So kicks off the Season of the Witch with Wednesday night's premier of American Horror Story: Coven, aptly christened 'Bitchcraft.' Within the first sixty minutes, Ryan Murphy and company have already subjected us to date rape, drug use, death sex, racism, sadism and genocide at break-neck pace. Whether the writers will engage the brakes in upcoming episodes is hard to tell, but in the meantime, we hurdle toward Hell.
The following are five observations of note from this week's episode:
1. We've seen sinister sequences before, but the opening scene of 'Bitchcraft' would make Wes Craven wince. American Horror Story has a history of catching our attention from the minute the season premier airs. In season one, the red-headed twins break into the murder house, despite an eerie warning from Adelaide (was she clairvoyant, too?), only to be attacked in the basement by The Infantata. In season two, a newlywed couple's historical horror setting fetish is torn apart (literally) by Bloody Face. However, unparalleled fear and disgust clenched each and every one of us as we follow Madame Lalaurie through her torture chamber, past one black servant with eyes and lips sewn shut, another with skin peeled off of his face, to the chained man in the back of the room. Angst-filled anticipation builds as she casually confesses a fondness for Greek mythology. Then comes the bull's head, placed upon the slaves shoulders to make a Minotaur. He writhes like an animal, trying to shake it off, only furthering the Minotaur likeness. AHS like's to set a dark precedent, but this one takes the cake.
2. You'd think Wednesday was open-mic night at the Salem Funny Bone with all the worn witchy wisecracks conjured by Fiona.You're never gonna become great women of our clan sitting around here at Hogwarts. Don't make me drop a house on you. The writers are better than this, and even the Emmy-winning necromancy of a superb Jessica Lange performance can't revive these dead jokes. Now that they've pulled all the low-hanging fruit, let's hope the corny comments and hackneyed humor has been purged from next week's script.
3. The gang rape scene of Emma Robert's character at the frat party is among the most disturbing sequences we've seen on any season of American Horror Story. The depravity of it all was only exacerbated by the creative camera use of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who takes up the disoriented first-person view of Madison as we see the alternating frat monsters thrust in and out of the frame. The fact that this sort of shit really happens all the time reminds us that reality is often more frightening than fiction.
4. Lalaurie's youth concoction--blood from the pancreas of her black servants--seems antithetical to white supremacy. Typically such bigots believe that Anglo blood is pure or superior, and that all else is dirty and tainted. Yet Lalaurie smears it across her face like an elixir from the Fountain of Youth, professing it has properties to prevent wrinkles and prolong her longevity. Perhaps Lalaurie's sadism has less to do with race, and more to do with power and status? Just as American Psycho's Patrick Bateman kills a homeless man for the hell of it--because he's jobless, because he's hungry, because he "reeks of shit"--Lalaurie gets a rush from torturing those beneath her: the poor and helpless at the fringe of society. Which, at this time, were slaves. Bateman would likely agree with her response after a caged slave asks why she does this: "Because I can."
5. Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), the human voodoo doll, has among the coolest, most innovative powers ever conceived. Will she really cut her own head off? Would she feel anything? Can she heal herself like Wolverine? Hopefully these will be answered in upcoming episodes. As for the other witches, Jamie Brewer's Nan makes for a compelling clairvoyant, while Madison's ability to manipulate physical objects with her mind is a bit of a tired trope (See Dane DeHaan in 2012's Chronicle). We've yet to see what witch matriarch Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) is capable of, but warted fingers crossed that it takes us by surprise. Finally, I think we can all say with some certainly that Violet's power, death-by-sex, just plain sucks. Literally. The life out of you.
For more analysis of American Horror Story: Coven, 'Bitchcraft', check out This American Horror Story Podcast on iTunes.