lights her cigarette, throwing David around – all while “In a Gadda da Vida” by Iron Butterfly rocks in the background. Love this entire sequence because you get such a great deal of Fiona and her character in this one big introduction.
Then there’s an awesome dinner table scene with the young witches. Nan is clairvoyant, Queenie is a “human voodoo doll.” But then poor Zoe gets roped into hanging out with Madison, whose high class bitchiness knows no bounds. They’re headed to a frat party later, and Zoe looks positively thrilled. Slash not.
Fiona Goode is actually Cordelia’s mother. Over at the academy they reunite. We get more information now, such as the fact Fiona is also the reigning Supreme. Plus there’s a ton of tension between daughter and mother. Doesn’t take much exposition to figure out Fiona has been, most likely always, a neglectful mother. There’s a war coming, according to Fiona, so she wants to come back to the academy and help the young witches harden. On the contrary, Cordelia prefers more peaceful, quiet, subtle ways of witchcraft. We’ll see lots of them butting heads this season. Always love the acting pair of Paulson and Lange, they’re fantastic together onscreen.
Another series regular, Evan Peters returns as Kyle Spencer, a sort of decent jock who takes a sober night in order to look after all his dudebros ready to party. He ends up at the party where Zoe and Madison head for the evening. In fact, Kyle finds his eye on Zoe, but she’s naturally – due to her witchy death vagina – a bit apprehensive.
But it’s Madison who needs to watch out. A couple of the frat guys set their eye on her, not in the gentleman-like way. She treats everyone like shit. This doesn’t make anything that happens to her appropriate. However, unknowingly her attitude makes the piece of shit frat guy even worse than he’d already been. Popping a pill into Madison’s drink, he drags her off into a room after she gets lightheaded and wobbly.
After a gang rape upstairs, Madison and Zoe are outside while the frat idiots jam into the bus. Trying to do the right thing Kyle gets knocked out and taken along with them. Although, Madison takes charge – out in the street she flips the bus, smashing it to bits and crushing a load of the guys inside to death or to bits. Pretty wild, and deserved. Except for Kyle, I feel bad for him being lumped in like that.
Back at the academy, Fiona has all the girls dress in black for a field day out on the streets of New Orleans. She knows all about what Madison has done, just like psychic Nan. She wants to teach action, but also needs to instil in the girls a sense of subtlety.
She takes the girls over to a museum dedicated to Madame LaLaurie. Y’know, for a little tour. We get a few flashbacks to LaLaurie’s methods of staying youthful, draining the blood of her slaves for skin cream. Also, there comes an introduction to another excellent character – Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett). She comes into LaLaurie’s life promising more ways of staying young. Except hers isn’t some quick fix, nothing cosmetic. No, Marie has an eternal method, which she cons Delphine into with a vial of sweet tasting liquid. A more existential torture came for LaLaurie, we’ll see more on this later.
It’s Fiona who is interested in all this – she brought them to the museum in order to find where Delphine was finally buried, something no one else has ever found out. Nan, with her abilities, is able to track down the exact spot. What is Fiona up to?
Zoe heads to the hospital where the frat guys, some of them anyways, are in rough condition. When she finds one of the guys who raped Madison, there’s some nastiness in store. She uses her deathly sex to make sure he doesn’t ever recover, nor will he ever assault another woman again.
Pretty savage, intense finale to the episode with Zoe at the hospital. Tops everything off with Fiona having LaLaurie dug up, bringing her back out of the ground. Delphine was given the gift of immortality by Marie Laveau, then buried alive it seems. So with this resurrection of sorts, what does Fiona stand to gain?
We’ll continue on with the next episode, “Boy Parts”, so stay tuned!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 5: “I Am Anne Frank: Part II”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown)
Written by Brad Falchuk
* For a review of the previous episode, “I Am Anne Frank: Part I” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Origins of Monstrosity” – click here
At the top of this episode, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) meets with a man named Sam Goodman (Mark Margolis) – he is a Nazi hunter, a Jew who was in the camps during the Holocaust of World War II. She’s finally caved and believed what might be the truth: Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) could possibly have been a Nazi. They talk, and Goodman warns not to do anything to make the man run.
This also brings in the real life fascinatingly disturbing Operation Paperclip – look it up.
Furthermore, the supposed Anne Frank (Franka Potente) busts in on Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) with Arden at gunpoint. Luckily for all, mostly Arden, guard Frank McCann (Fredric Lehne) saves the day. Or does he?
Probably so, once Sister Jude is met at the asylum by Anne’s husband – or that is, Charlotte Brown’s husband. Jim Brown (David Chisum) shows up to tell Jude all about how Charlotte became delusional after reading Anne Frank’s diary while she was pregnant, then went to see a play adaptation and fell into a deep spiral; even going so far as to tattoo a death camp tattoo on her arm.
What I love most about this whole section of the episode is how we get these truly creepy, eerily shot pieces of flashback like they’re being done on an old 1950s/60s era camera – scenes of the Browns at home, documenting Charlotte’s madness and her husband Jim becoming more and more frustrated trying to care for their child with an insane wife at home, raving constantly about the Holocaust and the Jewish peoples experiences during World War II and how they need her, the baby doesn’t need her like they do. It’s amazingly effective, this whole bit. Very cool and so creepy.
Kit Walker (Evan Peters) and Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré) are awaiting sterilization now at the hands of Briarcliff Asylum and Sister Jude Martin. It’s a sick, true to life reality of many in the system during this era. Sad yet wildly true.
The twist comes as Kit is told, by the now very devilish Sister Mary Eunice, he won’t be sterilised. Good news, right? Not so much for Grace, who is likewise informed by Mary Eunice, but informed instead she’ll still be going ahead for the procedure.
Afterwards, while alone in her cell, Grace appears to see a rattling, shaky light coming in at her through the door. Could it be the aliens are about to visit Grace? Will she have some proof then to help Kit? Or do they… need her, for some reason?
Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) still has a plan for Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson). He tells her, off to the side, they’re leaving at the end of his day. She’s obviously extremely happy and there’s finally some end to the cruel tunnel through which she has been crawling at Briarcliff, a light approaches.
Thredson is also attempting to help Kit with his troubles. However, suspiciously Thredson has Kit confess to his crimes on tape, in order to hear how it sounds to him – to try and learn something about what he may have done to his wife. While Kit seems to trust him, there’s something not quite right about the doctor’s theories here, his methods. But then again, neither were his intentions with the aversion therapy he conducted on Alana in order to misguidedly cure her lesbianism; oh, the tragic state of “mental health” in the 1960s. Still not even that long ago, scarily enough. I love how this fictional show takes on very real issues such as mental health and those of the LGBTQ community.
Grace has indeed been visited by the aliens Kit saw. She’s taken – somewhere – she is greeted by Alma Walker (Britne Oldford) in a blank, vacant white space where the aliens once took Kit. Who knows what their plans for Grace are now.
She shows up later, bleeding and confused. Kit finds her in the recreation room sitting in a chair, dazed. At the same time, cops show up to arrest Kit for his supposed crimes; coincidence? Hmm. And Grace starts screaming she’s seen everything – the aliens, Alma – they’re all real, she’s alive. An INTENSE moment between these two, especially for Kit himself.
Jude calls off Mr. Goodman after discovering Anne Frank is actually Charlotte Brown.
Best of all now – for Dr. Arden – is that she’s off his case a good bit with all this fracas. Furthermore, he’s got Sister Mary Eunice, possessed and loving it, on his side. She helped dispose of Shelley (Chloë Sevigny), the now mutated beast, which Charlotte had seen in the last episode in Arden’s lab.
CRAZY SCENE as a bunch of school children and their teacher discover the deformed and ragged Shelley, a virtual monster, crawling up a stairwell. Awesome, awesome shocker scene. Loved this quick and nasty moment!
Charlotte gets tossed back into the asylum by her husband, after she tries to smother their baby at home. An amazing sequence is enacted when Jim Brown asks Sister Jude to take Charlotte back, but he wants Dr. Thredson – who was understanding of her beforehand – to treat her.
This is right as Thredson is leaving with Alan in tow. Jude sends Frank off to find the doctor, and there’s this incredibly tense, suspenseful sequence where they sort of barely slip through the fingers of Briarcliff. Really excellent writing, as well as the fact it’s directed expertly.
Instead, Charlotte is trusted to the care of Dr. Arden who plans on giving her a pre-frontal lobotomy. Y’know, to calm her down.
Sister Jude has a disappointed conversation with Frank, retelling a story of when she was a young and took in a baby squirrel, keeping him in a shoe box. She says one day she came home, realising she forgot to feed him, and he was dead. Jude, as a small girl, prayed for hours over the squirrel, but her mother came home and lost her mind, throwing it in the trash.
In the end, the rest of her story stands to show how Jude is disappointed with God. Even as a nun, even as someone who wants SO BAD to be pious and holy and wants to be a good nun, she has those doubts about God.
Frank makes a terribly poignant remark about how she “never really had a chance” because she’s a strong woman and men don’t like that. While you get the sense Frank probably isn’t, for all his faults, one of those men, it’s a big stinger for Jude to hear; even if painfully obvious anyways.
So as Charlotte is being lobotomised, just a little, Jude puts on her bright red lipstick, heads to a bar for a drink and a smoke, then picks up a man.
Back at the home of Oliver Thredson, the doctor brings Lana inside to a comfortable, safe environment for the first time in so very long for her. His house is quite the chic-looking abode, nice modern type furniture and layout.
But as the minutes wear on, Lana realizes something is not right with Oliver. He flicks on a light – you can clearly see the lampshade has nipples. When he offers up some mints, they’re sitting in a skull-shaped bowl; no, damn it if the thing ain’t an ACTUAL SKULL.
What I love about this section is not so much the surprise that Thredson is Bloody Face, it’s the fact Bloody Face takes a good deal of bits and pieces (get it?) from Leatherface, as well as the real life inspiration mostly from serial killer Ed Gein. There’s a ton of macabre stuff to mine out of Gein and I find Ryan Murphy & Co. do an excellent job starting out with doing a few things we’ve not yet seen from the serial killer’s real story.
The end of “I Am Anne Frank: Part II” hits hard like a weight in the guts.
We watch as Charlotte Brown has become the perfect little housewife for Jim. He takes most of her research on World War II, Anne Frank, et cetera, and goes for the trash. While the episode closes out with Leon Bibb, Ronnie Gilbert, and Robert De Cormier singing “It Could Be a Wonderful World”, we also zoom in on a picture of Nazi officers saluting together, and one of them we end on is ABSOLUTELY MOST POSITIVELY DR. ARTHUR FUCKING ARDEN!
Love it. No better way to close off a two-parter episode.
Can’t wait to review the next episode, “The Origins of Monstrosity” directed by David Semel (Hannibal, The Strain, Homeland). Stay tuned, horror hounds!