Several friends tried to talk me out of watching the third installment of American Horror Story – Coven. They whined and moaned about how the series had become muddled in focus and the constant recycling of actors had brought an unsavoury homogeneity to the characters.
I listened. I considered. I ignored. I finished it last night.
Since the series started I’ve been a huge fan, partially due to my love of the horror genre. Also, I found it a bold move for FX to take on a horror series, particularly at a time when viewers are choking on pseudo-horror vampire and werewolf themed shows networks are shoveling into the media trough.
I’m happy to report Coven, while not topping AHS’s excellent second season, Asylum, for me, it came close.
I did understand some of the complaints, however I think they were misdirected. The writing did seem a little repetitive and some of the story arcs took way too long to conclude. Several recurring characters were underdeveloped to the point of being superfluous. This isn’t due to recycling actors, as my friends suggested, its just a writing impasse. The acting is actually very good and I did notice a substantial increase in well-delivered dark humour.
Acting is good from the entire cast but it is anchored by three veteran actresses: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett.
Lange is hugely successful as the ‘Supreme’ witch who is filled with equal parts of venom and regret; that she morphs so easily and convincingly between the two is reason enough to watch the season.
Pairing beautifully with Lange is Bates, who blazes every scene as the sadistic and racist upper crust matron with a penchant for torturing her staff. Bates’ consistently well-timed and subtle delivery of dark humour was nothing short of perfect.
For me the overwhelming show-stealer was Bassett, as the vindictive voodoo priestess and chief nemesis of both Bates and Lange. Bassett is larger than life in every scene, her character exacting revenge and verbally bitchslapping the witches to point of humiliation. But Bassett, despite her gravitational pull, is a polished actress and knows how to balance her performance so that other characters build the story with her rather than for her. The chemistry between Lange, Bates and Bassett is so palpable and beautifully adversarial, you hope they will be in every scene.
I was surprised by the addition of voodoo into the story line, which creates the tension and one of the main story arcs for the season – voodoo magic vs. witch magic, which force will prevail? I loved that the season was filmed in New Orleans; a perfect spot to project a distorted, paradoxical mixture of magnolias and sweat, old-world sophistication meets urban sinister.
I was a little disappointed in the final episode, it seemed a bit obvious and cliche, but that doesn’t detract from Coven’s net effect for me, a very entertaining season with some magnificent acting and atmospheric production style.
And now on to season 4 – Freakshow.