Some time back in antebellum New Orleans, Kathy Bates was a mean old rich lady, a notorious witch and an enormous racist. Not just the usual "use-the-n-word" racist, either; the "keep-black-men-imprisoned-in-her-basement" kind, the "places-severed-bulls'-heads-on-them-to-make-a-minotaur" kind. One of these men was the lover of Marie Laveau, which: bad luck for you, Kathy Bates, because Marie is a voodoo priestess and played by Angela Bassett. Laveau kills Kathy Bates with some poisoned tea. And then many years pass.
In the present day, Zoe Benson is sent away to a boarding school on account of the fact that she comes from a long line of witches, and her parents don't know if they can control her powers now that they are manifesting. Said powers are essentially the same as Rogue from X-Men, only localized in her vagina. So off she goes to Miss Robichaux's Academy for Girls, where she will be instructed by the mild-mannered Cordelia Foxx, who wants to teach her students to control their powers. This in marked contrast to Cordelia's mother, Fiona Goode, who wants to teach the girls how to defend themselves and be badasses… and also takes copious sabbaticals in order to chase eternal youth. Zoe's fellow students include Nan (a clairvoyant), Queenie (a "human voodoo doll"), and movie star Madison Montgomery, who killed a lighting guy with her telekinesis on her last movie.
Madison and Zoe duck out to attend a frat party one night, and they meet a nice frat guy played named Kyle and a regular frat guy played by that cute guy who never got any storylines on Friday Night Lights. Kyle and Zoe meet cute. The other one roofies Madison and leads a bunch of his brothers in a gang-bang. Kyle walks in on them and chases them back to their party bus, which Madison flips with a flick of her wrist, killing a bunch of asshole frat guys (and seemingly Kyle), but not Rapey, who ends up comatose but alive. Momentarily, at least. Until Zoe rolls up her sleeves, hikes up her skirt, and uses her vagina death-sex powers to see that justice is done.
Earlier, while taking the girls on a tour of haunted New Orleans, Fiona found herself in the ancestral home of Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates to you), where she learned that the mistress of the house's body -- upon being murdered by Marie Laveau -- was never found. Later on, Fiona returns, glamours a couple young men into digging up a pine box from the courtyard, and then ushers a very much alive Delphine into the 21st Century. She is going to be livid at the political situation, you guys.
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"The following program is rated E for ERRRRRYTHING."
We begin our story in the antebellum South. New Orleans, to be exact, in 1834. There, we meet Kathy Bates as Madame Delphine LaLaurie. She's throwing a party for all her rich friends, at which she is showcasing her three daughters for potential suitors. The youngest, Pauline, is said to be not particularly talented, though she suggests to the suitors that her talent may end up being in the bedroom. Delphine grits her teeth through such awfulness, but Pauline's eyes are already on the black domestic help across the room. We know this, because the camera does an old-timey iris-in to focus on the man.
Later that night, Delphine is applying some kind of face salve made from blood and… well, blood. She's interrupted by her house servant (a white one, so she likes this one), saying that there's a problem downstairs. Cut to Madame LaLaurie raging at Pauline. Seems sweet Pauline and that poor houseman were caught doing it, and Madame LaLaurie can't deal with that. She smacks her daughter around, calls her a slut, says doing it with the help is the same a "rutting with the house dog." She says they're going to claim that the houseman raped her, to which the houseman objects. He says Pauline came onto him and that he belongs to another. Madame LaLaurie has her white servant clock him over the head, then instructs him to haul the man "upstairs."
If that sounds ominous to you, it should. Once we join Madame LaLaurie up there, we see she's got a good half-dozen black men in cages up there. Maybe more. One's got his eyes and lips sewn shut. One's had the flesh peeled back from his face, maggots crawling all over it. One asks her why she's doing this. "Because I can?" is her cheery reply. Finally, there's the houseman, Bastien, who's just been chained to the walls so that he's upright and spread-eagled. She tells him if he wants to rut like a beast, he'll be treated like one. She calls for her "pickaninny with the head." Sigh. I'll just say this: I like American Horror Story quite a bit, and I often forgive its forays into bad taste, as horror is a forgiving medium for bad taste. But do I trust Ryan Murphy to handle race as an issue in a responsible or satisfying way? No. No, I do not. But on we go.
So this little black boy approaches with a severed bull's head in his hands, and at his mistress's orders, he places it, bloody and gristly, over Bastien's head. Madame LaLaurie starts waxing poetic about how her daddy used to read her stories from Greek mythology. The story of the Minotaur was always her favorite: half-bull, half-man. "And now," she says, "I have one of my very own." The camera pulls back from Bastien, writhing and shaking, trying to break free and throw off that abominable thing on his head. From the outside, it just looks like a fearsome beast grunting. A monster in the attic.