American Horror Story keeps reinventing my “bad television” expectations, while never turning them on their heads, which is as victorious a statement as I can make after only three episodes. This week, gimmicks are relatively infrequent, flashbacks are relevant, and correlations form everywhere. Unironic haters, your welcome is evaporating.
The two biggest themes in and around "The Murder House," this episode’s oh-so- eloquent title, are infidelity and harm to children. Viewers take two trips into the past, and both offer vital history, rather than incidental murders as we've seen in past weeks. In 1983, Constance (in real-time?) catches her rapey husband getting rapey with young, ravishing Moira, though Moira herself instigated an earlier tryst. Constance, who presumably attracts only philandering men, brandishes a gun and ends the affair with a couple of bullets. Points scored if you thought this was how older, unravishing Moira received her glassy white eye. I'm guessing being murdered this way gives Moira her ghostly specifics: sexy temptress to the men, and stressed old bitty to the women. Still not sure why Constance is agelessness is one of her "constants." Pun quota: fulfilled.
The second flashback revisits The House's origins with an unhappily married doctor and wife, along with their young daughter. Dr. Charles is a gas-huffer who enjoys stitching animals together, which isn't a hobby Noreen finds glorifying. Money problems weigh them down, so the wife plays entrepreneur and turns her husband into a backdoor abortionist, "helping" at least two dozen girls in four years. Later, a ghostly modernization of Noreen pays Vivian a visit, marveling in glee and horror at The Houses refurbishings before vanishing. I always enjoy hearing someone say "wainscoting.” She returns in the final scene, sitting next to Vivian sleeping in bed. The huge wound on the back of her head is shown again. I can't wait to see where this came from.
Her death is most assuredly what started the "Murder House" notoriety, which is worth a stop on the Eternal Darkness Tour of area haunted locations. First bothered, Vivian soon disguises herself behind sunglasses and takes the tour. When the bus reaches The House, and the flashback finishes, she finds her nether regions are bleeding through her pants. Her doctor soon explains it away as over-stressing, using the phrase "Spontaneous Abortion," which pulls up no heavy metal band references on Google.
Vivian's stress, beyond last week’s attack, is due to Ben's bad investments leaving them virtually broke, and thus stuck inside The House for ten more episodes. She’s also unimpressed by her realtor's lack of enthusiasm for wanting to re-sell. I'm no Nostradamus, so I won't use a quatrain to predict that Vivian will find a way to use The House's history to make a quick buck.
If we're talking real stress, Ben takes the lion's share. New temporary patient Sally, played with robotic precision by True Blood's Adina Porter, is getting divorced after 23 years, despite any efforts she makes to please her husband. She’s that boring, seriously. Ben suddenly spazzes out and wakes up outside with blood all over his arms. Inside, he finds Moira on her hands and knees, cleaning a bloody mess off the floor. (Men's DVRs everywhere will have paused for this view into Alex Breckenridge's inner self.) She insinuates that Ben is to blame, and when he can't find the recorder he uses for his sessions, he blows up. Vivian walks in on him shaking Moira by the arms, threatening to fire her. Finally, it’s THAT MOMENT where Ben chastises Moira for constantly being a slutty flirt, and Vivian, only seeing Frances Conroy's sad sack of a face, tells Ben his Boston fling is screwing him up. I wish this show did "Talking Head" moments, so Vivian could openly wonder what the fuck that was all about.
A detective looking for Sally adds light tension, but Ben’s tape recorder eventually shows up with Sally inside the hospital. Turns out Ben fazing out in front of her was the last straw, and she slit her wrists in front of him, looking for any kind of reaction. Detective of Ben’s involvement: “It’s not a crime to be an asshole.” Sally had more subtext than most others present, and understated things. Let us salute Sally Freeman.
Why does Ben faze out? Laudanum, duh! He’s being poisoned. Does The House have a billiard room? I assume someone will be killed with a candlestick there in the coming weeks. Not Pregnant Hayden From Boston though. She shows up in L.A., adding more than just desserts to Ben’s surprisingly unsobbing plate. Like Glenn Close before acting classes, Hayden overreacts to Ben’s inattentiveness, threatening his marriage. In my favorite bit, she steps outside, right into a shovel swung by Larry the Burn Victim, who needs to borrow $1000 from Ben. After burning his own family to death, Larry doesn’t seem to give a shit about who he murders. That his reason for needing money is left to ponder is so stupid that it’s essential to why I enjoy watching the show.
The hole that Ben mysteriously started digging earlier in the episode is where Larry continues, finding Moira’s skeleton in the grave she now shares with Hayden. Ben then showcases his previously unmentioned Degree in Super-Carpentry and builds a gazebo over the grave, diminishing its chances of being found, much to Moira’s disgust. This is apparently what tethers her to The House, and now she’s stuck like Chuck. If it wasn’t her poisoning Ben, I have no idea who it was.
Violet is only around to not get yelled at by Ben for smoking, and to be yet another person who tells Vivian that moving is a bad idea. Tate is here to hide from Ben and to ignore waving at Constance through a window. Maybe their absence is my favorite part of the episode.
Yeah, this series has problems it can’t seem to shake, such as tone stability, and the writing gets extremely convenient at times. But as the relentless insanity continues, I think I’ll genuinely enjoy episodes more and more. I like anything that causes a self-debate over its legitimate value, especially within the value-challenged genre of horror. I feel the need to mention all of the moments that excite me, rather than glossing over them with generalization. I want this show to matter, so that when it does, I can feel justified. I’m not holding my breath though. Just the laudanum.