Not surprisingly, Halloween ended quite bloodily on American Horror Story: Coven. Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) fended off a parade of zombies with the help of a chainsaw and poor Myrtle (Frances Conroy) was framed by Fiona (Jessica Lange) and burned at the stake. But is anyone really ever dead on AHS: Coven? EW talked to co-creator Ryan Murphy about “Burn Witch Burn” and his plans for the just-greenlit fourth season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It feels like you really wanted to explore the two horrible mothers on the show: Madame LaLaurie and Fiona. It was interesting to see that LaLaurie was as horrible to her daughter as she was to her slaves.
RYAN MURPHY: Well, I mean, she keeps saying as a character, “I was a woman of my time.” And I think that’s very historically accurate. That sort of gentrified, French nobility. And at that point in time, historically, LaLaurie’s great passion was marrying her daughters off to wealthy men so she could get even more wealthy. Look, she’s a psychopath so the betrayal of that hit a nerve. I love that she throws them down there for another year.
Are you afraid at all of humanizing LaLaurie? Or is she going to remain a horrible person?
Well, I think there’s two things at play there. One: I think Kathy Bates is such a sympathetic actress that she infuses those moments that even we as the writers didn’t excpect. That’s just Kathy’s gift and her brilliance. The other thing is I at least always thought I wasn’t interested in digging up some old racist and having her be here and just continue her reign of terror. I was interested in not humanizing her so much but trying to make her understand the evil of her ways. I think that’s something in her time she never did because the world was so different. There’s a lot of stories coming up between her and Gabourey Sidibe that are designed to sort of do that. Is she 100% redeemed? No never. She’s one of the world’s worst monsters. But do we attempt to show her the errors of her ways? Yes.
One of my favorite moments was the burning of Myrtle at the stake. What is that song?
I believe it’s a Dr. John song, but I believe it’s called “Right Place, Wrong Time.” He’s a New Orleans artist.
So this is not the last we’ve seen of Myrtle?
Oh God, never! I love the shot of Misty approaching and Myrtle’s blue eyes opening up. Myrtle has to have vengeance on that Fiona. She is the one of all of them who is the most invested in saving that coven and doing the right thing, so she comes back in a major way. But she was very strict and by the book and I think after being burnt at the stake, it does sort of make you be sort of be like, “You know what about the rules? F*ck it. I’m gonna do what I wanna do.” So we will see a quite unhinged, dangerous Myrtle. Fiona is just making enemies at every turn. So that is all building to a head.
It was such a great moment for the costume designer Lou Eyrich.
That’s one of the things people have been loving this year, are the sets and the costumes, because they’re so luxurious and they’re so stylish. I think they’re amazing, and I really think they help storytelling. With a horror show, any of those little “treats” that help invite you in are quite good. I’ve worked with her for almost my entire career. I love what she’s doing. Oddly enough, the witch thing is so in the zeitgeist that a lot of these big designers are doing witch-inspired looks so it was all sort of serendipity. This season we could go to YSL or Givenchy and pull current witch clothing.
Where was that location? Outside New Orleans?
Yeah, it was outside. We really looked a lot to find something desolate to be our This is where we burn witches. And we will be returning, Tim, to the witch-burning site. The question is: Who will be next?
Now that Myrtle is seemingly burned at the stake, will there be a new witch to replace her in the Council?
That’s dealt with in an episode.
Cordelia has been blinded, but now she’s been given this new gift to see people’s secrets basically, right?
Yeah, it’s sort of this sixth sense that she has where she is able to see the truth. In many ways, it’s the most powerful gift of all. Her mother was always on her for having the wimpiest of witch powers — her biology and her botany — but now she has this great, true witchy-witchy talent, so I think Cordelia might be the most talented of them all. Maybe in line to be a Supreme — who knows?
I was gonna ask: Is she the next Supreme?
Well, we’re narrowing down one of these girls is the Supreme, so in our storytelling, we’re really amping that up.
Cordelia went through such a tragic event and was so peaceful before. Will that make her darker?
Yes, you see that in the next episode, how that has worked.
Was the Zoe/chainsaw attack an homage to Sam Raimi’s film Army of Darkness?
Yeah, a little bit. It was certainly in the back of our head. This show pays tribute to many filmmakers and many shots and a lot of people have picked that up.
Taissa told me that was a long night of filmmaking and was a complicated sequence to shoot.
I think the triumph of her career so far. If you look at that episode, it’s insane. Every scene has these elaborate makeup effects, but also different variations from people being cut in half and burned. I’m very proud of what they did. That was definitely our biggest magilla to date.
At the end, we see Zoe use her power to trump Marie Laveaux. Does that mean Zoe is the Supreme?
Well, you never know who the Supreme is until they do the Seven Wonders. So there’s a lot of candidates. Not till that episode will you really get an answer to that.
So Madison is now decaying in Spalding’s trunk. What can you say about where that goes from here?
She’s just like a sad little Raggedy Ann doll. He obviously has to be brought to justice for his dark deeds — that cannot stand. Madison has turned out to be quite the audience favorite, but we always knew it would be. In the next episode, we deal with the Madison of it all. There’s a lot.
Will Fiona’s health be getting worse as the season progresses?
That is what happens with a Supreme. Once the new Supreme begins to manifest all her powers, she drains the life-force from the old Supreme, and that’s why Fiona has this cancer that no spell or witchcraft can cure. So the question is: What can she do to stop her reign? She’s tried to kill Madison, and that didn’t work. She either has to find some way to get healthy or kill the next Supreme, all of which is the next few episodes.
Tease next week’s “The Axeman Cometh.” It basically introduces Danny Huston’s serial killer character, The Axeman.
I wanted Jessica’s character this year to have a great romance, and I really wanted her to have a great love affair. If you look at the character of Fiona, the only person I think she could be with was someone as dangerous and wild and sexual as she was. That was the jumping-off point. Then, I’ve always been very interested in the Axeman mystery of New Orleans. Marie Laveaux, Madame LaLaurie, and The Axeman all have this crazy thing in common where they had this reign of terror and then they disappeared. Nobody could really prove that they died. So the next episode is about that person and that myth, and we show you what happened to him and his reign of terror, and we show you how he did die. Then it’s all about that person beginning this sort of thing with Jessica, and Danny Huston was obviously a great actor and my first and only choice, because I just thought he could really go head-to-head with Jessica and have this great chemistry. And indeed they do. Danny Huston and Jessica Lange have ended up being the Macbeths, which I quite love. They just wanna get drunk and f—. That’s all they want.
We also get a peek into who Hank is.
Yeah, we start to unravel the mystery of Hank and who he is, and it’s quite good and dastardly.
You were picked up for a season 4 this week. Do you know what it is yet?
I do and I don’t. Usually what always happens with the show is I have two very strong ideas that I’ve been sort of working on, and right around this time is when I’m figuring it out. But I do have a pretty strong one I love that I’m interested in.
I didn’t know if you had started putting clues yet in season 3.
No. I usually try and do that like the last three.