The thing I’ve realized from watching American Horror Story with my wife these past two weeks is that there’s an underlying… I wouldn’t call it “logic,” per se, but there’s an underlying something to the show, but if you start to try to explain it, you sound like a crazy person. Tonight, my wife asked me, quite sensibly, why Moira could leave the house when the other ghosts couldn’t. “Well, she only left the house on Halloween,” I said. After a long pause of her staring at me, I followed with, “You know. When the dead can walk the Earth.” Then she asked why Moira arrived in the pilot (which she saw and was enough to make her think the series wasn’t for her), and I pointed out that we didn’t see where she’d come from. For all we know, after she’s done cleaning up, she sinks back into the walls, like a bad fungus.
Or take all of the ghosts, since the house now has so many of them that there could very easily be a whole other show about what the ghosts do with their time when they’re not knocking books off of shelves, and that’s a show I’d probably rather watch. As it turns out, they kind of sort of have a plan, or some of them do. Nora wants a baby because she’s stuck at the moment when her first baby was taken from her and when she let her second baby chew off her boob. Tate’s willing to give it to her by donning his rubber man getup. Hayden wants to take the baby from Vivien and raise it as her own, but so does Constance, who learns from Medium Sarah Paulson that there’s a secret card the pope has that announces that the antichrist will be the product of a spirit copulating with a human. (Seriously, this episode has the pope in it, and it looks like it’s the Pope of the Worthington, Minnesota, Dinner Theatre.)
It was only while trying to fill in all of these dots for my wife that I realized how idiotic this sounded. Also, while reading some other recaps of the show on other sites, which contained such breathless rhetoric as, “Ben saw Moira as an old woman for the first time after realizing his wife had been raped by the Rubber Man! ‘You’re starting to see things as they really are,’ she said!” (I can’t possibly write this as excitable as the other sites make it sound. They have the breathless tone of a reporter trying to describe V-J Day celebrations.) Nobody really stops to question why any of this happens. Mostly, it happens because Ben Harmon’s a big, dumb idiot. Partially, it happens because the plot requires him to get a clue. Also, it happens—just a little bit—because the show is almost certainly circling back around to having Ben and Vivien end up on the same side and need to escape the house together, even as she’s about to give birth, etc., etc., etc. Ben had to be a lummox for a while, until he wasn’t anymore. There’s not really a character arc here so much as an actor just hitting a series of marks laid out with masking tape.
Oh, sure, you can make the argument that this whole episode is about Ben really proving how much he’s committed to his wife (after he put her in a mental hospital). He rejects the advances of Hayden, young Moira, and the Black Dahlia—trust me, it’ll sound stupid when I explain it, but we’ll get there—and he eventually works his way through to the truth about his wife being raped by a ghost in a rubber suit, allowing him to accept that her twins have two different fathers or something. In the process of this, Dylan McDermott gets to snarl hilariously at the camera and say, “All it takes is one good swimmer!” and he also gets to make out with lots of hot women (only in hallucinations or brief temptations, though), before rallying to the side of the woman he stuck in a mental hospital, even though he doesn’t seem to recognize that a woman his burn-faced best pal brained with a shovel—a woman whose death he commemorated with the “make your own gazebo” kit from Michael’s—isn’t just some confused young kid.
Even if you accept that Ben’s unlikely to conclude that Hayden’s a ghost out of nowhere, doesn’t it seem odd that he seems weirdly okay with her just showing up in his house out of nowhere? The show seems to view “therapists” as people who are okay with pretty much anything, so long as they can explain what underlying psychological issues are driving this, which leads me to believe that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s therapists are constantly having to shuffle sleepily down to the kitchen at 4 a.m. every Thursday and wrest the half-eaten jars of Skippy peanut butter out of their highly paid TV writer clients’ hands. “Go home, please,” say the therapists, “unless you want to talk about your mothers.”
Also, I don’t know, it turns out the House is also responsible for the death of the Black Dahlia and also, possibly, Brian de Palma’s Black Dahlia, which is just really too bad. Turns out that Jeremy from Sports Night, DDS, used to live in the house, and he used to let women pay him via letting him knock them out and then have sex with them. One of these women was Elizabeth Short, and after he realized he’d accidentally killed her in the throes of passion, he was approached by Charles, who offered, helpfully, to vivisect her, perhaps because Charles is driven by wanting more press. Anyway, good ol’ Beth wanted to be famous, but is heartened to find—thanks to Hayden—that she really is famous, just as a murder victim. The Dahlia adds nothing to the episode, other than allowing writer Jennifer Salt to work in another “true crime” story (like she did with Sal Mineo way back in episode three) for shits and giggles. I half expect the next Salt script to open with the Dahlia tossing a cheerful, “Mornin’, Sam!” to Lizzie Borden’s “Mornin’, Ralph!” as the two pass each other through a wall.
Meanwhile, Constance’s boyfriend, Hunk Guy, is accused of being in love with Addie, and he ends up hooking up with Hayden, who’s really approaching this “being dead” thing with relish, like some people get really excited about scrapbooking. Does this end up with him being dead? Of course it does, and I must admit I enjoyed the moment where he stood over his corpse and expressed sorrow that he wouldn’t be famous, only to be told by the Dahlia that, hey, this could all work out for him in the end. Hayden calls in a favor, and his bisected body is dumped near a basketball court, and I’m left wishing that the ghosts really could leave the house, and we could get an episode where the four of them were driving a conversion van down to the basketball court, as onlookers and passers-by stared agog at the car that was driving itself and maybe an old man who was napping could sit up and rub his eyes and then rub his eyes again when he noticed this phenomenon and all along the van would leave a trail of blood. It could be sort of a ghoulish cross between The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, Herbie Goes Bananas, and Gus, because every show could use a field-goal-kicking mule.
Where was I?
Right. So this episode was a pivotal one in the show’s mythology, all things considered, and we learned a bunch of things that will likely be important going forward, but they were also things that didn’t really matter. The reason we learned them was because it was episode nine, and it was time for us to learn them, not because they came up organically within the story. And that’s to say nothing of how much of this was easy to guess/blatantly obvious from the first. There were some fun moments, as always, and I always enjoy Dylan McDermott’s mighty “ACTING!!!” face, but I’m just starting to feel a little weary by how hard this show wants to shock me, as if it…
Now wait a minute, just wait a minute. Hold the fucking phone. Because I agreed to do this episode on my day off because it featured the pope. The motherfucking pope. And he turned up in exactly one scene, where he didn’t have any dialogue and just opened a box and looked at a card. But all the same, this one scene revived my ardor for this stupid, stupid television show, because it indicated that the show’s going to do a full tilt into absolutely bugnuts, mostly misunderstood Catholicism for the final stretch of episodes, and I am completely fine with that. Bring on the devil babies and the ghost nuns and the mad monks with pruning shears, show. I’m ready for us to Catholic this shit up, and I want more popes. I want all of the popes, and I want them running around Murder House, and I want them stabbing at Vivien’s womb with crucifixes, as she says, “Do you think I should move out? All these ghost popes keep trying to kill my demon baby!” C’mon, Murphy. C’mon, Falchuk. It’s been a bit of a step down since that brain-eating episode. But I know you have this in you. This episode was a step in the crazy direction, and let’s follow it to its logical end.
Unless you utterly forget any of this next week, which is entirely possible.
Grade as an actual piece of television: D
Grade as an entertaining piece of claptrap: B
Official grade: C for Catholics ahoy!
- Mena Suvari turned up as the Dahlia, thus answering the question, “Whatever happened to Mena Suvari?” in the most depressing way possible, particularly when you also consider that whole American Reunion trailer thing. Still, when she started to remove her coat in Ben’s office, I totally expected rose petals, so she’s still got it.
- Every so often, we’d cut to Vivien in the mental hospital, and you could be forgiven if you thought Connie Britton’s eyes were reading, “Gosh, I wish a giant, mute Native American would come in here, throw a water fountain through the wall, and let me lope to freedom.” Instead, she got to share a scene with Jessica Lange, which is always kind of fun to see, then listen as Ben berated her for a while when she couldn’t talk for some vaguely medical reason. (I always expect the explanations for these sorts of things to involve McDermott waving his hands around and saying, “Magic pills!”)
- Since Violet sat this one out, it looks like, weirdly, the only three actors to be in every episode will be Britton, McDermott, and Evan Peters as Tate. What an odd trio. (Though Tate may have sat an early episode out, come to think of it.)
- I’d actually really like if Vivien entered into an unconventional marriage with Ben and Tate, then the three sent out Christmas cards of the three of them and Violet and the two little hellspawn.
- You remember that graphic from right around the last episode of Lost, where you could play with all of the buttons and show how the show’s cast of important characters had grown exponentially with each season? Doesn’t it sort of seem like this show, which started with something like six important characters, now has seven or eight dozen, and it adds at least 15 more with every new episode?