We open in 19th century New Orleans on Marie-Delphine LaLaurie (the inimitable Kathy Bates), who like any good old-timey matron is trying to marry off her eligible daughters. This being “American Horror Story”, it takes all of two minutes before we already have forbidden interracial love, brutal human experimentation, a Greek mythology allusion and the startling visual comparison between slaves and cattle. I forgot how this show never takes a second to breathe. Delphine has been referred to in advertisements as “The Sadist” and she certainly lives up to that title. Anyone who uses human blood as a spa treatment cannot be right in the head.
The next batch of events happen quickly, so try to keep up. Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) loses her virginity to her boyfriend and literally fucks his brains out. He dies, and wow that’s a heavy thing to put on a sixteen-year-old. Zoe’s mother tells her she's a witch and sends her to a special boarding school, escorted by sunglassed guys in suits, along with what I assume is a grimoire. At the school she is assaulted by the three other students in a faux Satanic ritual before headmistress Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) steps in.
Cordelia quickly explains how witches have been dying off due to genetic selection, as their families chose to die out instead of perpetuating the line of witches. Few witches have more than one talent – Zoe is there to discover hers - but they are still the subject of persecution. Enter the story of Misty Day (Lily Rabe), a Cajun witch with the power of Resurgence. After her crazy bible-thumping neighbors see her resurrect a bird, they burn her at the stake.
Misty's death, and all it represents, scares the pants off the Supreme (Jessica Lange), who is like the queen of witches based on her mighty array of powers. Her name is actually Fiona Goode, and she is using the vast amount of money inherited from her dead husband (I'd like an over-under on whether she killed him) to find the secret to eternal life.
The serum developed by the Hot Doctor in her employ has already rejuvenated a monkey, but when Fiona forces him to use it on her the effects are negligible at best. I mean, her skin hasn't even bounced back! Obviously it's not working. In a coke-fueled rage she sucks the life out of Hot Doctor, but the effects of doing so are temporary. Oh Fiona, the icy hand of death reaches for us all in the end.
Fiona returns to the school, which has some stupid pretentious vaguely X-Men sounding name, and berates her daughter, Cordelia, for not training her pupils to combat-readiness. They could sure use it, given the persecution their kind still faces. Instead they turn their frustrations on each other. Queenie (Gabourey Sibide) is a human voodoo doll who uses her powers to inflict pain on others, Nan (Jamie Brewer) is a clairvoyant who has no problem voicing others’ secrets, and Madison (Emma Roberts) is a telekinetic with a mean streak. Cordelia is lax with the girls, only teaching them to hide their powers instead of how to truly use them, which ends badly. Madison decides that Zoe is her new best friend and takes her to a frat party that evening.
There, while Madison is raped upstairs, Zoe of course falls in love with the only sober guy at the party: Kyle (Evan Peters – the same actor who played her love interest in the first season). Madison uses her telekinetic powers to flip their bus as they drive away. Unfortunately, adorable Kyle is on board too. In an unfortunate turn of events, he is one of the seven to die as a result of the accident. Zoe uses her skill – fucking people to death – to murder the frat boy who led the gang rape while he is unconscious in the hospital.
Somewhere in the middle of this, Fiona takes the pupils on a tour of the Delphine LaLaurie's house. They learn that she was killed by the legendary voodoo queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), as revenge for the minotaurization of her lover. Marie gives Delphine a potion that will supposedly bring back her wandering husband, but instead it causes Delphine to seize on the ground. While the tour guide says that the body was never found, clairvoyant Nan finds the body easily beneath the bricks in the garden. Fiona has the body dug up and finds that Delphine is both alive and hasn’t aged a day.
The most shocking idea expressed in “Bitchcraft” is the correlation drawn between slaves in 19th century New Orleans and the modern woman. Just as the slaves were tortured by Delphine for an accident of their birth, so the witches are feared and killed by their neighbors and Madison is raped at a party by boys who feel they have a right to her (this is probably amplified by the fact that she is a celebrity). Both storylines pointed out the enormous cruelties people can inflict on other people when they perceive them as property, or less than human.
I actually liked the bit at the end, where similarities between the recovery of New Orleans and crisis facing the witch community are highlighted, but I don't expect this level of writing to continue for long (out of self-preservation if anything). I was also pleased that, the opening aside, the pacing of this episode was downright leisurely compared to the first season (and, I imagine, 'Asylum'). I'm looking forward to next week already.
Next week: A return to topsy-turvy too many storylines, probably.