*Obviously contains American Horror Story spoilers. Seasons 1-3, y’all!*
I’ve become a bit of a broken record in the past three weeks. Since the first episode of the third season of American Horror Story (a.k.a ‘Coven’) I honestly haven’t shut up about it. I’ve run my mouth to a lot of people about this show. I’ve dribbled on and on about it, endlessly. I think its fair to say that so far Coven has been flawless. Original, fresh and most importantly, fucked up and brave beyond anything I’ve ever seen on TV, AHS: Coven is something else. And sadly, I think I know all of 3 people who are watching it right now.
Seriously. Are you buffoons all going to continue watching The Boring Dead week in and week out instead? Because I can tell you exactly what’s going to happen on that show: Not many zombies and boring people who are still alive talking about marriage and getting the washing done. You stick with that shit if that’s what you’re into, but I’m going with the Witches.
American Horror Story didn’t start out quite as sensational as Coven is right now. For all of its promise, season 1 continually felt like the plate of food that’s just a few ingredients short of an actual meal. It felt uneven: as though it desperately wanted to lure in swooning, teenage goth girls with wounded, psychopathic puppy dog Tate (homicidal tendencies! Zombie Boy makeup! Scenes I can make GIFS out of for my Tumblr blog! SWOON) and pull in the heterosexual 15-45 male market with all the maid-in-suspenders girl on girl action. It all felt like one big loose thread. As though the show runners were deliberately compromising a lot of what they wanted to do with the show in return for what they knew the network and a major audience would enjoy. That’s how shit gets renewed, after all.
But then Season 2 (a.k.a ‘Asylum’) came along and HOT DAMN was that shit good. It felt far more considered and powerful. It was entertaining as fuck whilst still managing to direct salacious opinions on the historical hypocrisies and masochism of the catholic church as well as questions pertaining to definitions of mental illness: the realms of the real and the imagined, that of the paranoid and the truth, alongside statements about how we treat people we deem to be mentally ill or unfit for society.
Jessica Lange was a goddess in that season. As was Sarah Poulson. And Chloe Sevigny. In fact, it was a veritable feast of an amazing cast, and so refreshing to see so many women in strong roles in the one show. Seriously, that dance dream sequence where Jessica Lange performs a delusional fantasy dance number in the asylum to that jukebox? That was the tipping point. That was a clear sign that they could take this show in any direction they wanted, with whomever they wanted and that there were absolutely no rules to follow in the process.
You don’t get TV shows any more exciting than that. American Horror Story is a genius structural idea for a show. Whilst many of the cast members are loyally renewed season after season, the advantageous of being able to develop whole new characters in an entirely new setting about a brand new theme means they owe nothing to nobody. If they killed off the whole cast in this weeks episode it wouldn’t matter one shit. They can literally do whatever they want with this show, because they only have 12 episodes, and by number 12 its over and out: a new town and a new horror.
In AHS: Asylum the horror was everywhere. It was the devil, it was the presence of God, it was the absence of God, it was a serial killer, it was family units, it was mental illness, it was the accusation of mental illness, it was the treatment of mental illness. It was the Catholic church, oppression and power, it was nazis, homophobia, science and aliens. It was constantly surprising and it was never heading in the direction you thought it would, or sometimes, could.
With AHS: Coven, every last moment has so far been stunningly out of the ordinary. This isn’t sloppy trash TV the way that it’s promoted as being, this is intelligent, gory, fun, statement television. It’s TV for outsiders. American Horror Story isn’t made for the white, male, heterosexual, middle class, steak eating masses like about 80% of TV is. This isn’t fucking Homeland. Here is a show dishing out to an assortment of people who may identify in some way as queer, or who feel stifled, ostracised and suffocated by society. People who question and loathe the World and humanity in equal amounts. Its a show for the misanthropic and the camp and the different – AHS is horror in it’s greatest form: a statement about society, and not just a throwaway kill.
For the past three episodes of AHS: Coven I’ve been jaw swung, cringing, screaming at the screen, cheering for retribution, squirming over a line I didn’t think they could cross, wide eyed in wonder. This is one of the first TV shows that has an honestly diverse female cast at it’s helm (with props to Orange is the New Black on that front, too): all four of the young women playing the teen witches are portrayed with just as much importance as the other. How refreshing to see a person with Down’s Syndrome not playing a character who is ‘suffering’ from or is the ‘victim’ of Down’s Syndrome but is instead a fully rounded individual who might actually even get the piece of ass next door over standard-white-girl-pin-up Emma Roberts.
And, Christ, is Jessica Lange good. She plays drunk and vindictive so well. Between Lange’s Supreme Witch and Angela Bassett’s pissed off Voodoo Queen, it’s hard to know who’s acting who off screen. I do know that I could stare at Angela Bassett all goddamn day though. Lordy, is that woman magnificent.
And as usual, there’s a clusterfuck of story going on already. Death by female revenge rape? Check. Racist 200 year old land owner resurrected from the dead? Check. New boyfriend accidentally killed by new best friend and sewn back together using all the best body parts from his dead jock friends? Err, yep! Weird fertility ritual involving a bubbling jar of hot semen on an open fire? You betcha! Seduction of a Minotaur? Full on incest? Stevie Nicks? Yep, even Stevie Nicks. It wouldn’t be a party without punch, people. There’s some interesting race politics being explored so far, too, but all of it seems to be bubbling so menacingly beneath the surface that that’s probably best saved for an entire article in itself.
I’m bursting at the seams in anticipation for where AHS: Coven is going to go next. Because, this is it – this is the show that’s doing everything I’ve ever criticised TV shows for not doing. It isn’t afraid of its own subject, it isn’t afraid of politics, it isn’t afraid of doing what everyone else should be but isn’t, it’s true horror because it’s warts and all, as horror should be. Horror at its most successful succeeds because it acknowledges every aspect of the World. It’s inclusive and immersive and doesn’t shy away from people, conditions, politics, history, gender or forms of sexuality that might make others uncomfortable.
So, fuck yeah. Bring it on AHS. Do your worst.