'American Horror Story: Coven': What's the verdict?
October 10th, 2013
04:37 PM ET

'American Horror Story: Coven': What's the verdict?

The third season of "American Horror Story," "Coven," might become its best yet.

The FX series has never been for the faint-hearted, but Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's tale of witches surviving in New Orleans may push even ardent "AHS" fans to their gory limits.

"AHS: Coven" once again stars Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson, except this time they're a magically gifted mother and daughter pair.

Lange is the Supreme witch (as she would be) Fiona, who's struggling to find a fountain of youth that'll help her maintain her throne. Paulson portrays her daughter Cordelia, currently in charge of the students at New Orleans' version of Hogwarts, Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.

Those young witches, who have ties to the Salem witches who came before them, include Queenie (a human voodoo doll, as portrayed by Gabourey Sidibe); Zoe (who can kill people with sex, played by Taissa Farmiga); Madison (who has telekinetic powers, portrayed by Emma Roberts); and Nan (who's clairvoyant, as played by Jamie Brewer).

As if that casting wasn't already ace enough, Murphy and Falchuk also threw in Kathy Bates as the horrifying Madame Delphine LaLaurie and Angela Bassett as voodoo queen Marie Laveau. The strength of those two actresses alone was reason enough for many to watch "AHS: Coven."

But of course, Murphy and Falchuk delivered much more than fine casting. "Even ('AHS's) past boldness does not quite prepare one for the opening segment of the new season," said Slate's Willa Paskin. "In the context of other television, American Horror Story is perverse and refreshing, proof that a great show doesn’t have to be self-serious to be smart."

Rolling Stone's Halle Kiefer was less bowled over by that opening scene - which, once you've seen it, you'd completely understand - and thinks it was a weak point.

"'AHS: Coven's' strength lies in its individual flawless images – a bare-faced Kathy Bates painting her face with a blood-soaked makeup brush; a flame-haired Frances Conroy wearing sheer black glove stroking a plaid curtain; Jessica Lange wearing any and all hats – rather than its actual plot," Kiefer says. "It's those moments of perfection that can make a viewer forgive a lot. Like for example, the utter distastefulness of scenes in the season premiere featuring slave torture and mutilation."

Yet if "Coven" has a saving grace beyond its always impeccable styling, it's that its creators have have introduced a little more comedy, said the Los Angeles Times' Mary McNamara.

"Coven" has "the more traditional elements of a deliciously scary campfire story over the hyperbolic elements of comic book horror of previous seasons," McNamara says. "There's still blood and gore all over the floor ... Not to mention rape, gruesome torture and evil run riot, and that's just the first episode. But there's also a lightness of touch and tone, a backlight of sly humor and, more important, a clearly delineated narrative."

The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon thinks the campy sense of humor might set the third season of "AHS" apart as the best. "That tone, as it happens, is the unexpected ingredient that makes this batch of horror-trope jambalaya the tastiest," he says. "'Coven' (is) creepy. Scary. Fun. If the first episode is any indication, 'Coven' will be the strongest, most entertaining iteration of the series yet."

Did you check out "American Horror Story: Coven"? What'd you think of it?

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