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.”
We were prepared for some unexpected turns in the season finale of “American Horror Story,” an episode entitled “Afterbirth.” But even with that said, we didn’t envision a scenario in which this installment would turn into “American Horror Story: A Very Special Christmas.” (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
Yes, the Harmon family — well, minus the one baby that Constance snatched for herself — managed to come together and finally find happiness while marveling at their beautifully decorated Christmas tree. And they did it in the only way the Harmons know how: after expiring and becoming ghosts following a tragic teen suicide (Violet), complications during childbirth (Vivien and Twin Baby No. 1) and hanging by chandelier (Ben — more on that later).
Truly, it’s a wonderful death. (Hey, did you know that every time a bell rings, a guy puts on a rubber man suit and ... oh, never mind.)
Thankfully, the finale answered some of the questions we were so eager to resolve before season one ended. Questions like: Who was Ben talking to when he called Tate’s mother to discuss his therapy? (Constance, using the ol’ talk-into-a-dish-towel trick. ) And what happened to Vivien’s cute little dog? (Marcy the real estate agent adopted him. Which is good. She needs the company.)
But as always, some nagging mysteries still linger like ... well, like ghosts that are stuck in a Victorian house with a killer floor plan but a massively screwed-up aura. What is the nature of the messy past Ben alluded to during a conversation several episodes ago with Larry Harvey? Why is Moira the only Murder House ghost who ages? How is it possible that Constance can steal the baby next door and raise him without anyone realizing what she’s done? And where did Vivien get that beautiful emerald-green Christmas dress she wore during the “O Tennanbaum” scene? I mean, clearly she can’t go shopping. Did she order it online?
Oh, now the question juices are really flowing. So let’s dive right into our 10 questions about the “American Horror Story” finale. As always, your questions and theories are welcomed as well; please feel free to add them in the comments.
More “American Horror Story”:
1. Was Ben’s death a surprise?
Jen: The “American Horror Story” writers played a bit of a bait-and-switch on us. At first, it seemed that Ben was going to blow his brains out. But then Vivien and Violet talked him out of it. Of course, leave it to Zombie Kate Mara to sabotage Ben’s subsequent plan to get out of the house by enlisting the help of the home invaders and hanging him from that gorgeous chandelier in the center-hall foyer. (That conveys, by the way.)
I wasn’t expecting him to die that way, at that moment. But I wasn’t surprised, really, because I fully expected all the Harmons to bite it and become specters before the season ended. All went according to plan.
Paul: Right, I had been expecting a “Mullholand Drive,” “he was dead the whole time” twist going into the episode, then during the attack I was expecting Vivien or Tate or someone to come help Ben. But nope, that was it for ol’ Ben.
It was a perfectly adequate way for him to go, and a much less awkward way to usher him into the afterlife than suicide. I did wonder whether Hayden had promised anything in particular to the Murderous Three for their help, or if it had never just occurred to them that they could still kill people or what exactly.
2. Is Nora Montgomery the ultimate drama queen?
Jen: Oh Lord, all that wailing and weeping she did for half the season about how desperately she wanted a child, so much so that she basically forced Tate to impregnate Vivien so she could get what she wanted. Then a sweet little cherub finally shows up and just because he’s a little collicky, Nora is totally disinterested. I am beginning to understand why Charles Montgomery spent so much time sucking on ether. On the plus side, Vivien was able to get at least one of her babies back. Granted, they’re both ghosts, which is a bummer. But on the plus side, she won’t have to wrestle with any of those perpetually tangled car seat straps.
Paul: It’s not Nora’s fault she’s a bad mother — she had all those nannies. And her mother wasn’t much of one! (This comment was a nice echo of Ben’s dismissal of therapy while talking to Tate.) Besides, she seems like she did a good enough job with Thaddeus...
3. Was anyone else glad to see the Ramos family leave?
Jen: I have to say, I didn’t think “American Horror Story” would play the Harmons-must-save-a-new-family card until next season. The introduction of the Ramos family — who seemed about as believable and dimensional as your average horror movie victims, which perhaps was by design — happened pretty hastily. Gabriel, the teenager, seemed like a particularly weird addition since he looked more like a 26-year-old shoved into Urban Outfitter-wear than an actual high-schooler.
Anyway, I was sort of relieved when what I will refer to as the “American Horror Story” Ghost Greatest Hits Mix Tape started to play, throwing one of the nurses, the Black Dahlia, hot Moira, Tate and the Harmons at the Ramoses in an effort to scare them out of Murder House. It worked, in what might be the first successful effort to chase a family off the premises before anyone met their maker. Maybe that’s because the Harmons — the first genuinely happy ghosts to take up residence in the place — put their afterlife muscle behind it. (P.S. Loved the use of the song “You Belong to Me,” which echoed the pilot.)
Paul: When it comes to playing miscast ages, Gabriel Ramos certainly wins the Ian Ziering award. Dude looked easily as old as his father. I do think/hope the skateboarding was a Poochie shout-out, at least.
I have to wonder — after Moira’s little self-righteous proclamation about the spirits wanting to help the Harmons scare off the Ramos family, why didn’t Ben ask, “Hey, where was this ‘can-do’ attitude when the hot, young version of you was trying to seduce me rather than scare off my family, Miss Day Late/Dollar Short?”
4. What was a more campy moment: watching Moira very seriously announce “We don’t want to see more suffering in this house” while Miguel and Stacy Ramos did the deed on the marble kitchen counter, or the part where Ghost Vivien gutted her husband and declared, “You have no idea how long I’ve been wanting to do that”?
Jen: This might be a tie. On a related note: I don’t even want to know what the Ramoses planned to do with that pasta arm.
Paul:Would it kill them (no pun intended) to demonstrate how the pasta arm is supposed to work? I still don’t think I get it. Are you cooking your pasta in a cauldron?
Both lines fell flat with me — Moira’s for the reason I mention above. Vivien’s was undermined by Ben saying something similar after shooting ghost Vivien, because, Ben, dead or no, you still don’t have the equal moral footing to pull that line off.
I’ll take Constance’s monologue at the salon, and the increasingly mortified look on her stylist’s face, FTW.
Jen: Ah, good call. That was a heck of a speech.
5. How is it possible that Constance could be raising Little Man Tate next door without anyone catching on?
Jen: Constance is guilty of a double murder, potential parental neglect regarding her flesh-and-blood children and kidnapping in the case of Little Man Tate. (Real name: Michael. As in Myers). And yet the police still haven’t been able to figure this out? Clearly they have investigated on some level, per that visit from Charles S. Dutton and his partner. But three years after the departure of the Harmons, as we learned in the final moments of the finale, Constance still has full custody of the demon spawn. And, creepily, he really is pretty demonic, enough to kill his nanny just for the bloody fun of it. As her aforementioned monologue at the hair salon indicated, Constance is once again so delusional about how much potential her son has that she seems destined to overlook his obvious psychopathic tendencies.
Is it nature — the fact that he’s part Tate — that made the kid this way? Or is it nurture, as in the fact that, at the age of maybe two weeks, he witnessed his pseudo-father getting hung by the ghosts of two serial-killer-obsessed home invaders? Does it matter?
Paul:Well, this is the LAPD we’re talking about. They don’t always have the best record with these high-profile cases. After the death of the nanny though, I made a joke about if they could bring Constance in and permanently detain her on the grounds that just knowing her means you’re going to die or disappear. Like, they can’t pin any particular crime on her, but her mere existence has become a public health hazard. I actually wondered if she might have flown to Richmond and killed a distant cousin, just to help establish the paper trail for custody of Michael.
Which is to say, let’s not eliminate the influence of Constance’s mothering in the nurture equation. Still, I think that kid could have been raised by Dr. Spock and Mother Theresa inside a toy factory and he would end up a murderous psychotic anyway.
Lastly, did he look freakishly large for being 3 years old? Was this just more Gabriel Ramos-esque casting, or are we supposed think he’s aging at an accelerated, unnatural rate?
6. Is Larry Harvey still in prison?
Jen: That three-years-out flash-forward only gave us a glimpse of what Constance is up to. We don’t know other important things, like who’s living in the Harmons’ old house at that point and — something I suspect you too are wondering about, Paul — whether Larry Harvey is still serving time for the death of good ol’ “I’ll Slit Zombie Kate Mara’s Throat When I Have To” Travis.
Paul: I would not be surprised if he got the early release for health reasons he lied about getting at the start of the season. It was also a nice touch for Ben to flinch and make the connection when Tate confessed to setting Constance’s boyfriend on fire. Speaking of which...
7. What did you make of the scene between Tate and Ben?
Jen: Ben’s comments about how psychopaths like Tate are always dishonest was undercut by the fact that Tate owned up to every dastardly thing he had done, including the murders at Westfield High. Is he redeemed now? I certainly feel a measure of empathy for him, and Evan Peters was such an effectively soggy cryer that it’s hard not to find him a sad figure. But I have a feeling that come Season 2, he’ll be up to some weird tricks again if that’s what it takes to get Violet back.
Paul:“Hey, so I raped your wife and led to the death and destruction of your family — but that doesn’t mean we can’t hang out, right?”
I liked the scene with Tate as a reminder to Ben that it’s not going to be an afterlife of nothing but Hallmark moments. And after Ben called Tate out on being a psychopath, I was expecting Tate to go the full Lecter, but it was nicely underplayed instead.
Also, if that is how Ben really feels about therapy, it’s no surprise he was the worst therapist ever. I wonder if that’s how he felt while he was alive and practicing or just a realization he’s come to since he died. Or if he doesn’t believe it and was just saying it to hurt Tate, which seems more likely.
8. Will we ever get to meet Aunt Jo?
Jen: Ah, the much-discussed Aunt Jo of Florida, sister of Vivien and the woman who supposedly came to help Ben with the newborn in the wake of Vivien’s death. We’ve heard a lot about her, but haven’t seen her. Here’s hoping she surfaces in Season 2.
Paul:Aunt Jo is the Vera Peterson of “AHS.”
9. Was this a satisfying finale?
Jen: For me, not entirely. As I have been repeatedly saying, I really thought there was more to Ben’s constant sense of disorientation. I was convinced that we’d realize he had killed Violet or done some other hideous things in the house while suffering from hallucination. He didn’t. And that’s fine. But I craved one more big twist on par with the Violet-is-dead reveal, so that was a let-down. The Ramos stuff also added to the sense that this episode was a bit overstuffed.
I did appreciate that the Harmons actually found peace in the house. That completely contradicts what Vivien told Ben about moving to L.A. to repair the damage in their marriage. “A house isn’t going to fix it,” she said. In a weird way, though, it did. And that’s a nice script-flip on the usual horror movie ending: This time, the best thing for the family was to stay in the house, not get out.
I also liked Moira’s line: “The word ancient will lose all its meaning when your entire existence becomes one long today.” She was referring to their experience as ghosts in the house. But this was also another way of saying that people who focus too much on their present are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. History is just going to repeat itself again and again in this “Horror Story.”
Paul: It was certainly not what I was expecting. I was expecting there to be another twist as well — it was all in Ben’s head! Or Ben dies at the end! Or the surviving twin was actually Ben’s son! Or that both twins lived! Instead, it played against my expectations of a twist, ingrained from so many similar shows over the years, by not delivering one. Which has kind of been “AHS’s” M.O. all season — when it hints at something, it’s not setting the viewer up to go the other way, it actually delivers on the hint instead, which works because we’ve been trained not to believe hints. If that makes sense.
10. Where does the show go from here?
Jen: Some obvious potential conflicts were established, conflicts that will undoubtedly be explored in Season 2. There’s the Tate trying to win back Violet issue; the intra-ghostal rivalry in the house, especially now that the Harmons and Moira are such a united front; and of course, the fact that Constance is raising yet another lunatic.
The question is whether the show will still feel fresh and unexpected if we’re stuck in that house, watching more Ramoses come and go. History may repeat itself on this series. But if the proceedings start to feel redundant, “American Horror Story” will be in trouble.
Paul: Will it be “Beetlejuice?” How badly do I want the Harmons to have to enlist the help of Michael Keaton during sweeps to get some obnoxious Yuppie family out of the house?
Clearly the collaboration of Hayden and Tate, the Kanye and Jay-Z of the netherworld, will not be good news for anybody.
And I can imagine that since he’s the adventurous and murderous sort, we’ll see Little Man Tate exploring the house next door, meeting his extended family, killing more people than cigarettes and car wrecks combined.
What did you think of the finale? Add your comments below.