American Horror Story: Coven premiered this week with “Bitchcraft,” its season three premiere and first installment of this year’s horror focus: witches. For the uninitiated, AHS functions as an anthology series; each season is self-contained in its storyline and characters, eliminating the need for new viewers to binge-watch full seasons of episodes to “catch up” with what’s happening. This mode of production keeps things fresh, and indeed, Coven is a refreshing breath of air coming out of the dingy, dark walls that enclosed the series last season in Asylum.
Proceed with caution. Spoilers ahead!
Many of the familiar players are back, including of course the Emmy-award winning Jessica Lange as Fiona Goode, supreme witch of her generation and powerful matriarchal figure to the unsuspecting girls of Miss Robichaux’s school for young witches. The episode focuses on Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga), who is whisked away by Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), head of the Witches Council, to the mysterious school after exhibiting “supernatural behavior” (okay, she has the power to kill people with sex). There she meets the telekinetic Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), the “human voodoo doll” Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), and the clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer). The school is run by Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), Fiona’s daughter. Kathy Bates’ and Angela Basset’s portrayals of Delphine LaLaurie and Marie Laveau, respectively, round out the diverse cast of characters.
“Bitchcraft” is ripe with the sex and the gore that has come to be expected of AHS, but the premiere episode of Coven seems indicative that the season will stand out from its predecessors in two very distinct ways. First, the male influence seems to have been vastly diminished. Whereas Asylum and Murder House (season one) feature dominant male characters such as a deranged serial killer with an oedipal fixation and a latex fetish suit-wearing ghost who impregnates a living woman with a demon baby, “Bitchcraft” places the dominance with the women. Indeed, no male introduced in the episode, save for the witch school’s butler, makes it out alive, including AHS alum Evan Peters’ character, Kyle Spencer, who dies in one of the most visceral moments of the episode. Seriously, though, that bus flip.
Second, Coven deviates from its brethren in that “Bitchcraft” sets up important plots points more linearly than the past two premieres. Murder House and Asylum present to the audience an initial clusterfuck of material which is systematically made clear as the seasons progress. Coven does the opposite, and though “Bitchcraft” has its fair share of unexpected moments, the twists and turns are primarily self-contained within the episode. It appears as if Coven has decided to carefully set up dominoes instead of play a spontaneous game of 52 pick-up.
Overall, “Bitchcraft” is a solid episode, with plenty of raw and disturbing moments. The premiere covers a lot of ground, including rape, minotaurs, voodoo curses, strained mother-daughter relationships, and youth serums, all of which is underscored by a looming battle between humankind and the dying breed of witches. There’s even a broom joke! The stage is set for all hell to break loose, and knowing the dark corners that co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have taken the series before, this distant and twisted cousin of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch won’t be afraid to hold back. American Horror Story: Coven‘s second episode, “Boy Parts,” airs Wednesday, October 16 at 10/9c, only on FX.