American Horror Story is off and running, and it’s a fucking doozy. I mean, they had to attempt to top last season’s Asylum, a weird, wonderful, cracked-out journey from an asylum in the 60s to the modern day dismemberments of Adam Levine and, um, Channing Tatum’s wife. This season will move between mid-1840s New Orleans and, well, modern day New Orleans, focusing on witches, how badass they are, and Jessica Lange’s general godliness, I suppose.
And man, does this season open strong. We start off with Kathy Bates in the New Orleans of yore and slavery as an extremely wealthy woman with a particularly dark habit. We find out quickly that Bates, playing a version of the real life Madame LaLaurie, is running a really twisted anti-aging clinic in her attic – the woman uses a poultice of blood and pancreas, extracted from her tortured slaves, to “stay young.” (I’m pretty sure dermatologists don’t recommend that anymore.) Before the first commercial break, she punishes a man for getting hit on by her daughter and turns him into a human minotaur by giving him a freshly severed bull’s head to wear as a hat! Not a cute look, nor would it be comfortable, I imagine. We learned many years ago that, try as she may to escape it, Kathy Bates plays the best sadist ever, so reprising Misery as an evil Southern slave mistress seems perfectly appropriate and couldn’t be more thrilling onscreen. Close-ups are her friend – when she stares up at her homemade minotaur, the sick pleasure emanating from her and the savage look in her eyes glues you directly to your TV. That’s one of the things AHS has always excelled at: getting their audience to stare at the most awful thing they can think up. And this is right up there with a sore-covered, amputeed Chloe Sevigny crawling onto a playground full of screaming children! Thanks, Asylum!
Elsewhere, in now-world, Taissa Farmiga’s Zoe brings her boyfriend home for some afternoon delight, only to accidentally murder him upon penetration. In a clumsy and weirdly Men in Black themed bit of exposition, Zoe is shipped off to Hogwarts for baby witches by her parents, who recognize her witchiness that skipped a generation from her great grandmother to her (played by the incomparable Frances Conroy in a completely bizarre wig). There, she’s accosted by the four other students- Gabourey Sidibe (Queenie), Jamie Brewer (Nan), and Emma Roberts (Madison). The girls each have their own specific witch superpower, as it were. Nan is clairvoyant, Madison is telekinetic, and Queenie, weirdly enough, is a HUMAN VOODOO DOLL (is that even a thing?!). As Sarah Paulson slash Cordelia Fox, the headmistress of this weird school, explains, most witches have one isolated power while one witch in every generation has EVERY power. Naturally, that witch is the literally perfect Jessica Lange as Fiona Goode, who starts her Emmy reel off right with a coke-fueled dance sequence ending in her literally sucking the life and youth out of a dude. So awesome.
Madison drags an intimidated Zoe out to a frat party, in which last season’s alien serial killer Evan Peters (Kyle Spencer) is in attendance with his temporarily exiled and super gross frat. He and Zoe engage in a little bit of meet-cuting before quickly figuring out that Madison is off in another room with Kyle’s extra awful bro, getting gang-date-raped (UGH) and videotaped (hello, depressingly inevitable Steubenville reference). Kyle drags Bro Rape out of there and onto their Punishment Bus, which Madison promptly overturns, killing seven of the boys inside and leaving Bro Rape and Kyle (maybe?) in critical condition. Zoe decides to take advantage of her sex-death power, I guess, and murderbangs Bro Rape’s prone body in the hospital, killing him instantly on Madison’s behalf. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t pretty psyched about that. Also, I’m completely copyrighting the word “murderbang.”
Oh, and by the way, LaLaurie’s minotaur? He just happens to be the lover of a voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau, who lays a cursed poison smackdown on LaLaurie ASAP. We think she’s dead, but Fiona has her dug up in the modern day to reveal… nope, totally alive. Did I mention that the crazy has been brought this season?! This is the first time that AHS has crossed time periods without a character aging – last season, Sarah Paulson’s fabulous Lana showed up in modern day, but as a badass old woman who was willing to shoot her rape baby right in the face (man, that sounds bizarre out of context) – but if anyone’s going to do it, it’s gotta be Bates.
Ryan Murphy definitely has his failings (some of which will be discussed in my Very Special Glee recap due tomorrow, on the Finn/Cory memorial episode), but AHS has consistently highlighted his best qualities as a showrunner. Murphy has what I like to call Abrams Syndrome – he handles the first season of a show pretty well, but then instead of just leaving when something cooler comes up (hey, J.J., remember Alias? I DO), he tends to run things directly into the ground. A miniseries format is exactly what this lunatic needs. He needs to throw literally everything ever at the wall, let it all stick, maybe murder 50-100% of his main cast, and then start fresh next season with the same actors in a totally new premise. Murphy thrives in the insane, ever-changing, dynamic and overstuffed environment of American Horror Story, and his desire to always top himself is a major strength here. This season is shaping up to be creepy and weird and thrilling and good-bad and bad-good and, more than anything else, addictive as hell. I always thought being a “witch” these days meant being a Wiccan weirdo who thinks shaving is too heteronormative, but maybe I should reconsider.