While Asylum may be the best season of American Horror Story, Coven comes to a close second. Season Three features an assembly of witches in modern New Orleans, descended from their notorious ancestors during the Salem Witch Trials.
Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) finds out about her lineage after she accidentally kills her boyfriend with her powers. She is then sent to a haven (under the name Miss Robichaux’s Academy) for girls like her, the only “safe place” for witches, who are still facing persecution in the modern world. While many women (and men) were condemned and burned at the stake back in the 1690’s, according to headmistress Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), but they weren’t actual witches, just innocent people– the real ones acted quickly and fled South, and eventually enough congregated there and New Orleans turned into the new place for witches.
At the academy, Zoe meets child actress Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a telekenetic, stuck-up, arrogant witch; African-American “human voodoo doll” Queenie (Gabourey Sibdibe); and clairvoyant witch Nan (Jamie Brewer). Cordelia, their headmistress, does not seem to exhibit impressive powers and constantly spends her days as an alchemist in the greenhouse, depressed and under the shadow of her mother Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), the current reigning Supreme (one witch in a generation who embodies all the powers).
Things get messy when Fiona shows up at the coven again, treading on Cordelia and taking her role back as leader of the witches. She takes the girls to a museum, which is a house that belonged to a wealthy white lady, Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), who was famous for torturing her slaves. Nan uses her clairvoyant powers to find where Delphine was buried, and Fiona discovers that she is still alive, rendered immortal by the voodoo tribe queen Marie Laveau.
Fiona, obsessed with avoiding death, pays Marie a visit and demands that she tell her how she stayed alive. Marie refuses because Fiona blatantly disrespects her, and this sparks a renewed animosity between the white witches and the black voodoo witches, which was tempered for a while after Marie and the previous Supreme Anna Leigh Leighton signed a peace treaty– Fiona’s trespassing on the voodoo side of town as well as her crude remarks broke this truce.
Fiona returns to Miss Robichaux’s for one reason– she has cancer. A Supreme is supposed to be in stellar health for as long as she reigns. Once a new Supreme is on the rise, the current one will begin to deteriorate in well-being, until she dies and the spirit takes place in her successor. Fiona tries to eliminate possible candidates and carefully watches the girls over the next few days. Each one of them begins to grow, exhibiting new powers or strengthening their current ones.
After the girls find out the news, however, rivalry begins to spark amongst them. Zoe and Madison’s friendship begins to crumble after they fight over a boy they killed and subsequently resurrected at a frat party. Zoe is focused on trying to maintain the unity amongst the women of the coven, while Madison only wants to become Supreme. Meanwhile, Queenie feels that she is no longer part of the group and leaves to join the voodoo tribe.
Later, the coven gains another new member: Misty Day (Lily Rabe), who resurrected herself with her powers after being burned at the stake. The Council of Witchcraft strongly believe that she is destined to be Supreme, as her power of resurrection is more extraordinary than any of the Seven Wonders.
Fiona continues to neglect her duties as head witch, and refuses to name her successor. Then, the coven stumbles upon a new but old enemy: witch hunters. At first, Marie rejects Fiona’s offer to ally against their shared foe, but after the witch hunters massacre her tribemates she joins the Academy, and teams up with Fiona to begin eliminating Supreme candidates (after first bankrupting the witch hunters’ corporation). While doing so, Fiona discovers Marie’s secret to immortality: her soul. Papa Legba, the ruler of hell, has traded Marie’s soul in exchange for a yearly offering of an innocent baby. When Fiona offers her own deal to Papa Legba he rejects her; she has nothing to give.
The Council decides to hold a competition for the four surviving witches– Misty, Madison, Zoe, and Queenie– to chose the next Supreme. They must pass the test of the Seven Wonders, seven extraordinary magical powers that must all be mastered in order to rise to the throne. They are:
- Telekinesis, the ability to move objects with one’s mind.
- Concilium, the ability to impose one’s will onto another (also known as mind control).
- Pyrokinesis, the ability to summon and control fire at one’s will.
- Divination, the ability to obtain knowledge about an object, person, event, or location through means other than the user’s physical senses.
- Transmutation, the ability to move from one place to another at will (also known as teleportation).
- Vitalum Vitalis, the ability to balance the scales between one life force and another.
- Descensum, the ability to descend into one’s own personal hell (through an incantation) and return.
Unfortunately, each of the girls begin to fail. Misty is the first, unable to come back during the Descensum test; Zoe loses focus and impales herself on a gate while playing Transmutation tag; and Queenie is disqualified after being unable to revive Zoe through Vitalum Vitalis. The Council and Cordelia watch helplessly as Madison is the only one left; knowing her, they refuse to allow her to ascend to the throne. Cordelia then joins the competition, emerging victorious after Madison fails in Divination. She also manages to bring Zoe back to life through Vitalum Vitalis, thus completing her test and winning the title.
As the new Supreme, Cordelia chooses to reveal the coven to the world. As a result, the academy gains several hundred new girls, and Cordelia, Zoe, Queenie, and Kyle open the doors for a new beginning.
The central theme of this season’s American Horror Story is oppression; we can see from the very start that the witches are oppressed by society, and the slaves (as well as the present-day blacks) are oppressed by white people. Though Coven could not compete with Asylum, and it had a fair amount of plot holes, it certainly offers its own brand of fun and twists.
My favorite character is, once again, played by Sarah Paulson. Cordelia has a lot of potential, but is constantly kept in the shadows by Fiona. She herself is tyrannized, firstly by her mother as her daughter, then by her husband as a woman, and then finally by society as a witch. After her rise as the Supreme, we can see, albeit shortly, her beginning to take charge and become the strong leader she is destined to be. Murphy makes an empowering point by having Cordelia go public about witchcraft: that in order to break free from oppression, you have stop hiding and let yourself be seen, and prove to others that you are worthy of being accepted as an equal. Cordelia’s new mannerisms have yet to be fully seen and evaluated, and hopefully we can see that in a future season with the Murder House and Coven crossover; but the small bits that are shown in Coven portray Cordelia as an inspirational leader with a lot to give.
What I also love about the show is the fact that it casts almost all females; while Asylum portrayed strong female characters, Coven does so even more. The fact that the girls have gone so far and have had the strength to keep going show that women can be just as strong as men. I have always been a fan of powerful female characters, and season three has given me a healthy dose of them. For all girls looking for inspiration and strength, you’ll find kindred spirits with the witches in the academy, who all sport unique powers and personalities.
For those who have enjoyed watching Clueless, Coven offers a new twist on teen life in a clique. For those who have enjoyed watching Vampire Diaries, Coven offers the same fantastical excitement. And finally, if you enjoy watching AHS, season three is essential to your repertoire. Enjoy the many antics of the young witches, and be ready some shocking twists, turns, and of course, horrors.