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.”
“American Horror Story” has been an over-the-top show since pretty much minute one of episode one, when Addie announced to the Weasley twins — who apparently still egg people in 2011 despite having been killed back in 1978 — that they were going to die in the unsellable house where the Harmons currently reside.
But in part one of the episode entitled “Halloween,” plot developments careened past over-the-top and moved into the outer limits of the most messed-up solar system in the universe.
What did we get in this week’s “Horror Story” installment? Let’s see ... an introduction to the previous gay tenants of the house, Patrick and Chad (played, as predicted, by Zachary Quinto) who argue in the most cliche terms possible; Larry Harvey attempting to collect a cool grand in his trick-or-treat pumpkin; at least three “Mommie Dearest” moments between Constance and Addie; a Vivien pregnancy scare; and the realization that the Gimp in “American Horror Story” is far more sinister than the one in “Pulp Fiction.”
And that doesn’t even take into account the surprise death of a major character, the murder of another and the rise of the zombie ex-mistress.
We’re already hyperventilating. But with a little oxygen and an increasingly stretched-out suspension of disbelief, we can get through this week’s 10 questions about “American Horror Story.”
More “American Horror Story”:
What do Chad and Patrick want?
Jen: We learned that the most recent (live) inhabitants of the Harmon house were also, like the Harmons, torn apart by cheating, and also hoped to have a baby.
And we learned that at least one of them was killed by the man in the rubber suit, a.k.a. The Gimp, during a tragic apple-bobbing-station incident.
The question is why they want the Harmons out of their house. (I am guessing the usual ghost reasons — as the most recent residents of the place and a pair of lost souls, they’d prefer to have their privacy.) And why did Chad (Quinto) make sure to tip off Vivien about checking the cellphone bill for traces of Hayden? (Is it really Ben they want to get rid of and not the whole family?) Also, why do Chad and Patrick argue using such generic dialogue? (“I don’t give a [bleep] about carving pumpkins! I want love! I want passion!” And I want a rewrite of that scene.)
Paul: Jen, having love and passion and an interest in pumpkin carving are clearly mutually exclusive. Everyone knows that. (Speaking of which, I think Moira’s pumpkin is almost identical to the one from the opening credits of “Halloween.”)
I think you raise an interesting question though. Do the ghosts have an amount of free will and their own individual agendas, or, like the Overlook in “The Shining” or Hill House in “The Haunting,” do they all serve the house’s master plan? Chad seems invested in breaking up Ben and Vivien and getting them out of the house, while Tate and co. have worked to protect them (so far) and keep them there. If there is one unified goal, maybe it’s to maximize the family anxiety levels to a breaking point, which is when the house “strikes,” as we saw with Constance last episode and Chad/Patrick this episode.
Does Marcie the real estate agent have contact with the ghosts?
Paul: I think they were just taking advantage of the situation, though what happened to Marcie’s actual “fluffers” will end up just being a loose end rather than anything sinister. It would not surprise me to find out that the house has some kind of influence over Marcie that she is not actively aware of.
Trying to ascribe logic to this show is like trying to ascribe logic to the behavior of a rabid badger. That being said, last episode it seemed that Marcie didn’t see Tate when Constance stopped to wave to him from the sidewalk. It would also seem that Chad and Patrick showed up around the anniversary of their murder, just like the girls in the second episode. Maybe the ghosts are at their “strongest” then.
Jen: That strongest theory makes sense to me. It’s still not 100 percent clear to me whether Marcie’s “fluffers” were really supposed to be Chad and Patrick or if she actually had another stylistically inclined, non-dead gay couple in mind for the assignment. Either way, as an agent who has attempted to sell the joint at least twice, it seems like Marcie might have come in contact with some of its spirits. I wouldn’t even be surprised to find out Marcie is one of its spirits herself. Why? Because I would not be surprised at this point if virtually anything happened on this show. If Larry Harvey shows up next week on Ben’s doorstep asking for 10 grand while wearing a Gary Coleman mask and holding Todd Bridges hostage, it will not faze me.
Paul: Watchoo talkin’ about, Ben Harmon?
Speaking of Larry Harvey, what is that guy up to?
Jen: For starters, he’s obviously trying to make the most of Halloween by stretching it out for seven days, as if it’s some sort of Hanukkah for homicidal burn victims. (I have to admit, I cracked up when Denis O’Hare said “This is the only time I can be myself.” He manages to make this guy creepy and intentionally, winkingly absurd at the same time.)
Personally, I don’t think he genuinely wants money from Ben like some sort of ultra-freaky newspaper boy from “Better Off Dead.” (“A thousand dollars! I want my one thousand dollars — in a plastic trick-or-treat pumpkin — do you hear me Lane Meyer?!?”) I still stick by my contention from last week: that he’s a figment of Ben’s imagination, the voice in his head who shows up to remind the good psychiatrist just how crazy he really is.
Paul: But Jen, if he doesn’t get that money from Ben, how is Larry going to get the head shots he needs to break into show biz?
(How awesome would a “Meanwhile...” episode be, one focused on Larry going to auditions, running lines, talking to his agent, etc.?)
I love your theory about Larry being all in Ben’s head so much that I was disappointed to see him interact with Violet while Ben was at the hospital. I’m not sure how to reconcile that, though it did appear that he was very blurry and out-of-focus at first when she looked through the peephole. Maybe he’s an actual physical manifestation of Ben’s psychosis, like in Stephen King’s “The Dark Half.”
Jen: Good point about Violet. That’s the one element that shoots a hole in my theory. Maybe that “Dark Half” explanation covers me. Also now, thanks to you, I really want to see a spin-off about Larry. Maybe they can call it “Hello, Larry” ... shoot, that’s taken, isn’t it?
So what happened in Ben’s childhood?
Paul: He tells Tate he was “troubled.” I strongly suspect we will find out about a history of violence and delusions. Clearly there is too much weirdness for it to all be in his head, but a history like that will cause him to question himself, as well as people in authority to question him if he tries to report what’s going on. “Oh, there’s a conspiracy to drive you out of your house and kill your family, is there? On an unrelated note, it says here that you were institutionalized from ages 12 to 14.”
Another, and for my money more interesting and creepy possibility, is that his childhood troubles were related to some kind of psychic abilities or phenomenon, like Eleanor from “The Haunting” or Danny from “The Shining,” and that’s why the house wants him.
From a more practical standpoint, it’s easy to make the leap that someone who feels like he doesn’t deserve his success and his wonderful family would also be terrified of it suddenly being ripped away.
By the way — Ben Harmon? Worst. Psychiatrist. Ever. He has one patient at the moment, who happens to be a ghost (and I can’t imagine he has insurance, as death is the preexisting condition to end all preexisting conditions), and when he fails to run him off, he spends a session crying and confessing his own issues.
Jen: Yes, he is officially terrible. Tate would be better off paying 5 cents for a diagnosis from Lucy at this point.
The psychic abilities notion is an interesting one. I suspect Ben definitely committed some kind of violent act as young boy. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a younger sibling, perhaps even one who was a baby, who died under mysterious circumstance. Because apparently that happens over and over on this show.
Seriously, who is Moira’s mother?
Paul: In his recap of “Murder House,” Jeff Jensen suggested it could be Daphne or the other, unseen servant who worked for Charles and Nora. I don’t think that timeline works if she’s still alive in 2011, even at such an advanced age.
My guess is that she’s going to be connected to a murder that took place in the ‘40s or ‘50s, a part of the house’s history we haven’t seen yet. Perhaps she’s that era’s version of Constance. Or she’s a resident of the house who worked against it in some way. That would explain Moira’s service to the house, even when she was human, as some kind of punishment, as well as work out chronologically.
Jen: Before addressing the identity of her mother, I just want to say that the notion that all the ghosts “walk free” on Halloween was somewhat clumsily handled this week. Addie just slid that comment into conversation, apropos of nothing, so Tate, Moira and, apparently, Hayden (who appeared to have borrowed cosmetics from Lindsay Lohan), would have permission to roam around. Fine with the roaming, just wish the writing had been a little smoother this week.
As for the theory about Moira’s connection to the Montgomery family, I like it because I made it, too, albeit wrongly. (I suggested maybe that baby was her father and clearly that can’t be right in light of what we learned about that kid.) But maybe to combine the two ideas, the child of one of the housekeepers is her mom?
What’s the deal with The Gimp?
Paul: He just wants love and a family too. Is that so wrong?
I think the Gimp is the animating force of the house itself, rather than the spirit of any particular victim or former resident, if that makes sense.
Jen: It does make sese. But I still say someone is in there simply because there has to be some kind of big reveal at some point, where the Gimp takes off his mask and we realize — oh my God — it’s Todd Bridges! All right, that probably won’t happen.I can’t flesh out the logic behind this, but the thought occurred to me that Ben might have worn that suit at some point. Am also kind of hoping it turns out to be Morris Chestnut, just because it was nice to see him in a police uniform.
What does the story about Nora and Charles’s dead son tell us?
Paul: That you can somehow continue to age to a certain degree even after you’re stitched back together and reanimated by your crazy father.
I took Tate’s story at face value. I think what’s interesting is that the Montgomerys were on the road to ruin before the baby is killed, so it’s not like his murder is what “turned” the house evil. So if it’s been supernatural from the start, why?
There were some interesting Biblical/religious references in this episode also. The forbidden fruit of the apples, with Ben taking a big Eve bite of one as Chad flips out. The eye-for-an-eye murder of Charles and Nora’s baby. Charles trying to play God and create life from nothing.
Jen: My guess is what turned the house evil are the spirits of all those children — both the young Montgomery baby and the aborted infants — that Charles may have been playing Frankenstein with, too.
Also, if Tate’s story is accurate, then the evil presence i the basement really is a deranged baby doll of sorts, as I posited in our recap of the pilot. It’s like a younger, even more ridiculous version of Chucky.
Why did Constance drag Addie onto the grass?
Jen: This one seems easy, but maybe it’s so deceptively simple that I’m actually dead wrong. (Dang it, “American Horror Story,” why do you make me second-guess myself?) Still, I think I am right when I say that Constance was obsessed with dragging Addie on the grass because she wanted her to die on the premises of the Harmon house so that her spirit can continue to hang around. If she expired in the ambulance or at the hospital, Constance would lose her daughter forever. And then who would she be able to berate about her looks and doom to a life of low self-esteem?
By the way, I was sad to see Addie go. This is the second character with Down syndrome to be killed off on a Ryan Murphy series (see Jean, the sister of Sue Sylvester, on “Glee”) in less than a single season. And after she had just gotten an awesome “Breakfast Club”-esque makeover from Violet, too. (By the way, Paul, did you think that Addie’s pretty girl mask looked like a feminine version of the William Shatner mask worn by Michael Myers in “Halloween”? Because I did.)
Paul: I didn’t catch the Michael Myers comparison initially, but you are totally right.
Yeah, Constance wanted Addie’s ghost to stick around. Which is actually pretty cruel when you consider how Moira feels about that situation. Also, I’m pretty sure EMTs don’t let you just drag around a victim like that.
I wonder if the identity of the hit-and-run driver will ever come into play.
What did the sonogram technician see on the sonogram?
Jen: Oh, this one’s easy. She saw an itty bitty baby in a black rubber suit. I mean, duh..
Paul: The video from “The Ring.” It’s faster acting in sonogram form.
To me, that was the creepiest, most surprising turn on the show so far. That just a sonogram of whatever is inside Vivien can cause you to pass out can not be good news.
Has this show completely gone off the rails?
Paul: That would suggest it was ever on the rails. Or in the same solar system as the rails.
I will say this for it: While shows like “Battlestar Galactica” or “Lost” are much better than “AHS” in many ways, I appreciate that it’s setting up a mythology while also giving us answers at a much more rapid pace than either of those shows.
Jen: True, Paul. But the answers it’s giving us may not be as satisfying because, so far, they don’t seem all that inventive. (Please see the deranged baby doll comment above.) You’re right that the show has always been nutty, but this week things felt a bit more forced than they have in the previous three episodes. On the plus side, I am grateful for the new catch phrase that part one of “Halloween” gave me, one I plan to use every time my husband goes out to run errands: “Wear a condom and pick me up some gala apples!”
Readers, what did you think of this week’s episode? Way too much or just the right dose of crazy? And what do you anticipate from part two of “Halloween”? Post a comment and weigh in.