‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Season Premiere Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated October 10th, 2013 at 8:54 am,

Jessica Lange in American Horror Story Coven American Horror Story: Coven Season Premiere Review

In its past two seasons, American Horror Story managed to garner attention by adding a surprising or trope-y element to a familiar and equally trope-y setting and use that as a means to deliver some disturbing and debauched imagery (all in the name of horror). The show excelled at gleefully presenting disquieting images, but despite an everything-under-the-sun approach to the horror and the inclusion of Ian McShane as a murderous Santa Claus, the show occasionally fell victim to uneven storytelling.

Right off the bat, American Horror Story: Coven suggests a marked improvement in terms of having a cohesive narrative and a more significant throughline tying together the different character arcs and various story elements that are laid out in the season premiere. For one thing, Coven utilizes a narrator – or at least it does early on in the present day portion of the story – to help set the table more quickly. This kind of rapid-delivery exposition pushes the storyline past the introduction stage, so that by the time the credits role we have a fairly good idea of the characters and the setting, and some kind of inkling as to what will bring these elements together as the plot unfolds.

Like the previous two seasons, Coven features a bevy of flashbacks to another time period. This time the season begins in 1834 at the New Orleans home of Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), a wealthy woman with a penchant for imprisoning slaves and using their blood in an attempt to maintain (or restore) her looks. The violent pre-credits sequence allows the show to indulge in its brand of seemingly impulsive gruesomeness, as Madame LaLaurie admires her collection of imprisoned men, who have had their eyes and mouths sewn shut, and one individual appears to have had the skin of his face peeled back. The brief glimpse of this man’s lidless gaze staring at the viewer immediately feels like American Horror Story settling in for another 13 episodes of craziness and disturbing imagery.

Kathy Bates American Horror Story Coven American Horror Story: Coven Season Premiere Review

But then, surprisingly, after Madame LaLaurie briefly admires her new Minotaur, and the muffled screams of her victim bleed into the season’s new title sequence, Coven actually sets out to tell a reasonably straightforward story, without indulging too quickly or too frequently in the kinds of things the show has been known to enjoy playing with in the past. There’s still plenty of that American Horror Story style in ‘Bitchcraft,’ but narratively speaking, it feels far more measured and sure of its direction than either of the previous two efforts. The episode also develops a throughline very early on that connects Bates’ Madame LaLaurie to Jessica Lange’s “supreme” witch Fiona Goode – and, to a lesser extent, her daughter Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) – in a mutual search to reclaim their youthful essence and vitality.

While the story appears to be developing, the characters feel like they’re lagging behind. Perhaps it’s the lack of a thick, borderline preposterous New England accent, but here Lange is in some way more humorless than when she was playing the ruthless Sister Jude in Asylum. Maybe it’s the YA sensibilities of the central setting, or the lack of scenery chewing requested of her in this first hour (though she does get a moment to drunkenly writhe about while ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ plays), but Lange’s performance early on feels a little restrained – not unlike the rest of the story, actually.

For one thing, the setting may as well have been ripped from the pages of Marvel Comics – with Miss Robichaux’s school acting as a kind of amalgam of Hogwarts and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Furthering the comparison to the latter, it’s revealed early on that witches gain their abilities through a particular genetic mutation, and Coven even goes so far as to have the introduction of Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) mirror Rogue’s introduction from the first X-Men film. And although the presentation of the various “gifted youngsters” comprised of Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sidibe, and Jamie Brewer (who played Adelaide in season 1) and their respective abilities results in a somewhat clumsy dinner scene filled with overturned bowls of soup and “human voodoo dolls,” the rest of the episode makes an effort in defining the young women (well, Farmiga and Roberts, mostly) beyond things like telekinesis, clairvoyance and being a human voodoo doll.

Jessica Lange Emma Roberts Jamie Brewer Taissa FarmigaGabourey Sidibe American Horror Story Coven American Horror Story: Coven Season Premiere Review

Whether as a result of the specifics of this new storyline or Murphy and Falchuk continuing to learn as they go along, Coven exudes a completely different vibe than what’s come before – and a slightly familiar, sedate one at that. Had the story of a coven of young witches learning to use their abilities under the rough tutelage of a cranky, youth-obsessed mother hen not also included a chained man having his pancreas cut out, or another wretchedly familiar depiction of sexual assault, the whole thing might come off looking kind of quaint in comparison to what’s come before.

But even if the overall spectacle has begun to feel more commonplace, American Horror Story still exhibits some cult sensibilities, and as long as Murphy and Falchuk continue to have an outlet for the loopiest of their ideas, the show will never have to worry about feeling completely pedestrian.


American Horror Story: Coven continues next Wednesday with ‘Boy Parts’ @10pm on FX.

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  1. I loved the first episode. The style felt more like the first season in which the story feels straight forward and clear. No aliens here just witches. So far the characters seem interesting and Bates just looks insane. The Lange character feels like there is something more but we shall see. So far it’s off to a good start

    • I enjoyed the first episode, and believe the creators are succeeding in keeping things interesting and exciting for the fan’s. It seems that when new television shows have decent levels of success the first two seasons, they try to hard to top that success and go way overboard with things they think are upgrading the show. I can tell that they are not making that mistake and I am excited to see the rest of A.H.S. season 3. I would like to add however, I do hope they bring along strong supporting male role to go along with the story. It’s not a ‘sexist’ thing, I just believe adding a male role in for a dramatic doomed love triangle always get’s the audience begging for more the next week. Or a ‘Villainous’ male role to go along with Jessica Langes own has already proven to be more than intriguing.

      • I think we will see Evan Thomas Peters back in some way but I think he won’t be a villian but a love interest to Violet. If there are no other male villians I am okay with it because I have a feeling the Lange/Bates villian duo will be pretty epic. I mean Bates last night alone made me feel like, “whoa, don’t mess with her”.

        • He died in that bus accident, but the witches are gonna resurrect him and sew him together with pieces of other people, like Frankenstein. thats all i know for now lol

  2. the story of ep 1 felt fresh .. witch is nice

  3. I liked it a lot. I have a feeling this season might surpass both previous seasons. The only thing I thought was weird was that Jessica Lange talked about witches having to be clever and keep a low profile, and then she takes them all out on the town…dressed in all black…like witches.

  4. Relating this show to Marvel comics? Seriously haha? I’ve never been able to handle reading reviews of this show on this site because it’s like you don’t even like the show anyway so you pick it apart and there is a bias.

    • I have yet to read a review about AHS: Coven which does NOT compare it with X Men and Hogwarts, because it clearly does bare a striking similarity with both of these publications thematically.

    • Agreed Jackson. You would think the x-men did everything first. I think witches were around before X-men. maybe Rogue was based off of a witch. For a first episode there seems to be a lot of hate for this show from the reviewer. Both this and The Walking Dead premiere were good, keep in mind AHS has to set up all NEW characters as this is like a new series.

      Should be able to find someone to review this that likes it. This site has enough contributors.

  5. the first episode was brilliant just the right amount of crazy unlike last season.

  6. Know what’s upsetting?

    We won’t get this show until October 29th. Can’t wait though, I just hope it’s more like season 2 and nothing like season 1. God, I had to struggle to finish that one, so boring.

  7. I am glad I was not the only woo thought watching this was just like reading the x-men. School for gifted youngsters, world coming after them once they realized what they were, telepath, rogue like. The similarities were so obvious for anyone who has ever read the comics. I still enjoyed it and hope the story goes better than last season.

    I enjoyed the first episode, I think season 3 I off to good start. Certainly better than 2 IMO. My only minor qualm is that Evan Peters dies in the first episode. I hope he comes back though, whether it’s as the same character or another one.

      He does they showed him in the preview of the season being stitched back together to make the “perfect boyfriend” in a very Frankenstein way.

      • Yes, he is

        ***SPOILER WARNING**

        the love interest this season to Violet

    • Yeah I’m pretty sure he’s coming back. He’s as much a staple of AHS as Jessica Lange is.

    • Although, his role might be smaller this season, as he’s been filming the new X-Men movie. We’ll see I suppose.

      • I didn’t know that, thanks! Glad to know he’s coming back!

  9. That one picture of the “snakey women kissing” is too kinky for me! Not watching this one.

  10. While I have to admit that it took a little while for me to get into this episode it’s completely my fault…
    Even though I’ve watched all of seasons 1 & 2 in the time between seasons I forget that you have to be ready for anything and expect to have a lot thrown at you that may not make sense at first.
    This is not a complaint. I love the no holds barred aspect of this show but boy, if you’re not ready for it it can be an assault on the senses. :)

  11. The sense associated with the Title/credits are pretty awesome. That alone got me hooked and freaked at the same time, lol.

  12. Kathy Bates was amazing in this episode. What a performance. Very convincing. She is going to be competition for Jessica Lange during awards season.

  13. Very good. The confidence of directing has been the most notable progression from S1. S2 was quite extraordinary at times in this sense.

    I do like the all female dynamic as a parable of the stereotypical redundancies placed by society on the sexes, but, yes, I do hope it doesn’t remain as explicit as it did in episode one in its colouring of both sides to this old fashioned philosophy. Also, like most of the comments and indeed the analysis, my first thought was a twisted variation of a certain school run by one Charles Xavier.

    Frankly, I am with Dazz on this one. S1 got boring very quickly. There are also pacing problems with with both seasons but what kept the hook during S2 was the fact it was so oblique with its structure and towards its destination. It won’t be until later episodes will I be able to ascertain whether this episode was more approachable/expositional on purpose.

    • I actually preferred S1 to S2, as the latter felt overly convoluted and contrived, with almost everything but the kitchen sink thrown in.

      With Kathy Bates acting alongside Jessica Lange, S3 could be the best, even if just for the performances.

      • I think that’s why I preferred S2.

        It was in a setting that had been done before but didn’t seem ridiculously bad and played up to the idea that the inmates really were running the asylum.

        S1 was more structured but just bored me silly. The characters were annoying and pretty easy to hate, the plot developments were easy to predict and the payoff to everything was just terrible.

  14. Loved it. Can’t wait for the next episode

  15. Season 1 was revolutionary…Season 2 was just OK…Season 3 promising though I find the idea of Taissa Farmiga’s character having sex with men for a few moments then they die utterly ridiculous! Cant help but feel this is a little perverted and exploitative having a 19 year old frolic about in such a way, I’m just not sure what need this satisfies…:-/

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