Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) is the headmistress of Miss Robichaux’s Academy, a school for witches to help them learn how to use and perfect their skills. Living in the shadows of her mother Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), the current Supreme of the Coven, Cordelia takes several new girls into her care including Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga), a young girl who kills any man she has sex with. As Zoe joins the Academy she and her fellow young witches including Hollywood starlet Madison (Emma Roberts), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and Nan (Jamie Brewer) find out that one of them will be the next Supreme. Not wishing to be replaced Fiona does everything in her power to cause trouble and takes the witches right into the midst of a long battle with a voodoo tribe.
American Horror Story established itself as one of the must-see TV shows of the week with its first two seasons. Ryan Murphy’s anthology series has so far given us a haunted house story, a twisted asylum tale and now a story about witchcraft and voodoo. The season starts off strong as the main characters establish themselves and several plot strands are introduced including a boy brought back to life a la Frankenstein, a witch hunter, a 19th century slave killer and a voodoo war brewing to take out the witches once and for all.
The season features its most star-studded cast yet with Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Evan Peters, Denis O’Hare, Frances Conroy, Jamie Brewer, Alexandra Breckenridge and Taissa Farmiga all returning them. Joining them in their first American Horror Story outing are Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, Emma Roberts, Danny Huston, Mare Winningham, Josh Hamilton, Lance Reddick, Patti LuPone and Stevie Nicks.
Unfortunately the amount of familiar faces in the cast is one of the season’s downfalls as it becomes more like spot the celebrity than a cohesive story. Each of the actors battles for screen time and there are so many sub-plots going on that it distracts from the main storyline. Add to that Ryan Murphy and his team’s tendency to kick off lots of stories, often without resolving them, and American Horror Story: Coven turns into a bit of a mess.
The main storyline is without a doubt the best thing about the season. The battle between Fiona and voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) is at the heart of the season with the young witches learning their craft and the backstory of the immortal slave killer Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) providing solid sub-plots.
As always Jessica Lange turns in a superb performance as Fiona Goode. She clearly relishes playing evil characters and in Coven she’s even more despicable than she was as Sister Jude in Asylum and Constance in Murder House. She’s matched onscreen by the talents of Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett with the three actresses stealing the show. Of the supporting cast Emma Roberts moves ever further from her child actress days playing the deliciously bitchy Madison. Evan Peters, a fan favourite, is drastically under-used here in a storyline that feels tacked on just to include him. As much as we love the actor he might have done better to sit this one out.
Special features on the release include three featurettes exploring different aspects of the season.
American Horror Story: Coven is still enjoyable despite being a bit of a mess. The show has always suffered from one too many sub-lots (can anyone say aliens? Yes we’re looking at you Asylum) but this season crams in far too much and rarely gives a satisfying conclusion. Thanks to the strong performances the season is boosted but it’s the weakest of the show’s instalments yet. Hopefully the creative will rectify this rare mis-step with season four, Freak Show. If you like the show it’s still worthy of your time but just be prepared for a season hampered by over ambition.