“American Horror Story” is back for its third standalone season. “Coven” centers around an endangered race of witches as they attend a boarding school (not Hogwarts) and attempt to control their powers, while a sinister plot brews in the background amongst the older witches of the Coven.
First, the elegant 1834 New Orleans home of Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is shown. LaLaurie is presenting her three daughters to a crowd of suitors, assuring them that they can make up for their lack of good looks in “other ways.” The scene then cuts to LaLaurie smearing blood across her face in front of a mirror, moaning about the blood not being fresh enough.
The truly heinous nature of LaLaurie is revealed when she discovers one of her daughters has had sex with a slave. In a bit of an overreaction, she sends the man to her dungeon to torture him. The dungeon is filled with gory, tortured corpses of other black slaves as well as a little boy called the “pickaninny” that assists LaLaurie in her torturous exploits. Confessing to a rather morbid love of Greek mythology, LaLaurie somehow melds a bull’s head onto the slave, turning him into a real-life minotaur.
Flash-forward to modern times, and teenager Zoey Benson (Taissa Farmiga) is in the midst of losing her virginity with her boyfriend. Long-story-short, the boyfriend ends up having such a crazy huge nosebleed from the sex that he dies, with doctors claiming he had a brain aneurism. Zoey’s mother insists that her daughter shares the same affliction as her great-grandmother: She’s a witch.
Men in sunglasses and a mysterious woman named Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) arrive to take Zoey to the “Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies,” which is basically a school for witches. Zoey’s entrance to the academy isn’t too friendly, with Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and Nan (Jamie Brewer) attacking her in black capes and bird masks as their form of a “prank.” Headmistress Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) arrives to inform the students that she is there to reign the students in and teach them to control their powers. She leaves the students with a grave warning that a witch, Misty Day (Lily Rabe), was burned at the stakes just a few months ago. Not your typical beginning of the year school pep rally.
Elder witch Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) is attempting to seduce a scientist into giving her a youth serum called RM-7. She becomes frustrated at his insistence that it will be at least two years before he can make it. She literally sucks the life from him to obtain his youthfulness, leaving him a wizened corpse. She is then shown in a cocaine-fueled rage as she wanders crazily around her home cursing the scientist and smashing a mirror when she sees her aged reflection. Perhaps the scientist should be giving her an anti-psychotic instead. It is also discovered that Fiona is a Supreme, which means that she has all the witches’ powers, while other witches only have one power each.
The teen witches discuss their powers at the dinner table. Madison is apparently a murderous movie star who telekinetically set her director on fire. Queenie tires of Madison and begins cutting her finger, which sends Madison into a ripping pain, revealing that Queenie is a human voodoo doll. Meanwhile, Nan mumbles predictions on everyone’s futures, with no one really listening.
Fiona dramatically shows up at the academy. As Cordelia’s mother, there is a lot of tension between her and the headmistress. Viewers learn that Fiona had once ditched Cordelia at the academy and that she has since scorned her mother for it. Fiona seems unbattered by her words. She informs Cordelia that she has been failure and is taking control of the school.
Madison and Zoey go to a frat party and are shortly separated by the throng of partiers. Zoey enters a flirtatious conversation with kind frat-boy Kyle (Evan Peters), despite warning him that they will never be together. Meanwhile, Madison is in the upper parts of the house with more frat boys. The camera angles are misty and warped, implying that she has been drugged by the men. In a brutal, chaotic scene, Madison is gang-raped while being filmed by several frat boys. Kyle bursts into the room, tearing his frat brothers off of her and calling them out on how insane they are. The men all rush from the room, out of the house and onto the bus in an attempt to escape, beating Kyle down and bringing him with them in the process. In a display of vengeful rage, Madison runs into the street and uses her telekinesis to flip the bus, killing all occupants, including Kyle, except the ringleader.
Fiona is impressed with Madison’s ruthlessness, but slams her against the wall just to prove she’s more powerful. She then says it’s field trip time. It’s a typical day at the academy. The students and Fiona all change into black clothes and head off for a tour of LaLaurie’s home. It is revealed that the blood she smeared on her face was a youth serum, derived from the pancreases of tortured slaves.
Flashing back to 1834, Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) seeks revenge for the murder of her lover at the hands of LaLaurie. She offers LaLaurie a love potion that she promises will force Monsieur LaLaurie to stay faithful to his wife. LaLaurie chugs the potion happily and as a consequence, supposedly dies. Nobody ever found her body, at least until Nan came along and located it under a water fountain by the house.
Zoey is shown entering the hospital that the rape ringleader is kept in. With the frat boy comatose, she states, “Might as well put this curse to use,” and has sex with his unmoving body until he bleeds out and dies.
The episode ends with Fiona hypnotizing two men and digging up LaLaurie, who is miraculously still alive. The two walk off into the darkness to “get a drink.”
The first episode of “Coven” is jam-packed with events, as is expected with the standalone season-style that “American Horror Story” is known for. It quickly set itself apart from the last two seasons, as it seems to endorse a newfound sense of freedom and power, rather than the tone of entrapment Murder House and Asylum focused on so heavily. The season is off to a rapid, excellent start.