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Posted at 07:58 AM ET, 10/06/2011

‘American Horror Story’: Its weirdness deciphered ... sort of


Welcome home, Harmons! (Robert Zuckerman)

The “American Horror Story” pilot has aired on FX. And anyone who watched thinks it’s either the worst, most jumbled, depraved excuse for television ever, or a brilliantly audacious, twistedly compelling piece of work.

Either way, all parties can probably agree that the latest prime-time entry from “Glee” co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk makes the once-regarded-as-bizarre “Twin Peaks” look like “According to Jim.”

Related links:

10 questions about episode three: ‘Murder House’

10 questions about episode two: ‘Home Invasion’

Connie Britton on “American Horror Story”

Hank Stuever’s review of “American Horror Story”

All right, that’s an exaggeration. After watching an hour of unabashed, bring-out-the-Gimp insanity, it’s tough to turn off the hyperbole. Or figure out what the heck we just watched. But Paul Williams, intrepid recapper of “True Blood,” and I are going to try.

Join us as we embark on what can best be described as our version of “Really?!? With Seth and Amy.” Except Paul is Seth, I am Amy and instead of dissecting current events, we’re going to attempt to figure out why Jessica Lange walks into people’s houses unannounced and pockets their silverware.

Paul: Well, I will say this for the first episode of “American Horror Story” — it is unrestrained. It’s too soon to tell if it’s good, or if there’s a coherent vision that will lead to a satisfying conclusion (I’d bet no on that), but it definitely has a bonkers momentum to it that I found compelling. Let’s start with the first, most obvious question: Did you yelp when the Weasley twins (“We got bats!” “I hate trees!”) met their fates in the basement?

Jen: I did not yelp because I was too busy asking myself why two kids would walk into a house after (a) Adelaide clearly stated that they would both die in there and (b) the sight of those wind chimes out front that are made out of animal bones. Surely there are other places in L.A. circa 1978 where a pair of ill-mannered kids can beat on stuff with baseball bats without simultaneously finding human heads in pickle jars. But let’s focus our attention on the 10 key questions raised in this episode of “American Horror Story.”

1. Is Constance — the deliciously loony Virginia native and nosy next-door neighbor played by Jessica Lange — a ghost?

Paul: My impression is that she is not a ghost, but that, like other characters, she has a connection with the house that lets her/them come and go. But I don’t feel confident about anything the show has presented so far. They could be ghosts, demons, aliens, made of marzipan, etc., and I would not be surprised. At this point, I’m not sure if I’m a ghost or not.

Jen: Ah, the classic they’re-all-made-of-marzipan resolution — wasn’t that how they finally tied up all the loose ends on “The Wire”?

I am with you on the connection to the house thing. Specifically, I think Constance may have been one of the patients of the “doctor to the stars” that originally owned the “American Horror” Victorian. This line in particular — uttered after she breezed in through the Harmons’ allegedly open back door to offer Vivien some complimentary sage — seemed particularly telling: “I took that little butterfly of a dream and put it in a jar on a shelf,” she said of her hopes of Hollywood stardom. Jar on a shelf, eh?

2. What’s the deal with Moira the maid, who sometimes looks like Ruth Fisher from “Six Feet Under” and sometimes looks like a hot chick in a slutty housekeeper Halloween costume? I mean, really?!?

Jen: I think you and I agree that Moira is definitely a ghost, or at least some sort of being that exists outside the realm of traditional mortals. Again, the imminently quoteable Constance threatened our helpful little shelf-duster by saying, “Don’t make me kill you again.” Which suggests Moira died at some point. And that Ben — who only sees what is, presumably, the younger, once-alive, prone-to-self-pleasuring version of Moira — has a special ability to sense the presence of the previous occupants of his new home. Also, Moira may or may not have played a bit part in “The Others.”

Paul: Of course, if she is a ghost, how would you kill her again? I suspect she has a history of trying to seduce the man of the house that might have led to her original demise — Constance seemed sensitive to losing the attention of her husband.And the age-shifting is in part a practical matter, as I don’t think Vivien would have been down with hiring young Moira.


(Robert Zuckerman)

3. Seriously, what’s up with that Tate kid?

Jen: I don’t know how things went so wrong for this guy. He seemed so non-threatening in “Kick-Ass.” Anyhoo, he doesn’t technically seem like a ghost. But it’s worth noting that (a) we’ve only seen him in the house, and (b) he, like Moira, was shown outside by the clothesline, which is where ghosts tend to congregate ... you know, because of all the available clean sheets, and (c) he may or may not have the capacity to morph into a weird basement hobgoblin who likes to chomp on high school mean girls hoping to score drugs.

Paul: I thought the scene with Ben on the phone trying to get Tate listed as a danger, where he says something about not having Tate’s SSN, was a red flag. A lack of paperwork is often clue No. 1 that someone doesn’t really exist in a story like this. And I’d like to give credit to Evan Peters for being creepy, and somewhat Cobain-like in his big sweaters and floppy blond hair.

Jen: That striped sweater he initially wore was pure Freddy Krueger — surely an intentional choice on the part of the costumers.

4. Speaking of hobgoblins, what the hell is that thing in the basement?

Jen: My current theory is that the thing that lives beneath the surface (metaphorical phrasing alert) is some sort of demonic entity that can assume multiple forms. When the Weasley twins got killed in ‘78, I paused the DVR to look more closely at what took them out. And it honestly looked like a deranged baby doll, perhaps a composite version of all those parts in the aforementioned jars. When Tate went nuts later in the episode and either turned into or aided and abetted the same demonic entity, it looked like a potential stand-in for “Troll.” So, in summary: I don’t know what the hell that thing is.

Paul: Since she’s tight with Ryan Murphy, I’m going to say it’s Gwyneth Paltrow. Sure, I have no “proof” or anything, but she seems as likely to blame as anything else.

Or it’s the house’s Smoke Monster.


(Robert Zuckerman.)

5. Fine. Explain Dennis O’Hare, the burn victim/stalker in the hat.

Jen: What’s to explain? He’s just your typical guy with burns over seventy percent of his body who killed his whole family and stalks grown men while they’re jogging.. Actually, in all seriousness, I think the man — a.k.a. Larry Harvey, a.k.a. Dennis O’Hare — is a figment of Ben’s imagination. So far no one else has seen him. And he only appears when Ben is alone with his thoughts. (Ahem.) Either he’s the manifestation of the voices that could eventually persuade Ben to do what Dennis allegedly did and destroy the people he loves. Or he’s just a misunderstood, lovable guy looking for a new friend to meet for coffee at Starbuck’s on alternate Tuesdays.

Paul: I think he’s a real guy but that he’s not to be trusted at all. Of course, I’m not sure how warning Ben about the house is actually serving the house, but I don’t really expect any of this to hold up to logic anyway. I’m just glad to have Russel Edgington back in my life. And Dennis O’Hare is now 2-2 in being horribly burned on supernatural cable shows.

6. Who is the father of Connie Britton’s child and is her fetus destined to be a demon baby?

Jen: In an obvious nod to “Halloween” — on of many horror movie homages in the pilot — Britton’s Vivien assumed the guy wearing the funky costume in her bedroom was her significant other. P.J. Soles at least had the common sense not to have sex with the the masked dude in John Carpenter’s 1978 shocker. Viv? Not so much.

And as we discovered at the end of the episode, Vivien — who recently miscarried — is pregnant again, after what appeared to be maybe a day after her sexual encounter. (Now that’s a powerful First Response test.) The baby could be Ben’s, or it could be the Gimp’s. But I’m betting that either way, it’s a devil-baby. And that when Britton delivers, it will be absolutely nothing like the arrival of Gracie Bell on “Friday Night Lights.” Although Violet — played by Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of Vera — will probably be as much of a pill about it as Julie Taylor was.

Paul: I like Farmiga as Violet, in that they avoided someone straight out of “Goth teen” central casting. Looks-wise, she’s more “Blossom” than “Beetlejuice.”

Adding to the references, the sex scene was very “Rosemary’s Baby,” right? There is no way in the world she is not giving birth to a horrible devil baby. And given how quickly she realized she was pregnant, it could happen by next episode and be completely forgotten by the third.

Have I mentioned how nuts this show is?

7. Who was in the Gimp suit?

Jen: Possibilities include: Tate, Larry Harvey, an incarnation of the demonic presence in the house or the actual Gimp from “Pulp Fiction.” It says something about the bat-excrement craziness of this show that the last option I mentioned is only a half-joke.

Paul: How about the doctor who originally owned house? I think we’re going to find out a lot more about him, what kind of medicine he practiced, if he liked to do any off-the-books experimentation, etc., before the season is over. No spoilers there, just guessing.

8. Is any of what we’re watching real?

Jen: Given all the weird transitions, which make it hard to get a handle on where we are in chronological time, it’s not out of the realm that all of this is just a dream of some sort. It could be Vivien’s dream — everything that happened on the series after she found Ben in bed with another woman could all be inside her mentally unstable mind. Or it could be the product of Ben’s imagination. Didn’t he flat-out ask, “Am I in a dream?” when he got up for one of his pyromaniacal midnight walks around the house? Maybe the answer is simply yes and “American Horror Story” will come to an end after Episode Four: “Ben Wakes Up.”

Paul: I think Ben’s behavior was very “The Shining” and “Amityville Horror” at times. Just because someone’s going crazy doesn’t mean they can’t be in a haunted house, too.

9. Will anyone watch this next week?

Paul: Possibly just Chris Martin and I, assuming my Paltrow theory is correct.

Jen: Initial response to the pilot on Twitter was somewhat mixed, with some saying the show already lost them, others saying they were confused and still others saying they were confused but in a totally good way. “I’m eerily intrigued by American Horror Story. Still not quite sure WTF is going on with it, but maybe that’s the point?” tweeted viewer Brett Murdock. Which is a pretty good summary of my own feelings, actually.

What did you think of “American Horror Story” and what do you make of our cockamamie theories about a show that’s about 887 times more cockamamie than anything we’ve said here? Post a comment and share your reactions.

By  |  07:58 AM ET, 10/06/2011

Tags:  American Horror Story

 
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