Enter the COVEN

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It’s witching hour, my friends. But stow away your brooms, return your wands, and hide your Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, because American Horror Story: Coven leaves all the fun-loved, preconceived notions of witchcraft at the gates.
In the third installment of Ryan Murphy’s twisted anthology series, our favorite actors return to modern day – ditching the dreadful Massachusetts insane asylum for the bustling streets of New Orleans.
This story opens on Taissa Farmiga as Zoe – just your average, sexually deprived teenage girl, whose kiss kills her boyfriend. In a flash, she’s sent on a train to a boarding school for witches – and don’t worry, they saved themselves by making a Harry Potter joke. Cordilia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) resides over the school and teaches the girls how to channel and control their powers.

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Zoe’s classmates provide some much needed comic relief to this dark drama. Emma Roberts essentially plays herself, an actress whose telekinetic super powers have been too grand for the limelight. Her cover story is that she’s in rehab for a heroine addiction – believable. Precious herself, Gabourey Sidibe, plays Queenie, the human voodoo doll. This smack-talking, street-smart girl wound up at the school after she plunged her arm into a frialator, burning her obscenely rude customer to blisters. The last houseguest is AHS alum Jamie Brewer, who played the sweet-loving Addie in season one. This season, the actress plays a clairvoyant child, who knows too much for her own good.

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The queen herself, Jessica Lange, has traded her nun garb for some more traditional clothes. Her name is Fiona Goode (a reference to Salem, no doubt) and she is “The Supreme.” On her quest for eternal life, Fiona decides to dig up the corpse of Madame LaLaurie, played by the terrifyingly wicked Kathy Bates. It seems like Lange has finally met her match. But the power struggle continues, and her name is Angela Bassett, who plays the voodoo, Marie Laveau. Much like Queenie, we learn that Laveau is a direct descendent of Tituba, the slave from Barbados who was one of the first accused witches in Salem.

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And then there’s Lily Rabe. As last season’s fan favorite, Sister Mary Eunice, the shy, obedient nun turned kinky, Devil-possessed entity, Rabe has gained quite the cult following. In this season, her character is no saner. Misty Day is a witch with the power of resurrection. After being burnt at the stake, Misty rises and makes it her first mission to bring back some alligators to kill their hunters. She derives her inspiration from Stevie Nicks, who she calls “the white witch.” I really would have loved to be a fly on the wall during Ryan Murphy’s chat with the singer’s manger…
Also returning this season is Evan Peters, who, along with Lange, has appeared in the most episodes of the anthology series. Instead of being the outcast he played in season one, he plays a frat brother named Kyle Spencer (who he probably would have gunned down as Tate). Kyle and Zoe meet at a party, as if Tate and Violet are meeting in another life, just as Kyle’s frat brothers are graphically raping Madison. Kyle breaks up the horrific scene and the brothers scramble back onto their bus, but not before Madison regains consciousness and uses her power to flip their bus, instantly killing seven of the nine passengers, including one of the star-crossed lovers, Kyle.

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Cue the episode entitled “Boy Parts,” in which the girls attach the best limbs to Kyle’s head, just as Misty comes along to turn Kyle into a monster worthy of Dr. Frankenstein.
Meanwhile, the seemingly innocent Cordilia Foxx learns that her hormones are not helping her fertility, so her husband urges her to turn to magic. In a steamy sex rite, involving black powder, multiple herbs, fire, and hatching snake eggs, the two attempt to conceive a baby. Will it work? Probably. Will there be consequences because they used magic? Definitely.

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While this season has planted some strong roots, I’m a little disappointed that the show has moved on to incorporate big names like Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, and Emma Roberts. Part of what has made AHS the show it has become is the no name actors making a niche for themselves. Where are Naomi Grossman and Chloë Sevigny, who played fan favorites Pepper and Shelley in Asylum? How about James Cromwell? His performance as Dr. Arthur Arden won him an Emmy and definitely should have won him a spot in Murphy’s script. Other notably absent series regulars are Zachary Quinto and Dylan McDermott, but Quinto’s run on Broadway and McDermott’s new role on CBS’s Hostages probably negated any hopes of their return to AHS. But with the set up this show has, there’s no reason why they can’t come back for the show’s fourth season. Or fifth. Or eleventh – it’s possible, right?

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Flashback: AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM

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With the mini-series categories blowing up within the past year, I have taken it upon myself to use my very abundant amount of time to explore these amazing artistic and creative feats. Most recently, I have checked myself into Briarcliff Manor – the setting for FX’s smash-hit American Horror Story: Asylum. And the things I saw were…well, horrifying – in a good way.

From the ironically deranged mind of Glee’s Ryan Murphy comes the second installment of the AHS anthology, the first of which followed a modern day family moving into a haunted house in LA. In the second chapter, however, Murphy quite beautifully recycles his actors to tell the story of an insane asylum in the 1960s and all of its inhabitants.

Once a prestigious tuberculosis ward, the manor was converted to a monastery-run home for the criminally insane. Owned by papal hopeful Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes from Shakespeare in Love), the asylum is under the rule of a Nurse Ratchet-type, Sister Jude, played by the incomparable, two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange, who played Constance in the first installment.

The overambitious reporter, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), attempts to come in contact with one of Briarcliff’s patients, a murderer by the name of Bloody Face, but her naivety gets her placed in the nuthouse herself.

Accused murderer Kit Walker (Evan Peters, who played Tate in the first installment) is locked up for Bloody Face’s crimes – but did he do it?

With the help of Dr. Oliver Thredson (Star Trek and Heroes’ Zachary Quinto), both Lana and Kit plan their escape from Sister Jude’s rule.

The show’s many religious undertones and gruesome sights of the conditions within the asylum create a much more ominous sense of horror, whereas the first season relies a lot on cheap, “jumpy” scares and Connie Britton just being afraid.

The second season continued the tradition of a Romeo and Juliet-type relationship that Tate and Violet have in the first season. This time around, former Nazi and asylum doctor Arthur Arden and the Devil-possessed Sister Mary Eunice meet their tragic fate. Ironically, it’s the ex-Nazi that initiates their incineration.

The show also plays well on the Cold War hysteria that has become a timestamp for the asylum generation. At the time, the threat of extraterrestrial war was just as real as that of the atomic bomb.

However, my one criticism for this amazing and addictive mini-series is that the ending seemed too dragged out. Not to spoil anything specific, I feel like they turn society and the media into the antagonist, which I didn’t feel was necessarily what Murphy intended to showcase. I would have much preferred they stuck to the “curiosity killed the cat” theme, but hey – who am I to say so.

If you have yet to delve into the series, please do yourself a favor and watch it. You can find the first season on Netflix and you can get a little creative when viewing the second.

Production of American Horror Story: Coven is now in the works in glorious New Orleans. Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Evan Peters are set to return amongst others, Joining the cast will be Kathy Bates (Fried Green Tomatoes), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire), and Emma Roberts (Scream 4).