Moving on with my American Horror Story marathon I now turn to Season Three: Coven. Like I stated in my American Horror Story: Asylum review I really enjoy the aspect that this show is an anthology series, with each respective season acting as a brand-new instalment within the twisted franchise, telling new elaborate, and disturbing tales in order to unsettle us, as well as intrigue.
American Horror Story: Coven does this by exploring the world of Witches. Now, like with Asylum, I had a pre-determined idea as to how this series would be structured and told, believing that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk would go down the traditional root and explore the old days of Salem and the infamous “Witch Hunts”. However, Coven cleverly exceeded my expectations by moving the narrative within modern-day and told a brand-new take upon the Witch lore which ended-up pushing this season to become my favourite story within American Horror Story (thus far).
It holds all the usual gore, sexual imagery, strangeness, and incredibly detailed characters filled to the brim with inner desires, but in many ways holds back a lot of the craziness in favour of telling a more relaxed, and straight-forward narrative. Instead of things becoming overly complicated Coven just sticks to the basics within its own lore and tries its best to tell a story solely dedicated to the character’s inner wishes, exploring new ways to showcase how corruption of power can steal the soul.
Because of this Coven becomes a better structured show, and concentrates more carefully on its characters (whom you become incredibly attached to). On top of this it tells a narrative that actually makes you think, to the point where you’re not fully sure who to trust or how the story will play out due to all the different motivations in play. One minute you might be rooting for a certain character only to then have the narrative pull the rug from underneath you because it’s revealed that their desires may not be as pure as you first imagined.
Of course we have the return of all the usual cast, such as Jessica Lange, Taissa Farmiga, Frances Conroy, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, and Denis O’Hare, whilst we had the arrival of new cast members Emma Roberts, Angela Bassett, and Kathy Bates. This is another element that I truly like about American Horror Story, a sense of familiarity, as well as seeing these familiar faces portray different roles and essentially allowing themselves to become different embodiments of their creative acting abilities. It’s rather fascinating and allows the disturbing series to be even more immersive with its unique ideas.
The narrative follows a Coven of Witches and their desperate struggle to survive within the modern era, still secretly ridiculed for their practices, thus still making them rather scared of the outside world and what it may do to them if they discovered the truth. Not to mention there are Witch Hunters out there that wish to kill them. It brings in that age-old argument of acceptance and discrimination and the violent acts that can evolve from such emotional responses when certain individuals disagree with a certain progressive movement, whether it be because of their blind reasoning, inability to accept change, or their reliance on brainwashed ideals.
I do certainly like how Murphy and Falchuk develop the lore within this season, which genuinely allows the immersion within the Witching world feel realistic and completely relatable. This is helped further by the humanity presented within each and every character and their personal, and emotional, reasoning for motivating themselves further into this fearsome plot for survival and power.
Things become really tense as different characters present their views and others disagree, whilst others are simply blind to what is going on, presenting a series of events that slowly unfold and affect the ongoing events and the outcome of certain characters. A lot of this can be peeled back to simple selfish ambition, with certain characters simply being bratty teenagers that want further power and fame, believing themselves to be better than everyone else, whilst other characters feel more sincere (if completely unhinged) due to their weakness of mortality, wishing to further their lives through youth, thus fearing death and being replaced by something younger and possibly more powerful.
The narrative presents the Witching ceremony of the “Supreme”, a Witch more powerful than any other and is destined to rule the Coven. Of course Lange’s character, Fiona Goode, is keen to keep her title and constantly fears her approaching end as her power drains and her health deteriorates in the wake of the next “Supreme”, and so begins her desperate attempts to maintain young, and prevent the next “Supreme”, even going as far as murder (an act she willingly performed to gain her title in the first place) and conspiring with the enemy, Marie Laveau (played by Bassett).
Coven is incredibly good at keeping you engaged with all the backwards and forward actions presented by the different characters and their respective motivations, and you’re constantly torn as to who you should be following and who you should be despising, which made it all the more brilliant to watch. Then there’s the constant battles for power, and the acts of vengeance that come with it due to the turf struggles between the Witches and the Voodoo Queen.
It’s also fascinating seeing the different forms of magic presented, especially when you delve into the different cultures and their ideals, presented further by the different characters using the spells and incantations and how their resolve can affect the usage. They’re are plenty of revelations throughout, along with an abundance of backstabs and moments of pure confrontation that really keeps you on your toe as you seriously have no idea how the season will end. Heck, at one point I generally thought it was going to conclude on the grimmest point possible, i.e. all the Witch’s died and the Coven was drastically ended.
But luckily we ended up with the most positive conclusion to any of the American Horror Story‘s yet, which honestly, earned its place and fittingly concluded what was (for the moment) my favourite story. I just loved all the characters involved (whether I loved or hated them) and the neat stories it told were just incredibly engaging and thought-provoking, making me care what happened at every single moment.
Strangely enough this season doesn’t have much emphasis on the past (like previous seasons) except for key moments of character development, particularly around Bates character, Delphine LaLaurie, who acted as one of the most vile characters within American Horror Story (thus far). My God, she was just a ruthless cow, piled to the brim with backwards thinking, a twisted relationship with her family, as well as just being a genuinely unpleasant woman.
Having said that Bates did a terrific job at portraying this character, especially when it came to displaying her internal hatred towards black people, to the point where she would lock them in cages and torture them for her own personal amusement. It became worse when you later discovered that she had a fondness for her acts of cruelty, to the point where she found it fascinating to soak up the blood in her hands whilst dissecting a living creature.
What was most promising about her story-arc was the moment in the middle where you actually came to pity her because of her change of heart. This came about when Fiona dug up her body (upon Marie cursed the wicked woman with immortality [after making her observe the corpses of her family in retaliation for her cruel acts] and placed her in a coffin) and forced her to become a maid to the Coven. To add further irony to her insult she was forced to serve character Queenie (portrayed by Gabourey Sidibe) who was in fact black.
Through Queenie, however, Delphine actually began to understand the ways of the 21st Century and became more accepting towards progressive ideas (even having Barrack Obama as President), and thus she started to become a better person, to the point where she began to see the errors of her ways and searched desperately for redemption. Sadly, this didn’t last and she quickly became disgusted with her new ideals, believing she had become weakened by the present, and returned to her old ways, ultimately being silenced (ironically) by Queenie after she failed to see reason.
Another strange, but interesting, sub-plot came in the form of Peters side-character Kyle Spencer who was a young college student wanting a bright future, to which he even stayed clear of the brutal ideals of his fellow colleagues who were quick to gang-rape Roberts character, Madison Montogmery, for the hell-of-it, believing they were big and cool, and that her body was theirs to use however they chose.
This sadly brought him into the crossfire of death, one he didn’t deserve, but was later brought back from the dead by Madison in an attempt to be twisted towards Farmiga’s character, Zoe Benson, (because Madison’s a complete bitch) but this action would have serious consequences, one that became tragic as Kyle no longer held a connection to his former self and felt more like a confused Frankenstein monster (especially since his new body was made up of the body parts of his old collegues) who was quick to lash out.
His story revolved around the ideas of rebirth and rehabilitation and Zoe helped him through this period, with Kyle looking up to her and genuinely showed strong feelings for her, ultimately learning how to become human again after much struggle with identity and understanding.
Plus, it did become interesting with the inclusion of Rabe’s character, Misty Day, who held the power to bring people back from the dead, ultimately presenting the funny notion that nobody remained dead for long, and their secrets didn’t remain buried, which neatly brought about great moments of bringing down certain characters who tried their best to hide their ill intentions.
The final story-arc that made Coven a huge success (in my eyes) was that of Paulson’s character, Cordelia Foxx (the daughter of Fiona). Throughout the earlier episodes she really demonstrated that she was out of her depth with running the Coven, allowing key events to happen right under her nose as she was blinded by her innocent view of the world. This became an interesting metaphor when it took her to become blind in order to gain the power of insight, thus finally coming to terms with what went on around her (including her husband lying to her and hiding a destructive scheme to bring down the Coven).
On top of this was her confidence issues, which became crumbled by her mother’s wicked nature of bringing her down and basically making her feel worthless in her eyes, along with being powerless and blind as a leader. But over the course of the season she became more aware of her weaknesses and after much encouragement she finally comes to terms with her destiny, rising at a crucial moment in order to save her Coven from extinction, thus (in a surprising turn of events) becoming Fiona’s successor as “Supreme”, bringing a perfect conclusion to her emotional arc of discovery.
What more is there to say really? American Horror Story: Coven is just a delightful experience that manages to peel back the horrific nature of the previous seasons in order to tell a more cohesive and structured programme that has genuine moments of terror through harsh imagery, plenty of violent intent from characters as they try desperately to maintain/or gain power, and plenty of the usual twists and turns and surprising revelations. Not to mention the strongest line-up of characters (thus far).
So, yeah, this season of American Horror Story was a genuine pleasure to watch and I had a good time. Perfect television in my books!