American Horror Story: Bitchcraft

Posted on October 10, 2013

AHSS3E1+2PinKathy Bates as Delphine LaLaurie in FX’s American Horror Story: Coven

There’s a big part of us that didn’t really want to write a review of this episode. We’re not the first recappers/reviewers to state this, so we make no claims to originality, but we’ve been feeling burnt out on the form of recapping more and more, the longer we engage in it – and we’ve been doing it for seven years now. Having to pull together a minimum of 500 words on a television episode within hours of seeing it the first time – because literally thousands of other people are putting out their thoughts on that same episode in that same short period of time – is not going to be conducive to insights or original thoughts most of the time, only reactions.

When the new TV season started last month, we took a wait-and-see approach on all the new shows because we didn’t want to get caught up in the weekly grind of recapping something that will only fail to capture our interest and disappoint us at some point down the line.  Instead of offering weekly recaps on whatever we’re watching, we’d rather do writeups on how certain shows are doing over the long haul. We plan on having reviews for  several of the new shows of the season, and we may even come back to them more than once, but we’re not likely to do weekly recaps for any of them.

On the other hand, old T Lo faves like The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Downton Abbey and yes, even American Horror Story will continue to get the weekly recap treatment because we’ve written so much on all of these shows already that we just know we’ll start getting irritable if we don’t spit out something the next day. That’s exactly what happened with this episode. We got up this morning and talked it over, not really sure if we were going to write something up because… well, we’ll get to that in a second – and then as the morning progressed, you’d think we were sitting in a methadone clinic waiting room, we were getting so twitchy. So here’s our thoughts on last night’s premiere episode of season 3:

It’s too early to have thoughts. In fact, having written up two full seasons of the show, we’re thisclose to declaring that it actively works to prevent you from having thoughts. That’s not to say it’s anti-intellectual or dumbed down for the audience. Quite the contrary, in fact. But AHS is, first, foremost, and forevermore about making you feel something. It’s a show that has quite gleefully fucked with:

  • its audience’s expectations
  • traditional story structure
  • traditional television show formal conventions
  • the concept of good taste, or any taste at all, really
  • any attempts to analyze it too deeply

AHS wants you to feel anger and revulsion and horror, and it wants to make you laugh while it does it. Oh, and it also wants to comment on American history and culture; with a special focus on the disenfranchised. But it does not want to tell you a story in the traditional sense. It wants to feel you a story. Hence, the wild jump cuts and overdone production; the Grand Guignol acting styles paired with the perfectly 21stC bitchy gay dialogue; the use of racist and anti-fat jokes, even as it grinds the audience’s faces in the very ugliest sides of prejudice. It’s a gigantic fucking mish-mash of contradictions and juxtapositions and the best anyone can do when trying to say something about it is to talk about how it looks and how it feels.

How does it look? Gorgeous. Stunning, actually. Miss Robichaux’s School for Exceptional Girls looks like a setting for a Vogue editorial. Kathy Bates as Delphine LaLaurie and Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau not only get to chew up the scenery and then spit out flaming fireballs, they also get to wear some truly gorgeous costuming.

How does it feel? Exciting. Fun. Revolting. Confusing. It’s great to see Taissa Farmiga and Evan Peters playing the star-crossed teenage lovers again. And it’s kind of hilarious that the grave once again separates them. Emma Roberts was surprising fun as the mean girl movie star, even though the character is a cliche from top to bottom. Frances Conroy is fucking hilarious as a Grace Coddington-style fashion editor witch (“I’m just mad for tartan!”), and of course our Miss Jessica tears her way through every scene, even when she’s just giving a knowing laugh and raising an eyebrow.

Having taken on everything from abortion to anti-gay mental health practices (and a little bit of everything in between), it seems the show is going to focus especially on the history of African-Americans and women in patriarchal America, using witchcraft as the binding agent. The show’s not the first to make the connection between the two groups, but we’re interested to see how Murphy and Falchuk wind up playing with it. You can expect to be offended at least once, we’re thinking. After all, the first episode had several women murderously obsessed with looking young and another one get raped. This is how it addresses the topic of women in the patriarchy. We truly appreciate the show’s willingness to be dark and ugly, but it doesn’t always hit the mark when it tries to take on big questions. With every season, it’s up to the viewer to decide whether they’re willing to sit through the offense and the darkness in order to see some amazing performances and eye-popping imagery. In other words, it all comes down to how you feel.





[Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/FX]

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