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Thursday
Oct172013

American Horror Story Coven: "Bitchcraft" & "Boy Parts"

So Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy have finally done it. After years of wooing me with meaty roles for actresses of a certain age (meat served bloody raw) in their American Horror Story anthology series, I am down for watching it as it airs. It's been clear for some time that the creative team's orientation is fully aligned with the Actressexuality™ named and promoted by TFE for several years now. Thus, a natural kinship exists even if yours truly is squeamish about horror. I have been mostly agnostic when it comes to Jessica Lange my whole life (though I thought her "Sister Jude" on Asylum was easily her best work since the 80s) but when it comes to two-time Oscar winner Lange paired with Sarah Paulson, Oscar winner Kathy Bates, Oscar nominee Gabby Sidibe, Lily Rabe, AND Oscar nominee Angela Awesome Basset? Uncle! I surrender to your casting voodoo. 

Kathy Bates in "Coven"

Please to Note: I did try to watch the first two seasons but in both cases, I eventually bailed after a few episodes from the gore and the, how to put this, unwatchable epileptic fits of lensing and editing and framing. Listen, I can live with frenetic editing (you kind of have to since the late 80s) knowing that when I need a fix of long takes that let me enjoy great acting, I can always seek out auteur films. (Odd that it would be auteurs, who so thoroughly OWN their pictures, that would be the only ones to just hand said pictures to the actors on occasion). But it's not just the genre or the typical short attention span in cutting that has previously made AHS unpalatable for me.

The show, or at least the first handful of episodes of its previous seasons, often appeared to have been shot and edited and framed by a group of wild, bug-eyed, A.D.D. addled 12 year old boys... albeit uniquely pervy pre-teens who were raised in asylums and jacked off to photos of grande dame actresses while horror movies were projected on continual loop on the grey walls of their prison. The only break in horror programming was obviously the complete filmography of Jessica Lange.

...or at least the lobotomy scenes from Frances (1982).

It wasn't just quick cutting but canted cameras, baroque flash cuts, inebriated camera swerves, you name it. But let's put that behind us and move on to Season 3's first two eppys after the jump. Spoilers ahead obviously.

"Bitchcraft"

 The Set-Up: It's so X-Men! Zoe (Taissa Farmiga), like an X-rated Rogue, can't screw a boy without killing him, due to her witchy powers. The cursed young girl is whisked off to boarding school, Professor Xavier's School For Gifted Youngers "Miss Robichaux’s School For Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies," where she is to be trained by Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) alongside fellow students: Madison, a young telekinetic movie star (Emma Roberts), Queenie, a living voodoo doll (Gabby Sidibe); and Nan, a telepath (Jamie Brewer).  In the show's mythology witches have but one kind of power except The Supreme (Diana Ross Jessica Lange as Fiona) who has an abundance of them - think Dumbledore or Gandalf without the parental instincts, kindness or patience; her surname "Goode" is a deception since she's a cold vain killer.

AHS's new "Bloody Face"

The Backstory: If the first episode of AHS: Coven is any indication, the season will lean towards supernatural camp and less on grotesque serial killing than Asylum which means it's way more my speed. Not that it didn't open with the gore. Kathy Bates joins the cast as the vicious Delphine LaLaurie, a notorious New Orleans Madame who tortured her slaves 100s of years ago and used their organs and blood to feed her vanity. 

Queen of Line Readings:

Oh merde, now we gonna have flies up here."
-Madame LaLaurie's callow reaction to the horrifying newly flesh-free face of a slave. 

Episode MVP: Kathy Bates. Frightening banal evil... Annie Wilkes Sadism minus the Apologetic FanGirl Crazy

True Horror: The Madame's Minotaur creation was deeply macabre and upsetting. And she's not even a witch per se as Kathy has revealed in interviews

Spoiler Alert: Zoe and Madison go to a fraternity party and when Madison is drugged and raped, the girls take revenge slaughtering the rapists along with one non-rapist (Future Quicksilver Evan Peters) who Zoe was hot for. Perhaps Madison took offense to his inexplicable accent work?  

Fiona unearths Madame LaLaurie's mysteriously still living body from its coffin late in the episode.

 

Most Vine-Worthy Moment: Jessica Lange drawling "Twitter" with matching dismissive hand gesture. Did anyone gif this?

Ian Anthony Dale meets Succubus Lange

Doomed Man-Candy: I lost track of how much prime man candy was slaughtered in this episode but why waste "David" Ian Anthony Dale so quickly. He doesn't last long when Fiona decides to suck his life force dry. In her defense, if Ian Anthony Dale tastes half as good as he looks...

Oscar Nominee This Episode Made Me Wish Was In The Cast: Can we get a little Barbara Hershey up in this show please? She'd be a perfect fit. 

Exit Image: Jessica's Fiona tells Madame LaLaurie who she snarkily dubs "Mary Todd Lincoln" that she'll buy her a drink and the two walk away back to camera toward the school.

"Boy Parts"

Opening Image: I think it's worth noting that both episodes have begun with a shot of an animal. "Bitchcraft" began with an image of a horse's snout (or was that the soon to be minotaured bull? I forget). This one leads with an alligator.

The Plot: Madison & Zoe continue to play god with the flesh of young men, this time raising and um, enhancing Evan Peters ("grower or shower?") into some sort of Frankenstein Zombie Boyfriend. Meanwhile, Fiona learns the secret of Madame LaLaurie's immortal curse and seeks out Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett. Yaaasss!) in a spectacularly bitchy confrontation, to give her a similar "curse". All fans of the catfight need to be watching this show. I mean just LOOK at this image.

I'll  finish this one myself."

Angela Basset vs. Jessica Lange. Yes mama! Give me a ring-side seat.  

Spoiler Alert: the Frankenstein business summons Lily Rabe's Misty Day, who is surely trouble despite her earthy white witch mysticism.

Queen of Line Readings:

I'm Fiona Goode. I'm in charge everywhere."
-Jessica Lange's chuckled whispery response to detectives who ask if she's in charge here.

Episode MVP: Jessica Lange is showboating but damn if I don't wanna ride. How on earth will this ship continue sailing without her if she exits next season?

i gotta do something about my curtains. can't see my tv in the daytime!Doomed Man Candy: Two men are gruesomely devoured by alligators and that pour morgue guard! But let's talk about the one survivor, guest star Josh Hamilton. He is apparently the Darren to Sarah Paulson's Bewitched! He encourages his wife Cordelia to use magic for their fertility problems. Their subsequent black-magic baby-making charms more than just his own snake. Since this is only the season's third sex scene and the first two led to instant death, the mortality rate for f***ing is no better than in an 80s slasher flick. Surely he's not going to survive long all naked like this.

Ummm...: The witches are supposed to be at war with the voodoo queens and yet Queenie (Gabby) gets a backstory and is part of the witch tribe?

True Horror: Taissa Farmiga's eyes are so huge (hello contacts, surely) -- especially when the police find her out. For some reason I found her supersized wide-eyed freak-out confession more unnerving than any of the "horror" elements. 

Most Clip-Worthy Moment:

-This song was her anthem. Doesn't it just penetrate your soul and tell the truth about everything you ever thought in your whole life. 

-Yeah. Totally. I really should be going."

I lol'ed so much at the Stevie Nicks "Rhiannon" reverie courtesy of Lily Rabe's Misty Day, followed by Taissa's perfect delivery of a response and reaction shot.

Oscar Nominee This Episode Made Me Wish Was In The Cast: I don't mean to be ghoulish but while this show is raising people from the dead I immediately thought of what a great fit the voluptuous horror of Karen Black (RIP) would've been. Why didn't Falchuk and Murphy think of her for Season 1 ?!?

Awesome Final Image:

final shot AHS: Coven S3E2

I think it's worth noting that both episodes have ended with a longshot back view of Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates walking away from the camera. This one rules with Lange tottering in modern heels and Bates waddling in huge period drapes, cutting two distinct, sympatico yet incompatible figures; these bitches are a long way from Bonneville. (But where's Joan Allen?)

If y'all want this weekly, comment up a storm to keep me motivated.  

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Reader Comments (30)

WEEKLY COMMENTING PLEASE. Oh The joys of watching Angela Bassett get to do something beyond being a strict but loving mama onscreen. So pleased that this show kind of rekindled her muted sexual energy! I mean come on!

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterClarence

"wild, bug-eyed, A.D.D. addled 12 year old boys... albeit uniquely pervy pre-teens who were raised in asylums and jacked off to photos of grande dame actresses while horror movies were projected on continual loop on the grey walls of their prison"

Oh my god, it's like you were there! ;)

I liked the first season a lot but I LOVED the second season, and I can't even with this third season so far - I am having rapturous fits on the floor in its presence.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJA

I love this show. It's imperfect, but so brash and over-the-top that I'll forgive it a lot. I mean, why isn't more TV like this? The show is actually successful (by which I just mean ratings) with campiness, fabulous older actresses, and an artistically gruesome atmosphere.

I'm especially hoping that Ms. Stevie Nicks herself shows up. She has a sense of humor about being called a witch, and she would have had to have approved "Rhiannon" already for it to be used, so why not ask?

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

Praise da Lord, Nathan has joined the Coven! This is so cool. I can't say enough about Jessica Lange's magnetic presence in this roundelay of doom. She deserves each and every accolade she's received. As you already know, she's one of my favorite actresses, and I don't know who's reveling in her career renaissance more, me or her. La Lange is clearly enjoying herself--and it's contagious. With her roles on AHS, she blends movie star grandeur with a biting, edgy approach that has sent AHS to critical heights. Exhilarating entertainment for the whole family--well, those with strong stomachs.

Last night's homage to Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac only reinforces how smart this show is. Lily Rabe even sported Stevie's retro haircut.

And totally on board with your comments on Mr. Dale's amazing aesthetics. Maybe Madison has a "resurgence" technique for him?

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

This show is my comfort food. What? Don't look at me like that! Drop your pretenses about the genre or the fact it can be super schizo in its tone, it is a blast to watch for an hour of your time. The cast is all winning. And truth to power, Sister Jude owns all and I've never seen Lange in the muse role at her age and at her mass accessibility having an American precedent.

"I liked the first season a lot but I LOVED the second season, and I can't even with this third season so far - I am having rapturous fits on the floor in its presence."

This is me. Jessica Lange inhibiting Stevie Nicks during "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was almost **too** much for me. Now you're telling me the second episode features Stevie directly into the story-line! There is a reason I DVR this. I need to pause in-between to have these moments.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

pleasepleasePLEASE let Stevie show up. It will end me.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlilybart

i will not even imagine or hope for Stevie Nicks appearing in the flesh. Like lilybart... no no, i have no wish to be ended.

JA and everyone i gave up on ASYLUM after the bit with bloody face mask and the "she won't bite" comment. It was just WAY too gross for me. but i am curious how it ended. did Paulson survive or did she play Final Girl?

October 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I'm not sure how "scary" this season will be in comparison to the others, I don't mean in gore (which I don't find scary) but in tone. It's not a complaint but it I'm surprised by the (somewhat) lighter approach it's taking to what are still some very dark subjects. It's very fun to watch (I could go for 1000 more rounds of Angela v. Jessica) and it's great to see the older actresses getting to sink their teeth into something like this. Emma Roberts may be playing my favorite character on the show, but it's too early to tell.

Also, I'm surprised you didn't mention Patti Lupone's upcoming appearance. I don't think she's playing a witch but it should be fun to see her butt heads with the other characters. Maybe this'll be the season of Epic Actress Showdowns!

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThefilmjunkie

I agree with you about the editing. I love so much about this show but the editing really drives me crazy. I also thought about Barbara Hershey too watching this show, or maybe I just always think about Barbara Hershey (you know, like Tilda Swinton always thinks about Gena Rowlands?) American Horror Story offers Jessica Lange such juicy parts and boy does she deliver. I'm not really keen on calling any one performer "the best" or "the greatest" but out of all the wonderful actresses from her generation she's doing the best and most interesting work right now.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Hershey would be a great match for the crazy on this show but who I'd really love to see is her Black Swan co-star Winona Ryder. I'd go crazy if that happened.

Slightly off-topic: it hit me yesterday how much better of a choice Taissa Farmiga would've been as Carrie in the remake. Not that I'm in favor of that cinematic blasphemy, but it would definitely make more sense.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThefilmjunkie

"Coven" is very fun, but forgettable as of right now. Doesn't hold a candle to "Asylum" so far.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

OMG! WEEKLY COMMENTING FOR SURE!

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAni Di

Bassett+ Bates + Lange. The best trio since Moore + Streep + Kidman?

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheis

"And truth to power, Sister Jude owns all and I've never seen Lange in the muse role at her age and at her mass accessibility having an American precedent."

CMG, this!

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I guess I'm in the minority, but it's the most underwhelming season so far. Yes, three great actresseses, but if all they're going to do is to be sassy (aren't their dialogues interchangeable?) I think I'll pass soon.

PS. Sarah Paulson's character survived.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

@thefilmjunkie My only fleeting interest in this Ryan Murphy mess of a show comes from the potential for an epic Patti LuPone diva moment opposite Lange or Bassett or Bates (or all three).

VIVA LUPONE

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

@iggy

I'm with you... it is not nearly as fun as the other two seasons

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrick

The next season needs some (preferably a lot of) Anjelica Huston up in it.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

Nathaniel R- Asylum did start gross. And then, I won't say it got lighter, it got wackier and something more surreal in a really endearing way. Sister Jude in particular has a specific change in character trajectory and her ending is so satisfying. Paulson is awesome in her role too and while not 'final girl', she gets 'final say'.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I would say showy roles instead of meaty.

I liked the first season, but Asylum bored me quite a lot. It got so repetitive.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

YES! YES! Please do this WEEKLY, Nathaniel!

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAkim

I don't really have anything deep to say, but I really loved reading this, so if you have the time, please continue! :)

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

I'm a no on this series. Sorry American Horror Story fans, but I just cannot with Ryan Murphy. There's not enough leopard print Angela Bassett in the world to make me interested in this.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

Also, Nathaniel, doesn't it bother you at least a little bit that Angela Bassett isn't named in the intro?

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

The big surprise for me has been Emma Roberts, who is sooo much fun to watch! I'm guessing she's just playing a version of herself, so that's why it works so well...but I think this is the first time she's been at all impressive on screen.

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

I assume that's a contractual thing and she isn't in all the episodes? She's a bigger star than done if the people IN the opening credits so there had to be a reason. Maybe she just wants a "guest actress" Emmy ;)

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I'm enjoying this season well enough so far, but it's not as delicious, imo, as Asylum, which I loved. I never saw the first season.

October 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjessica

The first episode of Coven felt a little rote to me, like it was hitting the same beats from the Murder House and Asylum premieres. This bothered me, since AHS is usually the most batshit insane show on television, a true marvel of "OMG, WTF are they going to do next?!?" storytelling. But, good Lord, Angela Muthafuckin' Bassett is tearing shit UP, and it's only the second episode! That epic throwdown with Jessica Lange in the hair salon is the stuff of legend. And I'm also just thrilled to see Gabby Sidibe get work (even if that guest star credit seems to be saying that she won't be around for much of the season).

PLEASE give Asylum a second chance. There is some gore and some REALLY squirmy moments, but the back half of the season does some really interesting stuff and Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange do incredible work. At least just watch the last episode. It's totally worth it.

October 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Bates and Lange are going to be featured the whole season. The other big name guest stars in the past got mentions after the opening credits (Chloe Sevigny being the obvious example; Bassett and Sidibe are getting the same billing).

October 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

AHS slayed me with its first season and although the second season seemed a little bit sloppy (aliens? serial killers? exorcisms? nazis? Was that ALL really necessary?), I am glad to see Murphy embracing his campy impulses (always a strong element in his shows) for this actress-heavy season. I hope they don't swerve so far into the realm of melodramatic bitch fights, but I know that Bates, Lange, and Bassett can elevate anything that comes their way. So far my favorite actress for three seasons on this show is Lily Rabe, who has owned it every year. I was surprised that her transition from wide-eyed country girl to mascara-wearing witch only took an episode, but I'm all for seeing where she takes it.

October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTJ

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