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Posted at 08:30 AM ET, 10/20/2011

‘American Horror Story’: 10 questions about ‘Murder House’


Ladies and gentlemen, Felix and Oscar. (Prashant Gupta/FX)

In which Jen Chaney and web producer/“True Blood” recapper Paul Williams join forces in their weekly attempt to figure out what the heck is happening on “American Horror Story.”

A week has passed since last week’s “American Horror Story” installment, “Home Invasion.” And we’re just starting to feel semi-okay about eating cupcakes again. Just.

While this week’s episode — the third of the season, entitled “Murder House” — made us feel less queasy, it gave us a great deal of backstory regarding Constance, Moira and the frightening Victorian abode currently inhabited by the Harmon family.

Based on all that backstory — not to mention Ben’s/Larry Harvey’s sudden decision to do dastardly things with shovels — here are the 10 “American Horror Story” questions at the forefront of our minds.

More ‘American Horror Story’:

10 questions about episode two: ‘Home Invasion’

Deciphering the weirdness in the ‘American Horror Story’ pilot

Add your thoughts in the comments

1. We now know that at one time, Constance lived in the house. What circumstances brought her there?

Jen: In the first episode of “American Horror Story,” we saw the house in 1978. Adelaide was standing outside of it but it looked rundown. In the traditional homicide-flashback that kicked off this episode, Constance caught her Van Johnson-resembling husband taking advantage of a young Moira, prompting her to shoot them both. (Notice how every death in the episode-openers happens in pairs?) That was 1983.

So it stands to reason that Constance didn’t make over the house and move in until sometime between those two years. Or does it? Was she watching over the house even in 1978, or prior to that? I don’t know the answer, I just raise the question.

Paul: If Addie is not the youngest of her children, there’s a practical case to be made that Constance and family were living in the neighborhood, then at some point after ‘78 she got pregnant, they decided they needed a bigger home and moved into the Murder House. Then, when her husband “ran off with the maid,” she sold it and downsized.

Given the houses’s sordid history with conception and abortion, I had thought the implication was that it was connected to Constance’s womb being ”cursed,” but if she didn’t move in until after her children were born, maybe not.

Regardless, because of seeing Addie in the original ‘78 flashback, we know they were aware of the house before they bought it. So did they buy it because it seemed like a good deal, or because it held some kind of sway over them? I’m going with sway.

2. We need to talk about Moira. This is not a question so much as a statement of fact.

Jen: We learned a number of important things about Moira. For starters, she is indeed a ghost. Also, one of her eyes is damaged because Constance’s bullet caught her right in the socket. And both her body and her spirit remain trapped at the Harmon house.(How tragic was it when Ruth-Fisher-Moira (Frances Conroy) wept at the sight of her skeletal remains at the end of the episode?)

I am intrigued by what her spectral existence symbolizes. As Moira said at one point about men, “They see what they want to see.” When she seduces Ben, she forces him to see what he wants to see. And perhaps she gets some satisfaction out of messing with a man’s mind since Constance’s husband took advantage of her and indirectly caused her death.

Paul: Perhaps I’m overly influenced by Yvette from “Clue,” but given how young Moira dresses and the character’s association with the house, I was surprised that she only worked there, at most, a couple of years in the early ‘80s. I was a expecting a longer involvement, dating back to the ‘40s or ‘50s.

Young Moira is also much less sympathetic than old Moira. When Ben accuses her of poisoning her coffee, I thought her nonchalant, almost bored, “prove it” was hilarious. I suspect the house has more influence over her younger self, or is able to use it as an agent against Older Moira’s will. Older Moira seems more protective of the Harmons and is clearly antagonistic toward the house, and I wonder if she’ll be an eventual ally to them.

Jen: I also found it interesting that, during that delicious present-day confrontation scene between Moira and Constance, Moira said she missed her mother. Who might her mother have been? Given her age in 1983, Moira was probably born in the ‘50s. Which means her mother (and father) might have been born in the 1920s, around the same time Dr. Charles and Nora Montgomery were living in the so-called murder house. And Moira does rhyme with Nora. Hmmm...

Paul: I like this theory Jen, but do you really believe the house let the Montgomery clan live until the ‘50s? Things were unraveling pretty quickly in our 1920s flashback this episode. Or do you think the Montgomery baby is possibly her mother?

Also, we need to give credit to Frances Conroy, who was great at playing a range of emotions this episode.

Jen: Absolutely on Conroy. And yes, a Montgomery child could indeed be Moira’s parent — we know from the Eternal Darkness tour that Nora Montgomery didn’t make it past 1926. At least not in traditional human form.


3. It’s understandable — in a twisted way — that Constance wants to torture Moira for eternity. But why is she trapped next door to the murder house? And why does she want to make sure Ben buries his bodies as deeply as possible? (Fine, that was two related questions.)

Jen: I think to your point from last week, if Tate is her son, then she feels bound to stay where he is. So that’s part of her motivation for remaining. She obviously wanted to convince Ben to build that gazebo so that Moira’s body won’t be found. But Constance (Jessica Lange) also seems to have a vested interest in keeping the Harmons exactly where they are. And that’s the part I haven’t sussed out yet: why does it benefit her if Vivien and Ben continue to be her decidedly dysfunctional neighbors? According to what Ryan Murphy recently told Entertainment Weekly, we’ll learn more about Constance’s master plan in episode five.

Paul: If Tate is her child, and the only one born without an affliction, perhaps that’s because he was conceived in (by?) the house. And to carry on the “Rosemary’s Baby” connection, I think she’s the kindly old neighbor whose job it is to make sure that Vivien delivers. Perhaps she gets to trade their child in order to let Tate’s spirit move on, which would grant her freedom as well.

(It will be interesting to see how the house’s drive to conceive/procreate affects the gay couple who owned the house before the Harmons, no?)

I wonder what to make of the scene where she stops to wave at Tate in the Murder House window, but he doesn’t wave back.


Connie Britton as the not-upset-but-angry Vivien Harmon. (Ray Mickshaw / FX)

4. Speaking of the Harmons, are the obstacles raised in this episode — financial problems, the challenging housing market, a teenage daughter who has threatened to run away and they move and, oh, a house that wants to keep Ben on the premises so he can kill people — enough to convince us the Harmons would remain?

Jen: A worry that we both expressed, as did our colleague, Hank Stuever, in his review of “Horror Story,” was how the show would address the inevitable question: well, why don’t they just move if the house is such a nightmare? I have to say, I think Murphy and the writers have handled that relatively believably. An effort is, in fact, being made to leave. But the house probably won’t sell right away. And there’s the concern about their finances, not to mention Violet’s mental state.

Those are definite, clear impediments to their ability to escape the house. And I love that those impediments so accurately reflect the the times. We’re all living in a slightly less bloody and weird “American Horror Story,” aren’t we, one in which home sales are equally dismal and crummy Madoff-esque money managers are just as likely to invest our cash unwisely?

Paul: Agreed that this show definitely taps into the idea that home ownership is not the key to the American dream your real estate agent would have you believe.

I thought they did as well as they could with the issue, which had to be addressed pretty quickly in the run of the show. There were so many reasons given, in fact, that it certainly seemed like there were other forces at work to keep them there.

5. Won’t someone come looking for Kate Mara?

Paul: Of course they will, and they too will be met with Larry Harvey’s Shovel of Doom! Paired with Ben Harmon’s fantastic contracting skills, I suspect that new gazebo will be joined by a tool shed, a grill pit, a regulation bocce court and a lap pool before the end of the show.

Jen: Well, that sounds heavenly. I have no doubt that we will see Hayden again, partly because people will wonder where why she suddenly disappeared and partly because, I suspect, she may become yet another of the many ghosts who will haunt the joint. Or at least haunt Ben.

6. Are Ben and Viv just an updated version of the house’s original owners, Dr. Charles and Nora Montgomery?

Jen: Based on the version of events shared during the Eternal Darkness tour, Charles and Nora had some money problems. He had some clear mental health issues. And they had both left the East coast to come to California. (Have you noticed that several of our characters — the Harmons (Boston), Nora (Philadelpha), Constance (Virginia) left the east side of the country to head west? It’s almost as if the journey forces them to cross over into another realm.)

So clearly there are some similarities, which makes me wonder if the Harmons’ arrival was pre-ordained, like some circle of life sort of thing. After all, the Montgomerys built the house in 1922. If the season leads us to a climactic series of events that occur in or around 2012, which seems likely, that would be exactly 90 years after the place was constructed. Which may or may not be relevant but is worth noting.

Paul: Don’t forget poor Sal Mineo, whose death was the first non-house-related flashback we’ve seen. Mineo came to Hollywood from New York, found fame, but did not have a happy ending.This show does not seem to support Manifest Destiny. Or that happiness can be found in a move, a house, a career, a child or any other kind of external source.

Fun fact: “Charles Montgomery” was an alias of Manson Family member Charles “Tex” Watson. (And, of course, the full name of Homer Simpson’s boss is Charles Montgomery Burns.)


Matt Ross as Dr. Montgomery. (Ray Mickshaw / FX)

7. Nora is a ghost. But she showed up in modern clothes, and entered the house by knocking on the front door?

Paul: She’s a ghost Jen. It doesn’t mean she’s not also polite.

Jen: To be fair, Moira also randomly showed up in the backyard, by the clothesline. So maybe it’s possible for these various ghosts to appear somewhere on the premises, not just inside the house. But it’s interesting that Nora has the sensibility of the past — she’s very anti-pasta arm — yet is dressed in contemporary clothes.

Re: the wound on the back of her head, I am guessing that her husband may have decided to drill, baby, drill and extract her brain in that climactic finale/confrontation the Eternal Darkness tour guide mentioned. That would be quite Frankenstein-like of him. (The hole in her head, by the way, totally reminded me of this kid from “The Sixth Sense.”).

8. Why did Vivien stop bleeding when she ran in the house?

Jen: Vivien experienced some spotting, which her doctor said is totally normal. What’s not normal? The fact that, as Vivien explained, the bleeding stopped as soon as she re-entered her house. This speaks to our assertion that the house exerts some power over the lives of its inhabitants, that it’s controlling the events surrounding them to lead to a particular outcome.

Paul: I like that this works in two ways — obviously the stress from the revelations about the house could have caused it, in practical terms. But it’s just as possible, given the “logic” of the show, that it was the house causing it to keep secrets from her (and from us.)

9. Is it fair to assume that Denis O’Hare’s character is the voice inside ben’s head?

Paul: But why does he need that $1,000 for head shots? Hee hee hee. Man, I love me some Dennis O’Hare.

Jen: It’s possible that Larry Harvey is an actual guy who killed his family in that house. It’s also possible that he’s a voice in Ben’s head, a Tyler Durden to Ben’s Edward Norton in “Fight Club” — and one who, apparently, wants to run lines from “The Odd Couple.”

The fact that Larry pops up only when Ben is alone seems like an obvious sign that he’s a figment of Ben’s messed-up imagination. And I have a feeling it was really Ben who smacked Hayden over the head with that shovel, and that Larry is just a way to dissociate from his guilt over what he did. (Also, the laudanum Moira put in his coffee probably didn’t help.)

Paul: Yeah, I’m totally on board with this theory. Is it going too far to say that he represents Ben’s desire to be free of the burdens and responsibilities of a having a family? Or that he would only feel like half a man that way?

10. Zachary Quinto is going to appear will appear in the two-part Halloween episode, part one of which airs next Wednesday. Who will he be?

Jen: Quinto told Details that he will play a ghost. It’s also been reported that he will play a former inhabitant of the house. Is it possible he’s one of the two gay men that lived in the murder house right before the Harmons moved in?

Paul: Wait, you mean he’s not playing Spock? It should at least be his Halloween costume.

Jen: I was originally hoping he would reprise his portrayal of Sylar from ”Heroes.” Which would make a weird kind of sense since Sylar loved him some brains and apparently, possibly, so did Dr. Charles “I Do Weird Things With Pigs in the Basement” Montgomery. Guess we’ll have to wait and see exactly what his role turns out to be.

What will happen on next week’s episode? And what do you make of the myriad issues raised in our 10 questions? Please, weigh in by posting a comment. Just don’t ask us for a thousand bucks so you can get some head shots.

By and Paul Williams  |  08:30 AM ET, 10/20/2011

Tags:  American Horror Story

 
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