Cowboys, witches, and thieves— oh, my!
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!
All hail the Lords of Salem!