‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Recap, Episode 1: “Bitchcraft”

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The new series opens in New Orleans, at a 19th-century house party. Kathy Bates is pimping out her daughters to the local men with more than a passable New Orleans accent.

Then Kathy Bates is applying blood to her face with a blush brush. It tightens her complexion. But before she can finish she is summoned downstairs because one of her slutty daughters has come on to a slave. Kathy Bates declares that everyone will agree that the slave was trying to rape her daughter, and she banishes him upstairs. Upstairs turns out to be filled with abused and beaten slaves. One of them, she’s decided to make into a minotaur of her Very Own. Some girls want a pony, but she has bigger plans.

Cue Taissa Farmiga. (Tip: I’m just going to call most of these people by their actor names.) She’s taking a boy home from school to make out, and have sex. Unfortunately for the adorable boy, it turns out that having sex with Taissa Farmiga will kill you because, and there’s really no more delicate way to put this, she has a murderous vagina.

Cue to Taissa Farmiga on a mysterious train going… somewhere. Her mother tells her that her great-grandmother was also a witch. Her kind fled the witch trials in Salem to New Orleans, where she’s being sent. Her mother says there’s a school there for girls like her. Scary-looking bald men and Frances Conroy in cat’s eye glasses arrive to accompany her.

Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies is like Nancy Meyers’ dream house if Nancy Meyers had a slight goth streak. Everything’s white-washed, including the wide plank floors, and, at first, some scary-Eyes-Wide-Shut-looking cult members chase Taissa around the of-course-great-looking kitchen.

When the three cultists take off their masks, they turn out to be Madison Montgomery (sorry, Emma Roberts), Gabourey Sidibe, and Nan (AHS company player Jamie Brewer). And the headmistress has the delightful name of “Cordelia Fox” (Sarah Paulson). She explains that the school was taken over by an early suffragette and the sort of queen witch known as the “Supreme.” There used to be as many as 60 girls in the school but now there’s only these four because many have chosen not to reproduce.

Gabourey Sidibe is wearing a great shirt that says “Freak,” by the way, while Emma Roberts has to wear some kind of fur stole thing that makes her look like an aspiring linebacker from East Bushwick. I consider this righteous underminery by the costume directors.

Cordelia tells the girls the cautionary tale of Lily Rabe (“Misty Day”), who could revive dead things. When people saw what she could do, she was burned at the stake, er, construction crane in the middle of a meadow. I guess they couldn’t find a stake.

Cut to the current (heh) Supreme, who happens to be played by Jessica Lange. A man who is handsome in that “I’m going to be dead in ten minutes” sort of way is explaining an experimental serum that can rejuvenate elderly monkeys. She wants the serum; he tries to deny it to her, and she insists. But after five days she’s tripping out in her black filmy curtained city condo to ersatz Hendrix like it’s 1972. She decides to take a more expedient route to rejuvenating her look and sucks the life out of him. It’s not terribly clear why she didn’t just do that to begin with.

There is a butler named Jeeves, played by Denis O’Hare, serving dinner. Madison-Emma confesses that she’s at the school because her agent felt she was causing too much mayhem. Which is fair because she dropped a light on the head of her director. Gabourey calls her a D-list Botox bimbo, things are thrown, and it turns out that Gabourey is a “human voodoo doll” and can cause pain to others by doing it to herself. Madison tries to be bitchy with a, “Do you own any clothes that don’t come from the Gap?”

Jessica Lange has come back to the school to stay and to reconcile, somewhat, with her daughter. And also because “there is a storm coming,” a hackneyed line that Lange actually manages to sell us on. Also, Lange, like Jonathan Franzen, is concerned about the prevalence of social media and its potential for outing young witches. Sarah Paulson wishes she would go away! But Jessica Lange is having none of it.

In a strange casting decision, the weirdo actor from the first season is cast as a frat boy with a heart ‘o gold. Madison-Emma and Taissa Farmiga have for some reason decided to attend a frat party, you see, where Taissa and dude lock eyes across a room. where Madison-Emma is promptly roofied and gang-raped in what is a fairly disturbing-if-not-too-cruel sequence. The boys all take pictures. Taissa and dude rescue Madison-Emma, but the boys take off with dude on their drinking bus, headed for slightly unknown destination. Which they never get to, because Taissa Farmiga and a roused Madison-Emma run after them, and Madison-Emma flips the bus over, killing all but two aboard. Yes, you guessed it: dude made it out alright. The other survivor was the chief rapist, who, at the end of this episode, Taissa finishes off with her Killer Vagina. I can tell I’m going to enjoy this Killer Vagina trope already.

The next morning, Jessica Lange scolds Madison-Emma as a “sloppy little witch-bitch,” which again is a hilarious bit of prose she actually manages to sell. This show is its own superpower. The students then promptly go off on a Supreme-led field trip to the house that Kathy Bates occupied at the beginning. It turns out to be a historical site complete with a tour guide. (For some reason she specifically informs us that Nicolas Cage was a previous owner of the house.)

The tour guide takes the girls up into the attic, and explains that ultimately, Kathy Bates died there too. Angela Bassett and her great skin came along and sold Kathy Bates a fake potion that was (you guessed it) poison. It turns out Angela Bassett’s lover was one of the slaves Kathy Bates had in the attic — in fact, the makeshift minotaur himself.

Jessica Lange sees Nan sitting outside by herself and asks her what she hears, and Nan replies, “The Lady of the House.” It turns out Kathy Bates, whose body we were just told was never found, is buried in the courtyard. And that what Jessica Lange has really come back to do is dig her up — Kathy Bates is still somehow alive — and put her to some kind of task. But for now: “Come on, Mary Todd Lincoln,” says Jessica Lange. “I’ll buy you a drink.”