And we’re baaaaack! It’s time for another wild and twisted tale from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk with Season Three of American Horror Story. Season One focused on ghosts and Season Two focused on, well…probably too many things in my opinion. With this season we’re (hopefully) back to one stronger uniting central premise, as we travel behind the cloaks and pointed hats of a witch coven. Let’s get started!
We open in New Orleans in 1834, and the images are striking right off the bat. As Southern Madame Delphine LaLaurie (the always fantastic Kathy Bates) paints blood onto her face, she learns one of her daughters has slept with a slave in her house. Furious, she strings the black servant up in a hidden room, where many other slaves have been imprisoned and mutilated, presumably for various types of witchcraft and experiments. The scene ends with LaLaurie putting a decapitated bull’s head over the slave’s own, declaring him a “minotaur.” Season Two boldly dealt with the prejudices of same-sex couples, but it is made obvious from the get-go that this season will be tackling the theme of racism heavily. As LaLaurie grins proudly at her handiwork, we are taken away to a new snazzy intro full of voodoo, weird dancing hooded figures, animal heads, demonic etchings, and even a twisted skeletal devil in the woods. Wheee!
We return from the new intro at breakneck pace to the modern day. Zoe Benson (played by Taissa Farmiga) plans to lose her virginity with her boyfriend, who promises (ironically we will soon discover) “I don’t want to hurt you.” But, just like Rogue in X-Men, it turns out Zoe has a poisonous touch, and her vagina is toxic to her poor lover.
It’s a pleasure to see Taissa again, who was great in Season One but completely absent from last year’s “Asylum.” Zoe quickly learns that she is from a family of witches, and we get a brief appearance of Frances Conroy (though we learn very little about her) as Zoe is whisked away to New Orleans to “Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies” for protection. Ten minutes into the episode, Zoe has arrived at the so-called “boarding school.” Already I am struck by the white and black color motifs; the white walls of the school contrast with the black clothes of the witches, likely representing not only good vs evil, but also the racial tension at odds in New Orleans. We also first hear of a strong female vocal melody on the soundtrack, which will become the main musical theme of the show. One thing I am very excited about this season is how female-centric it is, especially considering it is a horror show which typically a male-dominated genre. Between this and Orange is the New Black we are finally getting some great television centralized around female characters.
When Zoe arrives at the school, she is at first terrified by three masked figures, revealed to be the three other “students” (indeed, there is a sort of Mean Girls vibe running through the show). The queen bee of the group is Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a teen-movie star from Hollywood with the power of telekinesis (when she disagreed with a director she made a light fall on his head, killing him). There is Nana (Jamie Brewer, another returning member from Season One) with the power of clairvoyance, and Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), who can enact voodoo on herself to injure others, as we see later when she stabs herself with a fork to piss off Madison. We are also introduced to headmistress Cordelia Fox (Sarah Paulson), who explains to Zoe the school’s history. Witches are dwindling nowadays, as over the years many chose not to reproduce (and of course I assume any who had Zoe’s power couldn’t reproduce…). Most witches only have one main power, though we learn that in every generation there is a Supreme who achieve far more than the average witch. Cordelia promises to teach Zoe how to control her powers, though Queenie scoffs, arguing that this should really be called “suppressing.” We shall soon see that hiding vs. displaying one’s gifts (or curses?) will become a major theme of the show.
Cordelia explains that witches are still in danger, reminding the girls of a recent news story about a girl in Lafayette named Misty Day (Lily Rabe) who had the power of “resurgence” as we see in flashback when she brings a dead bird back to life. However while some viewed this miracle as resurrection (a positively charged word!), others saw it as necromancy (a negatively charged word!). When Misty’s power was discovered she was burned at the stake, just as in the old days. Personally, knowing how stellar Lily Rabe was last season as Sister Mary, I highly doubt she’s truly dead and this is the last we’ll see of her, especially considering a huge theme of the show seems to be about cheating death. Speaking of which…
We cut to a solitary black umbrella, which reveals a women glad in all black…the star of the show, Jessica Lange (playing a character named Fiona Goode). Fiona speaks with a scientist who tells her about a monkey who has been given youth thanks to their stem cell experimentation. Fiona asks to have the medicine (her late husband funded their research), but the scientist refuses, offering plastic surgery instead. Fiona explains she needs something that isn’t just cosmetic, but “an infusion of vitality.” Still, the scientist tries to explain, “What we do here is not magic.” Poor choice of words?
We jump ahead a few days to Fiona rocking out in her hotel room to Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Da Vida” while doing lines of cocaine (another instance of white and black?). She watches the news, seeing the same story about the missing Misty Day. The scientist comes to her door, and we learn that he’s been giving Fiona the drug but it isn’t working. Fiona demands more, and the scientist tells her that he plans to resign from the company. It is at this moment that Fiona displays her witchy powers as she slams the doors and windows, throwing him across the room with telekinesis, and finally seduces him only to “suck out his youth” and kill him. For a moment Fiona’s wrinkles dissipate and she looks young again, but it only lasts a moment. As she looks at herself in the mirror (no, not the same mirror she was using for the coke), the lines on her face return. Even the strongest witchcraft cannot keep one young forever, though it seems we have learned that Fiona is (shocker!) the Supreme. Though who wants to bet that Zoe might also prove to be one later this season?
Back at the school, the girls have dinner and get to learn one another. Madison gets a tweet on her phone about a fraternity party, and invites Zoe to come along. I will say that this is the moment I was struck by just how modern this season is compared to the 1960s-heavy “Asylum” last year. Cordelia, meanwhile, works in her lab and is startled when Fiona suddenly arrives. As she drops and shatters a beaker Cordelia mutters, “I don’t have a broom,” to which Fiona sneers, “That’s ironic.” It seems Cordelia’s power is potions-making, and she has been working on a restorative which she offers to Fiona. Fiona refuses, trying to give it to Cordelia’s black cat, and taunts Cordelia about by saying that despite being daughter of the Supreme and royal blood, she has never realized her full potential (it’s a little confusing as to whether this means Cordelia is Fiona’s daughter, since their last names aren’t the same). Cordelia wants Fiona to leave the school, but Fiona plans on staying; the news story about Misty Day has woken her up. In the days of Twitter and Facebook,witches have no way to hide their power, and any act of magic would be “turned into a viral freakshow like a dog who says I love you.”
On a frat bus we are introduced to Kyle Spencer (Evan Peters) who, though a frat boy, seems like a nice, responsible dude. A lot of girls I know who watch this show fawn over Evan Peters, and I have to admit he is a very likable guy and one of my favorite actors to come out of this show. After Kyle warns his frat brothers to try and play it safe (yeah right…) they head off to the party. Once inside, we see that Madison is also there. One of Kyle’s bros notices her immediately and heads off after her. Kyle, however, is taken by Fiona, looking stunning in a slim black dress. He catches her eye through a glass ice sculpture at the drink table, in a scene that reminded me of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. And indeed, Evan Peters and Taissa Farmiga have already been star-crossed lovers before in Season One. It’s electric to see them together again. Kyle offers Zoe a drink and they begin to chat.
Madison, meanwhile, is approached by Kyle’s friend who’s name I don’t remember (though trust me, it won’t matter by the end of the episode). Unfortunately in a very uncomfortable scene he and the other bros slip something into her drink and date-rape her, filming the entire thing on their phones.
Zoe and Kyle continue to talk, but Zoe knows it won’t work out (due to that annoying toxic vagina). After a while Zoe realizes Madison is missing. Kyle discovers what the other frat boys are up to, and puts a stop to it. As the frat boys rush (no pun intended) away from the party Zoe revives Madison. The frat boys take off (a pissed-off Kyle in tow) as Madison and Zoe head out to the street. Zoe looks for Kyle but he’s already on the bus. Angered and disgraced, Madison uses her witch powers to FLIP SAID BUS (whoa!).
We learn on the news the next day that most of the frat party members have died, and the rest are in critical condition in the hospital. As Zoe and Madison talk about what happened Fiona appears, and it’s clear the girls have never met her before. When Madison gives Fiona lip, Fiona smacks her against the wall with a flick of her wrist. Fiona plans to take them all out on a field trip since they’ll never be able to become great witches “sitting around her at Hogwarts.” She requests they all change their clothes, suggesting to “wear something black.”
Fiona takes them to an old historical coven that was damaged during Katrina…the home of Madame LaLaurie from the beginning. Fiona is able to convince the tour guide they can visit for free, using some Jedi mind tricks. In flashback we see Madame LaLaurie was also trying to cheat death, as we learn that the blood she was painting her face with came from the slaves’ human pancreas (were you really surprised?). In 1834 we are introduced to Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), who promises a love potion to Delphine LaLaurie to stop her husband from fooling around with younger women. Yet when LaLaurie drinks the potion, it kills her (or does it?). We learn that Marie Laveau’s lover was the slave with the minotaur head and she had come for vengeance. The tour guide explains that Madame LaLaurie’s resting place was never found. Of course, given Nan’s power of clairvoyance, she is able to lead Fiona to a very specific spot in the ground…
Later Zoe visits the hospital hoping to find Kyle. Instead she sees that one of the survivors is the frat douche who raped Madison. Furious, Zoe puts her “power” to good use just as Fiona would prefer, riding him and killing him in the hospital bed. Talk about going out with a bang! Oddly, this is far from the strangest thing I’ve seen on American Horror Story.
That night, Fiona enlists the help of two men to dig up a casket in the place Nan showed her, using her power of suggestion afterwards to make them forget. Fiona opens the casket to reveal Madame LaLaurie is still alive! Whaaaat?! It seems one person has stumbled upon a way to cheat death, if only as a curse and not a blessing. Still, it’s exactly what Fiona seems to be looking for…we shall find out more next week!