“AHS: Coven” 1.01: Upstairs, Downstairs Business


Hell’s horses! Yes, the first image of American Horror Story: Coven is a few close-ups of screaming horses. Will this season’s witch-centered storyline earn a yay or a neeeeeeigh? Let’s dig in!

We’re in the French Quarter and the time is… ago. Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) – wearing a voluminous dress that would have given Maria von Trapp carpal tunnel just to look at – is holding court at a party, showing off her various daughters (most of whom seem to be named Marie) to eligible men. We notice that the youngest – Pauline Marie – has a sassy tongue and an eye for the black servant. I think I like her.

We then join Delphine in her bedchamber, where she is putting Olay Human Blood Regenerist with SPF 215 on her face and begging her neck waddle to tighten when her husband comes in to summon her downstairs. Turns out Pauline has dallied (or at least attempted to dally) with the servant – so Delphine says that they will spread a lie that he raped her (he protests) and has him brought… upstairs.

Upstairs is…. well, upstairs is a f*cking nightmare. There are dozens of slaves in cages, some with their limbs nailed to things or the skin peeled off of their faces. Sheesh. Bastien – the servant from earlier – is strung up (and yet still managing to look pretty damned strapping) and Delphine has a young black child (did she really just say “pickaninny”?) bring her a freshly-hollowed bull’s head to stick on him, going on at length about the Minotaur of Greek myth. This whole torture chamber would be completely over-the-top and ridiculous, except that it actually happened in the mid-1700s. Gah.

I do want to point out that while this references the Minotaur shown in the promotional materials, there is a notable difference between this Minotaur and the other. See if you can see what’s different:



Opening titles. Deranged, jarring, creepy as all get-out. Just the way we like them.

We then jump to the present, where spritely Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) and a boy go at it in her room while her parents are away. Kids these days! It’s her first time, and Charlie wants to be sure not to hurt her. Turns out he needn’t have worried, because within minutes blood is pouring out of his nose and he’s spasming to death beneath her. Sorry, Charlie!

On a train to New Orleans, Zoe recalls the aftermath of her first time, with her mother telling her that she is a witch (it has skipped several generations) and that now she must go somewhere that she will be safe. She is then whisked off by a batty-looking Frances Conroy – in a Sideshow Bob wig and a British accent, because witches – and a team of albino men. Nope, nothing strange going on here!

Zoe brushes up on her Salem Witch Trials, where most of the women killed weren’t even witches.


Zoe arrives at the impressive Professor Xavier’s Academy for Sexy Teen Witches or whatever it’s called and enters to find the massive house empty. It’s all-white inside, giving the impression that she is wandering around inside a wedding cake outfitted by Restoration Hardware.

Suddenly, robed figures in masks set upon her and threaten to sacrifice her on the dining room table – but it turns out to be a prank staged by the other students, Madison (Emma Roberts), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and Nan (Jamie Brewer). It’s also worth noting that someone makes the candles flare up and the fireplace poof smoke just before the ruse is revealed.

The girls are chided by their headmistress, Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), who seems nice enough in a headmistressy sort of way. She tells Zoe that they are a dying breed, witches, and that this school is a place to be safe and learn to use their powers. There is talk of a “Supreme” for every generation (she has lots of powers, unlike other witches, who have limited gifts) and a local girl named a Misty Day (Lily Rabe) who was recently burned at the stake (or so they think) for being able to bring back the dead. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of old Misty, especially when she hisses to her Pentecostal captors, “It is you who will end in flames!


Enter Fiona. It is now once again officially The Jessica Lange Show as Fiona Goode struts her stuff into a research facility testing stem cell longevity drugs on monkeys under the direction of a criminally handsome doctor named David. He says the life-lengthening drug might be ready in a few years for testing and she tells him she wants it now. He resists, so she blackmails him. Later we catch up with FiFi as she does lines of blow while dancing to “Inna Gadda Da Vita” alone in a sexy dress. (Or as I call it, “Tuesday”.) Dr. Dreamboat arrives upon her summons and she asks why, after five days on his juice, she doesn’t look as good as that monkey from the video. He tells her that we are all organic and we all rot and die, and says he quits. He moves to leave, but she makes the doors and windows slam and flings him against the wall. Then she kisses him. That Fiona – so hot and cold!

Then she sucks the life force out of him and admires her newly young self in the mirror. The image begins to blur, and she shatters it. Okay, that was one smeared lipstick shy of a truly classic mirror freakout, but we’ll take it.


Back at Hogwarts, we learn that silent butler Spalding (Denis O’Hare) has no tongue (which would explain the silent part). We also learn that Nan is clairvoyant, Madison is a famous actress with telekinesis, and Queenie can hurt others by hurting herself, like “a human voodoo doll.” That’s a new one! Poor Zoe, of course, can only kill people with her supervagina – and how often can that power possibly come in handy? Check back with me in a minute.

Cordelia is in her potions room brewing up something light and refreshing after a long day – maybe some chai? – when Fiona appears out of nowhere and startles her into dropping it on the floor. Cordelia asks her when she is leaving and Fiona says she’s sticking around – “there’s a storm brewing.” Yeah, and you know what’s no longer brewing? Her chai. Fiona goes on about how social media is ruining witchcraft, as their powers can now be recorded by anyone with a cell phone and uploaded for the world to see – “some viral freakshow like a dog that says ’I love you’.” Something tells me that Fiona could learn something from that dog. Cordelia notes that her mother – who goes on about how she’s so disappointed in her daughter for not being more Supreme-y – looks tired, and she whips her up a potion. Too smart for that trick, Fiona tries to give it to the black cat, but Cordelia snatches it away, admitting that she was trying to knock Fiona out for a few days.


Mad then drags Zoe to a frat party. There, KLG president Kyle (Evan Peters) has just warned his boys to keep it classy, because they’re already on probation. He has what sounds like it might be a New York accent, but when he meets Zoe – through an ice sculpture, like Romeo + Juliet but without the fish – he tells her that someone in his family lives in the 9th Ward (the area of NOLA hit hardest by the floods after Katrina).

So then Madison gets gang-raped and kills an entire fraternity, aaaaaand let me see, am I missing anything else? Oh yeah – they totally had Jell-O shots!


But seriously, this is messed: Kyle’s frat bro roofies Mad (after she asks him if he wants to be her “slave” – word choice, darling!) and he and his brahs take turns raping the unconscious starlet. So. Disgusting. Kyle finds them and flips out and chases them back to the bus, where they knock him out just before Madison flips the speeding bus upside down with a flick of her wrist. Yikes. Carrie White had it easy! Does no one simply throw tampons and pigs blood at the freak chicks anymore?!

The next morning Fiona breezes into the Hogwarts kitchen as the girls gasp at the news report about the dead fratboys, chirping, “Nobody’s gonna miss a bunch of dead assholes in Ed Hardy t-shirts.” The lady may have a point. But when Madison calls her a “hag”, Fiona uses her power to shove her against the wall and tells the girls that they’re going on a field trip, and to wear black.


En route to the mysterious destination (a fountain that used to be a witch hangout, I think?), the girls wonder out loud who the hell Fiona is, and Nan chimes in, “She’s the Supreme.” Fiona nods approvingly, pointing out that this girl with Down Syndrome is smarter than the rest of them put together. Considering how horribly Lange’s character treated poor Adelaide in Season 1, it’s really nice to see Nan not be the object of her wrath.

Nan’s clairvoyance kicks in and she wanders away from the group and into a house where a historical tour is taking place – it’s the former home of Delphine LaLaurie, noted slave torturer and skincare enthusiast. We learn about her horrible acts (and also the fact that the house – considered by many to be the most haunted in New Orleans – was recently owned by Nicolas Cage, which I myself learned when I saw the house a few years back) and about her strange disappearance.

Cue Marie Motherf*cking Laveau.


Yes, voodoo queen Laveau (Angela Bassett, looking fierce enough to strip the paint off of the gate with a mere sideways glance) visits LaLaurie to offer her a potion to stop her husband from cheating on her with young women. But we know that the slave that LaLaurie went all Minotaur on was Laveau’s lover, and this potion is not a love potion. Desperate Delphine drinks it anyway (“it tastes like honeysuckle!”) and falls to the ground, presumably dead. The tour guide notes that her body was never found, and we see Laveau visit her dead lover, who is still strung up wearing a bull’s head upstairs. Yeesh.

Fiona finds Nan outside, where she mentions “the lady of the house” and gestures to the cobblestones in the courtyard. You’ve got to be kidding me.

Zoe, meanwhile, visits the hospital to see if Kyle was one of the two fratguys that survived the crash. Nope – one’s a black kid, and the other is… the guy that roofied Madison. Despite the fact that Mad just killed the cutest guy this side of an ice sculpture, Zoe exacts revenge on behalf of her new friend by banging the comatose guy to death, noting, “may as well put this curse to good use.” There’s looking at the bright side! And you know what they say: an idle vagina is the devil’s playground. (Or at least a sandbox.)

Fiona moves into the school and spars again with Cordelia (“Don’t make me drop a house on you!”) before strutting off into the night, where she meets two laborers at LaLaurie’s mansion. Yes, she has dug up the crazy bitch. And when she opens the coffin…

She’s still alive.

Pleased with her discovery, Fiona purrs, “Come on, Mary Todd Lincoln – I’ll buy you a drink.”



Notably Dead: Bastien, Charlie, Kyle (and seven other frat guys), Dr. David, Misty Day

Notably Undead: Delphine LaLurie

Shriek of the Week: Not too much screaming in this first round, but Zoe did a pretty great freakout on top of her flower-plucking boyfriend Charlie once he turned into a plasma fountain. So let’s give it to her.

Blood – 8/10

A fair amount of the red stuff to be had this week, with most of it extracted from slave pancreas and smeared on the puss of Ms. LaLaurie.

Beasts – 7/10

I call bull! And horse! And pussycat!

Buns – 2/10

Charlie flashed a little side-bun, but the sex in this episode was mostly of the disgusting variety, so I’m okay with there not being any mudflappage.

Constance Comment of the Week


In addition to Blood, Beasts and Buns (new graphic forthcoming!), I’m bringing back the Constance Comment feature from Season 1, in honor of the infinitely sassy dialogue that is fed to Jessica Lange on a weekly basis via a long-handled silver spoon.

Though she gave us a lot to pick from, I think Fiona’s “Don’t make me drop a house on you” takes the poison-frosted cake for it simplicity, usability, and pedigree. Good on ya, witch!

Witchslap! of the Week

I’m introducing a new feature this season (that I actually stole from my own True Blood video recaps from a few years ago): The Witchslap! of the Week, which goes to the character each week who most deserves a smack in the puss. While the obvious recipient of this honor would be Delphine LaLaurie for being a disgusting, racist serial killer, I’m actually giving it to Fiona, because the only thing stupider than being a disgusting racist, serial killer is bringing a disgusting, racist serial killer back from the dead so that you can grill her on beauty tips:


Enjoy, FiFi.

Whew. I’m getting a lot from this premiere. I’m getting X-Men realness (the witches are basically mutants, each with their own special power), The Worst Witch (the school), Carrie (Madison), Bewitched (Fiona and Cordelia), and The Serpent and the Rainbow (the voodoo “zombie” drug, which was apparently used on LaLaurie and will likely come into play on Kyle, by the looks of it). I’m cautious to pass too much judgment, as I have a feeling that there’s a lot to come, but at this point I’m not exactly loving it. While slaves being tortured and gang rapes are disturbing and disgusting, they’re not exactly “horror” in the classic sense. So far the show is missing the sense of creepiness that made the first two seasons so gripping and a sense of immediate peril – while there’s a lot of talk of persecution and danger, the witches live in a freaking gorgeous mansion and trot about town to museums and frat parties as though they didn’t have a thing to fear. I was expecting that the witches living in hiding would involve more actual hiding and a more pronounced threat. (Aside from zany Pentacostals, who are a threat to pretty much everyone.)

But again, I’ll give it time, as there’s a lot of backstory to unravel and a lot more witchery to come. What did you folks think – about the witches, the race element, the city, the Minotaur, the tone, anything?

Writer-filmmaker Brian Juergens launched CampBlood.org, the world's first website devoted to horror films from a gay perspective, in 2003.