A group of reporters watched a preview screening of American Horror Story: Coven Thursday. Snap judgement: It’s the best — and most accessible (read: least weird) — first episode of AHS‘s three seasons. After the screening, co-creator Ryan Murphy took questions and gave some rather candid answers. I’m going to weed out any big spoilers, but fair warning that this post does discuss some story elements.
The set-up: Taissa Farmiga plays a teenager who discovers she’s a witch and is sent by her mother to a very special New Orleans boarding school for witches run by the rather wicked “supreme” (Jessica Lange) and her prim daughter (Sarah Paulson). Witches, we’re told, fled to the South during the Salem witch trials 300 years ago and established this school for the protection and education of gifted young women. (Expect a Hogwarts joke within the first hour.) Most of them have a single unique power (such as reading minds or telekinesis). We’re also introduced via flashback to Marie Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), who’s based on a real-life socialite and serial killer who tortured black slaves in the early 1800s.
What’s most striking is that the episode feels lighter and funnier than previous seasons, which Murphy says was entirely by design. “I love this season,” Murphy says. “It’s my favorite season we’ve done so far, largely because I love the comedy of it and I think it’s really scary.” Last season Asylum, Murphy notes, was “dark and grim and hard.” Coven, he says, “was designed to be scary, but more fun. I heard a lot last year, ‘Oh we love it, but it’s hard to sit through.’ So I wanted this year to be not so hard to sit through.” The production also had the opportunity to shoot on location in New Orleans rather than in a studio, which gives the show a less claustrophobic feel.
The most grim content is from a cold open flashback to LaLaurie’s torment of her slaves, who are kept in cramped animal cages and suffer all sorts of abuses. “She’s a real woman who did everything in the show and worse,” Murphy says.
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