If you guys haven’t already figured this out, American Horror Story is nearly impossible to judge impassively as both a realistic critic and a hogwild fan. Almost any jubilant compliment I have can easily be followed by “Yeah, but…”
“Violet’s discovery that she’s been dead was pretty badass, because it was visually interesting and the gore was subtle. It also proved previously-stated theories.”
“Yeah, but it means this teenage girl stayed indoors for weeks on end without anyone noticing, and her big epiphany happens the week after an episode she wasn’t even in. And those weren’t your theories to begin with.”
AHS’s formerly encompassing scope is constantly getting more selective. Hayden was ever-present last week, but makes no appearances here. Vivien only shows up so Ben can drop the “twins with different fathers” bomb on her and proclaim his belief in her rape claims, since he found out Luke isn’t the other father. (Because she couldn’t have cheated on Ben with any other security guard, or male, on Earth.) And so we focus on the main three character-driven rivers of plotting.
Two detectives, including Charles “Roc” Dutton, threaten to unravel the web of her past, alerting and questioning her initially about Travis’ murder, then moving on to her “missing” husband, Moira, Tate, and Sloth-in-the-Attic Beauregard. How extremely off-putting that Travis is nicknamed “Boy Dahlia,” as if everyone involved watched last week’s episode and has the Dahlia murder fresh on their minds. She threatens Larry, who can only blame The House. Incidentally, we see all the implications of Constance putting her husband’s body parts through a meat grinder and feeding him to the dogs. Excellence! She is later excused of the charges, bringing us to…
The amusing 1994 flashback opens on a dysfunctional family dinner where we witness Tate’s resentment for Larry, presumably for being a smarmy tool who murdered his brother. For better or worse, it was indeed a coke-addled Tate who, immediately before the school shooting, immolated Larry at his bank job. Later, when Larry plays his “love card” to soften Constance’s accusations, she tells him “I never loved you. I just endured you.” All this jilting and scarring have left Larry quite unstable, and he sees opportunistic revenge in framing Constance. While retrieving the murder weapon in The Basement, he finds Travis having a tea party with his burnt-up ghost-daughters Margaret and Angie. Vengeful ghost-wife Lorraine pops up and says the family is finally visible to him because he’s now ready to atone, but it isn’t Constance she’s interested in seeing punished. Thus, Larry turns himself in as Travis’ murderer, to be sent off to prison in Illinois. Over prison phones, he tries once more to evoke an “I love you” from Constance, who leaves him for what may be the last time. If Larry really is gone, I have to admit I’ve enjoyed his character’s odd arc. If he’s not gone, I’m admitting nothing.
Tate and Violet
Their story, oddly enough, begins with two outsiders. A truancy representative, after diagnosing a fly infestation, tells Ben that Violet has missed, like, a billion days of school. Ben reasons with her, but she won’t go back. For the flies, Ben hires a shyster exterminator who sources the insects to the crawlspace beneath The House. While down there, he sees something shocking just before Tate appears and kills him, calling him a murderer who has to repent for the countless lives he’d stolen. (Is Tate talking about all those heinous bug murders?) Later, Tate overhears Ben getting information about a boarding school for Violet. To temporarily halt this, Rubber Suit Tate attacks a just-showered Ben, and they ensue in an Eastern Promises-lite scuffle around the room ending in a face full of chloroform for Ben. But not before he can pull the mask off, revealing Tate’s face.
Tate offers suicide as Violet’s only escape from all this…boarding school stuff. Just like Romeo and Juliet. Violet agrees, if she can set it up herself. Instead, she runs around The House warning absolutely no one that Tate is trying to kill her. At the front gate, she tries getting the attention of a couple walking their dog, but only the dog looks. She opens the gate and runs out…only to appear right back inside The House. She tries several more times with the same outcome. Mentally defeated, she allows Tate to take her into the crawlspace, where she is shown her fly-ridden corpse. It seems Tate wasn’t able to save her during her previous pill-popping incident. He assumed a similar experience would allow her to accept her ghostly existence. Tate knew he was a ghost all along, and was pretending not to know because it would have sounded crazy before, and he just wants to keep her safe. Or something.
(Cue the audience sign for “Aww!”)
Minus some dialogue, this sequence is AHS soaring above its usual unevenness. It’s dramatic, emotional, captivating, and the direction couldn’t be better. If every episode hit as hard as these few minutes, it would mean we were living in an unfathomable world where ghosts actually do exist. Instead, we still have to put up with Ben, who has no problem with taking an obliviously carefree shower while the exterminator that went into his basement never came back.
At least the questions left from “Smoldering Children” are worth pondering, and aren’t all filed under “WTF,” such as “What the fuck is the Room of Tears?” What will happen when Ben tells Vivien that Tate raped her? I’m assuming he’ll tell her before actually trying to do anything about it, as this show likes to restate things before acting on them. Is Violet going to passively accept her new-found lack of mortality? Is she going to yell, “Booyah!” in Constance’s face before telling her Tate is totally aware he’s dead? Actually, those may be the only questions this episode left me with. I still have about a thousand from the previous nine or so, though, to keep me going. Two episodes left. It’s evil baby time. It’s “nameless humongous twist” time. In a word, it’s time for the violentdeathofBen. See you soon.
From the Basement
“Smoldering Children” is definitely one of my favorite titles of anything, ever.
Why didn’t Vivien ever get the school’s phone calls or letters? Did Tate murder the Postmaster or someone at AT&T?
Is “truant officer” enough of a full-time job to refer to yourself as one?
The guy inspects flies buzzing around a bowl of apples. Who the fuck is buying fresh apples for The House? Is Ben lacking in Vitamin E, as well as brains and personality?
It’s a good thing all that fire set on him didn’t ruin Larry’s puppy dog pouting lip.
Travis asks Larry to get news articles about his death, as he’s thinking about starting up a scrapbook. He probably should have asked Larry to also pick up a scrapbook.
Why did Larry’s family look like their make-up was applied by Lisa Frank, demonic firebug? Parts of Lorraine’s head were legitimately blinging.
Good reveal: Violet is a ghost!
Bad reveal: Constance is still a racist! “Koreans are so suspicious since Hiroshima.”
I never want to piss Constance off. One, because she gives such biting insults as “Even dead, even as a boy, Tate is twice the man you are.” And two, because I’d have to actually be hanging around her.
You gotta love a multi-exited crawlspace that isn’t limited to just space for crawling, and is larger than the house I grew up in.