American Horror Story
Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Jessica Lange, Dennis O’Hare
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET
(FX; US: 5 Oct 2011)
Love it or hate it, American Horror Story has our attention. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s latest twisted television show to air on FX has drawn in solid ratings, mostly positive reviews, and even a national magazine cover story. It’s the season’s hottest show, sexiest show, darkest show, best show, or worst show, but it’s making an appearance on lists everywhere (citations certainly helped by its pre-Halloween arrival). The only thing talked about more than the show are the ever-growing number of questions surrounding its shocking plot lines. The pilot alone packed enough twists to last a whole season (maybe even a series), but Murphy and Falchuk just keep piling them on every week.
Read on, but prepare for quite a few SPOILERS.
Luckily, they’ve been giving some answers, as well. The pilot’s creepiest line (“Don’t make me kill you again”) was explained in the third episode during the show’s opening flashback. The house maid’s brief and then unwanted fling with Constance’s horny husband ended in her demise from the sure-sighted shooter. Why is the basement where all the boogeymen reside? Well, other than that being a horror genre staple (or should I say stable?), it also happens to be where a mad doctor with a Frankenstein-complex performed hundreds of abortions in the 1920s and then used the remains for his own sick experiments for dastardly deeds. Still, I think the side story of Ben’s former mistress was dealt with the fastest of any plot line spanning more than one episode:
“Hi, Ben, I’m pregnant.”
Oh no! How’s he going to hide an illegitimate child from his wife? How will she react when she finds out?
“Oh, don’t worry. I’m getting an abortion.”
Phew! Crisis averted. Coax her through it… be nice… get the hell out of there. Oh no! He left too soon!
“On second thought, I’m keeping it.”
BAM! Larry “The Burn Guy” smashes her head in with a shovel.
Sure, Hayden’s death and backyard burial open up a some new worries for Dr. Ben (especially after her appearance on his door step at the end of the last episode), but he’s definitely not going to be telling his wife now. There are plenty of other questions out there. What happened to the mad scientist? Why is his wife walking around in present day with a gash in the back of her skull? Why is Moira the maid stuck in the house after being capped by Constance? These are all questions, if slightly steered away from ghosts, one could find in another night-time soap. I’m pretty sure they’ve dealt with illicit mistresses on Gossip Girl in similar ways.
This is not a negative. So American Horror Story doesn’t feature the most original writing in the world—many of these tropes we’ve seen played out dozens of ways in dozens of horror films. That’s ok. It’s juicy fun with so much going on it could make your head spin more than Regan’s, just like so many great B-level horror films. So let’s gain some composure, take a deep breath, and look closely at the five major questions we want answered before season one passes. And Mr. Murphy? Mr. Falchuk? Learn from the last television thriller’s mistakes, and don’t pull a Killing on us.
Ok, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. I think Larry Harvey is the worst written character so far on the show. I’m sure there’s a titillating mystery behind his motives, but as of now he’s just a disfigured man who pops up out of nowhere to go “Boo!” in front of Ben. Every time the good doctor (well, not so good, really) goes jogging, we can count on Mr. Harvey showing up to dole out some unwanted advice like a poorly masked -– but with great make-up—writing device. I think of Larry like I think of most narration – over the top and lazy.
Who’s going to listen to a man who admits to murdering his family, anyway? Blame Amityville Horror, er, the house, all you want, bub, but I’m not going to be moving out just because you say so. Ben’s demand that he stays away goes unheeded of course. Larry just keeps popping up to weird the shit out of Ben by discussing their similarities.
But why is he helping Ben? Is he really a good guy, besieged by a haunted house to do the worst imaginable and out to prove his lack of culpability before succumbing to terminal brain cancer? Maybe, but I doubt it. Larry’s pleas for Ben and his family to evacuate his former abode seem more selfish than self-righteous, especially after the aforementioned “favor” he does for the doc in episode three. I’ll wait for the other shoe to drop before writing Larry off completely, but here’s hoping it hits hard and soon.
Tate is my second most hated character on the show, but not for the same reasons prescribed for Larry. Tate is simply trouble, and his boldness during his sessions with Ben to illustrate this only draw out my ire more and more. I want to like Violet, but her relationship with Tate is incredibly frustrating. I know you’re damaged and a teenager with insane hormones or whatever, but “don’t date your Dad’s patients” should be a rule everyone can get behind.
Yet Tate has shown signs of benevolence recently. After spending his early scenes telling Dr. Ben how much he jerks off to his daughter, Violet, he broke down in tears to convince Ben to keep treating him and readily agreed to stop all the odd talk not related to his issues. Of course, he also helped Vivian and Violet escape their tormentors in episode two. Yet the scene at the end of that episode, where Tate, Constance, and Moira gather in the basement to handle the situation all but eliminates any good will associated with any of them.
“We have to get rid of the bodies… if you want him to keep treating me,” Tate says. Why does he want to keep going to therapy? Why is he conspiring with Constance and Moira? We know Moira’s a ghost of sorts, but what about the other two? Tate dropped a big hint in the first part of the two-week Halloween episode when he eagerly agreed to meet Dr. Ben outside the house. His freakily fast-paced scene in the pilot episode also forces us to lean towards ghost – his obsession with the basement and odd interactions down there are almost too abnormal to be done by a human. Finally, his green and black striped sweater in the pilot is eerily similar to the one worn by the two redheads who beat hell out of the house in the episode’s opening flashback.
So… is Tate alive or dead? I’m actually going to bet on alive, but mainly because I feel like Constance will turn out to be dead and Tate alive in another of the series’ switcheroo surprises. Hopefully we find out soon.
She’s obviously tied to the Harmon’s haunted house, hence her conversation with the maid and Tate in episode two after the grisly demise of the ill-intentioned home invaders. She also seems to strongly dislike… well, everyone. Her disdain for the maid was explained, but her contempt for the new neighbors has yet to be fully documented. What was up with those cupcakes? Why does she keep popping up with ominous, thinly veiled threats? So far, she seems to be the embodiment of evil the house cannot accomplish alone. Sure there’s ghosts… or should I say other ghosts? Hmm…
I think what makes Constance so engrossing, though, is her deliciously contemptible portrayal by Jessica Lange. The whole cast seems to be settling in nicely, but Lange’s variant voice volumes and knack for saying the cruelest things in the kindest manner make her all the more unnerving and threatening. Her second episode conversation over poisoned cupcakes with Vivian about her four children stands out among her finest scenes as an actress and most shadowy foreshadowing. When will we see the other three babies, and why does Constance believe she should have “stopped after the first”?
Constance’s conundrums may end up being the ones I want solved the most. Her dominating presence makes her so much more important than the other supporting roles and her mysteries all the more intriguing. Of course, this probably means the veil over her won’t be pulled for quite some time.
Rubber Man, as the leather S&M suit embodied by an unknown entity has come to be called, has not made more than a handful of brief appearances in American Horror Story and has been completely absent from more than one episode. Yet thanks to his/its presence in the pre-air advertisements, the black suit and mask has become as much of a symbol of the show as of its original hobby.
It’s also responsible for what many deem the show’s most controversial and enticing scene. After Vivian and Ben rekindle their physical relationship in the waning minutes of the pilot, Vivian is surprised in her bedroom by a man dressed in a black rubber body suit. Thinking its her adventurous husband, she submits to him. Meanwhile, we see Ben sleepwalking naked downstairs (having an odd conversation with Constance, who is there for no reason whatsoever). Vivian may have realized halfway through it wasn’t Ben, but neither have discussed their mounting secrets, including this one.
Now Vivian is pregnant, and something is wrong with the baby. She’s had bad feelings about what’s growing inside her, and the last doctor who looked at her sonogram passed out in fear. So is it Ben’s baby or the unknown inhabitant of the fetish suit? How will she explain it to Ben if isn’t his? Will he forgive her transgressions like she forgave his own? Are the violations even on the same level given she thought it was him… or did she? When this bomb drops, it will undoubtedly be a doozy. I can’t wait.
In most television shows, we know the protagonists are going to make it in the end. All of their trials and tribulations are for a point –- to show they, and thus we, can prevail over anything. We are reassured by this ending that the world is just. Ross ends up with Rachel. Coach wins state. Scotty McCreery is your American Idol.
Well, things go a little differently in the horror genre. Usually, everyone doesn’t walk away happy. They usually don’t walk away at all. They die, or at least wish they were dead. Is this the fate awaiting the Harmon house or the Harmons themselves? The two will clearly be at war sooner or later, and only one can come out on top.
To make things even more interesting, the article in Entertainment Weekly says there were early reports of the house killing off a new family every season. While the premise is intriguing and would undoubtedly be the most original aspect of the already groundbreaking program, would audiences really return every year to a brand new cast of characters after growing attached to Ben, Vivien, and Violet (ok, maybe not Violet)? I know I only committed to watching at the onset because of Mrs. Coach’s presence. It may be risky, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. If anything, that makes it more likely. Plus, the Harmon clan can always come back as ghosts…