10/06/2013 10:28 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

American Horror Story: Coven Preview

Something wicked Wednesday comes.

It's the season three premier of Ryan Murphy's FX hit show-or miniseries, if you believe the Emmy's-American Horror Story (10pm Eastern/9pm Central). Season one we explored Tinseltown lore in a haunted Hollywood mansion, and last season we were treated to the TV equivalent of electroshock therapy in American Horror Story: Asylum. This season's theme: witchcraft, under the subtitle Coven.

In American Horror Story: Coven, the exceptional Jessica Lange returns, this time as glitzy enchantress Fiona--think Anna Wintour with a wand. Fiona is the Supreme of the Salem coven, a group of witchy women who fled south to New Orleans in the 1800s to escape persecution in New England. After years away in Los Angeles, an unexpected event drives her back to The Big Easy to prepare her coven for war--presumably against the native voodoo enchantresses, once led by Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett). Back in New Orleans, Fiona finds her daughter Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) running Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, an institution devoted to training and educating the few remaining girls with supernatural talents. Together they must overcome their differences to keep their coven from extinction.

While Lange is the obvious AHS MVP, Paulson's performance last season makes her a clear runner up. She earned an Emmy nod for intrepid reporter Lana Winters, whose Ken Kesey-style undercover expose of the asylum at Briarcliff Manor incidentally gets her interred as a permanent patient. Other reappearing actors of note include Taissa Farmiga, who played troubled teen Violet Harmon in season one. In Coven she plays Zoe, a shy girl sent to Miss Robichaux's after accidentally unleashing magic on an unsuspecting boyfriend. Also back is Evan Peters--psychotic school shooter Tate Langdon in season one and alien-obsessed Kit Walker in season two--as a Tulane frat boy with a crush on Zoe. In addition to Peters, the few male characters in this season include familiar face Denis O'Hare (burn-scarred Larry Harvey in season one) as repulsive mute Spalding, butler at Miss Robichaux's a la Lurch from The Addams Family.

A number of new actors will join the returning cast of Coven: Emma Roberts and Gabourey Sidibe as fellow students at Miss Robichaux's, Bassett as the voodoo queen, Broadway legend Patti Lupone as yet another adversary of Fiona & co. But perhaps the most anticipated performance is that of Kathy Bates, who plays historical sadist, racist and murderer Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie.

Much like American Horror Story: Asylum, Coven will traverse time periods, jumping between Miss Robichaux's in modern day New Orleans and maniacal LaLaurie, who lived in a mansion a few blocks off of Bourbon Street in the 1830s. The real Delphine LaLaurie was a prominent Louisiana-born socialite who secretly tortured her slaves. According to the 1946 book Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans, LaLaurie allegedly had a "sadistic appetite [that] seemed never appeased until she had afflicted on one or more of her black servitors some hideous form of torture." In the capable hands of Bates, such a legendary villain is sure to vice-grip our attention, much like Ian McShane's serial killer Santa in Asylum.

Along with the loaded cast, the New Orleans setting will be a character unto itself this season. While the Los Angeles haunted house and Briarcliff Manor surely played a part in the plot of past seasons, neither had such distinct personality as New Orleans. The aboveground tombs, jazz funerals, voodoo history and enigmatic mysticism of the city should add an additional layer of Carnival effervescence to Coven.

For all the excitement, however, the impending season can still be greeted with some apprehension. Murphy claims Coven will be more "fun"-less bleak than Asylum, instead driven by psychological scares brewed with a bit of whimsy. But die-hard fans can't help but wonder if the witch trope and Hogwarts-esque magic school isn't a gimmick to draw in more viewers from generation Twilight. Can Murphy maintain the edge that has become a trademark of the American Horror Story brand, or will he sacrifice the horror for cutesy humor?

The truth is viewers trust Murphy for a reason. No doubt part of what will make Coven enticing is how the magic unfolds.

Eye of Lange and Murphy's brain,
Tongue of Bates, New Orleans' lane,--
For a show of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

For more theories and analysis of American Horror Story: Coven, listen to This American Horror Story Podcast on iTunes.

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