After months of tantalizing, creepy promos, the wait is over. It’s the witching hour in New Orleans as the “American Horror Story” anthology starts its promising new season. “American Horror Story: Coven” is the third chapter of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s controversial, sometimes scary, and always deliciously campy series.
After the somewhat disappointing second season centered around an insane asylum, this season is sure to cast a spell on its viewers, judging from the premiere. The new installment comes with all the beloved elements of the previous ones: gore, brutality, sex, violence, pulpy horror storylines, and Jessica Lange. But the premiere episode isn’t short of uncomfortable material—it features torture and rape of a minor.
Female empowerment seems like it will shape up to be a running theme in the third season. The first episode opens in 1834 in New Orleans with Madame LaLaurie (the terrifying but brilliant Kathy Bates), who will go to any length to remain young. This sadistic character slathers human blood like anti-wrinkle cream. She also has a chamber full of caged slaves and turns one of them into a Minotaur.
Bates is joined by a number of strong female leads, including Taissa Farmiga, who returns as Zoe, a modern-day witch who is shipped off to New Orleans’ Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies after killing her boyfriend. At school, Zoe meets other gifted girls like herself. Queenie (series newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) is a human voodoo doll, while Madison (Emma Roberts) is a movie star with telekinetic powers. The wonderful Angela Bassett plays Marie Laveau, a powerful voodoo priestess, while Sarah Paulson returns as Cordelia, the magic potion-making headmistress of the school.
Lange, who is nothing short of spectacular, plays the elegant and witty Fiona, Cordelia’s mother and Supreme Witch. This means she has all of the various powers combined, except for the gift of eternal youth. In the first two seasons, Lange gained critical acclaim for her skillful combination of power and vulnerability. This time around, she has even more opportunities to showcase her dark sense of humor in her role as a feminist witch.
While witches are making a comeback this fall on TV—from Lifetime’s “Witches of East End” to the newly animated “Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch”—“American Horror Story: Coven” distinguishes itself from its peers. With its out-there campfire horror stories, outstanding cast, and stunning imagery, this series has a magic touch.
“American Horror Story: Coven” airs Wednesdays on FX at 10 p.m.