Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: American Horror Story: Coven "Fearful Pranks Ensue"

Non Spoiler Review:
Fearful Pranks Ensue continues the tradition of fun American Horror Story Halloween episodes, focusing on the outbreak of hostilities between the school and Marie Laveau. Bastian's attack leaves Queenie at death's door, leading Delia and Fiona to search for answers as Maddie's disappearance draws attention from the witch's council.

Fearful Pranks left the Kyle and Misty plots in favor of witch politics. Angela Bassett continues to shine as the focus shifts to her voodoo magic and much of her past in New Orleans. Frances Conroy's Myrtle Snow finally gets to step into the storyline and the mysterious Spalding receives an equal amount of attention.

I really enjoyed this one, and it was full of interesting twists and turns, and some great new character additions. With the series breaking into high gear and on solid legs, the episode concludes with the usual cliffhanger that promises an exciting conclusion.

Spoilers Now!
In 1961 Henry, a black boy attending an integrated school for the first day, is chased on his bicycle by some men. His mother works in Marie's salon, and they later find him lynched, so Marie sets about on a revenge—summoning some zombies to kill—and dismember—the culprits.

Spalding is enjoying a tea party among his vast doll collection when he's interrupted by voices from downstairs. It's Fiona and Maddie's heated discussion in the gallery where he finds Fiona cutting her throat. As he rolls the girl up in the carpet Fiona muses that Maddie would have made a lousy supreme, and it's her duty to stay vital. She confesses she always enjoyed her little talks with Spalding, particularly since he lost his tongue. 

A broken window sends Fiona outside to investigate, and she finds the doors to Cordelia's lab broken and Queenie bloodied on the floor. Behind them Bastian rises. Later, Fiona gets Cordelia and brings her to Queenie's room where she has the wounded girl. Fiona berates her daughter that she allowed one of their girls to be attacked by Marie Laveau, who obviously sent them some dark art voodoo. Delia retorts that it's Fiona's fault for provoking her. Fiona realizes her daughter was searching for a voodoo fertility spell. Fiona went there to show strength and Delia undermined her, she scolds.

Queenie's heart stops, so Fiona uses her magic to breathe life into her. Queenie starts breathing again, but Delia suggests a hospital. Fiona refuses and advises her the council would question her daughter's competence.

Weary, Fiona returns to her room and tells the cowering Delphine to get out of the closet. Delphine admits Queenie saved her, and the monster was Bastian. Fiona already knows that, but suggests she keep it to herself. It won't be coming back. The next day at the salon Marie receives a very large package and finds a severed bull's head (still blinking) inside.

Kyle, covered in blood, finally speaks to Zoe, saying her name. She apologizes for all that's happened to him and goes to make him some food. She notices some rat poison in the cupboard, something she slips into the bowl, but she returns to find Kyle gone.

It's Halloween, and Delphine warns that spirits will be walking the earth. She comments that Fiona looks beautiful as she prepares to go out. Fiona has no use for Delphine's superstitions. She plans to let the world in tonight.

In the back room Marie prepares to exact revenge, but her coworker warns her not to start a war with the Salem witches. In the previous war Marie made peace and sat across from Anna, both women vowing no more bloodshed and outlining their territories. Marie declares the truce over. 

Hank has taken a job out of town (he's a USDA agent), but in reality he's meeting a new girlfriend he met online—Cayley. After they have sex she admits she really likes him and hopes he doesn't break her heart. He takes out a gun and shoots her in the head (!).

Queenie finally wakes up. As Delia goes to get clean towels Delphine thanks her for saving her life. Nan walks in telling them they're here. Delia goes downstairs to find the council—who only assemble under the gravest of circumstances. It's composed of Myrtle Snow, Quentin and Pembrooke. Myrtle wasn't aware of Queenie's assault, a fact Delia inadvertently reveals. Delia then confesses to going over to Marie Laveau's, which is something else the council didn't know. Fiona arrives and tells her daughter to stop talking. 

Myrtle explains they were summoned by Nan because she can't hear Madison anymore and thinks she's dead. The council begins the inquiry into Madison's disappearance, adding that the guilty party will suffer death by fire. Delia testifies first, unsurprised Madison would stay out all night or run off. The council is curious if she was manifesting new powers before her disappearance, and it's Nan who mentions that she set the neighbour's curtains on fire. The council then interrogates Fiona, and Myrtle berates her way of running things. The supreme is more than a figurehead and must be present, and her absence has not gone unnoticed. So Myrtle wants to know why she's back now, adding that Fiona was present was when Anna went missing, as well.

Flashback to 1971 when young Fiona testified to Anna's disappearance. She tells the council she noticed the supreme took a bottle of wine with her, and they conclude it has something to do with her recent truce with Marie Laveau. They reveal that Fiona is the new supreme and she will soon begin the tests of the seven wonders. Young Myrtle is not happy at all to hear that and believes she murdered Anna. 

Myrtle knows when a lie is being told and goes on to cast a spell. At dinner she confides in her friend that Spalding always cleans up Fiona's messes. She's enchanted his tongue so he's incapable of speaking a lie, and he's been called to testify before the council. That night his screams wake the house and Spalding lies writhing on the floor of the bathroom with his tongue cut out.

In the present, Myrtle warns Fiona she will pay for all the crimes she's been committed. No witch has been tried and burned since 1926, but Myrtle is dying to light the next one. She calls Spalding as their final witness. Myrtle tells him justice is near and all he has to do is write the name of the witch who is responsible for cutting out his tongue. Spalding writes Myrtle's name.

In the flashback, Spalding actually overheard Myrtle talk of the enchantment at dinner. He met with Fiona in the bathroom afterwards and tells her he will speak his final words—He has always loved her. Then he cuts out his own tongue in front of her as she screams.

Myrtle is furious, declaring Fiona's gotten away with two murders. Delia interrupts for her mother's defence, telling them they're wrong. Madison wasn't the next supreme. The hallmark of a supreme is glowing health and Madison had a heart murmur she kept secret. Fiona is the supreme for a reason.

Marie closes shop for the night and begins her ritual—summoning more zombies from their graves. At the school trick or treaters come to the door while the girls debate whether Madison is still alive. Though Nan can't hear her in her head, Zoe still wants to look for her, but Fiona told them all to stay inside for the night. Upstairs, Spalding, wearing a nightgown, chooses a dress that he brings to Maddie's dead body. He has her sitting at his table with a teacup. 

Fiona and Delia enjoy a night out at the bar. Delia wants them to ask each other three honest questions. She wants to know why she hates Hank. Her mother tells her he reeks of bullshit. Delia asks if she killed Madison. Fiona says no. Fiona wants to know who Delia thinks is the next supreme, but her daughter knows she's obsessed because she must feel her powers weakening. Later on Delia's drank too much and throws up in the bar bathroom. As she cleans up a hooded figure comes out of the stall and throws acid in her face.

Luke comes to the door to drop off cookies for Nan, wanting to pay her back for the cake. As Delphine answers the door to more trick or treaters, she finds three corpses standing on the porch. She recognizes her dead daughters. Horrified, she shuts the door as a horde of zombies begins to bear down on the house.

The Verdict:
Fearful Pranks Ensue was a fun and lively episode—Who attacked Delia? What the heck is up with Hank? Will the students be able to defend the school from a zombie attack, including Delphine's daughters? And who is the supreme? Add to that the new war (and historical rivalry) between Marie Laveau and the New Orleans witches, and I'm loving where the series is heading.

Kyle's plot line is the weakest for me at the moment, and thankfully we got just enough of that to further it along a bit in favor of expanded insight into Myrtle and Spalding, supplemented by her cohorts Quentin (the first male witch we've seen) and Pembrooke.

The flashbacks remain a highlight of the series, though much of what we saw here didn't hold many surprises. Spalding's doll collection remains a creepy addition, though, and Maddie's ultimate fate provided a satisfying bit of creepiness.

It was also unexpected to see the young maid from the first season making a (brief) appearance. I don't know what to think of Hank yet, because that was truly a weird development. And it appears he's more than just a crazed killer given the weapon he used on her.

As expected, Delphine is beginning to grow on me, especially now that she's demonstrated she can be grateful to Queenie for saving her life. How she will react fighting off her own daughters next week will be interesting, as well as who among them might exhibit the powers of a supreme.

I'm left wondering what kind of power structure the Salem witches operate under—if the supreme is the best of them, how does the council exert any sort of authority over her? It seems they've allowed Fiona to do whatever she liked as long as she didn't interfere in the school. Hopefully it gets fleshed and doesn't become one of those sketchy hierarchies like we've seen in True Blood. But on a final note, it's curious, given from what we saw of Myrtle's history, that she was there to escort Zoe to the school—might she think Zoe is the chosen one?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "Isolation"

Non Spoiler Review:
As the flu turns into a full blown epidemic, the council isolates the sick from the healthy. Daryl and Michonne set off in search of antibiotics while Rick looks for answers on who might have killed David and Karen. 

Isolation was far more subdued than the previous weeks, focusing on the characters and how they deal with the critical health situation. While some might find it too low key, it was an interesting contrast to find the formerly safe haven of the prison very much a prison now. The episode ends with a revelation that opens up a host of additional problems. 

I enjoyed this one, because it succeeded in conveying the seriousness of the situation and the new normal at the prison. But I don't think the show can get away with too many of these overly chatty episodes. But that's not to say it was all talk either—there was a decent action scene later on. The series continues to run strong, opening up multiple plot threads to address later on once this flu (hopefully) is resolved.

Spoilers Now!
Tyreese shows Rick, Daryl and Carol the bodies and demands Rick find who did it and bring them to him. Rick tries to calm him down but Tyreese ends up punching him, and Rick viciously beats him down until Daryl pulls him off. 

Hershel tends to Rick's hand afterwards. After losing twelve in the initial outbreak, they've now lost Karen and David killed in cold blood. Bob finds Tyreese digging graves, suggesting he go get checked out by the doctor, but Tyreese refuses until he buries them. Bob lends a hand.

Sasha has come down with the flu and goes into the quarantine cell block. Dr. Caleb is already sick himself. The rest of the council discusses the outbreak, but Glen finding himself showing symptoms already. They need antibiotics and Hershel knows of a veterinary college 50 miles away that would have the medication they need. Daryl and Michonne elect to go. In the meantime they'll separate the most vulnerable from the rest. 

Tyreese finishes the graves and Rick comes over to pay his respects and apologizes. Rick thinks the guilty party might be trying to stop the spread of the disease. Tyreese warns Rick that if he doesn't act, he will.

Carl goes into isolation with the rest of the kids. Beth remains in seclusion with Judith. Maggie sits outside her door confiding in her that Glen has it. Beth assures her they all have their duties in their time of crisis. Daryl and Michonne enlist Tyreese to come with them on their supply run, but he wants to stay and keep watch on the sick ward. Daryl assures him no one will get into the ward without other people seeing them. 

Lizzie falls ill, too, and Carol escorts her into quarantine. When she asks Carol to tuck her in, Carol sends her in alone, telling her Glen can help. After she leaves her Carol breaks down.

Hershel has an idea and gets ready to head out into the woods but is stopped by Carl, who won't let him leave by himself. They go together, and Hershel searches for elderberries to make tea to alleviate some of the symptoms. Carl stands watch, and they note how peaceful the woods are. They find a decomposing walker lying next to a tree, and another wandering slowly with a leg hold trap on her. Hershel tells Carl there's no need to shoot them and disturb the peace.

Tyreese assures Sasha they're getting medicine and joins with Daryl, Michonne and Bob. He asks Carol to look in on Sasha. Carol confides in him how sorry she is about Karen's death, and after he leaves she breaks down and angrily pushes the water barrel over. 

Maggie berates her father for not staying in quarantine, and instead going into the cell block to try to treat the sick with his tea. Rick doesn't want him risking his life either but Hershel lectures them both that he might be able to save lives and right now everything they do is a risk.

Rick goes on to investigates the crime scene. Carol goes outside the fence to clear the water supply hose but finds herself surrounded. Rick notices and comes running. He's angry that she went out on her own, but with people falling sick she wanted to get it done while they still had a chance.

On the drive to the veterinary college, Daryl assures Michonne he would come along with her in her search for the Governor had the trail not gone cold. Michonne wants it known that's she's not abandoning them when she goes out on her long sojourns. They suddenly hear a voice on the radio, and then abruptly slam on the brakes when they find the road full of zombies, and over the hill the college is swarming with a herd of thousands. Backing up, they get stuck on a pile of bodies so have to make a run for it. Tyreese stays in the car until Bob screams at him to get out. He goes on a blind rampage with his hammer and is quickly surrounded while the others run into the woods to regroup. They're surprised to find Tyreese emerge after awhile, exhausted. 

Rick reminds Carol it was stupid of her to go out by herself. She sacrifices a lot for the group, he muses, and wonders if there is anything she wouldn't do for their people. No, she says. Rick then asks if she killed Karen and David. Yes, she admits, and walks off with her water.

The Verdict:
While not the most exciting episode, Isolation did deal with the quarantine and the idea that the wilderness is perhaps a more safer refuge for everyone at the moment. Characters got paired up with some good scenes together—Maggie and Beth, Hershel and Carl, while Tyreese finally got some extended screen time with the others.

The giant herd was a satisfying large scale set piece to end the show on. It will be interesting if that whole excursion is a failure and (according to the previews) it falls on Carol and Rick to get supplies. Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese and Bob are without a vehicle and stranded anyway.

There's also the matter of the mystery radio signal that's completely overshadowed by subsequent events. Something to look forward to later. And the Governor remains a phantom only talked about rarely even in name at the moment, so I'm sure his return will come when we least expect it.

Carol's casual admission to the crime speaks to quite a change in her outlook. But were Karen and David already dead, or did she murder them outright? That's critical in how Rick deals with this, as he has to decide if he should bring it all out in the open or maintain the secret (especially from Tyreese). I prefer the latter, as the show hasn't dealt with a heavy secret since Shane and Lori's affair, and I think the threat of that reveal would be a nice addition to everyone's stress. However, that all relies on Carol not being crazy. While I can see her decision to kill Karen and David, that would not explain the rat feeding to the walkers, which suggests another culprit remains on the loose.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: American Horror Story: Coven "The Replacements"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Replacements finds Fiona considering her future as the supreme, and who might be the rising star that could displace her. Zoe tries to rectify the Kyle situation by visiting his distraught mother. The girls are intrigued by an attractive new neighbour. Delphine has difficulty adjusting to her new position.

The Replacements wasn't much scary this week, but more than made up for it with disturbing and icky scenes dealing with revelations about Kyle's home life. Who is getting replaced? That would be Fiona, who suddenly realizes her days as the supreme may be numbered. Zoe tries to replace Kyle for his mother. Patti Lupone joins the cast as an extremely religious potential adversary for Fiona. 

This was the weakest of the episodes to date, with two plot developments that could be seen coming right from the start. However, The Replacements was full of snappy one-liners and plenty of dark humour and still offered much to entertain.

Spoilers Now!
New Orleans, 1971. A younger Fiona chats with her predecessor Anna, asking when she realized she was the supreme. Anna explains that by the time she was Fiona's age she had already manifested multiple gifts, but the mastery of the seven wonders is what makes one the supreme. Fiona feels she's ready and wants to be tested, but Anna refuses. Fiona then points out that when one supreme begins to flower, the old one fades, and she can see that Anna is already growing older and weaker as she gets stronger. Incensed, Anna declares she's foreseen that Fiona will ruin the coven and vows to make it her mission to ensure she never takes the throne. Fiona cuts her throat, and finds Spalding watching from the doorway. In the present, Fiona muses over Anna's painting in the gallery, considering who might be her successor. She finds Spalding watching and asks if the cat has his tongue.

Zoe visits Kyle's mother, Alicia. The troubled woman asks to share something with her—she had been about to hang herself when Zoe called her and is grateful she came by. Zoe then heads to the cabin where Misty is still listening to Stevie Nicks and Kyle remains in a daze. Misty is pleased to see her and shows her how Kyle's scars have healed. He touches Zoe's hair but says nothing. Zoe needs to take Kyle home given his mother is a wreck but Misty doesn't want either of them to leave. Zoe promises to return, but Misty doesn't believe her. 

Delphine is still adjusting to the modern age, and is mortified that the magic TV box is showing a black president. Fiona inform her she's the new maid, unless she wants to go back in the box. When Delphine brings the girls their food she refuses to tolerate Queenie's backtalk. Instead she tosses her food on the floor. Fiona intervenes before Queenie can attack her and advises her Delphine is now Queenie's personal slave. There's nothing she hates more than a racist, she snaps.

Queenie, Nan and Madison watch some new neighbours move in next door, including the young handsome son unloading the truck. His mother shows up to tell him to put on a shirt. The trio show up at their house with a cake, greeting Luke who lets them in. Madison starts flirting right away, but he isn't as interested in Madison as she'd like him to be. His mother Joan arrives to tell them they're already late for Bible study and will take the cake to share. Madison informs them their religion is a crock, quickly enraging the devout Joan, who grabs her wrist holding the cake knife, which flies into the wall. She orders them out of the house, and as they leave the drapes catch fire, as much to Madison's surprise as the others.

Realizing her beauty is fading, Fiona reluctantly sees a plastic surgeon, insisting on watching the video of how they will cut her up. However when she has her blood work done up the results come as a shock. She's in no condition for any elective surgery and her immune system is in free fall. Meanwhile Delia is back at the doctor following the failure of her alternative methods. The doctor has reviewed her own blood work and breaks the news that she just can't have a baby. 

Zoe drives Kyle back home and leaves him on his mother's porch. Alicia screams and embraces him as she watches from afar. Later, Alicia puts him to bed but asks him how his body can be so different as she saw him in the shower. He looks like someone else and she doesn't understand how that could be. But that doesn't matter, she says, and proceeds to kiss him (!).

Back at the school Fiona is having a drink as Spalding brings in Joan Ramsay from next door. Joan offers her a Bible and isn't sure what her school is but two of her girls invaded her property. Fiona has no patience for Bible thumpers or their hypocrisy towards sex. Joan warns her she'll call the police next time and charge them with assault and arson. That piques Fiona's interest. Madison arrives and mocks Joan, but once she leaves Fiona asks Madison if she has a light. Madison is able to use her new fire abilities to ignite her cigarette. Fiona suggests they talk.

Delia visits Marie's salon with an appointment to consult about her fertility problem. She's led to the backroom where Marie sits on her alligator throne. Delia is well aware of the potions she's capable of and her particular fertility spell that is always successful. But it's no walk in the park, Marie explains, going into detail of the elaborate ritual. It must be during the new moon and will cost $50,000 cash. Delia is committed, but Marie just laughs at her—she has no intention of performing the spell given she's the daughter of her sworn enemy. The damage is already done, Marie explains. Fiona has messed with the wrong witch. Delia didn't know her mother was already there. 

Fiona and Madison have lunch. She asks if Madison has always known she was special. Fiona muses that she has so much to give and so much to teach, regretting being a bad mother to Delia. Madison wants to learn. Self-preservation is the most primal instinct, Fiona explains, and wonders what it will take to make someone disregard that. She gets Madison to enchant a pedestrian to believe he's safe in the street. The man walks out and stops as cars veer around him, but Madison doesn't know if she did that or Fiona. 

Queenie is enjoying Delphine's servitude when the older woman sees something in the window. She's horrified when she realizes it's Bastian, the minotaur. Delphine panics and locks the door and it bangs its head against it, frightening both. Delphine explains who it is and reveals her own identity. Queenie remembers her story from the house tour and is outraged at all the things she's heard about Delphine. Delphine begs her for mercy so Queenie tells her to go hide but first cuts her hand with a knife, taking some blood on a napkin. She goes outside with it. 

Queenie approaches the beast and leads him with the bloody napkin. She tells him he's not a beast. She's been called the same. Both of them deserve love like everyone else. Bastian comes closer and caresses her, then covers her mouth.

Zoe gets a call from Alicia, who explains Kyle is back, but it's not really him. She heads right over. Alicia tells Kyle that Zoe is joining them for dinner. Kyle is sitting on the floor in silence. Alicia admits she's possessive and it's time for Kyle to move on with his life and she's pleased he's met someone like Zoe. But she presses him about his new body. She knows his body, she maintains. No one knows him like she does. Kyle flips out and hits her with a football trophy, then proceeds to beat her to death. Zoe shows up to the dark house for dinner to find the door open and Alicia's body, then faces Kyle covered in blood.

Fiona and Madison play pool at a bar while attracting the attention of several men. Fiona can see herself in Madison's face. As Madison gets drunk, Fiona dumps out her glass, and when they return home and walk through the gallery, she advises Madison to get her portrait painted when she's young. She tells the girl that she is the next supreme, and Fiona's time is up. Madison is killing her—her powers are growing and Fiona is the source. Her life force is pouring out of her into Madison and now Fiona has cancer and will last a year at best. But she maintains she'll go out in style.

Fiona confesses she took her inheritance too soon and squandered it. She was a shitty supreme. Her mentor Anna was majestic and powerful and taught her everything she knew, but she thanked her by cutting her throat. And she's kept the knife, which she takes out. She gives it to a frightened Madison, telling her to kill her for the sake of the coven. A frantic Madison refuses, and Fiona continues to scream at her to do it, then abruptly cuts the younger girl's throat. Spalding watches from the doorway again as Fiona stares at the blood on her hands. He comes in with a handkerchief for her to clean up. Fiona tells him to bury her deep, and adds, "This coven doesn't need a new supreme, it needs a new rug."

The Verdict:
The Replacements delved into the more seedy aspects of matters, with Kyle's home life exposed, and Zoe's best of intentions leading to the inevitable death of Alicia. The same can be said for Madison, who had a target on her back the moment she lit Fiona's cigarette. I do like that the writers toyed with the audience by illiciting so much sympathy in the first scene with Alicia before showing the true horror of what Kyle's life has been like with her as a mother.

The Ramsays will likely shake things up a bit, but whether Joan can be anything more than their nosy neighbour remains to be seen. She's definitely more of a caricature than a character at this point.

Delphine's adjustment to modern life was hilarious, including her mortified first look at Barack Obama. Throwing her in with Queenie made for additional laughs, but I'm not sure if we're going to see any evolution in Delphine's temperament to make her more sympathetic or not. She's a wild card as to where she may end up as the series progresses. As for Queenie, I can see her being drawn over to Marie's side soon enough, unless her dalliance with Bastian puts her on Marie's bad side.

I don't recall Marie having such an over the top accent in the last two weeks, but she certainly got to have a juicy scene here. One wonders if Marie's tribe suffers the same passing of the torch as the Salem witches when it comes to the supreme, and if someone might be out to replace her too. Yet she's apparently immortal, so that may not be the case.

We're left with a few mysteries, such as what the seven wonders might be, and will Delia get to go through with her baby spell by perhaps betraying her mother? With Maddie gone, who is the new supreme-in-waiting? Zoe seems the easy choice, but Misty Day is a possibility.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "Infected"

Non Spoiler Review:
Infected kicks off a tense episode as Patrick lumbers his way back into the populated cell block to wreak havoc. But equally urgent threats loom, including the gathering walkers outside the fence. Rick is forced to make some decisions about his new lifestyle, and Carol worries if her teaching methods might be put in jeopardy.

Another fantastic episode, Infected could very well have been titled Paradise Lost, as the calm and security of the prison is shattered for good. It maintained a level of unease and increasing despair that really made for an emotionally draining hour. We got movement on Rick's arc, as well as some curious behaviour from Carol, some nice bits with Michonne and Carl and Daryl, and some new faces (that hopefully aren't just more cannon fodder).

Two episodes in and the season is running on strong legs and feels rejuvenated. While the time jump (much like last year's) leaves the audience grappling a bit with some abrupt character shifts and behaviours, at least the series isn't dragging like the much-maligned second season.

Spoilers Now!
In the middle of the night someone tempts the walkers closer to the fence with a flashlight and feeds them a rat. Inside, Tyreese sits up with Karen and remains pensive about Zack's death and the number of people who move in and out of their lives now. Karen wants to take things slow and goes back to her own quarters, stopping by the showers to wash up. She hears something, but a search of the room yields nothing and she leaves, while Patrick slowly rises from the floor. Back in her cell she readies for bed, leaving the cell doors open. Patrick approaches the curtain over her door, only to be distracted by a cough one cell over where he kills another sleeping man.

As morning comes, Rick tends to Judith and wakes up Carl. Patrick has spent the night feasting on his victim before the sounds of activity draw him out. The other man then rises himself. Glen and Maggie have been on watch in the tower. He takes her picture with the camera he got at the mall supply run. She wakes up to the noise and takes her turn on watch while he goes for a perimeter check. 

Michonne is about to depart on her next search, and Rick and Carl see her off. She asks why Carl doesn't wear his hat anymore. It's not a farming hat, he says. They notice the cluster of walkers leaning against the fence and he asks his father if they can help clear them. Rick has cucumbers to tend to, he dismisses, and refuses to let Carl go. Carl asks for his gun back. Rick ignores that, but gunshots alert both of them, Michonne and Maggie. Glen and Sasha yell out walkers are on the loose inside.

Carl runs to the gate to let Michonne in, but the doors are open long enough to allow a few undead into the safe area and she has to fight them off. Carl grabs a rifle and saves her as Maggie gets her inside. Michonne twists her ankle in the process, and they all watch a herd approach the fence, alerted to the commotion.

Inside, the cell block is in chaos as people try to flee. Several have either turned or are bitten. Tyreese reaches Karen and gets her out. Carol tends to one of the wounded, Ryan, and sets about to amputate his arm, only to sees he's also been bitten in the back of the head. Glen, Daryl and Rick finally find Patrick and kill him, securing the area. Unfortunately they must then go through and ensure the casualties remain dead. 

Carol comforts Ryan. He has no one else and asks her to look after his kids. She tells him he's going to have to let them say good-bye, so brings in his two girls, Lizzie and Mika. He dies quickly, and Carol ushers them out, reminding them what they're supposed to do. Lizzie, the oldest, says they should be the ones to do it. While her little sister can't, Carol allows Lizzie to take the knife and helps her through it, reminding her what they showed her to do. But she falters and Carol takes over, puncturing him through his ear.

Rick discovers a locked cell with a walker inside bleeding from the eyes. He kills it and finds no wounds or bites. Dr. Caleb and Hershel notice he died choking on his own blood, something they saw on Patrick, as well as on the walker outside the fence. Caleb suggests it's an aggressive flu strain. They piece together the connection between the sick pig and similar dead game in the woods, and Hershel suggests they need to do something about the hogs. They've all been exposed. 

Rick goes outside but warns Carl away, and the others to stay back given the possibility of infection. Rick explains Patrick got sick from the flu, died and attacked the cell block. They've lost a lot of good people. He warns them not to get close with any who have been exposed for awhile.

The council meets to discuss the crisis, wondering if they can separate everyone who may have been infected. Hershel suggests they need a new cell block to quarantine people. Carol finds a coughing Karen, and they inform Tyreese she needs to be sequestered with the rest. Hershel warns everyone not panic while they get a handle on medications. 

Carol finds the girls at the fence, assuring them she'll protect them as she promised their father. But she bluntly tells Lizzie she's weak. She needs to act fast every time given it's life or death. If she wants to live she has to become strong. Mika thinks her older sister is stupid for crying. She's messed up, not weak, she tells Carol.

Rick joins Daryl at the new grave sites. Daryl is thankful for all the help Rick has been and says he earned his time off. Maggie comes to get them as a herd of zombies presses against the fence. A team goes to try to clear them off. Sasha calls the others over when she find the remains of the rats that have been used to lure the walkers. The fence begins to buckle and forces the others back. Rick considers what to do, then tells Daryl to get the truck.

Beth tends to Michonne's ankle, happy she came back safe. Michonne is angry at her own stupidity, but Beth reminds her they care about her. Judith's crying begins to annoy Michonne, and later Beth wants her to hold Judith. Michonne only reluctantly does so, and when they're left alone she breaks down and cries. Beth sees her and leaves them together.

Carl is inside making markers for the graves as Carol finds him. She asks if he told his dad about what he saw in the library. He didn't. Carol needs to keep teaching the kids to survive, but she hasn't told their parents. She doesn't want to risk them not understanding. Carl feels that's between her and them. Carol asks him not to tell his father, but Carl won't lie to him. 

Daryl and Rick drive out, hauling a trailer behind. They begin to attract the herd to them and Rick takes out a live pig, kills it, and throws it out. Leaving a trail behind them, they succeed in drawing the herd away while the others make repairs to the fence, but the task emotionally exhausts Rick.

The girls continue to stare at the walkers and Carol joins them again, more comforting to Lizzie this time. She cuts a flower and puts it in her hair, and Lizzie accepts the knife in her hand and keeps it. 

Rick dismantles the pig pen. He tells Carl to keep away and thinks both of them should stay away from Judith for awhile. Carl reveals Carol has been teaching the kids to use weapons and their parents don't know, and she doesn't want him to know. He thinks Rick should let her. Rick pours gas on the pen and thanks him for telling him. He won't stop her and he won't say anything. As it burns he gives Carl his gun back, and puts his own gun belt back on. He throws his blood-stained shirt into the fire and sees another herd gathering at a different section of the fence.

Tyreese goes to visit Karen in her isolated cell block bearing some flowers, only to find bloodstains everywhere, and a trail that leads down the hall. He follows it into the outside courtyard and comes upon two scorched bodies that have been dragged out and burned. One of them is Karen.

The Verdict:
Infected was certainly an exhausting episode—an intense and deadly attack, further discoveries and discussions of the flu crisis, and finally Rick's decision to symbolically and violently undo his rustic life. While the massacre at the prison (over a dozen apparently) carried plenty of impact, part of it did feel like a culling of a bunch of no-names from Woodbury. To balance that out we get Dr. Caleb to provide some quick influenza education, and a very quick look at zombie victim Ryan before he was offed. I do hope the series spends more time developing some these background characters so they're more than just faces in the crowd. Otherwise the gravity of their deaths will quickly fade. Case in point—Karen's not-so-surprising demise.

Rick's continuing dismissal of Carl's questions is troubling, and looks like old style Rick issue avoidance, though that might be on the mend given his return to his gun-wielding self. It was tragic to watch him give up his hope of a normal life for his son (and cutting the throats of his pigs was a heavy metaphor to hammer the message home).

This season appears to be less talky/more showy, highlighted by the lovely little scene with Michonne that easily conveyed that she lost a child rather than providing us a long, drawn out conversation about it. But the heavier dialogue scenes with Carol and the kids were some of the best. I'm glad Lizzie and Mika got fleshed out as real characters. I was getting the impression that Carol's behavior was shifting to the bizarre side of things. I can't say she's acting in a crazy manner yet, but she came off as overly harsh and paranoid. I realize several months have passed and so her take on things has evolved. And she did lose Sophia, so with kids running around for the first time her protective motherly instincts may be in full swing. Mika could be the problem to watch out for given how aloof she is to her father's death and Lizzie's feelings—and perhaps the sisters will play out one particular disturbing story from the graphic novels?

Who is the mysterious figure drawing the walkers to the fence? Gosh, is it Carol?! I hope not. We've never seen the unhinged version of her comic book persona and the television series hasn't shown her anywhere close to that version. Bob or other various Woodbury refugees are too easy solutions, which leaves the show with a problem of falling short of expectations if the identity of the culprit is someone we've not met yet.

Note of the week: Everyone in the prison trusts one another so much no one bothers to close or lock their cells, or even the cell block door? Sloppy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: American Horror Story: Coven "Boy Parts"

Non Spoiler Review:
Boy Parts finds Zoe's guilt placing the school in danger, while Madison has an idea to pay her back for her kindness. Fiona seeks to learn the newly uncovered LaLaurie's secret to immortality as her daughter embarks on a solution for her own infertility. 

Death and resurrection plays heavily this week in a variety of ways. Fiona continues to search for eternal youth and finds a variety of options open to her if she can just secure them. Madison and Zoe and Delia strive to create life in their own ways. All of these avenues are certain to come with their respective consequences, of course, and it looks like the season will deal with those in short order.

There's nothing really to complain about with Boy Parts, aside from a few twists that could be seen coming. But the series is not really about avoiding expectations, just turning them on their ear. It continues to be a fun watch.

Spoilers Now!
On the swamp two alligator hunters returning to shore find a woman wandering about their camp, declaring it's all wrong. She's none other than the very much alive Misty Day, who warns them not to kill God's creatures. As one man pulls his gun on her, one of the dead alligators comes back to life and bites him, while another drags off his friend.

Delia wakes up the girls for morning gathering. Zoe is still mourning Kyle and feels he wasn't like his frat brothers, despite what Madison says. Madison suggests he was living on borrowed time anyways given Zoe's black widow status.

Fiona has Delphine in her room, bound and gagged, warning her not to scream. She wants to know how she's still alive. But she's called down to the gathering and plans to continue their chat later.

A flashback to 2012 finds Queenie working in a fast food restaurant, where she uses her sympathetic magic to burn the hand of a troublesome customer in hot oil. She didn't get in trouble for it, but the story made the newspaper which led Delia to find her. She since learned she's an heir to Tituba, the first slave to be accused of witchcraft in Salem.

The gathering is interrupted by the police, who have information movie star Madison was at the frat party and was witnessed with the boys. They feel she might be involved in the bus crash. And Zoe was later spotted at the hospital. That boy died after she left. They followed up with her own history and learned another boy died in the same manner. Zoe breaks down under the accusations and confesses the men gang-raped Madison and she can do things with her mind because they're all witches. Delia steps in and explains she's suffered a mental break. Fiona interrupts and sends the girls away, declaring she's in charge. She hands the men a glass of water (which she spits in) and orders them to drink. One of the police fights the compulsion and while Delia urges her mother to stop, Fiona tells her to shut up and cranks up her power until he takes the glass and drinks. Under her command, she orders them to turn over all their information and never to speak of it again.

Fiona walks in on the girls and sends them flying against the walls. She berates both Madison and Zoe for not closing ranks when they were threatened. Zoe is soft, she adds. Even the weakest of their kind are better than the best of them. The only thing they have to be afraid of is her.

Delia is at the hospital with her husband Hank, hoping she's fertile to have a baby. Unfortunately that's not the case. Hank will support her if she wants to go on fertility drugs but doesn't get her desire for it. He's aware of her magic and wonders why she won't use it to help herself. Delia doesn't want to play God.

Fiona brings Delphine some food, though she suspects she must be immortal by now. Delphine tries to come to grips with the knowledge she's been buried for 180 years, realizing she was tricked by Marie Laveau. Once she took the potion she awoke only to find Laveau and the slaves waiting outside for her. Marie showed Delphine the remains of her family—all strung up in the courtyard. Marie then explained she gave her life everlasting in that potion, and had her put in a coffin and buried, damning her to live forever.

Zoe and Madison break into the morgue. Madison plans to pay Zoe back for what she did for her (killing the rapist). She has a spell of resurrection she took from the school. They find the bodies of the crash victims, including Kyle's dismembered parts. Zoe is mortified, but Madison sees potential in mixing and matching the best of the corpses and build her the perfect boyfriend.

The girls sow together the various limbs and perform the ritual, part of which is their declaration of allegiance to the lord of the underworld. After an intense spell casting, the patched up Kyle seems lifeless. Zoe supposes they just aren't powerful enough. Madison heads out to the car while Zoe remains to tell him he's sorry. Someone drives up so Madison leaves her. Zoe kisses Kyle, but she runs off when she hears the door open. The coroner arrives and finds the assembled body, as well as Zoe. Behind him Kyle sits up and proceeds to beat him to death. Zoe calms him down. In the woods, wandering Misty gets a picture of the morgue in her head.

Fiona is getting her hair cut at a black salon when Marie Laveau walks in and tells everyone to go home, as she'll finish this one herself. Both women toy with one another before revealing their true identities. Laveau reminds Fiona everything they got they got from them, and their kind have been at odds for centuries. Tituba learned her secrets from a line of shamans, giving it to the white girls of Salem. Fiona doubts that, but wants what Marie has—what has kept her young. And she has something in exchange. She leaves her with the promise she'll be back.

At the school Nan is overwhelmed by Delphine's voice in her head so goes up to her room and sets her free, telling her to get out. Delphine runs into Queenie, calling her a slave, and knocks her out.

Delia attempts to make a potion to help her conceive while Hank waits impatiently. She creates an elaborate ritual with an egg and proceeds to have sex with him in the magic circle. The egg breaks and a snake emerges.

Zoe flees with Kyle, but he remains unresponsive. Misty pops up in the back seat claiming she drew her out there. She takes them back to the cabin in the swamp and Misty starts using he knowledge to heal Kyle, just as Mother Nature healed her from being burned alive, she explains. Zoe remains on edge, but recognizes her, informing her that everyone thinks her dead. Misty heard the call of Zoe's magic and is pleased she's not alone. She seems to believe Stevie Nicks is a white witch and listens to her music. Zoe has to get back to the school, but Misty wants to keep Kyle with her so she can heal him, and the promise that Zoe will return.

Back at home Marie tells someone he won't believe who is back. They have some business to attend to, and she unchains Bastian, the minotaur. Meanwhile, Fiona finds Delphine sitting on a bench in front of her former home. Fiona suggests she deserved every minute she spent under the dirt if even a few of the rumours about her are true. Delphine doesn't care who thinks she was a monster, but hopes Fiona is a witch so she'll know how to kill her. Fiona won't kill her today, but warns her to behave or it's back in the box. They go home together.

The Verdict:
Boy Parts was another fun, full episode. Kyle's Frankenstein revival wasn't too much of a surprise, and similar to the infantata from season one, but it will likely play out very different. With Misty Day's return, as well, I'm sure the two of them will make quite the pair. Misty seems to be a very important character and a wild card at this point. Given Fiona's quest for immortality, her resurrection powers could prove valuable.

Fiona's exchange with Marie was one of the episode's highlights and I'm anxious to see Kathy Bates enter the fray with the two of them. Marie possesses what Fiona wants—a secret to immortality and youth. And she's also preserved her minotaur lover. I'm under the impression that the bull's head is now his head? If so, did Delphine have some hand in that, because we've not yet seen any indication that Madame LaLaurie possesses any sort of witchcraft.

I wonder how the rivalry will unfold—will each woman go to war with the other? Or will Fiona and Marie team up for their mutual benefit? It looks like Queenie, given her ties to Tituba, could prove a recruit for Marie in the future.

I get the impression Zoe and Madison's cavalier deal with the Devil is going to come back to haunt them soon. And the same can be said for Delia's magical dalliance with Hank. Interesting how at ease her husband is with her true nature.

Like the first episode, I do enjoy how Murphy is playing with the use of magic...nothing too fantastical, but telekinesis, mind control and that sort of thing. The rituals shown this week had enough bizarre mystery to them that they didn't come across as cheesy at all. The history of witchcraft we get here is also novel—the conflict between its African origins and the later evolution of the Salem witches. That raises the question if we'll be seeing some male witches or the like, and how they fit into Murphy's new cosmology.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "30 Days Without An Accident"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Walking Dead returns for a strong season premiere with 30 Days Without an Accident. Many months have passed after the battle with the Governor and Andrea's death, and the prison is now a secure and seemingly thriving community growing some of its own food. Relationships have sprung up with the new additions from Woodbury and others found along the way. Rick has given up his leadership role in favor of a new ruling council, and is content to be a farmer, hoping his son will be more of a child now that they're experiencing somewhat normal lives. Daryl leads a major supply run to a military refuge at a mall while Rick has an encounter in the woods.

30 Days Without an Accident appeared optimistic and hopeful on the surface, with all the progress the group has made and a real sense of community, but there was an overlying menace and darkness permeating the episode—which is a continuing theme for the series. New faces appear to be harboring some secrets, Carl remains a very adult child, the spectre of the Governor is in the background, and Rick struggles to keep their lives as normal as possible while faced with how the apocalypse has stolen their humanity. The episode ends with a very ominous moment that portends a new danger for the survivors.

Season four looks to be on the right track (now with its new showrunner Scott Gimple). There was a large (obviously expensive) set piece that gives viewers a healthy dose of zombies, in case they were going through withdrawal over the summer, and nice character moments without getting overly bogged down with explaining what's happened in the previous months. It strikes a great tone of hope with a healthy dose of foreboding.

Spoilers Now!
Time has passed. The prison has been transformed into a community with fields and livestock. Well-organized teams patrol the wall killing walkers that threaten to gather as a herd. The security perimeter has been strengthened with a variety of zombie traps. Rick walks out in the morning to tend to the garden. While digging he finds his gun. He stares at the walkers along the wall (one in particular with bleeding eyes), then tosses the gun away to resume his work. Carl joins him for chores and they find one of the pigs is sick.

Carol flirts with Daryl as she makes breakfast for the group. Carol informs Daryl the roamers are herding up again and they need to keep ahead of it. He's busy preparing for a major supply run. Patrick, one of the younger members of the community, walks up to thank Daryl for all his work, and it appears Daryl has become one of the more idolized survivors of the original group.

Maggie and Glen wake up and he asks her not to go along on the run, so she concedes and lets him go instead. Meanwhile, Tyreese tells new girlfriend Karen he's going on the trip. He doesn't like the killing on the fence given it's face to face, but only joined the crew in order to get to know her better. Beth also has a boyfriend, Zack, and he is also going along, though she insists on not saying good-bye to him. New arrival Bob wants to tag along but meets resistance from Sasha, unsure if he can perform on a team yet. She acquiesces as he was a medic in the army. Michonne returns on horseback and is greeted by Rick and Carl. She brings some comics for Carl and they hope she'll stay a little while—she's been searching for the Governor for months to no avail.

Hershel compliments Rick for bringing them so far, and his new role as a farmer has them growing a good portion of their food supply. But the others on the council wanted him to talk to him, as Rick's lack of carrying a gun has them concerned. Rick is happy with just his knife, but concedes to the request when he goes out to check the snares. Outside the wall he finds a deer half eaten, then spies a walker feeding on another wounded animal. To his shock she turns and begs him for help.

Her name is Clara and she needs him to help her take the animal to her husband. Rick cautiously approaches and gives her some food. She wants to come back with him as they've been doing very badly on their own. He wants to meet her husband first and ask him some questions. He asks to search her for weapons, but she's unarmed save for a knife and he warns her not to try anything.

Clara explains they were on their way to Mexico when the airports were shut down. Now it's just Eddie and her. She doesn't know what she would do without him. He asks what she's had to do and she confesses eating what they could find and leaving people behind, hiding from those who needed their help. 

Carl hangs out with Patrick, and finds some other kids naming the walkers. Carl has no patience for that and explains they're neither people nor pets and not to name them. Patrick is off to storytime, which Carl thinks is just for little kids.

Daryl's crew arrives at a mall that was chained up by the army during the outbreak to serve as a hospital. They move in to check out the army camp first. Michonne and Daryl hang out with Zack, who keeps trying to guess what Daryl did before the apocalypse. Daryl enjoys teasing him and insists he was a homicide cop. Sasha leads her team in for a sweep of the mall. Meanwhile the roof is full of zombies where a military helicopter had crashed. 

Inside Bob stops by the liquor shelves and takes a bottle of wine, only to reconsider after much thought and put it back, which collapses the shelf in a ruckus that alerts the zombies on the roof. Daryl rushes to his aid to lift the shelf off him but he's stuck. The weight of the herd on the roof breaks the ceiling and walkers begin to tumble through the tiles. 

The group is overwhelmed and Bob has to fight off a crawling walker himself. The weight of the helicopter begins to break the roof. Daryl and Zack get Bob free but Zack is bit, and they're forced to leave him as the mall collapses and the walkers overrun him.

Clara wonders if they get to come back from the bad things they've done. They arrive at her camp and she goes to a canvas, happy that Eddie is still there. Something moves underneath. Then she rushes Rick with her knife but he overpowers her. She tells him he's starving and needs something alive. She kept him even though she knows it was wrong. She asks Rick to let her be like him, then stabs herself in the stomach, leaving Rick to struggle with what to do. Rick comforts her as she asks what three questions he was going to ask. Rick answers—how many walkers have you killed? How many people has she killed? And why? You don't get to come back from it, Clara says, and dies. Rick leaves them.

Carl spies on Carol's story time in the library. As she finishes reading, she brings out a box of knives to teach the children how to safely use them, but Patrick asks to be dismissed as he's not feeling well. She tells him he may have to fight through it to be strong in case he's ever left alone. But she let's him go when he feels like throwing up. Carol notices Carl watching and asks him not to tell his father. He leaves.

Tyreese returns to Karen's quarters and tells her he doesn't like going out there either. Daryl goes to see Beth about Zack. She takes it stoically, and goes to a sign that says 30 Days Without an Accident and takes down the number. She tells Daryl she doesn't cry anymore, but she's glad she got to know him. She asks if he's okay. Daryl is tired of losing people too, and she gives him a hug. As Glen returns, Maggie informs him that she's not pregnant, which comes as an immense relief. But she feels they could make it work and live there lives safely there, despite what happened to Lori. She doesn't want to be afraid of being alive. In her own room, Michonne continues to scan a map looking for hiding places for the Governor.

Rick returns to the prison and sees the same walker on the wall from the morning. The pig has died. Hershel counsels him that he tried to help Clara but some are too far gone. Rick came back. Carl came back. You do get to come back, he insists.

Bob goes to sleep and hears coughing as Patrick gets up and heads to the showers to try to cool off. He collapses on the floor in blood, then opens his eyes as a walker. 

The Verdict:
While we don't get an exact time jump, many months have passed, which is another wise move on the show's part (not the least of which is to keep Carl aging appropriately). It looks like Carol and Daryl continue their playful flirting without taking the next step, but he has evolved so much since last season that he's very much a part of the community and one of the rock stars of the original group.

Andrea's absence is quite evident and I can sympathize with Michonne's drive to hunt down the Governor to avenge her death. She looks like she's at ease with the new group, too. But I question how logical it is to think she can find the Governor given he could be anywhere at this point.

As for new faces, Bob survived while Patrick and Zack got dispatched quickly. He looks like he'll be a wild card in episodes to come. Tyreese's new girlfriend needs some screen time before I can get a sense of her. I'm happy that both he and Sasha are getting fleshed out. It's refreshing to see some children in the community and someone for Carl to interact with (and hopefully play out some other storylines in the graphic novels).

The it's raining zombies scene in the mall brought some action to the premiere, but it also showed how fine-tuned this group has become in surviving. There were no stupid decisions (weak liquor store shelves excluded). In that respect the series has moved forward and avoided pitfalls where idiotic characters bring disaster (at least so far. That could change). Meanwhile, Rick's story with Clara played out pretty much as anticipated. But the point was to show there are people too far gone to be saved. It was a tragic one, but a good contrast with Rick's own bout with insanity, showing at least he pulled himself back from the brink.

The big reveal of Patrick's death leaves plenty of questions—was he sick to begin with? Or is this a mutation of the zombie virus? The pig's death, and that bloody looking walker eying Rick imply something is spreading (even Daryl's interesting finger-licking handshake to Patrick stood out). Perhaps it's just the swine flu and Patrick was sick already. It's refreshing to see the writers explore the other hazards of this apocalyptic world—when a disease other than the zombie plague can prove just as devastating, especially in a closed community like the prison.

30 Days Without an Accident struck a perfect balance. There was enough quiet time developing characters without being overly heavy or boring, and enough zombie kills to satisfy pretty much everyone.

Note to Michonne, Daryl and Sasha—Really, you couldn't have put poor Zack out of his misery in the moments you were watching him getting eaten by zombies, rather than just run off and leave him to suffer?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: American Horror Story: Coven "Bitchcraft"

Non Spoiler Review:
American Horror Story: Coven kicks off a witch-focused season with a jam-packed episode full of all kinds of the awesome we've come to expect from Ryan Murphy. Coming off the success of a surprisingly satisfying Asylum last year, and continuing the anthology format, this one promises to be the best one yet.

Salem's true witches fled to New Orleans to escape persecution, and in the present are recruited to a special school to protect and hone their talents. The supreme (Jessica Lange) makes a surprise return to visit her headmaster daughter Delia (Sarah Paulson), but has her own agenda. Meanwhile, newly discovered witch Zoe must deal with her new found abilities and finds her world turned upside-down as she joins the school.

While I initially balked at the notion of single-season storylines, I'm finding it quite interesting to see these actors play new characters each year—Lange, Paulson, Rabe and Evans are back, as well as Tarma Farmiga from season one. Plus, the ever-charming Jamie Brewer returns, as well. There's some new faces, including the formidable talents of Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett. With its customary frenetic pace and frequent flashbacks, I'm looking forward to another wild ride with a batch of scene-stealing actors.

Spoilers Now!
New Orleans, 1834. Madam LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) introduces her daughters to some gentlemen callers at a dinner party. Later in her room, she paints her face in blood to tighten her skin, but the butler warns her something happened during the dinner party—her daughter was caught with the house man, Bastian. LaLaurie declares they'll say he took her by force, and has the slave taken to her private torture room in the attic where several others are suffering. She puts a bull's head on him, given she loved Greek mythology. The minotaur was always her favorite.

In the present, Zoe leads her boyfriend home to have sex with him in her empty house. He abruptly gets a nosebleed and has a fatal seizure. The official word is an aneurysm, but her mother confesses that she should have told her daughter the truth—her great-grandmother had the same genetic affliction—she's a witch. It doesn't show up in every generation. The real witches of Salem escaped and went to New Orleans, where they started a school. Her mother has her taken away sends her off there with escort Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy). 

At Miss Robichaux's Academy, Zoe enters alone and is confronted by hooded figures who throw her on a table and make like they're about to sacrifice her. Laughing, they confess they're just messing with her. They're Madison Montgomery (famous actress), Nan and Queenie. Headmistress Cordelia Fox arrives and takes her in hand to explain the school was established in 1790. Marion Warton took it over in 1868, the reigning supreme of the time, establishing a safe haven for young witches. Their numbers have dwindled, she confesses. Many of the families who carried the bloodline chose not to have children. As for the supreme, she is the witch who bears countless gifts, unlike the rest who usually just have some ability. Cordelia plans to teach her how to control her gifts, and as a cautionary tale explains a recent news story of a girl, Misty Day, who displayed the power of resurgence and could resurrect the dead. She was taken and burned as a necromancer by her religious community. Their lives are always at risk, she warns.

A woman, Fiona Goode, visits a laboratory where a dying test monkey is given a serum and is healed. She wants it. Scientist David assures her they will be ready for human trials in two years, but she wants it now and reminds him his research is funded by her late husband's money. She needs an infusion of youth, but he reiterates that he can't give it to her.

Back at home Fiona proceeds to do lines of coke and have a breakdown while noticing the news report about the missing Misty Day. David arrives. He had conceded and has been injecting her with the serum for five days. She wants more as it doesn't appear to be working. He stands his ground and won't risk his career any further, offering his resignation. The doors close and the lights go out and Fiona proceeds to chase him through the house, throwing him across the room with a gesture. She kisses him and draws out his life energy until he dies a husk.

At dinner, the girls ask why Zoe got sent to the school, so she explains the accident. Nan, a clairvoyant, tells her she will find love in an unexpected place. Madison reveals her own story—she caused the death of the director of a play by dropping a light on him. That prompts some bitchiness between her and Queenie, who is a human voodoo doll and can inflict pain on others. Nan breaks up the heated argument and Queenie storms off.

Fiona shows up to see her daughter—Cordelia. Delia wants her mother to go away, resenting her for leaving her at the school. Fiona reveals she is going to stay and help her, believing Misty Day's death is the beginning of a storm and her girls are unprepared for it. Her teaching philosophy has been a failure as there are no shadows to cower behind in the modern world. Cordelia threatens to call the council and asks when her mother will finally die and stop ruining her life. Fiona dismisses her concerns and maintains she's staying, and thinks they should make the best of it.

At a frat party, Kyle (Evan Peters) lays eyes on Zoe and seems smitten, while his friend puts something in Madison's drink and proceeds to gang rape her with the other frat boys. Zoe gets worried for her and goes searching. Kyle goes upstairs and finds his frat brothers, pushing them off Madison. As they run off, Zoe comes in and comforts her promising they won't get away with it.

Kyle chases the others back to the bus but is knocked out as it drives off. Zoe runs after. Madison follows and casually flips the bus over at the end of the block. She walks away as it bursts into flames.

The girls watch the newscast of the previous night's events. Seven of the nine boys died, with the remaining two in critical condition. Zoe insists they have to tell someone and that Kyle tried to help. Fiona walks in and berates Madison for being sloppy. Madison tells her to go to hell, so Fiona throws her against the wall. She's read all their files and they won't become great women of their clan without her tutelage. So she's taking them on a field trip.

They go on the haunted home tour of Madame LaLaurie. Fiona glamors the tour leader while Nan senses something in the house. The girls learn Delphine forced her daughter to get blood from the slaves so she could use it to stay young. The secret ingredient was human pancreas. They're shown the attic where she kept her chamber of horrors...and the place she met her own demise.

Flashback to old New Orleans, where Marie Laveau visits Delphine, saying she's in need of her services. She has the cure for her husband's affliction, his compulsion for young ladies, she explains. A love potion to ensure fidelity. Delphine can't resist the prospect and takes it, then writhes in pain. The slave she mutilated was Laveau's lover, and she came to exact her revenge. Marie then goes up to the attic to find Bastian bound and wearing the bull's head. Delphine's body was never found, the tour guide adds.

Fiona finds Nan alone in the garden asking what she hears. The lady of the house, she explains, and looks at the bricks of the courtyard.

Zoe goes to the hospital and finds Kyle isn't among the survivors, but the rapist himself survived. She has sex with him in his bed until he dies like her boyfriend of a massive aneurysm. Then she lays flowers at Kyle's memorial.

Cordelia berates her mother for taking the girls on a field trip and why is Zoe suddenly missing? Fiona isn't concerned and goes out—back to LaLaurie's home where she enchants some workers to dig up the courtyard. They find a chained up coffin, and inside...Delphine is bound and gagged, and still alive. Fiona frees her and tells her to come along. She'll buy her a drink.

The Verdict:
Bitchcraft kicked things off quite nicely, providing a lot of compelling back story to the witches and introducing interesting characters, with some twists and surprises along the way.

The setting of New Orleans, and an era of slavery and persecution of women sets up some great themes to explore this year and I imagine Murphy won't disappoint. And there is certain to be plenty of disturbing elements. I'd thought the initial promos showing the minotaur were a metaphor, but we get a full blown one served up in the first episode.

I think I'm going to like the direction Murphy is taking the magic—nothing too crazy or flashy (ie lightning bolts from fingers), but focused more on mental abilities, voodoo and ritual. The more grounded approach is certainly appreciated.

It's great to see Jamie Brewer back in the cast, as well as the brief reunion of Evan Peters and Tarma Farmiga. The other girls at the school are a nice mix of personalities with interesting backgrounds. I highly doubt the likes of Misty Day and Kyle are out of the picture at all, and there's a host of talented characters to mine as the season progresses—including Francis Conroy's brief appearance. Now that Kathy Bates has been brought into the present, can Angela Bassett be far behind? I'm definitely anticipating watching those two actors play off Jessica Lange.
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