American Horror Story Coven episode 2 review: Boy Parts

American Horror Story: Coven is already compulsive viewing, thanks in no small part to its tremendous cast...

This review contains spoilers.

3.2 Boy Parts

I can’t say enough about the addition of Kathy Bates to this show. In her first appearance, she was a little bit hammy (not in a bad way), but in her second appearance on the show, she knocks it out of the park. Her line delivery is great – which is to be expected – but her physical acting is what’s really phenomenal. She’s moving like someone who has been trapped in a box for one hundred and eighty years, and even more than the way she walks is what she’s doing with her facial expressions. There a bunch of conflicting emotions going on behind her eyes, and that’s coming through in the way she looks at people. There’s this great combination of wary, heartbroken, haughty, and just plain meanness coming through in her performance. Only two episodes in and she’s already tearing up scenes with Jessica Lange.

Ditto Angela Bassett, too. There’s an interesting power struggle coming together on the show, with Marie Laveau, Fiona Goode, and Madame LaLaurie all working at cross-purposes against one another while still working with one another. I imagine Goode and LaLaurie will end up siding together, if only because they seem to have a mutual enemy and LaLaurie’s history with race relations isn’t a positive one. But I like the idea that European witches like Goode and company have a history with the African witches like Laveau, too. It’s creating all sorts of interesting potential complications down the road, and it’s giving three of the show’s best performers—and there are a lot of great performers to choose from—plenty of screen time with one another, trading witty bon mots and insults.

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This week’s episode seems much more consistent than last week, even if it’s a little less out-and-out crazy (and more just crazy with a purpose). Tim Minear’s script is crackling, giving the show’s three grand dames plenty of work to do, and allows Taissa Farmiga to establish Zoe as the girl who will be the stand-in for the viewers and as the girl who is completely in over her head and completely afraid of what’s going on with her, around her, and to her, in that order. Rather than building the world, we’re now in the world, and it’s a really colorful world where everyone seems to spout funny one-liners, from Queenie to the long-buried LaLaurie. However, it doesn’t feel unnatural. Jessica Lange can deliver any kind of line brilliantly, and Madame LaLaurie took no guff from anyone, so it makes sense for her to be sassy.

It’s a bit strange how much I’ve bought into this universe already, but once again American Horror Story‘s creative team have come up with a great setting. I like the idea of a modern world for the show, with sprinkled-in flashbacks to the 1800s just to keep from getting too comfortable in a world of cell phones and automobiles, and it makes for some great visuals to see a thoroughly modern Fiona sitting side-by-side with the living fossil LaLaurie (and a great gag to have Fiona pull LaLaurie out of the way of a speeding cop car). 

Director Michael Rymer deserves a lot of credit for how good tonight’s episode looked. Dealing with a lot of, ahem, interesting-looking scenes, Rymer handled his visual requirements very well. The shots, especially the conversation scene between Zoe, Madison (who is kind of growing on me), and Fiona, were really framed well. There was a lot of Dutch angle this week, as there was last week, but I don’t find it excessive. What was excessive in a positive sense of the word were the various ritual scenes this week. Apparently, magic is a lot more complicated than a simple swish and flick and a hearty “expecto patronum!” in this universe, and the scenes with crazy flashing lights, fire, snakes, exploding eggs, and salty floor sex did a good job of pounding that point home. Also, it looked appropriately amazing, as magic should.

There were a lot of things going on this week, and some neglected characters (like Lily Rabe’s fascinating Misty Day) were given highlighted roles while other neglected characters (I’d still like to see more of Gabourey Sidibe’s Queenie, though it was nice to get her flashback moment this week). I have to own up to the fact that I’d watch Lily Rabe doing anything, especially when she’s spinning tales about Stevie Nicks being a secret white witch and trying to interject herself into the affairs of Zoe and her new pet horrible abomination. I have no doubt we’ll be spending plenty of time with all the women of the Coven universe in good time.

Two episodes in, and American Horror Story is already a highlight machine for its cast of actresses, and is already compulsively watchable, jaw-dropping, cackling entertainment worthy of repeated viewings.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Bitchcraft, here.

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US Correspondent Ron Hogan wishes he could delivery a sassy comeback like Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, or Kathy Bates; best he can do is flail around helplessly like a Frankenstein-style monster. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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