For about the first two months of our relationship, my boyfriend and I had a daily ritual: check Netflix to see if the third season of American Horror Story: Coven had been updated yet. With great excitement, I posted the news to his Facebook that as of December 6, 2014 the great Oracle of Netflix would in fact have the show waiting for us. Under the belief that the boyfriend had seen the episodes live, I trusted his judgement. Instead, I discovered that he would cringe and freak out just as much as I did over this show.
It might be a testament to my misguided youthful obsession with serial killers, myths and legends that lead me to exclaim “OH, THE AXEMAN IS IN THIS? THIS IS IN NEW ORLEANS?” at full volume when just scrolling through the titles of the episodes. It was over the next couple nights that I not so responsibly looked up recipes for what the heck a Gin Rickey is, and poured over Black Powersuits. These are my experiences with the Coven.
For the Uninitiated, The Spoilers are About To Come Out:
Breaking Open the Book of Shadows:
Based loosely on actual New Orleans History (and I mean so loosely you can fit 2 people and six cats in these pants) Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) holds court in her home. When her daughter shows interest in a young slave named Bastien (Ameer Baraka), Delphine has him fitted with the head of a bull to make him a living Minotaur. However, she has made a HUGE mistake: Bastien was the lover of famed Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (Angela Basset). Marie Laveau has a plan to make Delphine pay for all eternity. 180 years in the future, the show picks up with the first sexual experience of teenage girl Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga). In a scene painfully reminiscent of Anna Paquin’s Rogue in the first X-Men film, Zoe accidentally kills her boyfriend with a massive brain hemorrhage during intercourse. Terrified of what her daughter might be, Zoe’s mother ships the teenage girl off to Miss Roubichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, a cover name for a school of young witches learning to control their powers. However, Xavier’s Academy of Gifted Youngsters this school is not.
Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) has very loose reigns on her young charges: Reckless and viciously telekinetic movie star Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), Living voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer). After a recent burning alive of a Stevie Nicks-obsessed witch named Misty Day (Lily Rabe), the secret Coven is painfully on edge. When Cordelia’s mother Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), the reigning Supreme of the witches returns after being unable to find a cure for her aging and begins to raise hell, things can only get worse. Saying Cordelia and Fiona have a strained relationship is like saying that World War Two was just a dust up between friends. Even worse, as the Supreme, Fiona’s word ranks above her daughter’s. Fiona manages to find and wake the now immortal Delphine LaLaurie from her burial place beneath the courtyard of her old home and employs her as a maid to keep the cover story going. This in turn angers Marie Laveau, who is still alive and well running a beauty salon on the opposite side of town to cover up her voodoo business. The coven of young witches manages to kill a school bus full of rapist college students, resurrect someone, piss off the religious neighbors and become the target of Witch Hunters, all while dealing with Delphine and Laveau’s bad blood. It doesn’t help that there is an aging and ineffective Witches Council, a murderous group of witch hunters and Misty Day has managed to resurrect herself (and others). There is a house in New Orleans, all right, and it’s about to get full up on crazy.
Cautions for Young Witches:
The most important thing you need to know about Coven is that there are NO innocent characters. Every single person will do something horrifying or upsetting. Even during moments where the viewer is so excited that a character is achieving perfect revenge, the characters tend to go just that step further to tip the scales into evil. Finna and Marie both have strength and struggles, and even Delphine LaLaurie has moments where the viewer understands what they are going through. Don’t worry; their complete and utter wickedness will eventually shine through. It is very akin to being in a relationship with someone who keeps promising to change, shows you genuine growth and change and then cheats on you with your sister. Mothers are not innocent in this show. Women who appear kind are tormentors.
The second most important thing you need to know is that the show deals with images and storylines that are far from comfortable for the average viewer. In the first episode of the show, we see a woman torturing a black man, a girl being gang raped after being drugged at a party, and the horrific scene of a bus being over turned and catching fire. Religion is also presented in pretty horrific ways. Remember: Christians are not following actual Christian beliefs in this show, just as the Witches and Voudons here are not following the faith of any Pagans or Wiccans I know. You will also see intestines being cut out of a body and more than one scene of eyeballs being pulled from someone’s head. You have been warned.
Proper Witch Attire:
If is difficult not to be madly in love with almost every outfit that Fiona Goode wears. She is all black powersuits, classy lingerie and a hard attitude. When she walks into a room in her heels and cigarette you can’t help but take notice. Closely following in her Supreme’s footsteps is Madison Montgomery. An actress through and through, Madison’s outfits are hot couture and designed to highlight both her youth and sensuality.
Frances Conroy from Six Feet Under is so transformed as witch of the High Council Myrtle Snow that it took several episodes of head scratching for me to recognize her. Her outfits are insanely colorful, off kilter and well…witchy! With her unnatural frizzy red hair and cateye glasses it is difficult not to enjoy watching her. Her final words at the end of the season, after all, are a dedication to hot couture.
Marie Laveau is sexy, all the way through. Her power also extends to her hair. Angela Basset is naturally a gorgeous woman, but watching her walk with her powerful braids as Marie was stunning to behold. She is all grace, power and magic.
The beauty of working closely with the ladies I work with is the occasional (okay constant) bouts of Fangirl energy and recognition is when a fan recognizes you are about to embark on a journey through their favorite TV show they will express their excitement with reckless abandon. Thus, began the start of #TeamTigerSweater during this show experience.
“Look out for the tiger sweater,” writer HanaLena Fennel whispered, her voice the excited whisper of a cultmember offering greetings. “Trust me on the tiger sweater.”
After several episodes and being overwhelmed by some pretty nasty violence on the part of Delphine, I was suddenly overwhelmed to see her and Queenie walk side by side…and Delphine wearing a green sweater with a giant applique of a sparkly tiger face on it. The best part? For a long time this sweater was legitimately available from Forever 21. I am heartbroken that it is sold out or everyone on staff here would be getting on for Christmas, because we are a girl gang now evidently.
“I don’t care about that embroidery on Cersei, whatser, Lannister or whatever, or about Star Wars Costumes,” HanaLena told me after. “The most important moment in costume history was that tiger sweater.”
The Good Spells:
- Stevie FREAKING Nicks. Misty Day’s obsession with Stevie gives the season a powerful Fleetwood Mac soundtrack that seems to fit the path of a White Witch to perfection. Stevie Nicks playing the piano and giving away her shawl to Misty are just beautiful scenes and worth almost every horrifying image.
- Myrtle Snow’s revenge against the Council. We intentionally didn’t use the GIF of the melonballer, because I know some of you have week stomachs or kids in the room
- Queenie and Delphine eating takeout together.
- Madison Montgomery doing pretty much anything. She is the woman you love to hate. She’s pretty, she’s fierce and she will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She is the embodiment of Mean Girl Witch. Even a blade to the throat can’t keep her down or stop her from chain smoking.
The Bad Spells:
- Though Emma Roberts and Gabourey Sidibe have equal importance as characters and are in roughly the same number of episodes, Robert’s name shows up in the credits while Sidibe shows up as “Guest Star” in every episode. This is the same case as Jessica Lange and Angela Basset. While I understand there are a few people who are standard AHS cast, it seems very strange to have an entire season where two African American actresses portray amazing figures and are relegated to the “Guest Star” label.
- Fiona Goode’s CONSTANT obsession with her appearance at times is surprising. Jessica Lange is a good looking woman with legs to kill for. Her desire to get rid of everyone in her way is often pushed to the side in pursuit of beauty. While frustrating, this does give an insanely powerful message to the female viewer in her late twenties: “How much time am I wasting on something that doesn’t matter and where can I put my power instead?”
- Kyle rocking out to Toto in a tattoo parlor. No one needs to see that, dude.
- No one can run in those heels, Madison. No one.
- History on this show is also more of a suggestion than an actual thing. Bits and pieces of the show ring with truth and are based of New Orleans legends, but for the most part it reads like an Anne Rice novel. That’s the other complaint. Having read The Witching Hour by Rice, I found myself more than once going “did they just steal that verbatim?”
- Decomposition is painfully inaccurate in more than one portion of the show, especially for the temperatures and humidity in New Orleans, LA. Morgues are far emptier than they would ever be in Louisiana. To be fair, only Morgue technicians, Morticians and people who actually care about that sort of thing will even notice.
- There are quite a few scenes of rape and incest in the show. Madison Montgomery being drugged and gang raped by a fraternity was horrifying and I found myself looking away and even crying. Kyle Spencer being abused by his mother for sex was gag worthy and so difficult to watch, I ended up taking out my phone to check my email so I wouldn’t have to keep watching.
- As previously mentioned, every character will do something in the show to make you gag or lose respect for them.
In Memorium For Our Supreme:
For those who watch a good deal of AHS, the ending of the show may have suddenly seemed like a happy end. For those who haven’t watched a good deal of AHS, the ending will seem chipper but also morbid. I found myself a little disappointed in the ending, but this may be because my self-appointed favorite character doesn’t make it to the end (make that three favorite characters). This show, along with Game of Thrones and Trueblood, helps remind me of the lessons to never get too attached to a character.
Kathy Bates, Angela Basset and Jessica Lange all clearly delight in playing their often vicious roles in this show and it comes out in their sheer delight during some of the the most wicked dialogue. I now have to openly stop myself from starting meetings “Listen Here, White Devil” because of Laveau in a conference room or telling people that “I’m in Charge Everywhere” like FIona.
If you can make it through the violence, horrific scenes and moments of pure gross out for just the sake of grossing the viewer out, this show tells a tale worthy of the modern outcast finding his or her power in a cruel and vicious world.
American Horror Story: Coven is now available for Purchase or for Streaming on Netflix.