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Posted at 08:35 AM ET, 12/15/2011

‘American Horror Story’: Croatoa, Connie Britton screams and a major dose of crazy in ‘Birth’

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.”

Is there an Emmy Awards category called Best Screaming During a Surreal Childbirth Scene During Which a Mental Ghost Performs the Delivery?

Well, create one. Because in this week’s episode of “American Horror Story,” succinctly titled “Birth,” Connie Britton pretty much won that sucker. I mean, for God’s sake, just look at her in the photo below. And that was before labor even started!


(Mike Ansell / FX)

A lot happened in this episode. New individuals came into this world. And alas, some left it as well. But let’s not get into that yet. Although, for the record, we will say that at least three of our predictions about Vivien’s birth scene turned out to be correct.

But instead let’s attack our many, many questions, one-by-one, in chronological order. And let’s savor this recap, the penultimate of this exceedingly bizarre season of television. Because celebrating the in­cred­ibly freaky birth of what may or may not be a demon child — it’s still unclear — is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

1. Here’s a question I never thought I’d ask in an “American Horror Story” recap: Did you notice what Bob Newhart said?

Jen: The episode opened with a flashback to 1984, one in which Constance (SAG Award nominee Jessica Lange) passed out during a quality episode of “Newhart” and a young Tate — a.k.a. Little Man Tate — made it clear that he sees Nora Montgomery as a mother figure. (That’s clearly why he raped Vivien at her behest.) Anyway, it was hard not to hear Bob say that, “You always give a guy a second chance. That’s the golden rule.”

Clearly that statement applies to the occupants of our Murder House. But which ones? Tate, whom Violet should be willing to forgive? Ben, whom Vivien had been trying to forgive and almost did? Or could it refer to a second chance for a baby boy in the Murder House?

Paul: Jen, at this point it would not surprise me if Bob Newhart was the “Look Who’s Talking”-style voice of the demon baby next season.

I would argue that Bob’s advice could apply to all of those guys, plus Patrick and Chad and Charles Montgomery and Constance’s husband, all of whom had been given multiple chances without really changing. I do think Ben was sincere in his desire to work things out, but now he’ll never get the chance.

And of course, that’s not actually the golden rule, which is “Do unto others...” or, sometimes, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Something Constance could perhaps internalize.

2. Is Thaddeus Montgomery, a.k.a. the Infantata, the scariest thing you’ve seen on television in quite some time?

Jen: Pretty much. When Little Man Tate (Tate circa 1984) headed to the basement and saw the fanged baby — the same one we saw in the “Horror Story” pilot — emerge from the shadows, it genuinely gave me the shivers. Also, is it me, or does that kid look a lot like Nosferatu?

Paul: The last time I was that creeped out by something on TV was when BOB goes over the couch on “Twin Peaks.” The way his face fades in from the black helped draw out the anxiety — even though we know Tate’s going to be okay.

If Thaddeus is a ghost, and Nora wasn’t able to kill him before she killed Charles and herself, I wonder what did kill him, and when.

3. Is intrauterine omophagia a real thing?

Jen: Just before Vivien left the mental hospital with the faint hope that she might get to spend her final trimester at her sister’s house in Florida, a doctor told her and Ben that one of the twins was developing at a much more rapid rate than the other. She might go into labor soon, he said. The problem? A condition known as intrauterine omophagia.

While both of those words are real words, some research — otherwise known as a Google search conducted during an FX commercial break — didn’t immediately indicate that this is a genuine phenomenon. Omophagia means eating of raw meat, an ironic definition given Vivien’s appetite for pig pancreas during her pregnancy. The raw meat in this case, though, was apparently the other fetus growing in Vivien’s womb. Which we’ll discuss shortly.

Paul:There are “Vanishing Twins,” which was the basis for Stephen King’s “The Dark Half,” and which I mentioned at one point as a possible explanation for Ben’s evil side, and which Jeff Jensen once theorized could explain Tate’s dual nature. Why they felt the need to make up a new term, assuming that’s the case, I have no idea.

4. What was Billie the medium’s problem during her visit to the Murder House?

Jen: At one point, Billie (Sarah Paulson) seemed especially agitated. And that agitation increased when Tate appeared. Constance dismissed it, noting that spirit contactors often get a little freaked when they come directly in contact with a ghost. But given that Violet is a ghost and Billie knows that, that didn’t seem like a legitimate explanation.

My take? Something happened between Tate and Billie. Is it possible she knew one of his victims? I don’t know, but there’s something going on there.

Paul: My first thought was that she knew he killed Chad and Patrick, and that his presence would complicate their efforts to remove those two. It’s also possible that he’s just an overwhelmingly evil presence to Billie.

Also, while I found Sarah Paulson insufferable on the short-lived “Studio 60,” I really like her as Billie.

5. Is Croatoa and the Roanoke Lost Island legend a real thing?

Jen: Once again, I did extensive research — cough, Googling during commercials, cough — and verified the Lost Roanoke Colony did exist. And by the way, it is considered part of North Carolina now, but was originally part of Virginia, native land of Constance.

But the ghost stories Billie told about it, and the power of that Croatoa chant, seem like a fabrication, as evidenced by the fact that Violet’s attempt to invoke that magic word had no impact on Chad (Zachary Quinto).

Paul: Roanoke Colony is my second-favorite historical mystery frequently used in pop culture, after the Tunguska event. (What, like you don’t rank your favorite historical mysteries?)

But yeah, I had never heard the part about the ghosts and the tribe before, which works with the idea that Billie made the whole thing up.

6. What the heck is Ben’s deal?


(Ray Mickshaw/ FX)

Jen: His behavior during this episode was puzzling. And that’s an understatement.

He didn’t seem particularly surprised that his daughter Violet randomly disappeared from the back seat of his car while he was at a red light. (Not unlike Hayden did while in Luke’s car.) He also betrayed little emotional response when Violet told him she was dead. And when Vivien’s labor began, Ben appeared to have some sort of meltdown that led to the appearance of many ghosts who were all too happy to help with the delivery. The whole thing was very “Rosemary’s Baby.”

(Irony alert: Maria the dead nurse (Rosa Salazar) who assisted Vivien during labor also plays a pregnant woman on “Parenthood,” a show executive produced by Jason Katims, who also executive produced “Friday Night Lights.”)

I still can’t shake my theory that much of what we’ve been seeing is not a reflection of reality and that Ben may have done some sinister things that we haven’t fully grasped yet. And that — not unlike Tate — he hasn’t fully grasped yet.

Paul: To be fair, what is the proper emotional response when you find out your daughter is a ghost, your wife is going into labor with a devil baby, your doctor is a spectral Dr. Frankenstein and Jessica Lange is chewing on your scenery? A little dissociative break is not entirely unreasonable.

As mentioned above though, we’ve been getting hints that Ben has a dark back story, and there’s the smoking, chair-swiveling version we’ve seen in some episodes who seems capable of violence. Since he’s the only one who might get out of the house alive, perhaps exploring that will be part of the setup for next season.

7. Was Vivien’s first baby really stillborn?

Jen: Dr. Charles Montgomery said the child — you know, the one that Vivien’s other twin was feasting on — sadly was stillborn. And he should know, since he’s a ghost who died decades ago and spends much of his time sucking on ether fumes. Clearly, this is a man who can be trusted.

Anyway, given the way Charles quickly dispatched the child to the arms of his wife, my theory is that the first baby was still alive, or that Nora knew a way to reanimate him. I also suspect that Constance and Nora made some kind of deal in which they agreed to split the twins and leave “the gays,” as Constance calls Chad and Patrick, out of it..

Paul: Heck-to-the-no it’s not stillborn. I also wonder what Vivien meant at the end when she told Violet “I didn’t lose my baby.” One one level, she meant it to reassure Violet, her first baby. But it also could have meant she knew both babies were still alive and she was planning to get them back.

8. Did Dr. Montgomery get those forceps from the supersize menu in a one-stop gynecological shop in hell?

Jen: In a word, yes.

Paul: Or some large-animal veterinary clinic, during one of his weekly stops for pig parts.

9. Did the surviving baby have hooves or not?

Jen: Actually, I think the child was normal. First of all, both Constance and Moira seemed moved by the baby’s beauty. Second of all, I watched the scene in slow-mo where Constance cuts the cord and picks him up. He looked like a regular baby to me, although I assume he may have some, um, issues that may not be physical.

Also, I’m less worried now about Chad and Patrick trying to take the baby since they seem to be at odds with each other. But Hayden’s arrival at the end of the episode was alarming.

Paul: It would be an interesting flip of expectations if the healthy baby was the one fathered by Ben, and the “stillborn” one was Tate’s, no?

10. Who did you feel sadder about: Tate or Vivien?

Jen: Man, that was a tough call. It might be a tie. I feel badly for poor, twisted, misunderstood Tate, who was separated from Violet after she uttered that simple request that he go away. I’d say the severing of their union would kill him, but, well, you know.

I felt much empathy for Vivien, who went through so much to bring those children into the world and winded up losing her life in the process. On the plus side, she never had to endure the pain of realizing that her daughter had died, at least not until she joined Violet in the after-life and couldn’t feel much anyway..

Paul: Vivien. I honestly didn’t see her death coming, though in retrospect I should have. She’s been pretty thoroughly victimized since her first miscarriage, and it seems like only in death is she going to get some peace and empowerment.

I ran out of sympathy for Tate once we found out he was the Rubber Man. I think he’s truly evil and monstrous, and just because he feels bad about it or can’t help it doesn’t make him a tragic figure to me.

What did you make of this episode? Was the birth scene all you hoped? Are you sad about Vivien? Please share all your thoughts and theories by posting a comment.

More “American Horror Story”:

‘American Horror Story’: What will happen when Vivien gives ‘Birth’?

The “American Horror Story” house is for sale

8 Questions about “Smoldering Children”

10 questions about “Spooky Little Girl”

The pregnancies in “Breaking Dawn” and “American Horror Story”: A comparative study

More on “American Horror Story”

By and Paul Williams  |  08:35 AM ET, 12/15/2011

Tags:  American Horror Story

 
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