American Horror Story Coven, S3E1: Bitchcraft
Original Airdate: October 9, 2013
Recap by Sarabeth Pollock
Welcome back to another season of American Horror Story, boys and girls! This season, the focus is on the Coven, which happens to be the rest of the AHS moniker. Be prepared as we undertake a merry jaunt through past and present-day New Orleans with Jessica Lange and an all-star cast.
Tonight’s episode, aptly titled “Bitchcraft,” begins in 1834 New Orleans, at the Royal Street home of Madame Delphine LaLaurie, played wickedly by Kathy Bates. Madame LaLaurie is a real person, having lived from 1775-1842. According to Wikipedia (I know, shame on the history major for citing Wikipedia as a source…duly noted), LaLaurie is most known for the torture and mass killings of slaves in 1834. Hmm. And our story begins in 1834. Undoubtedly not a coincidence.
Madame LaLaurie is introducing her daughters to the town’s eligible bachelors. One of her more high spirited daughters suggests that her talent might be in the boudoir, which her mother plays off nervously. But clearly there is some tension between mother and daughters. The camera focuses on Boquita, the daughter, and an African American servant.
Later that night, LaLaurie is in her own boudoir looking at her face. She reaches for a silver chalice, and inside is a brush and a dark red liquid, which she spreads all over her face. It’s blood…but whose blood? Angrily, LaLaurie notes that the blood isn’t doing anything to help her complexion or her “waddle” so she calls to her foppish husband and to Boquita. Her husband informs her that Boquita has been caught in a transgression after the dinner party. They rush downstairs to find Boquita on the couch and the servant bound. He’s stammering that he had nothing to do with her, but LaLaurie won’t hear of it. Though she knows her daughter is guilty, she tells her daughter they will blame the servant for attacking her. She orders him to the attic.
Upstairs is a vision from a nightmare. Slaves are held in cages, some with lesions and boils on their faces, some whose eyes and mouths have been sewn shut. One asks why she is doing this to them. “Because I can,” she replies. She laughs and calls them her pets. At the end of the room, the servant is tied up, his face badly swollen. She calls for her servant boy, who walks in bearing the freshly slaughtered head of a bull. He puts it on Bastien, the servant, and LaLaurie delights that her favorite Greek myth has come to life. “Half man, half bull.” Now she has her own Minotaur.
Cue the even creepier credits. Are you all still with me? (Remember, much of LaLaurie’s story is real…that is the craziest part to me)
Back in the present day, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) leads her boyfriend into her house. Her parents aren’t home so it’s time for a nice teenage tryst. They make small talk. Then they have sex…only something happens. Once he’s inside her, his face starts to bleed. She screams. Next we see Zoe on a train reflecting on her circumstances. The official cause of death was a brain aneurysm, but no one had ever seen anything like it before. She recalls the day of the funeral as her mother consoles her and her father hangs his head fatalistically. Her mother explains that they should have told her, but they hoped it skipped her. She suffers from the same affliction her grandmother did. “So, apparently I’m a witch,” Zoe muses on the train. “It runs in my family. It doesn’t show up in every generation.” She flips through a book filled with the history of witches. During the Salem Witchcraft Trials, Zoe reads that the girls who were tried and convicted weren’t even witches. The real witches were too cunning to be caught, and they fled to New Orleans to escape persecution. Zoe’s mother tells her that there is a school in New Orleans where she will be safe. As soon as she mentions it, three bald men sporting shades and dark suits (a la The Matrix) come in to take her away. While Zoe struggles, a redheaded Frances Conroy (looking like Mona from “Who’s the Boss”) tells Zoe’s mother that she can’t accompany them to the train station, and in the same wispy breath she comments on the family’s striped curtains.
Zoe sits alone on the train with the redheaded woman and three bald guards sitting nearby. When the car pulls up outside Miss Robichaux’s Academic for Exceptional Young Ladies, Redhead rings the bell and the gate opens. Zoe looks over at them to find that they have disappeared. Miss Robichaux’s is an impossibly large Garden District mansion. Zoe enters to find it sparsely decorated and eerily empty. She wanders the hallways until she hears something. The audience sees dark figures skittering through the house. Zoe sees them and screams, and then the black-clad and bird-masked figured chase her. When they catch her, they pin her to the table and one of the masked birds offers her up as a sacrifice to the Dark One. Zoe screams and soot pours from the chimney and fire flares from the candles. That’s when the lead figure tells “Sabrina” to chill out.
Pulling off her mask, Zoe is startled to see that it’s movie star Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts). The other girls remove their masks and introduce themselves:
“I’m Nan. Hi!” (Jan Brewer, who played Lange’s daughter from season one)
“Queenie.” (Gabourey Sidibe)
“So bored now,” Madison sighs.
Headmistress Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) appears, sending the other girls to fetch the groceries while she takes Zoe to her room. Mute butler Spalding (Denis O’Hare) follows behind solemnly, though he looks like he’s hiding something. Cordelia explains that Miss Robichaux’s opened in 1790 as a finishing school. During the Civil War it served as a military hospital, and then an East Coast socialite took it over later to make it into a school for young witches, using the finishing school as its cover. At one point, the school held 60 witches. Now there are only the four students. The number of witches is declining as families that carry the gene choose not to have children. Cordelia explains that each generation has one Supreme, a witch who possesses more powers than any other. Zoe asks if Cordelia is the Supreme, but she isn’t. The other girls laugh lightly, telling Zoe that Cordelia helps them suppress their powers as if this was the 1600s. Cordelia doesn’t agree; witches in the 1600s knew the risks of being a witch. Now they have to be more careful.
Cordelia tells the tale of a recent murder in a neighboring town. At a gathering of a snake worshiping religious group, young Misty Day (Lily Rabe) finds a dead bird and brings it back to life. She has the rare power of Resurgence. As the bird flies away, a woman sees what she has done. Misty faints dead away. Her power is mistaken for necromancy. Zoe asks what happened to her. Cordelia says it’s the same thing that happened in Salem. We see Misty dragged through a field and tied to a pyre. As they light the match, Misty vows that they will be the ones to burn. She screams as she is consumed in flames.
What a quick end for Lily Rabe…or is it?
A car pulls up outside of an office building and a leggy blonde steps out wearing sky-high stiletto heels. Inside, a doctor shows Fiona (Jessica Lange) a monkey named Allegra. Poor Allegra was in her eighties by human standards, and she was dying. Hours after receiving a dose of their new miracle drug, decades had been shaved from her life. She was bouncing around like a young monkey. And good news, Fiona can have access to it in about two years. Of course, that’s not what Fiona wants. The whole experiment was being funded by Fiona’s late husband’s foundation, and now she wants access to this miracle drug that she paid for. And hurry, because she has a dinner date. The doctor stutters and stumbles as Fiona lights a cigarette. He tells her she can’t smoke in the building, but she lights up anyway and demands her medicine. “This isn’t magic,” he insists. Oh, really?
Next we see Fiona dancing in a cocaine-induced haze in her high rise apartment building in Los Angeles. Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is playing in the background. She’s dancing around like a madwoman. After snorting a few more lines, she sees a news report about missing Misty Day, and authorities suspect that she may have been “burned at the stake.” There is a knock at the door. It’s the doctor, and he’s pissed that she has called him away from her daughter’s violin recital. Fiona is pissed that he’s been injecting her with medicine for five days and nothing has happened. She wants him to double the dosage, but the doctor isn’t willing to risk everything. He plans to resign in the morning. Fiona makes the door slam and the windows open, which startles the doctor. She lights another cigarette and sends him flying across the room with a flick of her wrist. She straddles him and kisses him, and suddenly he reciprocates, but we see that something is happening. He is aging. Pretty soon she drops his aged corpse to the ground and goes to the mirror to see that the process has made her somewhat younger. But it isn’t enough, so she smashes the glass.
The four students at Miss Robichaux’s gather around the dinner table. Madison taunts Spalding relentlessly, earning reprimands from Queenie and Nan. But Madison doesn’t care about anyone else, though she really wants to know why Zoe is there. Nan interrupts, saying it was her boyfriend and that it wasn’t her fault. Zoe lies and says that he is still alive. Nan assures her that she will find love again, and in an unexpected way. Zoe asks why Madison is there, and Madison says her agent “staged an intervention.” Nan interrupts again, saying that Madison really did kill a man. “I get it, bitch, you’re clairvoyant,” Madison sneers. She recounts the story of a light falling and killing her director after he put her down for not hitting her mark. Nan is correct; Madison did send the light down onto his head.
Queenie wonders why Madison doesn’t just do the world a favor and take an acting lesson. Madison sends Queenie’s soup bowl into her lap. Queenie stabs her hand with her own fork…and blood gushes from Madison’s hand. Queenie is a “human Voodoo doll.” Nan tries to stop Queenie from slitting her own throat, and finally she agrees to go for a walk. Madison asks Zoe if she owns “anything that didn’t come from the Gap.” As Madison’s new best friend in the house, she’ll loan Zoe some clothes so they can go to the frat party. It was just announced on Twitter, after all.
Cordelia is in her greenhouse concocting potions. You can tell by watching her that she takes her job and her role seriously. And she kind of reminds me of Julia Roberts. Her happy bubble is burst when mom Fiona shows up. Apparently Fiona wasn’t in Switzerland after all. “LA. The glam is gone. It’s tragic, they put a strip mall on Sunset and Vine.” Cordelia comments on Fiona’s jet lag, but Fiona corrects her that she looks great. Cordelia tries to pass a sleep potion off as a restorative, but Fiona sees through it and tosses the potion to Cordelia’s black cat. It becomes clear that Cordelia does not want her mother there; she is harboring some deep resentment toward the fact that her mother dumped her at the boarding school, too. Fiona can’t understand why her daughter, the only child of a powerful Supreme, isn’t taking advantage of her status, but Cordelia is happy in her own little world. Fiona saw the news about Misty, that she was burned at the stake. “It’s Salem all over,” she says. Something big is about to happen, and she intends to stay at Miss Robichaux’s to make sure the girls are prepared. Clearly Fiona and Cordelia differ on teaching philosophies, but Fiona aptly points out that times are changing, and thanks to social media, witches can’t hide anymore. Cordelia threatens to call “the Council” if Fiona doesn’t leave, but Fiona points out that they will approve of the Supreme teaching the girls. Sighing, Cordelia asks “when are you going to die and stop ruining my life?” Fiona is momentarily stunned, but she recovers quickly. “I’m here. I’m staying. We might as well make the best of it.”
The party bus is rolling up to its destination. Frat boy Kyle (Evan Peters) gives his boys a pep talk before they launch into the party. Apparently the frat house is being watched by the administration and so they have to be on their best behavior. Madison the movie star commands instant attention, leaving Zoe to herself. That’s when Kyle spots her. It’s love at first sight. The duo meets through a melting ice sculpture. He brings her a drink and she teases him about having a superpower to sense dehydration. Kyle isn’t just a pretty face—he is at Tulane on an academic scholarship. Madison, in the meantime, has befriended one of Kyle’s buddies. She asks if he wants to be her slave. When he asks what is in it for him, she reminds him that slaves don’t get anything. Paging Madame LaLaurie…. What she doesn’t realize is that her slave slipped her a roofie, and she stumbles down the hallway into his waiting arms.
Kyle and Zoe are hitting it off. He asks if she has a boyfriend, which she doesn’t, but while she really likes him, she says they won’t work. She leaves him in search of Madison. Meanwhile, the frat boys are gang raping Madison and filming it. Zoe tells Kyle that she can’t find Madison anywhere, so he goes upstairs and comes upon the gruesome scene. He tries to tackle his own frat brothers, but they rush past him. He chases them while Zoe rushes to Madison’s aid. She vows that the men won’t get away with it, so Zoe goes after them. The guys run out to the party bus and knock Kyle unconscious and drive away. Zoe tries to run after them but can’t. That’s when Madison walks past her and stares at the departing bus. It flips over and catches on fire. Well, they had it coming…
The next morning, the news reports that seven of nine frat boys died in the crash. Zoe thinks they need to tell someone what happened. Madison is playing it off while Spalding listens to everything that is said. Fiona strides in, telling Madison that her little bus flip was sloppy witchcraft. Of course, no one knows who Fiona is. When Madison calls her a hag, Fiona flicks her wrist and sends the starlet flying into the wall. She announces that they’re going on a field trip and tells them to wear black.
On the streets of the French Quarter, Fiona leads the young witches along like ducklings. Madison complains about the heat, saying her “vagina is sweating.” Fiona ignores her and tells them they are going to a fountain that is a mecca for their clan. When Madison questions Fiona’s authority, Nan pipes up and tells the group that Fiona is the Supreme. Fiona smiles, telling everyone that Nan is smarter than the lot of them put together. (Quite the reversal from season one, really) Nan steps out of the line when they pass Madame LaLaurie’s Royal Street house. She joins the tour group and listens in on the Madame’s infamous history. The rest of the coven joins her. Madison comments that Nicholas Cage once owned the house. But the house is more known for its sinister past, when Madame LaLaurie used slaves’ blood for face cream. Fiona stares at the silver chalice, and we see Madame LaLaurie in the mirror.
Back in 1834, Madame LaLaurie frets that she’s out of blood. She commands her reluctant daughter to get more blood, so they go to the attic and slice open the side of one of the slaves being held there. The daughter pries out the man’s pancreas, which was the secret ingredient to her poultice. The girls take a tour through the torture chamber, looking sick. The tour guide says this is where Madame LaLaurie met her death. In 1834, the mysterious Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) shows up on LaLaurie’s doorstep with a potion to ensure her husband’s fidelity. LaLaurie drinks it down and immediately starts choking. As it turns out, her Minotaur slave was Laveau’s lover, and Laveau was there to exact revenge. The little houseboy shows Laveau to the attic where her lover is chained. She embraces the bull’s head, sobbing. The tour guide says that LaLaurie’s body was never found.
Outside the house, Nan is sitting at the fountain. Fiona takes notice and joins her, asking who she’s hearing. Nan points to the paved courtyard. “The lady of the house.”
Zoe goes to the hospital to see if Kyle survived. He didn’t. It was the guy who slipped the roofie into Madison’s drink. Zoe seems to make a decision, telling him that it should have been him. He should have died. She closes the door to his hospital room.
The movers are bringing Fiona’s suitcases into the house. She tells Cordelia to tip them well as she rushes out to catch her taxi.
At the hospital, Zoe pulls the guy’s gown up and works him until he has an erection. We can hear her voice talking about people losing hope and people trying to maintain hope. Some people don’t have enough trust to show people their vulnerabilities. We see Madison crying in the shower, Queenie eating some fried chicken, and Nan making paper dolls. If Zoe can never feel love, she might as well use the curse for a good reason. She mounts him and screws him until he bleeds from his face.
Fiona is exhuming a coffin. She tells the workers they won’t remember a thing, and once they leave, we see that she is back at the Royal Street courtyard where Nan was talking to LaLaurie. Fiona cuts open the chains binding the coffin shut…and a very much alive Madame Delphine LaLaurie rolls out. She looks started, but not so startled for someone who just came back to the world after almost two hundred years. Grinning, Fiona offers to buy her a drink.
Well, AHS fans, that episode seemed like a miniseries in itself. I think the producers did a great job setting up the season. I suspect that great things are coming, especially given that so many main characters died. Evidently, death isn’t a problem this season.
What did you think? Is Coven going to be a return to the humor and chills of the first season? Leave your comments below….