I went on record last week about how I wasn't all that thrilled with the way that American Horror Story: Coven looked from the previews, but I did so love the show the first two seasons so I was more than willing to give it a shot. Sadly, much if what I was worried about is already playing out.
Our new setting is Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, and I will say one thing for the series. However much they pay their location finder, it isn't nearly enough. All three seasons have managed to take place in truly unique backdrops that become in and of themselves characters. Coven is no exception, and the homebase for our characters pulses with a strange white light that feels utterly sinister.
Witches.... I'm sorry, but witches have not been scary since the '30s (Maleficent doesn't count. She was technically a fairy). That already throws one strike against the show, but the ball that hits the batter is the way they're treating the four young ladies that make up our Hogwarts-esque class of young witches.
The internal mythology works like this; each witch born in a bloodline has a special power. Yes, like the X-Men, or the Doom Patrol depending on how well acquainted you are with Stan Lee's blatant ripoffs. One is clairvoyant, one is a human voodoo doll who can project self-harm, one is telekinetic, and our plucky young heroine Zoe has the ability to screw people until they get aneurysms. No really, this show finally gave someone a stupider mutant power than Choir. Well done. Well done indeed.
Luckily we have Jessica Lange as the Supreme witch just swaggering all over every inch of scenery adding some lime to this watered down vodka cranberry, as well as Sarah Paulson as her mousier but incredibly self-determined teacher daughter. Paulson as always brings an understated strength to whatever she does, and it's good to see her back for season 3.
Much of the action takes place in the 19th century where Kathy Bates plays a sadistic society lady named Madam LaLaurie based on the real-life known serial killer in New Orleans. Bates borrows bit of the Elizabeth Bathory mythology and mixes it with her own gleeful southern capriciousness to craft the show's only really moments of terror. Her attic torture chamber is one of the most godless and gut-wrenching things ever shown in a show famous for exactly that. The depravity of the settings is enough for any normal level of unease, but her unholy rage and girlish delight is the perfect chaser that gets the poison down.
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There is some real potential in the storyline, don't get me wrong. The sticking point for me is this clichéd superhero attempt that looks like it's going to wed us to scripts that read exactly like battles with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants... that is when it isn't giving us this weird twisted version of the vagina dentate myth by turning snatch fangs into fatal orgasmic migraines. It's just so damned contrived, not to mention out and out lifted right from Rowan Mayfair in Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, and as cute as I think Taissa Farmiga is, watching her jerk off a comatose guy to get him hard enough to venge-fuck him to explody brain death was one of the more needlessly gratuitous things I've seen on television.
I'm going to draw an unfortunate comparison thus far in Coven, for which I beg your forgiveness. The first two seasons, right from the word "go," were very good at not just shocking, but eliciting a true sense of dread. Dread that things that were unexplainable and awful were coming from behind you in the dark.
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That's not the emotion I got from "Bitchcraft." I felt more like I did in one of the later Twilight flicks I was dragged to as we were being forced to "anticipate" the war between the vegetarian vamps and the wolves versus the pissed of she-bitch and her army of newborns. This coming war between the voodoo witches and the traditional Salem lot (See what I did there?) screams superhero movie and summer blockbuster far more than the cutting edge scare-fest that we saw over the last two seasons... and not in a good way.
Oh well, at least according to the previews afterwards we get to see Angela Bassett rocking braids and giving Jessica Lange a run on that Sexy Forever title. Proper Haitian zombies as well. I'll give anything a second chance to see that.
*If you get the headline joke, let me know in the comments - Jef