"Fun" is not typically a word we'd associate with "American Horror Story"… that is, until now.
Following the grimly violent slog that was last season's "Asylum," tonight's premiere of Season 3 (aka "Coven") felt like a summer breeze, a welcome return to the campy vibe of Season 1. In fact, when "Horror Story" creator Ryan Murphy spoke to critics about "Coven" in a spoiler-heavy Q&A session, he used the word "fun" no less than a dozen times... and that's no accident. "I heard a lot last year, 'Oh, we love it, but it's hard to sit through,'" he admitted. "So I wanted this year to be not so hard to sit through, a little bit more light in tone." Well, mission accomplished.
But of course, we're just getting started: Murphy promised many wicked twists to come this season, including an ax-wielding arch-villain and a major witch death in Episode 3 (!). You're not afraid of a few spoilers, are you? Then read on to find out what's brewing for "Coven."
Karma bites Kathy Bates
The toughest part to watch in the "Coven" premiere had to be 19th-century socialite Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) torturing her slaves in that god-forsaken attic of hers. But we saw all-powerful witch Fiona (Jessica Lange) dig her up at episode's end, and rest assured, her just desserts are on the way. "Jessica plays this great supreme witch who also happens to be the world's biggest liberal," Murphy teased.
"So she's holding Kathy Bates ransom. And she starts to find out about the horrors of that character, who's a real woman. Everything that we showed you, she actually did, and worse. So she makes Kathy Bates be Gabourey Sidibe's personal slave as payback. Through that relationship, Kathy Bates has an entire season of guilt and remorse, and finally learning about the gravity of what she did. So it's also a meditation on race relations in this country."
Witchcraft vs. voodoo
Angela Bassett isn't just stuck appearing in flashbacks, either: Her character, voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, is still alive and well in modern-day New Orleans, according to Murphy. "In the second episode, Jessica finds out that Marie Laveau, who was also a real person, has put this spell on Kathy Bates. Marie Laveau runs a hair salon called Cornrow City, where she's gone undercover. So Jessica shows up and says, 'Gimme the eternal life stuff,' and Marie Laveau says, 'Well, gimme back Kathy Bates, because I know you dug her up.' So that begins the war."
But the two rival witches eventually find a reason to join forces: "There's a very strong arc about the Salem witches and the voodoo witches, and 'Can't we all get along to fight our common enemy?'"
Get ready to meet more witches… and say goodbye to one
Put your pointy black thinking caps on, because we'll be spending time in class with the young witches of Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies. "We have a lot of Salem flashbacks throughout the year, where these girls who are students learn about their ancestors," Murphy hinted. "And other witches come into that house who also have very specific powers."
But one of these witches is not like the others, he added. "The great mystery of this season is, Which of these people who you have met [in the premiere] is The Supreme? Who's going to take Jessica Lange's throne? We really don't find out till Episode 12 who that is." When asked how Lange's Fiona feels about being replaced, Murphy flatly replied, "She kills one of them in Episode 3. She's not giving it up. She thinks she's found out who the Supreme is, and that person gets killed. So she's not giving that up, no way."
Frankenstein: a love story
Evan Peters fans must have been thrilled to see the "Horror Story" veteran back as sweet frat guy Kyle… and then devastated to watch him die in a fiery bus crash in the very first episode. But don't worry; you'll be seeing more of him. Or pieces of him, anyway. "I've always been very obsessed with anything Mary Shelley, so that's another thing that we deal with: the Frankenstein," Murphy said.
"In Episode 2, Emma Roberts and Taissa go to the morgue. Taissa is obviously in love with the Evan character, and they find out that he and a lot of the other boys have been badly, badly mangled and decapitated. So [Emma] decides to build the perfect boyfriend. She takes Evan's head and other parts that she desires and creates this thing, and they use a spell. And that's his arc; he's brought back. And [Taissa] is in love with him and has to rehabilitate him, but of course, she can never be with him intimately, because she'll kill him again."
Beware of the Minotaur… and the Ax Man
After Season 1's Rubber Man and Season 2's Bloody Face, who will be scaring the bejeezus out of us this season? "There are two big arch-villains of this season," Murphy promised. "The Minotaur, which you saw in the cold opening [of the premiere]… and then there's the Ax Man," a real-life New Orleans serial killer played by "Magic City's" Danny Huston. "Those are the two mythological creatures of this season." Is that enough nightmare fuel for you?
A nose-twitch to "Bewitched"
Murphy also revealed that the strained mother-daughter relationship between "Coven" witches Fiona and Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) was inspired by an unlikely source. "I was always very, very fascinated by the dynamic of the show 'Bewitched.' I loved that. And then I thought, 'What would really happen if Samantha listened to Endora and just went bats--t dark crazy?' What would've happened if Elizabeth Montgomery left the plot, and was like, 'Yeah, I don't want to be normal, I don't want to be suburban, I'm gonna go dark'? So [Cordelia] does start very prim and proper, and then something happens to her character around Episode 5 that forces her to realize, 'Okay… my mother may be right.'"
A "Coven" poster might contain a clue
That unspeakably gross "Coven" poster that shows a snake slithering in and out of three ladies' mouths (and that we can barely look at)? Murphy said it represents a big hint about this season… but this time, he's not telling. "That is a clue that I don't want to say too much about. But yeah, the posters are symbolic of something. The first season, where you see Connie Britton pregnant with the Rubber Man, that was much more obvious. This year, we wanted to go a little bit more hidden."
Next season is already in the works
"Coven" is just getting underway, but Murphy said the ball is already rolling on Season 4 of "Horror Story." (For the record, FX hasn't officially ordered a fourth season yet.) "Every year, by October 1st, I have to know what the next season is. So I start researching that and dreaming about that." And we'll get a sneak peek at it when "Coven" wraps up: "I always thought it would be really cool, and I think I might do it this year, that the finale airs and then I announce at the end of the show what next year's show is by using some sort of visual thing. I think we're going to try that this year: I think the last image of the season will be, 'This is what you're getting next year,' and we'll announce the title and all that fun stuff." See? Fun!
"American Horror Story: Coven" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.