‘American Horror Story: Coven’ recap: Does ‘Bitchcraft’ cast a spell?

“American Horror Story” is back (with crazy strong ratings, too), and this time with the word “Coven” tagged onto the end. Thus, we’re getting a crazy mash-up of witches, voodoo, insensitive portrayals of slavery and whatever other random stuff Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (or their assistants) stumbled across on the old Interwebs.  Better, we’re also getting grade A talent. Kathy Bates (“Misery”) and Angela Bassett (“What’s Love Got to Do with It”) join Jessica Lange and other “AHS” pros to stir the witches’ cauldron. But I will say, judging from the first episode, we’re off to a shaky start. Not shaky-scary, just… shaky.

Zoe goes to Hogwarts The beginning of the show could have been ripped from a particularly dark yet cheesy YA novel (my man-killing vagina murdered my boyfriend and now I have to go to this stoopid boarding school!). We even get slapped with a lame voice over while Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) stares glumly out the window, all big eyes and flat-ironed hair, knowing her mom and dad let her get dragged away to New Orleans because her killer hoo-hoo made it clear she’d inherited the witch gene. I find it a bit odd that a witch boarding school employs the Men in Black and a fashionista named Myrtle (the always lovely Frances Conroy) to pick up newly discovered witches, but I hope that means we’ll be seeing some of those cute, talking aliens from the movie franchise. Next week, I’m looking for a talking pug!

Zoe gets weird housemates The “just got to school and OMG, my dorm mates suck!” storyline gets carted out for a witch-centric retread. After Queenie, Madison and Nan haze Zoe, we learn that witches don’t all have the same skills. Zoe, as far as we know, just has a killer vagina. But in every generation, a witch with the complete package is born, and she is known as the Supreme. I don’t get the impression any of Zoe’s housemates are the Supreme, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one on the show (cough, Jessica Lange, cough). Still, we do learn other things about the very, very small population of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies. Queenie seems fairly logical, Nan (whom we remember from the first season) can read minds, and Madison is a movie star and, well, a bitch. Given that she finds the other girls unsuitable companions, she announces to Zoe they’re going to be besties. What a treat!

Dueling divas The girls are going to be shepherded by Cordelia, who subscribes to the “harness your powers and lay low, dammit” philosophy of witchcraft. She helpfully tells us all about the gruesome murder of a poor Cajun girl, Misty, who stupidly reveals her ability to bring a dead bird back to life and gets burned by the snake-handling idiots from her small town outside of Lafayette. I’m not sure if Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck have been to Lafayette, but this is pretty patently stupid or the small town is really, really far outside of Lafayette. Anyway, We get to see Lily Rabe burned as a witch (which I hope does not mean the end of Misty and suspect it doesn’t), as well as some flashbacks to Salem witches hanging, because we can never have too much ick in an episode of “American Horror Story.” Cordelia’s mom, Fiona, is not as taken with the idea of shrinking into the woodwork, and as she’s the Supreme (which just makes me keep thinking about “Toddlers & Tiaras, honestly), she gets to barge into the school, grab the kids, and drag them out on a field trip dressed all in black, which suggests to me that either witches don’t sweat or Fiona is an evil asshole. It’s damn hot there!

Field Trip! The gang is off in one direction when Nan has to wander off and go on a house tour. Curious, Fiona decides to redirect the field trip, and suddenly everyone is learning about crazy evil Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates). I’m not sure why Fiona, given she’s the Supreme (trying… not… to… think… “Toddlers & Tiaras”) couldn’t have sorted this out herself, but she has Nan find Madame LaLaurie’s burial spot in the backyard. To leave flowers, or maybe one of those big candles with Mary Magdelene on them? Ha!

Madame LaLaurie’s story in a nutshell This storyline seems to me to be more in keeping with what we expect from “American Horror Story” (as in, it’s not seemingly ripped from an R-rated The CW show — seriously, all we need is a slumber party and someone driving fast as the girls stick their heads out the windows, singing to a Taylor Swift song). In short, Miss LaLaurie (who was a real-life serial killer of slaves and yes, Nicolas Cage really did own her house) likes to slap human blood and pancreas all over her face to make herself look young, plus she likes to torture slaves in truly disgusting ways. After tying them up in her attic, she sews their lips shut and takes their pancreases and rips their facial skin off and all sorts of gross stuff that we’re not entirely spared. When she sees her daughter having sex with her houseman, she drags him upstairs, too, having him beaten and, I suppose, his lips sewn shut before plopping a bull’s head on him. She’s so proud! She’s created a minotaur!

While the real LaLaurie supposedly ran off to Paris after her bad deeds were discovered (though that’s never been confirmed, either), she doesn’t get off so easily in “American Horror Story.” No, Angela Bassett is voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (another real person) who drops by LaLaurie’s house to offer her a cure for her husband’s infidelity. After some initial skepticism, she swallows it down, then finds herself paralyzed. Turns out Laveau’s boyfriend was the guy LaLaurie turned into a minotaur. Whoops. Anyway, pretty soon, Fiona is digging up what I would suspect would be a body — but no, it seems that Laveau has cursed LaLaurie to eternal life, tied up and gagged under a concrete patio. Fiona doesn’t blink, but instead tells LaLaurie to hurry up so she can buy her a drink. Well, this should be fun!

Madison gets into trouble Disappointing as it is, we have to keep bouncing back to the Zoe storyline, which I am hoping will simply go away, unless Katniss can show up and tell Zoe to stop embarrassing the whole YA genre before shooting her with an arrow. Madison informs her new bestie that they will be going to a frat party that evening, which will be overrun with rapey teenage boys from one awful frat — Kappa Lambda Gamma. Evan Peters is the nice guy at the frat, and of course he falls for Zoe. Some other guy slips Madison a roofie and proceeds to invite all his friends to gang bang her. That isn’t something you do to a witch, of course, and shortly after the gang takes off in a party bus, Madison flips it with one flick of her hand. So, yes, that’s what Madison can do — move stuff with her mind. Everyone on the bus is killed, so that was one good flick.

Zoe is crushed when she goes to the hospital, hoping one of the two survivors is Kyle. Alas, he isn’t, but the rapey guy is, and Zoe decides to put her killer vagina to good use. Somehow there are no nurses around to notice, but she climbs on top of rapey guy and literally bangs his brains out. So, we get a twist on “Carrie,” just in time for Halloween.

I have to stop here for a moment. Seriously, a killer vagina? Is this a Troma movie or something? 

I can’t say this season, with this annoyingly Hogwarts storyline, seems as promising as I hoped it would be. But let’s keep our fingers crossed (or say a little spell) that the epic history that is here to be mined takes center stage, and soon. Otherwise, an edited version of this show really needs to be sold to the CW.

Did you watch the season premiere? What did you think? Do you like the witches thus far, or is this starting to feel like a really violent take on “Charmed”?