Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Murder House" Makes 'American Horror Story' Worth A Second Look...

I can admit it when I'm wrong. And I can admit it when I'm about to say something I never expected to say. This is one of those latter times: American Horror Story is about to get good, y’all!

After ripping apart the American Horror Story pilot, many of you probably assumed I never tuned in again. But that's not true. Because I know pilots can be particularly complicated animals for writers, directors, and actors, and I'll always give the show at least two more episodes to find their footing (even when it physically hurts me to sit through). And when the subsequent episodes prove worthy of an upgraded review, I can swallow our pride and admit that. I wanted to like American Horror Story from the get-go because of its high-concept and unique idea-- not to mention its cast! And it took until the third episode, but American Horror Story finally delivered on all of its complex promises. Maybe "Murder House" was the pilot they should have aired.

I also hated the male gaze in the pilot. You can read about that here.

“Murder House,” the third episode of the first season of American Horror Story, was intricately written by Jennifer Salt, and did what seemed impossible after watching the first two episodes of the series: it wove together complex family drama with the Harmons with creepy, and at times overtly violent, scare tactics from the house. For the first time in the series I wasn’t just being led down a rabbit hole; I was allowed to stop and drink in little gulps of each character.

First there is Vivien herself who declared that her family had to move after the home invasion in episode two. When she is hit with yet another harsh reality from her husband Ben (Dylan McDermott)-- not only did he cheat on her, but now it appears he has tied up all of their money in this house, trapping them here-- she takes matters into her own hands and decides to learn all she can about the place she currently inhabits. This serves as the most fluid device possible to allow for flashbacks to the house in its younger years-- and to seamlessly explain where the newest spirit (guest star Lily Rabe) comes from.

As Vivien is on her “murder tour” of Los Angeles, seeing the alley where Sal Mineo got stabbed and making the final stop at her own doorstep, Ben is still seeing patients and dealing with the mistress who landed on his doorstep. Plagued by fatigue, memory loss, and flat-out fainting spells, it appears Moira (Alexandra Breckenridge) is getting to him in more ways than one. Though I can’t help but wonder what happened to his obsessions with fire from the pilot, I have to admit this new drug-induced state is a much better parallel to the history of the house than anything I have seen thus far.

It turns out the man who built the house was the first to “go mad”-- though, like the Harmons today, his worries were primarily financial. A prominent surgeon, he was up to his ears in bill collectors and had a diva-like wife and new baby boy to feed. He got hooked on his own anesthetics, started making weird Dr. Frankenstein type creatures in the basement, and ultimately made his money by performing (and botching) a number of hush-hush abortions. His wife masterminded many of them, a somewhat desperate twinkle in her eye. When she shows up on the Harmons’ doorstep today, that desperation is oozing out in her voice, almost panicked by some of the modern changes made to “her” house and concocting plans for the unborn baby in Vivien’s belly.

This woman may be a fairly new complication for the Harmon family, so we are just scratching the surface with her. But if Salt is penning future episodes, I trust we will get to the bottom of things-- albeit slowly and suspensefully. As it is, she made great strides on our favorite mystery from the get-go: Jessica Lange’s Constance.

Sidenote: I don’t think her name is a coincidence, as she is the one constant all of these various homeowners through the ages have to tie them all together. And to the house.

At the end of the second episode, we learned that Constance seemed to control Tate (Evan Peters), and though we have yet to learn exactly how or why (though our current theory is that he is her “perfect boy” of a son, and she’s just reluctant to let him go), we do get insight into the dark dealings she has had with Moira (Frances Conroy) through the years here in episode three. I won’t say about their history but let’s just say Constance is responsible for Moira’s murky eye! Jessica Lange has been a stand-out ever since her introduction in American Horror Story, but “Murder House” really allows her to show off multiple facets to the character. She’s no longer just an eccentric, slightly un-P.C. woman “in the know.” In truth there is a deep sadness to her, implying that she may regret the actions performed out of anger that have affected so many of the house’s inhabitants. Though she may have once thought she could control the way the house bound certain individuals, she may actually be the most trapped of them all.

I honestly can’t wait to see where the show goes next!

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