Season Three, Episode One: “Bitchcraft”
Written by: Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk, Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Ryan Murphy is at it again! In the new season of American Horror Story, we follow a Coven of witches in New Orleans. Unlike previous seasons, this one proves to be far more campy than creepy (see all the great quotations below); but Horror fans, fear not: Murphy has promised another iconic monster for the season (and I think we can easily guess what it will be).
New Orleans, 1934
At the grand home of Madame Delphine Lalaurie (Kathy Bates), we find her trying to marry off her daughters to the crowd of men. But, later that night, while she’s applying a face mask of blood (whose?), her husband informs her that their daughter was caught with a slave. After some harsh blows to her daughter, LaLaurie takes the slave upstairs to her attic of tortured slaves where she has a bull’s head mounted on the offending slave’s head. She nearly squeals with delight at her own little minotaur (Could this be the monster of the season?).
In the present day, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) is eager to lose her virginity to Charlie. But, as he mounts her, he suffers a bloody aneurysm. This leads to her mother confessing to her that she has witch blood, a “genetic affliction” that can skip generations. Unable to deal with her, she ships her off to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies in New Orleans, a witch finishing/training school.
To escort her, frizzy-haired Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) shows up with some young albino boys in sunglasses. They vanish once she reaches the Academy. Inside, the sprawling, empty estate appears a bit creepy. Cloaked figures with beak-nosed death masks lurk in the background. As they attack Zoe, eliciting some screams, they quickly rips off their masks to reveal that they are merely a gang of mean girls.
Her fellow classmates are actress Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), prone to telekinesis; human voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe); and clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer). Their teacher is Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), who is there to teach the girls to hone, and hide, their gifts. Something that is ever more important considering the local witch who was recently burned at the stake — Misty Day (Lily Rabe) was caught bringing animals back to life. If Rabe is playing this now-dead witch, does that mean she’ll somehow become an important character? Or is this just a fun AHS cameo?
Over on the West Coast, Fiona (Jessica Lange), dressed all in black and sporting some fierce heels, wants to try a rejuvenating new serum that her late husband was funding the research for. The doctor warns that it isn’t ready for human use yet, but Fiona forces his hand. Five days later, while snorting coke and mourning her aging face in the mirror, she summons the doctor to up her dosage. He refuses, and Fiona makes out with him, sucking the life right out of him. A quick glance in the mirror shows that her skin suddenly looks much fresher.
“Given the choices around here, looks like you’re my new best friend,” Madison says to Zoe before asking, “Do you own any clothes that don’t come from the Gap?” After a quick makeover, Madison drags Zoe to a frat party. Head boy Kyle (Evan Peters) has an instant flirtation with Zoe. Meanwhile, the other frat bros drug Madison and gang-bang her while filming on their phones. Kyle breaks it up, and chases the boys onto their bus. As they drive away, Madison, more clear-headed, uses her gift to flip their bus. The news states that seven of the nine boys on the bus died. Zoe desperately hopes Kyle survived.
Fiona arrives at the academy, interrupting Cordelia’s potion-making session. Turns out, Fiona is Cordelia’s mother, and she’s also the Supreme (the most superior of witches, with multiple, powerful gifts). She’s arrived (after seeing a Misty-related news story) to teach these girls to be powerful witches, something that conflicts with Cordelia’s goals for the girls. This bitchy mother-daughter relationship is definitely one of the best things about this season, putting the two lead actors of the AHS series together in a fun, new light.
Fiona takes them on a field trip downtown, and Nan is drawn to the home of LaLaurie, which is now a tourist spot. The tour guide tells us that LaLaurie used a poultice from a human pancreas to apply to her face for younger skin, hoping to get her husband to pay attention to her. A witch, Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), shows up with a love potion that she claims will do the trick. LaLaurie drinks it and dies. Laveau ascends to the attic to find her lover, the minotaur slave. The tour guide says that LaLaurie’s body was never found, but Nan senses that she’s buried right outside.
As the season premiere reaches it end, Murphy gives us a few great moments with these characters. Zoe goes to the hospital to see if Kyle survived, but instead finds that the main frat bro who instigated the gang rape was the survivor. She mounts him to induce a bloody aneurysm as revenge for Kyle’s death. We see that the rape has deeply affected Madison, whom we see crying in the fetal position in the shower — it’s an obvious way to humanize the teenage brat, but then Murphy isn’t known for being subtle. Lastly, Fiona uses some men to dig up LaLaurie’s coffin. She opens it up to reveal a still alive LaLaurie. “Come on, Mary Todd Lincoln. I’ll buy you a drink,” Fiona says, leading LaLaurie away.
This premiere was definitely the most focused of the AHS premieres, and the most fun. Embracing the camp that is often inherent with horror films and reveling in the new trend in witches gives this season the potential to be the best thing on TV. (Homeland seems so drab comparatively.) It will be hard for Murphy to top himself after this.
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…
The episode title is “Bitchcraft.” Enough said.
Between the Academy, the references to witchcraft being a “genetic affliction,” and the girls sporting different gifts, this season almost feels like X-Men.
Finally, everyone can see just how great Emma Roberts is as an actress. I can’t wait to see what direction Madison’s arc takes.
Bringing LaLaurie into the present day was a great twist that I didn’t expect. Will Laveau be making a present day appearance, too?
“I’m just mad about tartan.” –Myrtle Snow, who looks pretty mad in general.
“I was just on a wonderful spiritual retreat with Shirley MacLaine in Sedona.” –Fiona
“When are you gonna die and stop ruining my life.” –Cordelia to Fiona
“You were a sloppy little witch bitch.” –Fiona to Madison, who replies, “Go to hell, you stupid hag.”
“Don’t make me drop a house on you.” –Fiona to Cordelia