FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 3: “Murder House”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (Nip/Tuck, The New Normal)
Written by Jennifer Salt (Nip/Tuck, Eat Pray Love)
* For a review of the previous episode, “Home Invasion” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Halloween: Part I” – click here
The first scene we’re treated to is an explanation of how Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) and Moira O’Hara (her younger incarnation Alexandra Breckenridge) came to hate one another – and an explanation for Constance’s quip in the previous episode.
Turns out that Constance caught her naughty husband Hugo (Eric Close) forcing himself on an unwilling Moira. They’d had a previous, willing engagement before, but this time Moira is apprehensive because she needs her job and won’t jeopardize it. However, Constance has other plans – she puts a bullet through Moira’s eye (explaining the older incarnation’s faded eye), then shoots her unfaithful husband.
Things are getting worse and worse in the Harmon house, as Vivien (Connie Britton) is only finding her faith in husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) constantly slipping. Even more, Vivien really wants to get herself out of the house. She’s pregnant, vulnerable, and after the attack wants to distance herself from their new place. This makes things extremely stressful, as Ben isn’t particularly excited; no doubt moving in there took a bunch of money and to turn around and try to sell it, along with its history, will only take more. This ratchets up the tension in the Harmon marriage – as if it weren’t already tight enough.
Meanwhile, ole Ben can’t seem to take his eyes of the young Moira. I feel so bad for him because she isn’t really the young woman whom he sees, but at the same time regardless of how she looks Ben shouldn’t be looking, gawking, wanting. He’s a married man. Moreover, he’s a married man who already cheated once. I don’t think there’s any need on his part to make thins worse, yet it continues to happen. The house is slowly sucking him in and it shows no sign of loosening its grip.
The scenes between Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy are excellent. Two incredible actors doing their business. The history between their characters is excellent, only helps that their performances match such good writing.
Ben starts getting himself in even more trouble. Possibly worse than anything going on in his family. During a session with Sally Freeman (Adina Porter), a patient of his, Ben blacks out. Then all of a sudden he’s in the backyard, blood on his hands. Inside, a sexualized Moira – in young form – is bent over, panties and inner thighs showing, and soaking up blood on the floor. What’s happened? Who knows for sure.
Then Moira rubs up on Ben, causing a big scene as Vivien walks in and he’s shaking her, telling her to stop. This is where we truly see the difference between her older/younger self coming into play with Ben and Vivien. It’s starting to cause big problems between the husband and wife, turning up the heat more on the already rocked family dynamic happening.
Poor Vivien discovers that their new home is unofficially dubbed MURDER HOUSE, and of course as is Los Angeles there’s a little tour dropping by, narrated by a gentleman over speaker. While Vivien trims the flowers in her frontyard, hovering over the bushes, up it pulls and music blasts out of the speakers, frightening her. It’s not so much a fright in the sense of being scared, mostly it’s the fact she is horrified to learn the house has so much unwanted, infamous attention thrust upon it, and in turn upon them. She even goes on the tour to learn more about what happened in the house, as she’s never ever told the true history by anyone else.
Part of what I love about “Murder House” is that we start getting lots of history about the house itself. Introduced here, we see Charles and Nora Montgomery (played respectively by the equally awesome/creepy pairing of Matt Ross & Lily Rabe). Turns out, Charles was a surgeon. Of sorts, anyways. He did things not especially unanimously approved by doctors. We see flashbacks to 1922 – Montgomery performed abortions, aided in part by his wife. This begins to setup a long line of macabre events in house’s history.
Montgomery doesn’t only perform abortions, he seems to like Frankenstein-ing creatures together – pigs with two heads, a wing. Not only that, it’s clear Charles has a problem with drugs, huffing up inhalants into his lungs before supper, as well as drinking on top of that.
Now we also see during one scene – Moira appears young only to men. A detective looking into the disappearance of Ben’s patient Sally Freeman seems to see exactly what Ben does when looking at Moira. This is tricky, tricky stuff and I like that it’s not only Ben drawn in. Moira, essentially, works on the weakness of men.
There’s a scene where we also see the supposed tale of Sal Mineo’s death at the hands of a man he’d tried to cruise, looking for gay sex. I thought it was interesting Ryan Murphy would let this urban legend surrounding Mineo into the episode. Though this one is written by Jennifer Salt, I’d have anticipated Murphy maybe not thinking it was a good idea to perpetuate a supposedly untrue rumour about Mineo and his “homosexuality.” I don’t know, I thought this was a bit of a cheap thing to thrown in here. Maybe it was to make the Murder House tour look sleazy, as so many of those little exploitative businesses are, making bits of cash off the pain and suffering of murder victims. I don’t know. I just thought that, as a gay man, Murphy wouldn’t allow the perpetuation of unfounded rumours. Unless there’s definitive resources saying otherwise, I don’t think Mineo was killed because of propositioning a man for sex; he also wasn’t stabbed near as much as the scene makes out, but whatever – it’s horror!
There’s a very quick moment between Constance (Jessica Lange) and Tate (Evan Peters). We’re sensing more and more about their relationship, though, it’s not actually clear to what extent that relationship goes. She waves to Tate, who stands in the window of the Murder House, but he only backs away into the darkness. We only get that little puzzle piece, yet it speaks volumes. Watch it and you’ll understand, absolutely.
Spooky scene as the past and present merge. I find that it sort of stands as a metaphor for the entire season, which is shaped by all the past events of the house bearing down on the people inside its walls during the present.
Connie, reluctantly, opens her door to a woman. Except it is who we know to be Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe) who comments about the house, how it has changed, modernized, and she has an eerily intense conversation with Vivien. Even scarier, we pan behind her head as she talks to Vivien, revealing Nora has a hole in the back of her skull; a nice big bloody one. Then, she disappears and Vivien is left in terror, alone.
Everything is coming to bear for Ben Harmon. While blacking out during Sally Freeman’s session, she flips out on him for not listening and then opens her wrists up right in front of him. It’s all on tape, Ben did nothing technically illegal, and as the detective tells him: “It’s not a crime to be an asshole”
However, this disturbance is not the only nastiness Ben will face during “Murder House”. Apparently Ben has laudanum in his system; believing it to be Moira’s doing, he is angry naturally. If we’ll harken back a little, though, remember: Charles Montgomery had quite the addiction in 1922, no doubt to a bit of that soothing laudanum. Hmmmm, intriguing, no?
But the drugs in his blood stream aren’t what Ben needs to worry about most. As Hayden (Kate Mara) comes to hassle Ben at his home, the unexpected happens. Walking outside together, Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) smashes Hayden in the head with a shovel, believing himself to be helping Ben with all his latest troubles – infidelity, a pregnant mistress. Hayden dies from the blow. We see a piece of the episode earlier come into play now – after Ben woke up from one of his blackouts, he was digging in the backyard. Turns out, his halfway dug hole is perfect for Hayden’s grave, as well. Not only that, Larry helps to dig it and comes to find some bones and a skull already down in the dirt, obviously of great connection to him and the house.
Ben puts up a gazebo, a concrete pad over the hole. This is a visual metaphor for all the secrets Ben hides. It’s like the storehouse of secrets beneath the gazebo. He just covers things up, never faces the responsibility of his actions, paves it over and moves on with life. This horrible act will most definitely come into play, as the police already have wind of Ben after his patient Sally Freeman went awry.
Not only this, but now Moira – whose bones were in the hole – can never leave the property. She is concrete covered and stuck now. A very emotional scene watching the older Moira weep over her newfound destiny.
The next episode is titled “Halloween: Part 1” and is directed by David Semel – his work includes the excellent episode “Takiawase” from the second season of NBC’s Hannibal, the following episode of this two-parter “Halloween: Part 2”, episodes of Legends, The Strain, Homeland, and more. Excited to review the both of these upcoming episodes, as they’re not only excellent but we see the first American Horror Story appearance of enormously talented actor Zachary Quinto.
Stay tuned my horror hound friends!