Review: American Horror Story, Coven

Written By A.R. Arthur

A.R. Arthur (formerly A.R. Salandy) is a Black Mixed-race poet & writer who has spent most of his life in Kuwait jostling between the UK & America. He is the EIC of Fahmidan Journal/Publishing & Co, Reviews Editor at Full House Literary & Poetry Editor at Chestnut Review. Twitter/Instagram: @ararthurwriter

While this season came out over ten years ago, it remains my absolute favorite for its strength of narrative, historical inclusion and powerful acting. This third installment of American Horror Story was originally broadcasted between October 2013 and January 2014 with a strong reception and 85% approval rating via Rotten Tomatoes. Set in 2013 New Orleans, Coven explores the descendants of a line of witches dating back to the Salem Witch Trials of the 1692.

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, American Horror Story is a horror anthology television series that began in 2011 and has now gained a cult following.

The viewer is presented with an opening scene set in 1834 New Orleans with Madame La Laurie; a French immigrant of high society obsessed with eternal youth. From the very start, the viewer is presented with the macabre world created by the gruesome mind of Lalaurie, played by Kathy Bates. Soon after she coats her face in blood, we are presented with the terrifying attic where she enacts her torture in aid of her experimentation and obsession with eternal life. This scene, while grotesque, not only sets the tone for this series at large, but also reflects on a real-life woman whose cruelty, up until the 1834 fire of her mansion, went undetected.

Murphy and Falchuk then take us through to the modern era were an aged Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau begins to wreak havoc as the battle between the witch coven, led by reigning “Supreme” Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), and the Voodoo Queen begins to unfold. The unearthing of the buried alive La Laurie begins season three’s descent into a battle of the supernatural where the two enemies ultimately become partners.

Without giving away too many spoilers, what is most poignant about this season is its tackling of historical abuse of slaves in the American deep south. Murphy and Falchuk are no stranger to tackling controversy and sensitive topics and this is reflected through Lalaurie’s abuse of her daughter for fooling around with a slave, and the dynamics of Louisiana’s elite society.

Both Goode and Laveau’s obsession with staying alive and the desire to be immortal take them on a path of self-destruction. The former, a terminal cancer patient willing to stay alive at all costs, even by trading her soul with Papa Legba, a Voodoo god, reflects on the philosophical and existential fear of death and the embrace of the unknown. The latter emphasizes how sometimes, getting what you want means hurting others beyond measure. This is evidenced through Laveau’s yearly collections with the Voodoo god, one of which sees her abduct and handover “the soul of an innocent”-a newborn-  in order to maintain her immortality.

The powers of the young coven also create much drama throughout the series with shenanigans such as the reanimation of a dead lover and the use of natural warfare through the raising of the dead, and the utility of different plants, adds depth to this series. From pyrokinesis to Ouija boards, the viewer is presented an occult feast, along with an array of gore through flashbacks such as with the Axe-man. Set in the late 1910s, the Axe-man would prey on women murdering them with an Axe. In Coven, he is murdered after the then coven goaded him into what he believed to be his next killing-spree. 

Further, after fighting between the Voodoo coven and that of the witches comes to a head, the two bridge their differences and turn to their real enemy; the family of Fiona Goode’s son in-law Hank. Her unsuspecting daughter, Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), is forced to reckon with the destructive nature of her husband’s witch-hunter family and their desire to “rid the world” of all witches. Ironically, Laveau intended to exploit this manipulation in an effort to kill off the “white witches” which ultimately backfired and leads to their collaboration.

While both Goode and Laveau end up dying and reawakening in an after-life where they are forced to pay for their sins, wanton callousness, and destruction, Foxx ends up leading the coven and welcoming a great multitude of women all possessing the attributes of a witch and descending from those women who escaped Salem and the descendants of those that did not. I still rewatch this season of American Horror Story every Halloween as it is a masterpiece of contemporary television that is multi-faceted, well-crafted and engages the viewer with each and every peculiar twist and turn. A must watch!

Categories TV