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American Horror Story S03E01: "Bitchcraft"

The worst part of a great TV show is the amount of time we must spend actively blocking it from our memories. The greater the show, the more important it is for us to forget about it when it's on hiatus. Otherwise our hearts HURT SO BAD. For example, I haven't thought about Game of Thrones even once since— Damn. BLOCK IT OUT BLOCK IT OUT. See what I'm saying? When you truly love a show, thinking about it too much in its absence can lead to mental problems. But the upside of successfully forgetting a favorite show for months on end? The utter surprise and elation you feel when it finally returns. In the case of American Horror Story, those feelings come in waves. First is when the new premise is announced. "Ooh, that sounds like a good jumping-off point for barely coherent lunacy." Then when the ads start showing up. "Wow, those ads are incredible, I can't wait until they show up in my nightmares." But none of these preliminary surprises can ever really prepare you for when the season finally debuts. "Goodbye friends and family, you are all meaningless now, I only need American Horror Story anymore." And though it shouldn't be by now, remembering the love can be SO surprising.

Personally I have this intense feeling of rediscovery several times a year, and it usually involves shows about teenage monsters. But now that American Horror Story is back, so too are all my intense, profound feelings of admiration for it. I loved Season 1. But I LOVED Season 2. And now, with "Bitchcraft," Coven is off to an incredible start. Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have always constructed AHS's seasons as basically horror mixtapes, and the third time around feels just as fresh, ambitious, and insane as before, but with tighter construction and more instantly appealing characters. In addition to the usual Dario Argent and Guillermo Del Toro, um, "homages," Coven also riffs on the Harry Potter series, The Worst WitchX-MenCandyman, and Carrie. Good sources of inspiration, in other words! But in addition to providing the smoothest introductions yet to a new group of people, "Bitchcraft" also delved into some truly deplorable subject matter (slave-torture and rape) as a reminder that this show GOES THERE. Does American Horror Story handle these things smartly or sensitively? Haha no. But it does get points for pushing each and every one of us into an uncomfortable place before rewarding us with a satisfying payoff or twelve. That's why this show is such a favorite of mine: I can't even predict whether a main character will survive an episode, let alone predict where a storyline is going at any point (or if it will go anywhere at all). This free-for-all of a series is so strange and unpredictable that traditionalists could justifiably label it messy, but I would label it exhilarating. I want to wonder what I'm watching, and that happened A LOT during "Bitchcraft." This show! 

Let's talk about it.

So this year's televised casserole of terror began with a flashback to Olden Times New Orleans, in the living room of Unsinkable Molly Brown (operating under an alias). We quickly learned that her second favorite hobby was shouting at her party guests about how slovenly her daughters were. But her #1 favorite hobby?

Painting her face in the blood of tortured slaves! A fairly typical hobby in those days, no big deal. But as it turned out she was a bit of a racist also? For example she caught her daughter having scandalous relations with an African-American gentleman, so she forced the guy to spend some time in her slave-torture dungeon.

A lot of the people in that slave dungeon did NOT seem to be having a good time, and honestly? I didn't blame them. One of my main pet peeves is when there are maggots where my face used to be. That is probably one of my main things I dislike.

So then this very mean lady, Madame LaLaurie, made the guy wear a bull head because she liked Greek mythology a lot. Normally I think it's pretty cool for people to express enthusiasm for the classics, but in this case I object to how she was going about it.

Oh, and then we got the BRAND NEW title sequence! 

It was all very cool, mostly black and white imagery of weird witch ritual stuff. My favorite bit was the quick glimpse we got of this guy:

Haha I can already tell he's a rascal! What are you up to, fella? 

Meanwhile in a faithful recreation of that Rogue scene from the first X-Men movie, a girl tried to lose her virginity to her boyfriend but accidentally murdered him!

Just FYI to younger readers, this scene wasn't necessarily magic-related, this was actually a normal and accurate depiction of what could potentially happen during sex, so be careful about sex! "Let's talk about sex: It's a wet hassle and your brain might explode." —Spinderella

So then this girl (let's call her Zoe because that's her name) was informed by her mother that their family has a history of witch-powers, and though the mother had hoped it would've skipped a generation, it didn't, so Zoe needed to go to a boarding school for witches in New Orleans. Oh, and THIS was the lady who arrived to retrieve her:

Um, I know it's too soon to start thinking about this, but when the 2016 nominations for the presidency arrive I really hope people keep Frances Conroy in mind. She just gives and gives and gives. Almost nobody has improved this country as much as Frances Conroy via her roles on American Horror Story. Just FYI this character has a team of albino black men for bodyguards.

The house itself, it has to be said, is straight-up incredible. It's a study in whites, which already makes it the opposite of both the Murder House and Briarcliff Asylum; it's a refreshing change without being any less scary than those hellholes. The spookiness factor was probably also helped when, immediately upon arrival, Zoe was chased around the house by cloaked figures in Venetian masks.

But don't worry she wasn't murdered right away. This wasn't TOTALLY Suspiria. It was all just a harmless prank by her classmates!

The funniest part of this introduction was the revelation that the boarding school only had three students prior to Zoe's arrival. THREE. That is a good student-to-teacher ratio, sure, but also not a very big student body considering all of them essentially despise each other.

Um, did you recognize the house butler? I watched the episode TWICE without noticing the butler was played by Denis O'Hare! You know, Russell Edgington! And the burn-faced man from Season 1! He didn't speak in this episode because apparently his tongue was cut out, but it was just so cool how unrecognizable he was. Also look at those locks. I bet he has a pretty sweet ponytail when he's kicking back.

So the school is run by Sarah Paulson, who was last seen being ruthlessly victimized in front of a lot of people at the Emmy awards. Sarah Paulson was ROBBED. Seriously how did she not win an Emmy for Asylum? Anyway, this is a new dawn, a new day, and Sarah Paulson is playing the headmistress of a witch school.  Right off the bat she gave Zoe the lay of the land, especially the part of the land where modern witches are still being burnt at the stake by haters.

The example she gave was this particular witch named Misty Day (LOL) who was burned at the stake by crazies but who will probably not stay dead because Lily Rabe is listed in the credits as being a main character (SPOILER). Anyway, yeah, as the headmistress explained, being a witch in 2013 is still very dangerous, so dangerous in fact that apparently most witches have stopped procreating so as to not put their kids through the burden of having awesome powers and seeming very cool and chill. Witches are going the way of the buffalo, basically.

And then there was Jessica Lange. JESSICA LANGE, EVERYBODY. We first met "Fiona" at a science lab where she tried to get a dude to inject her with experimental technology to make her look younger. But then he wouldn't so she went back to her room and did so much drugs and listened to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" which is pretty much a mandatory soundtrack for a coke nightmare. Then when the scientist popped by for a chat she mouth-attacked him and this happened:

She sucked him dry until he looked like the old man from Poltergeist II! But it was worth it.

Oh, Fiona. We'd only known her for about four minutes and she was already chasin' waterfalls.

This next scene was great: Each of the four girls explained their specialized powers. 

For instance, Nan (Jamie Brewer, who was so good as Jessica Lange's daughter in S1) is a clairvoyant.

And this girl Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) is a trainwreck movie star, the kind who wears fur coats at the dinner table. Also she can move things with her brain and she was sent away to this school by her agents and managers after she murdered a director by making a light fall on his head.

Ouch! Hopefully somebody gave him an aspirin.

And finally, Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe, who starred in Precious but I can't remember her character's name) described herself as a human voodoo doll. Which basically means she can hurt people by doing things to herself. Pretty cool, right? Honestly I truly love this ensemble of actresses. Obviously they are all very physically different, but I love that about them so much. Their characters were immediately distinguishable, with different powers and personalities. I've heard people complain about Ryan Murphy's insistence on stunt-casting unusual types just for the sake of shock value, but as a viewer I am truly grateful to see such memorable actors on my screen. And I love the idea of these unique, seemingly incompatible individuals forging some kind of weird friendship circle. Sorry, I could talk about this all day, but I just love this main foursome so much. A++

I really liked the headmistress's potions lab. It had tons of plants and beakers and bongs (I saw you smoking a bong, lady, don't try to hide it), but unfortunately it needed a mom-proof fence.

So Fiona is Headmistress Cordelia's mother! Not only that, but we learned that Fiona is also the Supreme of the entire coven, which means she is the most powerful witch and has not just one unique power but ALL powers. Unfortunately she and her daughter have been on bad terms lately, a situation made all the more awkward because Fiona is now moving back into the school. Apparently this was inspired by the recent murder of Misty Day (LOL) which lit a figurative fire in Fiona to mobilize the witches. Or something? Who knows. Bickering mother and daughter, that was the main thing about this scene.

So then we met a bunch of frat guys listening to a pre-party party bus pep talk by DREAMY EVAN PETERS who is blonde again! But he was not supposed to be a jerk frat guy. He was the reasonable one telling them not to party too hard and to respect themselves and private property. Evan Peters seemed very nice and responsible. THIS guy was the jerk:

Uh-oh. Grey Damon only plays bad boys, so this was headed nowhere good.

The reason we were at this frat party at all was that Madison dragged Zoe there. Almost immediately Zoe had a magical meet-cute with Evan Peters when they looked at each other through an ice sculpture.

This scene (like the entire episode) was gorgeous. I mean seriously gorgeous.

This episode's director was Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who is sort of the true visionary of this series if we're being real. Anytime on this show when the camera is floating across the room while also spinning, or if it's suspended overhead, he's probably the one directing. American Horror Story is the most beautiful show on television, and this pink-and-blue moment was breathtaking.

But because this is technically a horror series, some true horror had to show up and ruin the fun. Yep, it involved Madison getting roofied and assaulted.

Fortunately Zoe thought to go look for her, and Evan Peters valiantly chased off his frat bros.

UNfortunately he was dragged back onto the party bus and knocked unconscious by the main rapist.

And right after the party bus sped away, Madison ran outside and this happened:


The entire sequence was harrowing and exploitative but undeniably thrilling and satisfying and stressful. Like, yeah we were all rooting for her to take these dudes out, but OH NO Evan Peters was on that party bus!

The next morning the local news was reporting that all but two of the frat guys were killed, and my favorite part of this scene was that everyone pretty openly knew that Madison had done the deed. Even Fiona seemed sort of impressed. But then Madison sassed Fiona and Fiona had to put Madison in her place. Which was against a wall at a high velocity.

Don't sass the Supreme witch maybe? She is a SUPREME WITCH.

So Fiona's first order of business as the girls' newer, badder-asser teacher was to take them on a field trip wearing matching black outfits so as to not look conspicuous.

They then paid a visit to a museum that used to be where Madame LaLaurie lived (and also was at one point owned by Nicolas Cage just FYI). There we got a flashback about just how the big ol' maniac was finally taken down: By a mysterious voodoo practitioner (Angela Bassett) who'd arrived to offer LaLaurie a youth potion. 

Haha oldest voodoo trick in the voodoo book! It turned out the woman had been the lover of the man LaLaurie had encased in a bull's head, and she'd returned for vengeance.

But the question then became: How were these two dames from the olden days going to be involved in the modern-day narrative of this season? Well, here's how: Outside, Nan could "hear" Madame LaLaurie still buried underneath the courtyard. Alive.

Uh, yikes. But you know what is very NON-yikes? 

HOLD UP. You're telling me Evan Peters' hair was styled this way for that photograph but not on the show? How dare you, Ryan Murphy. It should have been styled like this always and from now on. Guys, I think it's obvious that the Evan Peters character will somehow be brought back to life, but I will be VERY disappointed if we don't get to see this exact hairstyle on him at some point. (Also, just FYI THE the handwritten note under his picture says "FREE BIRD!!" because obviously.)

Zoe's closing narration indicated that all the girls had some issues to deal with. Obviously Madison had experienced some pretty bad trauma, hence this sad scene above.

This shot of Queenie stealing a turkey leg from the refrigerator was also very moving.

But then came the grand finale, in which Zoe discovered that the sole survivor of the bus crash had been the main rapist. Which meant that it was time to put her particular witch "gift" to use! 

So make no mistake: Zoe's gift is that she can literally f*ck somebody's brains out. Farewell forever, rapist.

Meanwhile Fiona returned to Madame LaLaurie's house with some hired diggers and a mysterious scheme.

She exhumed Madame LaLaurie! Who wasn't dead! Who was actually wide awake and alive and chained up in a coffin under her own courtyard for 180 years. It wasn't clear whether she had been a witch or not, but I'm guessing her immortality was of interest to Fiona. But I'm not going to lie to you, Madame LaLaurie does NOT seem like a very good person in general. Like, she has severe character issues in my opinion. I was not happy to see her. She is junk. I really want Angela Bassett to run in and windmill hit her, but maybe that'll happen in Episode 2? I can only hope and pray.

Let there be neither secrets nor confusion: "Bitchcraft" was everything I wanted out of a season premiere. Weird and beautiful and thrilling and outrageous and disgusting and hilarious. We can pretend this show is no big deal all we want, but I'm telling you, American Horror Story is a BIG DEAL. Nothing like this has ever been made before, and it probably will not be made again in the future. We are legit lucky to be alive when this thing is on the air, I'm telling you. Even when it's not great it's still SO GREAT. Do you know what I mean? I think you do. We need to appreciate our treasures. This show makes us rich. I'm so happy it's back. 


QUESTIONS

... Was Madame LaLauria wrong for having a slave-torture dungeon?

... Would you want to attend a four-person witch school?

... Have you ever sucked the youthful essence out of a scientist?

... Blonde Evan Peters or Brunette Evan Peters? Be honest.

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 1/29/2014

Season 3 : Episode 13

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