"American Horror Story" is almost back, and after screening the premiere episode of "Coven" (premieres Wed., Oct. 9 at 10 p.m. ET on FX) we can say that it's hands-down the most fun, most accessible and most delightful season so far.
That's not to say it isn't scary -- it's about witches, people! -- but there's a lighter, more comedic tone that makes meeting this particular group of present-day witches feel very real and relatable.
Warning: There are some plot points discussed here, so if you're a super spoiler-phobe, keep reading at your own risk.
Jessica Lange plays Fiona, the Supreme witch of her generation, which means she has almost unlimited power -- except that she can't seem to stop herself from aging. Her daughter Cordelia, played by Sarah Paulson, is also a witch, but she's chosen to stifle her powers and live a more "normal" life. Of course normal in a Ryan Murphy show means running a school for "exceptional young ladies," a.k.a. young witches, in New Orleans, home of voodoo and the destination for witches fleeing Salem so many years ago.
The show kicks off in the 1800s with a truly gruesome introduction to Kathy Bates' character Madame LaLaurie, based on a real-life socialite-slash-serial killer who tortured her black slaves. We then cut to more modern-day witchery with Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) who learns about her powers the hard way before getting sent to Miss Robichaux's Academy in New Orleans.
The series flashes back to 1800s New Orleans, as well as Salem, showing the difference between witchcraft and voodoo powers: "The Salem witches are not immortal -- they have not found that ingredient of everlasting life -- so that is a big plot point," series co-creator Ryan Murphy teased, also noting that the show touches on issues of feminine power, sexual power and race relations, on top of commentary about how our culture deals with aging.
Keep reading for more "Coven" goodness from Ryan Murphy ...
On Jessica Lange playing the Supreme witch -- was there ever another option?:
"No -- that was her caveat. [Laughs.] That's what I pitched her. The great thing about this show is, for the most part, everybody has one-year deals, so people who are on this show want to be on this show, which is always refreshing. Every year, I sort of gather Sarah [Paulson] and Jessica, and I say, 'This is what I'm thinking about, this is what I'm interested in, this is who I think you'll play.' So there's always the option of I want to come back or I don't.
"She liked that idea, and I think she particularly loved that she got to wear Saint Laurent heels and make-up this season after last year. It's just something completely different for her. She's such a great dramatic actress, obviously, but she hasn't in her career had a lot of occasion to do comedic stuff, and this part definitely has that. Her stuff with Kathy Bates in particular is very funny. "
How Jessica Lange got Kathy Bates on board:
"Those two have been friends forever, and that's actually how Kathy came into our lives. Jessica said, 'You know, Kathy never misses an episode -- you should meet with her.' I'd known we were going to do Madame LaLaurie, so I met with her and said, 'I don't know if you'd ever want to play a character that's eight times worse than your character on "Misery," but …[Laughs.] I have the perfect part for you!' So she listened and then she said, 'I need to think about it.' And she called me literally 45 minutes later and said, 'I'm in!' I just spent the weekend with her and she says this part is her favorite part she's ever played. She loves the costumes, she loves the arc, she loves the comedy."
Murphy added about Bates' character, Madame LaLaurie: "She's a real woman who did everything in the show -- and worse."
On Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson playing mother and daughter:
"I was always sort of very, very fascinated by the dynamic of the show 'Bewitched.' I loved that. And then I thought, 'Well what would really happen if Samantha listened to Endora and just went batshit dark crazy?' Like what would happen if Elizabeth Montgomery left the plot and was like, 'Yeah, I don't want to be normal, I don't want to be suburban, I'm gonna go dark.' So [Sarah's character] does start, obviously, very prim and proper, and then there's something that happens to her character around episode 5 that forces her to realize, 'OK, my mother may be right.' And that's also a great dynamic to play -- Sarah and Jessica as mother-daughter, and an odd mother-daughter who really don't like each other, which I thought was really fun."
Is that poster a hint about the season?
"Yes, there is a three-way," Murphy joked. Maybe. "That is a clue that I don't want to say too much about … "
This season's "big bad":
"There's two. The two big arch-villains this season are probably the Minotaur, which you see in the cold open [of the pilot], and then there's the Axeman. Those are the two sort of mythological creatures this season."
It's worth noting that the Axeman was a real serial killer who terrorized New Orleans in the early 1900s and was never caught.
On this season's concept being his favorite -- and maybe ripe for a spinoff:
"Yeah, I mean, I love this season -- it's my favorite season that we've done so far, largely because of the comedy of it, and I think it's really scary. I love the formula of the youth story with the veteran actor story. Every season is … I get very sad when I say goodbye to it and we tear down those sets. [FX boss] John Landgraf, to be quite clear, and I have always spoke about how this is a show that's ripe to spin something off, to do something different. So I don't know … we're talking about it. I love it -- I love this season, I love the cast, I love what it's about, I love that set more than life itself. So, I don't know. I mean, I already know what next season is and it's not witches, but maybe something will happen. We're talking. It has to get on the air first I think."
Hints about next season:
"I always thought it'd be really cool with this show, and I think I might do it this year, that the finale airs and then announce at the end of the show what next year's show is by using some sort of visual thing. I think I'm going to try that this year. I think the last image of the season will be 'this is what you're getting next year,' and we'll announce the title."
How long can "American Horror Story" go on?
"I spend a lot of time dreaming and coming up with this stuff, and researching it, and I love that. I guess because I used to be a journalist, but I love the research part of it," Murphy said. "John Landgraf and I always talk about how this show could go 10 years. I used to always say for 'Nip/Tuck,' seven [seasons] and out. When you do that form of storytelling, it has an end. This, to me, is infinitely fascinating and really cool to do, and I love that the cast comes in and out and we change it up. It's just pure fun."
"American Horror Story: Coven" premieres Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
Watch the new trailer for "Coven" here:
The reality of being a woman — by the numbers. Learn more