“Now what am I gonna do with you?” Constance’s episode-ending question to three-year-old heathen Michael the Bad Twin echoes my sentiments for American Horror Story itself. What do I do with myself, even? The season is over, though not tightly wrapped up with a bow. No, that describes the presents beneath the Harmon family’s Christmas tree. As a metaphor for families sticking together through the worst crises, was a Christmas tree really the right choice? It’s obvious why ghosts celebrate Halloween, but this? I can think of nothing dumber than Hayden and Tate squabbling while scornfully watching the completely deceased Harmons handling decorations with Surrogate Harmon Moira. Sure, I can think of AHSmoments equaling this stupidity, but none that top it. (Chants of “raw brain” echo around me.) That I’ve spent the opening paragraph talking about it is telling of the lack of heart-punching oomph in “Afterbirth.” Maybe my expectations were set too high, as they often are after a series mentions The Ultimate Secret in any of its episodes.
That said, I got what I’ve waited for since the pilot’s first post-credits scene: The Death of Ben Harmon. Unfortunately, it is devoid of blood and carnage, but at least the world got to see Dylan McDermott’s acting chops while hanging by a noose. Judgment: Not so choppy.
Before this, though, a depressed Ben wanders the halls, calling out for Vivian or Violet to appear to him, conjuring up my fictional sympathy. But then he selfishly takes his newborn away from babysitting Constance, who re-warns of The House’s evil ways, only to stick the kid in a crib while attempting to shoot himself in the face. (Sadly, he does not shoot himself in the face, but he sure knows how to neatly empty a wallet.) Vivian appears, convincing him to do the greater good by raising their son to be the non-Evil Twin they possibly assume he is, regardless of whose sperm created him. End the tragedies, Ben! And just as I stopped questioning why he brought the kid back into The House in the first place, and thought he might actually leave, Hayden and Co. pop in. They string him up and hang him from the chandelier, as if he’s committed suicide. For vengeance’s sake, this is a poor play from Hayden. Later, Constance takes the baby back from Hayden, using Travis as a throat-slitting distraction. She shares none of this with returning detective Charles Dutton whose appearance is worth only this one mention.
And so the Harmons are together again, much stronger in death than in life, because Vivian doesn’t give a shit anymore, and Violet isn’t worrying about the gloom and doom of teenage life. After all, she saved Ben a shitload of money by not going to college, and it’s not like she was getting into Harvard anyway, right? (These are direct quotes, people, from a ghost daughter to her ghost father, as a way of forgiving him his mortal failings.) While it’s nice that Vivian finally has stress-free peace of mind, each scene she appears in is remarkably soap opera-ish, particularly when she and Moira discuss her spiritual transition over coffee.
The episode’s fun, but not necessarily great, moments involve Miguel, Stacy, and Gabe Ramone, a family convinced to buy the price-reduced House by a relieved Marcy the realtor. Soon after stepping inside, teenage Gabe is accosted by the Redhead Twins. For the briefest amount of time that the show allowed, I honestly thought this family may carry through to the second season, thus giving television its first Hispanic-led horror drama. But when Ben and Vivian, uncomfortably watch Miguel and Stacy’s heavy petting, and hear them talk about having another child, they decide the family has to be driven away by any means necessary, which means a frenzied Who’s Who of The House’s ghouls, one of the show’s silliest sequences.
First, Violet appears, flirting with a much too calm Gabe, making Tate jealous in the process. That night, Tate threatens to kill Gabe for gaining Violet’s attention. Gabe, whose life is on the line, does not cry as much as Tate, who is a ghost in love with another ghost. Those Spanish are some tough folks. Meanwhile, Ben has dressed up as the Rubber Man in order to scare a sleeping Stacy with some slight rapeyness, all while Miguel is in a fugue state, holding his hands above the stove’s open flames. (A well-played callback to the pilot.) He is pulled out of the trance by Vivian and Larry’s burned wife, hearing Stacy’s terrified cries, caused by all those ghosts. When the couple is lured to the basement, Vivian frightens them further by stabbing Ben until his entrails leak out of his rubber-covered body, which he combats by shooting her square in the forehead. This surreal moment, where both admit they’ve waited a long time to perform these acts, is a Ben and Vivian scene where their behavior is completely realistic. And so after Tate’s teary-eyed jealousy-fueled attempted murder of Gabe is thwarted by Violet, the Ramone family gets in the car and hauls some Hispanic ass. And The House gets even cheaper! (cue dramatic music)
The show hits the brakes again, in order for Tate to confess to Ben he’s a husband-burning, schoolmate-shooting, homosexual murdering bad apple. Ben tells him therapy doesn’t work, and that he can’t absolve Tate’s sins. Turns out, Tate just wants to hang out every once in a while. (Like, say, on a high-concept dramedy on USA or Syfy.) Meanwhile, Vivian finds Nora watching over the screaming Other Twin, who apparently cried once before dying, thus removing that nagging “stillborn” label. Nora is dissatisfied with the child for being weak and constantly crying. Just two seconds of Vivian’s singing voice, though, and the child is content. In case you weren’t paying attention, this makes the Harmon family complete, and the frog turns into a prince, the dish ran away with the spoon, and everyone lived (pun!) happily ever after. Except Flora, the maid.
Because of course, there’s a cliffhanging capper. Three years later, Constance walks into a hair salon, anxious to look more like a mother than a grandmother. She delivers a wonderfully overdone monologue, redeeming her youthful misguided delusions of grandeur with her role as the mother of someone for whom great things will certainly come. Anti-Christs, after all, were never known to be slackers. She arrives home, calling out for Flora, finding only a blood trail leading to Michael’s bedroom, where she finds Flora lying on the floor, her throat slit. I’m not sure why, but I absolutely expected someone to have kidnapped Michael, killing Flora in the process. I’m so naïve. Because there Michael sits on his little rocking chair, blood smattered across his smiling face and hands, a bloody knife on the floor nearby. And Constance delivers the recap-opening line, and we’re left to wonder how closely the second season is going to follow this storyline. I have to admit, it makes for some unexciting wondering.
So I wasn’t particularly pleased with this finale, despite the satisfactory bookends set around the Harmons’ story. But I’m done with complaints. Now that this three-month long venture has come to a close, I can consider the season as a whole. Tonight’s opening flashback then becomes extremely melancholy, as it depicts Ben’s first mentioning The House to Vivian, who has convinced herself to leave him and move with her sister in Florida. Ben envisions the future they would have, describing warm family moments over quick shots of their actual horrific experiences, and Vivian is convinced. He says it was like a movie in his mind. (A movie that was a homage to something else, no doubt.) It explicitly allows viewers to blame Ben for all the tragedy he set in motion. But I honestly don’t feel any better for it. It just makes me sad in an emotional way, because I think I just might miss the Harmons. And that makes me sad in a pathetic way.
From The Basement
An FX Special Event, indeed.
That fucking dog was still alive all this time.
Since it isn’t technically cheating anymore, I foresee Vivian totally banging the security guard now. And don’t get me started on Ben with Hayden. Or Ben with Larry’s wife. Or Ben with one of those nurses. Or Ben with Dahlia.
I liked the bit where they go back to Ben trying to cancel his sessions with Tate, and Constance uses a dishtowel to disguise her voice. This bitch just bleeds old school.
I could have watched Constance calling Ben’s dangling corpse a “stupid son of a bitch” for an entire episode.
Moira doesn’t take orders from ghosts. And she might have been a good mother if she wasn’t such a tramp when she was alive. Still doesn’t tell us why she’s aging when no other ghosts do.
Violet berates Gabe for liking the Butthole Surfers. And to this, Gabe does not scream, “What the fuck are you doing in my house, and how did you get in this second story room without anyone noticing?”
Marcy, after finding out the Ramones are Spanish and not Mexican: “I find European Hispanics vastly superior.”
I need to go on a Murder House tour.
Ben, in reference to the Christmas tree: “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” Uh, how about your wife, Connie Britton, you fucking prick.
Could we have seen more cello playing in earlier episodes, rather than, say, CROATOAN!
Is there significance behind Tate not being able to kill Gabe without having him “maybe not look at” him? Were his threats ever legit? If there were a Sob-off between Tate and Ben, who would win?
“You can only forgive someone for what they’ve done to you directly,” is probably Ben’s best line. And incidentally, Ben saying that therapy doesn’t work is like me saying astrophysics doesn’t work. Just because I’m not good at it doesn’t make it unreal.
Vivian, referring to non-stillborn child: “What do you call him?”
Nora: “Noisy little monster.”
That’s a wrap, people. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thanks for sticking around.