“American Horror Story: Coven” marks the third fascinating and horrifying tale of the venomous witch covens of New Orleans. Each season of AHS has a unique and different story from the last while bringing back the same core cast. Following “Murder House” and “Asylum,” the current season focuses on a coven of witches set fittingly in modern and traditionally gothic New Orleans.
Seasons so far have varied in distinguishing features: “Asylum” was most genuinely frightening, while “Murder House” made a clichéd concept fresh and utilized a larger cast. “Coven” has taken the best of both and heightened them.
The actual plot arc for “Coven” falters mid-season as original motives change or are entirely disregarded, and factions and character actions are in utter turmoil. The plot during the beginning and end of the season is most spellbinding as the first and last few episodes are as entertaining as they are outrageous, with a good deal of not-so-predictable yet foreshadowed twists and turns.
The finale is mesmerizing and I remained on the edge of my seat while attachments to these witches were made clear from moments of hilarity instantly shifting to sorrow. Without getting into specifics, the finale is more intense and thoughtful compared to past seasons.
“Coven” would be irrelevant without its fantastic cast. Women dominate this season, including the fabulous Jessica Lange as Fiona, the “Supreme” or leader of the coven, Angela Bassett as immortal voodoo queen Marie Laveau and Kathy Bates as horrendous Delphine LaLaurie based off the real, infamous socialite/serial killer.
The cast is composed of just as many younger witches, but the performances from the older actresses are substantially more compelling and keep the season from devolving into a cheap MTV-like supernatural teen drama (looking at you “Teen Wolf”). The show rides this line very well, and its more ridiculous moments are incredibly self-aware, especially dialogue.
Similarly, the turmoil for the coven is primarily internal rather than external, so the audience gets to know the majority of the characters vividly – often more than you would like to know – and with this comes admiration for these empowered, fierce and relentless diva witches.
Clearly co-creator and producer Ryan Murphy, who takes the lead on this season, tackles quite a lot for 13 episodes at 45-60 minutes. The most obvious and frequently criticized element of the show is consistency, specifically within the supernatural realm mythologized and character motivations. Other seasons had the same issues, but because each season is its own beast, the series avoids sapping the stamina of the audience with inconsistent motives – as is true of “True Blood,” for example.
Author Christopher Rice, fortuitously the son of Gothic horror legend Anne Rice, jabbed on his Twitter that the “pitch” for AHS was “let’s have women play drag queens.” Although facetious, Rice best surmises the clear and often obvious influence of Murphy, himself a gay man, within the show.
Dark and hilarious campy horror maintain an incredibly and compelling momentum past any deficiencies. Themes of this season are especially enthralling and unique due to the female performances driving the entire show. The matriarchal society of the witches is much more fascinating than the beaten-to-death male perspectives, specifically the season’s use of multiple female antiheros.
Murphy brilliantly and almost subversively spins themes with these mystic women not only relevant to a female’s experience and struggle but also other marginalized communities. Besides the obvious camp dialogue originally developed in early gay communities and the drag-like outfits, Murphy thematically portrays issues among these communities such as younger generations negating older ones, family as shared experience rather than blood, isolation from mainstream society and so on. Horror continues to be a spectacular medium to approach “taboo” social issues.
The show likely continues to haul in great ratings not only for its cult-like following but also for the alternative perspectives that fascinate and enthrall all types of viewers.
Often people are quick to write off the show for the supernatural elements, but frequent viewers know that these are merely components to articulate a more meaningful portrait of human struggle and experience. The series is not for everyone, but in the words of my inner witch Myrtle Snow, “Don’t be a hater, dear.”