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.”
In this week’s episode of “American Horror Story,” police investigated the murder of Travis, now apparently known as the Boy Dahlia because of the nature of his murder. And they started to ask questions about Constance’s track record that, frankly, should have been asked back when the original “Footloose” came out. But no matter. They managed to get their murderer ... sort of.
In other news, Ben told Vivien that she’s got a baby daddy for each of her twins; Larry had a touching reunion with his family, the Burn Victim Brady Bunch; and, most importantly, an extremely significant corpse was found in the crawl space at the Harmon house.
We’ve got a big plate of apples with flies buzzing around them. And we’ve got a few questions about the episode “Smoldering Children.” So let’s swat, bite and get down to business.
1. Let’s get straight to the point (and note that a spoiler is ahead) — what was more surprising, the Violet shocker or the relevation that Tate set Larry on fire?
Jen: We had already pretty much established that Violet was dead. So that reveal packed an emotional punch, but was not, technically, a surprise. But the Tate thing — the fact that he traveled to Larry’s office and set his pseudo-stepdad on fire — was an unexpected detail, at least for me. It also raises a question: If Tate walked into a seemingly populated office and set a man ablaze, why didn’t anyone call the police and get on his tail fast enough to prevent the school shooting?
Paul: Oh Jen, you and your silly questions. Perhaps Larry’s office was next to the school. Maybe Tate is also a mutant teleporter. Maybe someone gets lighted on fire in that office once a week and it’s no big deal. There could be a million logical reasons.
I agree though, the link between Larry’s burns and his family’s death always seemed so direct it never occurred to me that he would have been burned in any other way. I guess the pyromania he showed on Halloween and when he was looking at the Murder House fireplace were just red herrings.
Jen: Red herrings, yes. But also manifestations of the responsibility he feels for his wife and daughters’ deaths. Like Billy Joel, he didn’t start the fire. But metaphorically, as he made clear again last night, Larry feels like he lighted the match.
2. How did Ben and Vivien not realize their daughter has been dead for at least the past 16 days?
Jen: Okay, let’s review. If Violet died when she took the pills and Tate attempted to revive her, that happened three episodes ago, in “Piggy Piggy.” So we’re expected to believe that neither Vivien nor Ben noticed their daughter was missing school and may have been a bit ... corpsey ... for three weeks? Vivien has a bit of an excuse. She has been in an especially depressing mental hospital for the past two episodes. Still, something doesn’t add up. I’m going to come to back to this, Paul. Oh, I’m coming back to this.
Paul: Clearly the Harmons are not going to be winning any parenting awards any time soon, and I suspect that at least for the past two years — since Vivien’s miscarriage — they've been leaving Violet to largely take care of herself.
More than missing school, it’s almost impossible for me to believe that Ben wouldn’t have made her go visit Vivien in the institution. We never even got an obligatory “I don’t want Violet to see her in that place” scene.
3. Why didn’t Violet realize she was dead — or at least that Tate was?
Jen: I can understand how Violet might have been a bit clueless about her own demise. There is obviously a certain level of denial that sets in when a stubborn, emotionally raw teenager dies and isn’t ready. (Aside: My God, how great was Taissa Farmiga in the scene where she discovered her own corpse? As completely off the rails as “American Horror Story” often is, that moment was one of the more disturbingly heartbreaking things I’ve seen on TV in quite some time.)
What I don’t quite understand, though, is why Violet didn’t seem to fully grasp until tonight that Tate was dead. I mean, she had read the news story about him killing other people and getting shot by police. Constance and Billie Dean, the medium, also pretty clearly explained the situation to her. Should I just chalk this up to a continuity error?
Paul: Maybe death also affects your memory, at least of your last few days? They both mention that they couldn’t remember their actual deaths. I think it’s more a part of the denial though, as it’s come up in several scenes in several episodes — there was one where she asked Tate if he believed in ghosts, and I was all “Uh, yeah he does, we already established that you know he is one.”
And word on Farmiga in this episode. Really heartbreaking. Though I also liked her subtle reaction when she was playing cards with Tate and he mentioned they would be together forever. She kind of flinched, and, really, can any of us think of a worse hell than being trapped for eternity with our moody, tormented high school crush?
4. So did Violet really die after trying to kill herself by taking all those pills?
Jen: Told you I’d come back to this.
So the explanation we were given — that Violet died in a bathtub, while weeping in the arms of her ghost-boyfriend — makes total sense. After all, in the episode directly after that (“Open House”) Violet started to commune more regularly with the other ghosts, as if she were one of them.
But for some reason I feel like something else even more sinister might have happened, something that — and I know I keep harping on this — involves Ben.
Ben didn’t seem all that surprised about the flies swarming the apples in his living room. (His non-plussed response — a remark about how he should not have left food out — struck me as odd.) Also, Vivien told him when he came to visit her in the hospital, “I think you’re the one that’s crazy. I really mean it.” And then there was the way Tate, in his Rubber Man suit, attacked Ben. He seemed genuinely angry, especially when he hissed, “The only reason I’m not killing you is for her.” If Tate kills Ben on the premises, something he might want to do if he knows Violet’s dad is the real reason for her death, Violet will be stuck with Ben for eternity. So Tate refused to do it.
I could be very wrong. But it seems to me the writers are planting a lot of clues that will lead up to an “Oh my God, he killed his own daughter” moment that will finally, officially, make this show exactly like “Twin Peaks.”
Paul: See, I’m willing to take the more face value explanation for Tate there, that he knew Violet wouldn’t forgive him if he killed Ben.
I have a different theory on this — based on “The Rubber Man,” where Tate seems to find the notion of Ben and Patrick living together forever lovely and romantic, I think he let Violet die so they could be together forever. Then she could never leave him, she would always be safe, she would always be his. From Tate’s homicidal emo teenage boy POV, where you kill a couple just because they stopped talking about adopting, I’m sure it makes perfect sense.
5. So switching topics ... can anyone say the words “grieving process” with the same panache as Jessica Lange?
Jen: The answer is no. Every piece of the set in tonight’s episode has Jessica Lange’s teeth marks on it, the remnants of all her scenery chewing. And I love her for it. She is just delicious. Like Larry, I hope I am never subjected to a future in which I never again see Constance.
Paul: I hope we haven’t seen the last of Larry, because I do think Dennis O’Hare is a match for her in the ham (acting, if not cooking) department.
I also enjoy that in a show teeming with psychotic ghosts, the human neighbor is by far the biggest monster on the show.
6. How come the cops haven’t been on Constance’s case 24/7 for at least the past two decades?
Jen: As Charles S. Dutton — who played one of the investigators — noted, Constance has lost an exceptionally high number of people who are close to her. Most notably, her husband Hugo and her housekeeper Moira, who went missing back in ’83. That alone should have made Constance a prime investigative target. But the deaths of Beau; her homicidal son Tate, who set his pseudo-stepdad on fire and killed several of his classmates; and daughter Addie should have set off all kinds of red flags for the police before Travis bit the dust.
Constance implied in the “Open House” flashback that her parenting of Beau actually was raising some red flags. It’s amazing to me that detectives haven’t spent more time skulking around Chez Next-Door-to-the-Murder-House. I mean, they obviously aren’t going to find the remains of Hugo since she ground up the guy and fed him to the dogs. (How gross was that?) But how hard would it have been for someone to do some digging in the Harmons’, formerly Constance’s, back yard, pre-gazebo, and find Moira?
Paul:That was my dog’s favorite part of the episode!
Hey, the ’80s were pre-OJ, pre-“CSI.” Just because you had a bloody trail leading to a freshly dug patch of yard, that was hardly evidence of anything.
Even more than the police, after Tate’s shooting spree, it’s hard for me to imagine that Constance wouldn’t have been the subject of at least four to five true crime books that tied all of this together and put a lot of the blame on her. Think about the books that pointed at Jon-Benet Ramsey’s parents, for the sake of comparison. She should be a fairly notorious figure, I would think.
7. Constance’s refusal to tell Larry she loved him probably won’t come back to bite her, right? I
Paul: Yeah, I think pretty clearly that’s going to be the set-up for her fall. Larry, literally, knows where all the bodies are buried.
8. So who’s excited to see next week’s episode, “Birth”?
Jen: I am, I am! We finally get to see the demon spawn. And personally, I’ve never seen an infant come out of the womb wearing a rubber latex suit. So I’m really looking forward to it.
But before we start flashing forward, let’s pause on the questions and allow you to start weighing in. Am I totally off-base on my Ben/Violet theory? Were you floored by the revelation of that poor, angsty teen’s dead body? Weigh in with any and all comments.
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