Wednesday, 15 July 2015

TV Show Review: American Horror Story: Coven (2013)

© FX |  Source: huffingtonpost

United States; 13 Episodes (Season 3); Horror, Drama, Thriller, Teendrama
Channel: FX
Creator: Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy
Cast: Kathy Bates, Frances Conroy, Taissa Farmiga, Jessica Lange, Denis O'Hare, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Emma Roberts

Fiona: You know why I got a female attack dog?                                                         Hank: Because bitches stick together?

It’s been a while since my last American Horror Story review, so it’s about high time to change that. Season 3 goes by the name of Coven and it reunites us with some of our favourite actors from previous seasons. It’s always thrilling to watch the title sequence of each pilot episode and look out for familiar names. And Coven doesn’t disappoint. The cast includes Sarah Paulson, Taissa Farmiga, Frances Conroy, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe and, of course, American Horror Story’s poster girl Jessica Lange. That alone should make every fan’s heart leap for joy. But apart from sporting great actors, can Coven also keep up with its predecessors in terms of plot? 

The pilot episode with the brilliant name “Bitchcraft,” (which kind of captures the tone of the entire season) starts with young Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) trying to lose her virginity. Unbeknownst to her, she has a genetic affliction, dating back to her families’ Salem ancestors, which she knows nothing of either, that turns her into a kind of black widow with a killer vagina. Her partner dies of a brain aneurysm and Zoe is whisked off to a special school for people with a more or less similar condition.

© FX |  Source: nerdist
And with that welcome to the AHS-version of Hogwarts, Ladies and Gentlemen. Granted, Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies is not quite as magical as Rowling’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but it nevertheless creates an atmosphere that is more fitting for a teen drama than a horror show. Governed by Headmistress Cordelia Fox (Sarah Paulson), the private school has only three other pupils aside from newbie Zoe: Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a teen movie star, full of airs and graces and telekinetic powers; then Nan (Jamie Brewer), a girl with Down-Syndrome and the gift of clairvoyance; and finally there is Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), an Afro-American girl, whose body works like a human voodoo doll. 

Needless to say that with so many different (female) characters confined in one space we get to see witch- and bitchcraft in equal degrees – even more of both once Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) makes her appearance. The mother of headmistress Cordelia is the Supreme, meaning the most powerful witch of all and head of the coven. And with so much power, of course there is nothing she fears more than losing it. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens, now that her so far unknown successor arises and begins to drain the life force from her. To prevent all this, Fiona is not only determined to get her rival out of the way, before she loses her remaining strength, but she desperately and in vain struggles for immortality and eternal youth. Ironically enough, however, many of the lesser witches and even some muggles around her attain it without even trying, which doesn’t exactly throw a favourable light on the prowess of the grand Supreme.

Apart from the conflicts within the coven, a feud with the Voodoo tribe led by Marie Laveau (Angela Basset) and a rather unpleasant dispute with a secret circle of witch hunters add some more spice, gore and horror to the series. Still every scene of horror is interlaced with comic relief of various kinds. This serves to keep the tone lighter than it was in the previous seasons, which is entertaining enough, but hardly fitting for the genre.

As you can tell from my previous reviews, I really, really love Murder House, and I also very much like the Asylum arc and, surprise, I also like Coven, though in a much lesser way than the previous two seasons. Murder House was scary, it had an intriguing plot and characters to fall in love with. Asylum flaunted the scary, gloomy bits and added a lot of suspense and gore and WTF-moments, and Coven… 

Well, Coven did have its good points, but those weren’t really connected to scariness, as you would expect from a TV show that carries its genre right in its title. The focus this season was rather a gory kind of comicality. Coven is filled with grotesquely hilarious moments. Take for example the scene in which the disembodied head of the immortal racist and former slave owner Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) starts crying while watching Roots. Or another one of my favourite scenes that blew ridiculousness way out of proportion was when the tongueless butler Spalding (Denis O’Hare) shows off his doll collection and flashes his fancy nightgown with a cute matching cap.

© FX |  Source: rebloggy
© FX |  Source: rebloggy
Coven is without a doubt more straightforward and less twisted than its predecessors, Asylum in particular which is a paramount example of a show with too many aspirations to fit into the limited screen time. On a whole, Season 3 seems to distance itself greatly from Asylum, as though the producers meant it to be its polar opposite, so the fans that have been scared off by the gloom and harshness of the second season could be brought in again with this much more cheerful and light-hearted type of horror story. However, by doing so the show moves away from its former working principles and moves closer to something like Glee. Just a little more bloody.

Coven really didn’t live up to my expectations: It was entertaining, often absurd, gross and hilarious, so not bad exactly, but it didn’t have the potential to keep you on a hook and make you want to watch the whole season in a single sitting. It seems that my love affair with the first season keeps me loyal to everything yet to come, though I really do hope that Freak Show will return to the aspects that made Murder House so intriguing: the mixture of horror, a strong plot and especially strong, authentic characters.


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