TV Review: AMERICAN HORROR STORY - COVEN, Episode 1 "Bitchcraft"

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With the new season of American Horror Story we get yet another new, twisted tale. Whereas the first season focussed on a creepy old house, and the second one centred on an asylum, this new season, titled Coven, finds witches as its focal point.

To start off with, we get a little insight into the witchcraft of the past, of the 1890s in New Orleans, with Kathy Bates’ Madame Delphine LaLaurie a key figure in these scenes. Quickly changing speeds, we are brought up to modern times, where Taissa Farmiga’s troubled teen discovers that she herself is a witch. Shipped off to something akin to a darker version of Professor X’s School for Gifted Children, Farmiga’s Zoe soon gets introduced to her new teacher, played by Sarah Paulson, and a small group of similarly ‘talented’ girls headed up by Emma Roberts’ pouty-princess Madison. Each member of the household has their own special gift, and there’s also the lingering presence of the returning Jessica Lange as the youth-seeking mother of Paulson’s character.

As with the previous two seasons of American Horror Story, the show may not be for everyone. It seems to take great pleasure in not letting its audience settle, as one scene will have a Dawson’s Creek-meets-Twilight vibe to it, then all of sudden we’re thrust back in time to over a century ago, where grim, shadowy attics hide slaves having their organs removed in order to expand the life of those using the dark arts.

This first episode is at its best when delving into the backstory of witchcraft, as it’s those scenes, and Kathy Bates’ turn, that have a real sense of dread and darkness to them. The modern-day scenes are fine for what they are, and they manage to nicely set up what is to come whilst still giving the audience links to what has gone years before. The present-day action also looks to address the problems of a witch in the current social climate, as in the worry of being exposing on social networking sites or recorded on camera phones. It’s an interesting approach, and one that works well with how the story is crafted and put across.

Of course, going into American Horror Story: Coven, fans were salivating at the prospect of Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates getting to chew scenery together. Whilst the two are basically kept apart here, both are the clear standout stars of this particular episode. Bates’ old-time New Orleans witch sees her channelling her Misery performance, whilst throwing in her accent from The Waterboy. As for Lange, she excels, as ever. Sinister, sexy, and in search of a solution to her advancing years, Lange looks set to maintain the high standards that she set herself in the previous two seasons of this show. And for fans of the iconic actresses, the ending of this episode indicates that we’ll be seeing a lot more interaction between the two going forward.

Promising family secrets, twists, turns, a vast array of polarising characters, deceptive storytelling, and camera-work that’s pulled straight from a Don Coscarelli movie, Coven gives its fans exactly what they demand. If you’ve seen even one just one of any of the American Horror Story episodes, you’ll know whether the show is for you. I’m firmly behind the show, so I got a lot out of this highly promising start to the new season.

Oh, and in terms of scares, I’m pretty sure the show has now succeeded in making me scared of vaginas. Watch the show, you’ll see what I mean.

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