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Here we are again, inside The House of undetermined origin or lasting value. When American Horror Story reaches episode thirteen, the series will have delved into time-traveling wormholes, secret treasure rooms, a guest appearance from Satan, and the real life death of one of the show's actors on screen. This is the pace Murphy and Co. are establishing, though here, a foot hovered above this episode’s brakes, unlike the pilot. Plus, a story may yet form in the midst of amorphous plot tangents. Regardless, the show will never be everyone's cup of bloody tea, to be bitterly polite.
Open in 1968, another ugly year in The House's history. So many time-specific references occur (Laugh-In), I'm surprised the scene’s brattiest girl didn’t state, “1968 is the year we currently exist in.” Richard Speck is the major non-film influence here. Two unlucky student nurses left in The House one night, in 1968, are tricked into helping a man who feigns an injury. When the main girl (names are insignificant here) realizes he isn’t hurt, the moment works. The trickster quickly gets violent and smashes a bowl into the side of her head. When she comes to, he forces her to strip and change into a nurse uniform, ties her up like a backwards crab, and stabs her in the back several times when you were only halfway expecting it. It didn’t help that Psycho’s piercing strings were the accompaniment. In case you thought AHS was haphazardly pushing all the envelopes, it was in fact the prettier girl who ended up stripping, and not the overweight nurse, who was drowned off-screen. Imagine.
Lots of detail up there because I thought the scene out of context was as impressive as lowered expectations will accept. I wish the stabbing referenced Zodiac, which seemed subtler, if it even had to fist another one in.
Anyway, we inevitably have to get back to the Harmons. Ben sobs again. Drinking game, anyone? Now it’s because his ding-a-fling from the East Coast called with admittedly startling news of her pregnancy. Is it a coincidence that Burned Larry shows up after Ben cries? A further sign of The House’s command over how men try to control anything feminine? Wait, this show doesn’t do themes. But it clearly has a problem with writing for women. Ben eventually gives false motives to Vivien about why he’s flying back, and spends the rest of the episode with Hayden, the dumbest character yet. She goes ballistic anytime Vivien calls Ben, an idea delivered terribly, but nonetheless a minor plot detail that I would have expected the writers to ignore.
Prior to all that, Tate confesses to Ben his explicit masturbatory thoughts about daughter Violet, causing Ben to attempt ending their sessions. Incidentally, Violet is now friends with the bully from last week, bonded by the basement experience, which they speak of like contemplative fourth graders. “Was it real? It wasn’t real! It was real! What is real?” Enter Ben’s second patient, a psychotic girl with a recurring dream of getting chopped in half. The girl is really only there to case The House’s interiors; she’s part of a cult-trio determined to re-enact the 1968 murders. The episode is called “Home Invasion,” after all.
The strangest plot device involves Constance baking a pair of cupcakes, specifically for Violet, using Ipecac instead of love. Violet ignores the dessert, which later inexplicably gets eaten by the cult patient. The cult mimics the opening’s fake injury tactics, but one of them is already in the house, so I don’t even get why they did that. Vivian and Violet are tied up, and eventually set-up for the murders. After the random cupcake eating cultist gets her stomachache on, Violet uses historical accuracy to her advantage, telling the other cultist that the bathtub the nurse died in. Tate manifests himself, first unironically using an axe to chop the one girl “almost in half,” then scaring the shit out of the others and then some in another basement-driven frightmare. Each of these sequences, when dialogue was sparse, were genuinely engaging. Vivien’s escape was convenient and boring, but it served to get everyone downstairs. That the episode was even this centralized was an improvement, though character depth is still shallower than the tub Violet stood in.
The only character who gets off-story scenes is Constance. In a negatively uncomfortable moment, she locks Addy in a mirrored room after Addy catches Constance making out with a younger man, all while ignoring the ruckus next door. Addy’s screams were all too realistic and got old quick. Constance shares a story about her deceased child, a son who impressed her more in terms of being non-handicapped. It’s obvious she takes it out on Addy, and I guess it’s worth wondering why. They’ll tell us anyway. Maybe this means housekeeper Moira will soon warrant some focus, so that Frances Conroy won’t be criminally underused. The shot of Constance, Moira, and Tate lamenting on the night’s events hinted at the connectivity of everything. The portrayal of Tate is one of my least favorite parts of the show, though the character seems to be heavily involved in the backstory. Oh well.
The episode ends with Vivien claiming that they’re moving out of the house, by far the smartest thing anyone has uttered on the show. It’s not necessarily smart that her character is saying this after two episodes, but it isn’t altogether surprising. If only the Harmons were developed enough so their survival isn’t on the bottom of my list of reasons to stay interested. They hardly seem like the most capable people that could have ever lived there.
Though the subject matter is the junk food I know I shouldn’t indulge in, there are limits to what I can critically enjoy. The highs and lows know no middle ground. If the dialogue contained subtext or even a shade of the oddball whimsy some sequences contain, it would transcend the Curious Eye Candy and become something worth petitioning for online whenever it gets canned after episode seven, which will no doubt incorporate sock puppets and dinosaurs into the mix. Thanks for reading. Take “scare.” (Listens for uproarious laughter.)