NOTE: Minor spoilers about episode 1 of season 3 are in this review, mostly basic plot points.
The beauty of the show American Horror Story is that each season is a self-contained story, with no link to the previous seasons. The majority of the same ensemble cast appears in every season, though they play completely different characters. If the plot of a particular season doesn’t interest you, it is completely possible that you will enjoy other seasons. Season 3 is called Coven, and revolves around witches.
After sitting American Horror Story: Asylum (season 2) out, actress Taissa Farmiga returns in season 3 as Zoe Benson. After accidentally murdering her boyfriend while having sex for the her first time, her mother reveals to her that witchcraft runs in the family, and while she does not have any wiccan power, it is clear that Zoe does.
Zoe becomes the narrator of the episode (and very possibly the season), as her mother sends her to New Orleans, to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies (which sounds like either an homage or rip-off of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters from Marvel’s X-Men). Upon arrival at the school, Zoe is introduced to the rest of her classmates, movie star Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), and Nan (Jamie Brewer). The head mistress, Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), explains how things work at the school, and claims her role is to teach the students how to control their power, though the students complain that they’re really being taught how to hide their powers. Foxx also explains that in every generation, there is a Supreme, a witch that has many different powers (possibly all of them), while normal witches generally only have one gift.
Though not the Supreme herself, we learn that Foxx is the daughter of The Supreme, Fiona Goode. Goode is played by Jessica Lange, who has been the break-out star of the show ever since season 1. Goode chastises her daughter for being such a pacifist, and makes it clear that things are going to change at the school, which she is taking over, and from now on students will be taught to embrace their abilities rather than hide them.
What heightens this season to another level is the addition of Kathy Bates to the regular cast. It is impossible to describe her character at all without revealing major spoilers. With that being said, all I will say is that Bates’ character play to her strong points, being very dominant, and downright creepy.
Plenty of other events take place in this episode, but once again, I want to avoid major spoilers. I was shocked at how much the show continues to push the bar on what you can get away with on basic cable. While it is on at 10pm, it still surprised me that there were not one, but two relatively graphic sex scenes (one being a gang rape scene). Both scenes help move the plot along though, and are not just excuses to show as much skin as possible on basic cable because they can get away with it.
Season 1 has been my favorite season of American Horror Story so far, but being a fan of witches (confession: I LOVE the 1996 movie The Craft), and with how strong season 3 has started, if they keep up the level of intensity the premiere has, it could easily become my favorite season. Even if it doesn’t end up being my favorite, I’m confident we’re in for a hell of a ride this season on a show that has established itself over two years for telling strong, dark stories.
American Horror Story airs on Wednesdays at 10:00pm on FX.