“Surprise, Bitch.” Alex Reviews AHS: Coven

Now that Fall is in full swing, along with Halloween decorations and the inevitable Pumpkin Spice Latte, so too comes the yearly cycle of horror movies. Being more of a TV-oriented person personally, I have made it my yearly tradition around Halloween to watch the most popular horror TV show, American Horror Story. The show utilizes an unconventional style, making each new season a horror-related “theme,” with new characters (but same cast) in new stories. The third season, subtitled Coven, is one of the series’ more successful iterations. The season was the most-watched when it aired, and was nominated for seventeen Emmys, winning four. After watching and re-watching (and re-watching) Coven multiple times, I can safely say it is definitely a season of television worth watching. Though, like anything, it is far from perfect.


American Horror Story: Coven makes an unapologetic and unforgettable start, with a gory, historical depiction of infamous Madame LaLaurie, followed by a graphic depiction of death by sexual intercourse, coined the “Black Widow” power. The season continues like this, chock full of cliché witch powers (the ability to levitate, mind-reading) and introducing uncommon witch powers, like resurgence (resurrection abilities) and “the Sight,” which reveals any secrets just by touch. The show, while sometimes campy and overly gory, attempts to make a strong statement about female relationships (friendly, romantic, and personal) throughout its run. This can be seen clearly in the relationship between Fiona (Emmy-winning Jessica Lange) and her daughter, Cordelia (Emmy-winning Sarah Paulson). Fiona, the reigning Supreme, is a neglectful mother to Cordelia, ultimately focusing on her own needs and desires before anyone else’s. Cordelia, meek and *definitely not the next Supreme*, refuses to give her mother the time of day and exists to find and bring safety to witches around the world. When Fiona seeks Cordelia’s guidance at the start of the season, Cordelia is completely reluctant and refuses her almost entirely. At the end, the show sees a role-reversal between the mother and daughter. Several relationships within the show see a similar role-reversal and, while at times being predictable, the emotional impact of each character’s development is never lost on the viewer.


The negative aspects of Coven, while not many, are extremely important to voice and discuss. Namely, the show’s depiction of female relationships at the start of the season exists solely as a means to lighten the mood. The show sloppily depicts this by using any opportunity for human emotion as an excuse to throw out profanities — typically directed only at women. The problem with this, from a feminist perspective, is that it normalizes the use of words like “bitch,” “whore,” and “slut” so much, allowing the culture of behaviors and attitudes to exist solely to diminish the stance of an independent female at the expense of cheap comedy.


Now, coming from a male’s perspective, I pose this question to any female readers: Do you think Coven, American Horror Story, or your next favorite show utilizes female characters as well as they could? I think we have come a long way, while still having a long way to go.


In conclusion: just watch Coven. It’s the type of season of TV that provokes thought, while also making you laugh, while also giving you jump scares along the way. While at times problematic, the show does offer a strong payoff—a message of female empowerment at its conclusion. Escapism, with a strong message, at its best.


Sidenote: You can actually visit the tomb of Marie Laveau in New Orleans! I visited, and it was humid and disgusting. But awesome.