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FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 8: “Rubber Man”
Directed by Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt, Chuck & Buck)
Written by Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Spooky Little Girl” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Open House” – click here
In the opening of this scene, Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe) bemoans the state of her modern house. Trapped in ghostland, she does not realize yet she is dead either, like Tate (Evan Peters). In the darkness behind Nora, as she weeps for her baby and wants another, Tate comforts her; he’ll help get her a child.
Then he goes out to the trash, he finds the Rubber Man suit. This is a flashback to the Pilot, when Rubber Man had sex with Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton); she, of course, thought that was husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) at the time. Now we’ve confirmed for sure that Tate is the one who did the deed. Chilling and highly unsettling, I love and hate it all at once.
Vivien is still disturbed by the events at the end of last episode, “Open House”, when Violet (Taissa Farmiga) showed her an old picture of the house in the 1920s, one featuring Nora Montgomery. Naturally, Marcy (Christine Estabrook) thinks Vivien is nuts, but Moira (Frances Conroy) offers comfort; no surprise there.
One aspect I loved in “Rubber Man” is how Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears) come back into the picture. Crosscut with Vivien complaining she feels as if she’s going crazy, we head back to Chad who is upset, worried about him and his better half. It appears Patrick is stepping out on the internet; he’s secretly into S&M subculture. Chad does all he can to try and please his man, but Patrick seems to not care at all. Sadly, the Rubber Man suit Chad buys for the two of them to enjoy later ends up as part of their death. In this episode, the full view of what happened to Chad and Patrick – only partly shown previously in “Halloween: Part I” – is given a nasty, brutish treatment here.
Even more interesting is how their deaths play into the overall story of the house. Turns out, the fact Patrick seemed to have lost interest in having a child/children with his partner Chad became the reason for their savage murders. The house/Nora needs a baby, so Rubber Man – a.k.a Tate Langdon – will go to any lengths required in order to secure one. Even if that means murdering, raping, torturing, terrifying until the seed is planted.
More of Hayden (Kate Mara) now, as all the ghosts are in cohabitation. She comes across Nora weeping, shedding some light on the newly discovered situation of Mrs. Montgomery for her. Sadly, Nora still does not get it yet. Slowly she is beginning to understand what’s going on. I feel really bad for Hayden; while she was banging a married man, she never deserved anything which happened to her, and definitely not being trapped for eternity in Murder House. She and Poe bond in a brief scene, rolling the ball back and forth – neither of them asked to be stuck there on that property, each murdered brutally under false pretence.
What I loved is how Hayden has afterlife sex with Constance’s (Jessica Lange) dead husband Hugo (Eric Close) – she takes out the anger inside on him, banging then stabbing him to death, only for him to keep on after-lifting. It’s a naughty cycle, I just thought that was an excellently twisted scene.
Furthermore, Nora is being led to the river by Hayden who believes they ought to take Vivien’s twins for themselves. Also, Hayden drops the hint for us in the audience that poor Vivien might soon be locked up in an asylum. Thus begins the true terrorising of Mrs. Harmon.
There’s so much great haunted house stuff in American Horror Story. With the ghosts actively doing poltergeist-like stuff, we get to see both sides: the family living in horror versus the ghosts trying to clue up their unfinished business/vendettas. That’s something we’re not usually treated to, even in film. More often than not, almost always, we’re seeing a family being tortured by the demons/ghosts/presences in a haunted house. Here, we get to see the motivations of the ghosts themselves and what is driving them, as well as the fact we’re watching everything happening in reality to the families and people drawn to the house. I think that’s one of the greatest things about this first season. Moreover, I think it was the best and most natural place for the series to start, as the haunted house sub-genre of horror is one almost everyone knows – even non-horror fans probably enjoy a good haunted house movie now and then. Each season has a great anthology premise, but this is most definitely the greatest starting point Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk could’ve decided on.
More concerning Violet falls out of the plot into our laps. It turns out Violet has not been to school in two weeks. Strange. Even while the family is in shambles, you’d think someone would have realized something was wrong before now. Yet everything else happening around Ben and Vivien, all the weird and unexplained and eerie events, it detracts from Violet and her issues. More every episode, we come to see there’s something else happening to Violet that her parents cannot yet see or understand.
My favourite part of “Rubber Man”, though there is a ton, is the scene between Moira (Frances Conry) and Vivien. Moira recounts the basic plot of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which goes along fittingly well with the events happening to Vivien. Especially going forward through the remainder of the episode, the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” comes as an allegory for the story of Vivien – however, in Murder House, Ben Harmon is not doing anything purposefully trying to damage his wife, but instead the house itself is making Ben and everyone else around Vivien believe she has gone completely mad.
Moira pushes her towards this, warning Vivien she must leave or else something bad might happen. This is when we start to see the house really working on Vivien, as it only works against her.
In the car with her daughter, ready to leave, Vivien sees the ghosts of the serial killer fans who broke into the house in “Home Invasion“. She runs back in, believing them to be real, and of course this further breaks down things between Vivien and Ben. Plus it makes her look absolutely nuts, even worse when Violet can’t confirm there was anything actually there.
The end of the episode is highly suspenseful, full of tension, as Vivien – believing an intruder, perhaps the sneaky undead Hayden – uses a gun she stole from real estate agent Marcy to shoot Ben. Of course, she did think it was someone else, but still. Now that gives him more ammunition to put her in a hospital, fearing her mental state is deteriorating. Which it is, yes, just not in the way anyone thinks. It’s exactly what the house has wanted. All in order to get those babies growing inside Vivien. Believing herself to be attacked by Rubber Man Tate Langdon again, with Hayden onlooking and taunting, Ben and Luke (Morris Chestnut) rush in to find Vivien rolling on the floor by herself. Even to Luke now, it’s clear something is not right.
The house is driving everyone, in their own way, off the deep end and into utter madness. It’s tragic and heartbreaking all at once and you feel for characters while also hating some of them; a big mix of hate, fear, love, and sexuality, this Season 1.
Next episode is titled “Spooky Little Girl” and is directed by John Scott (Nip/Tuck). Can’t wait to review that one, as well.
Stay tuned yet again!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 2: “Home Invasion”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the previous episode, “Pilot” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Murder House” – click hereThe opening sequence to Season 1’s second episode is an absolute killer. Sorry for that brutal pun, but it truly is an excellent piece.
Again, we’re already seeing the series use famous horror movie scores and nodding to a few of the greats. For instance, in a flashback to 1968, a strange man enters the house (where the Harmons now live) under false pretences. Nurses live there, and a bunch are out for the night. He attacks one and takes them both hostage. As soon as he turns rancid, the Bernard Herrmann score from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho begins to play. Further as the sequence progresses, before coming back to the present, more of the music continues, as well as a NASTY kill on one of the nurses; she is stabbed in the back, some of the shots nearly mirroring the famous murder of Marion Crane – except this one takes place on a couch instead of a shower. The whole thing has a very Ted Bundy feel.
When we’re whisked back to present day, the memories of the 1968 murders linger.
Even while Tate (Evan Peters) and his trusty psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) conduct their latest session, it’s still hard to shake the savagery of the opening scene.Big shocker, as a woman – obviously the one Ben cheated on Vivien (Connie Britton) with – calls Ben and tells him that she’s pregnant. So quick into the season and we’re already really past the tipping point with Ben and his infidelity. Which is interesting, because while the house is obviously twisting their lives up and we want to feel bad for them, it’s tough to make Ben, in any way, out to be the victim.
A reference to Peter Medak’s The Changeling, after Ben finds Addie (Jamie Brewer) playing in the basement, laughing seemingly to herself. Once he clears her out of there, we watch the ball she’d been rolling around come rolling back out of the darkness by itself. I mean, the colour of the ball and everything resembles that scene, I can’t help but feel as if it was definitely a reference to the Medak haunted house classic.
Ben has a young lady coming to see him now as a patient, Bianca (Mageina Tovah), who is having dreams about trying to escape a stalled elevator and then being cut in half. She clearly has another fascination with being there other than psychiatry, there’s something about her totally affected by the house, as if she knows all about it, the history and such.
There’s so much perfectness between Addie (Jamie Brewer) and her doting yet also hateful mother Constance (Jessica Lange). While at times Constance is an outright bitch in the way she talks to Addie, there are so many instances of how much she does care for her daughter. I love that Falchuk and Murphy aren’t afraid to bring characters to life here who are complicated. Aside from all the infidelity stuff, we’ve got a wonderful actress like Brewer playing a character whose own mother is resentful of her disabilities. It’s tough stuff, however, I find it incredibly intriguing, especially in a horror-based show. Their relationship, obviously, will flesh out more and more with every episode, and it’s something I end up enjoying a great deal about Season 1.Ben is in trouble. Hayden McClaine (Kate Mara) his supposed one time mistake is back in his life, full-time now, with the prospect of a child. Unfortunately, Ben is not only keeping secrets, he now has the horror of the house and the insanity of Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) being pumped into him. It’s dark stuff where this will all be headed.
Another dynamic I enjoy is the one between Vivien and her daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga). Britton and Farmiga are both great. Their acting here is on point and I found their relationship, the whole season, to be extremely believable. Violet is beyond spiteful, as she tells her mother “I think you’re weak,” and we can see that she’s as much hurt by her mother’s inability to walk away from her cheating father as she is by his unfaithfulness. Probably not fair, however, ultimately I think it’s mostly because Violet is sad. She only lashes out because, as we all once were, she is a teenager and believes her knowledge – supposed knowledge – is the right kind. Britton and Farmiga do well together in their scenes, really have a family feel going on, which doesn’t come off as forced.
Sneaky Ben has snuck off to see Hayden (Kate Mara). She’s supposed to be having an abortion, which they’ve both determined is best for them in the long run. While some might look at Hayden, believing her to be in the wrong or that she is clinging to Ben, I see the character as a girl who was duped into thinking there could be more eventually between them. Ben tries to avoid responsibility, much as he possibly can, but eventually things will catch up with him.Back at home, Vivien begins to experience something similar to – or exactly a copy of – what the nurses in 1968 went through on that fateful night at the hands of a strange and murderous man. Bianca (Tovah) was merely casing the house in her session with Ben, and along with Fiona (Azura Skye) and Dallas (Kyle Davis) they plan to recreate the murders. I mean – WILD! Love it, plus today in the sick society we’ve developed, I can totally see a twisted copycat style murder like this happening. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. This trio is like a deplorable serial killer cult, worshipping the man who killed those nurses in the ’60s; they’ve even got one of the objects used in the crime, bought off E-Bay, in order to bring further authentic and ritualized sense to their present day murders.
I won’t spoil any more of what happens, but we see so many things come to play – one of the cupcakes Addie and Constance made earlier, the ghosts lurking in the basement, as well as the tenacity of both Vivien and her sassy daughter Violet. Amazing scenes here. Tense, suspenseful moments. What’s even worse is the fact Ben is off with Hayden, as his wife and daughter have to deal with the titular home invasion.
Wildly shocking scene between Addie and Constance later in the episode. I mean, I couldn’t get over how witchy Constance comes off at this point. Locking Addie in a closet so she can have peace and quiet with her hunky, young boyfriend, Constance puts her in there – only surrounding the poor girl are mirrors, tons of them, reflecting her appearance right back into her eyes. Obviously Addie doesn’t like looking at herself much, which Constance knows. This part broke my heart – Constance walking away, Addie screaming bloody murder in the closet. Terrifying and sad all at once.
Again, the horrors of the house, from top floor to basement, come out in fine fashion for “Home Invasion.” The murderer hopefuls who broke into the Harmon house in order to reenact those 1968 killings experience the worst of what creeps amongst the shadows. In an act of retribution, the murdered nurses – victims of the serial killer they were there to worship and to whom they wished to pay tribute – are the ones who come back, ghostly and grisly, to take fresh souls for the house to keep.
Furthermore, we also get to start seeing how Constance, Tate, and Moira are all linked to the house. Not in the sense we’re given a ton of expository dialogue, or any exposition beyond what we’ve already started to think ourselves. Merely an effort on their parts, together, to clean up the basement after the would-be killers are dispatched by the living dead nurses. I thought that was a nice, slight touch. Instead of spelling things out too easily for everyone, it’s a brief nod for us to understand – okay, this is going somewhere, these three are up to something. What? We’ll find out.Next episode is “Murder House” (what this first season has been retroactively dubbed after each season seems to be given a subtitled name), which is directed by Bradley Buecker whose work includes other work later with American Horror Story, as well as Nip/Tuck and more.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot
Directed by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Running With Scissors, The Normal Heart)
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Home Invasion” – click hereYou’ve got to admire a series that opens things up in the way Ryan Murphy introduces us to his world with this pilot episode. Not only is it creepy, Murphy lays out the familiar pattern we see running through the entire series: flashbacks which speak to the present day events. Plenty of shows and films use flashbacks, but the way American Horror Story overall as a series uses them is such an intriguing technique, which the writers and directors pull of elegantly, as well as quite horrifically. What I love so much about this aspect is the fact that Murphy has only directed 3 episodes of the series – including the first episode of the newest season, Hotel. So, although he is a creator of the show along with Brad Falchuck, it’s still amazing to see how much influence he has had over the entirety of the series. It’s a continual thing we see in each season, how the flashbacks all come to bear on current day events we’re seeing.
With the opening of Murphy’s pilot we get to see a young Adelaide Langdon watching a creepy, and no doubt haunted, house all by herself; we’ll get to know Addie plenty as the season wears on. Up come a couple redheaded little shits, twins, who are mean to Addie and head inside to cause havoc.Immediately, there’s this eerie sense about the house. Of course, once inside the redhead twins find much more than they bargained for upon entering. There’s this absolutely horrific, brief image of a figure in the dark – awful hands and terrible looking teeth, gnarled, vicious coming at them. I thought that was an excellent start to the horror.
Then there’s an amazing tonal shift. We meet up with Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) who has recently miscarried, as is expected the experience was horrible. After a doctor’s appointment, Vivien heads home to her beautiful home. But in the kitchen she thinks there’s a noise from upstairs. Calling 911 and taking a knife from a block in the kitchen, she heads upstairs only to find her husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) obviously in bed with another woman. Though, we never see her. Outside the room, pleading for forgiveness, Ben gets cut on the arm by the knife Vivien is holding. More words from little Addie echo out of the past, words she’d spoken earlier to the twins: “You’re gonna regret it.”
Love the opening theme; quite creepy. Also, as we go on through these reviews just know I’m all the way caught up – I watch the episodes as they come on, it’s only now I’ve started to review them. So, what I really dig is how Murphy has another opening done for each one to go with the theme of every season. Anthologies, when done effectively, are so much fun in so many ways! American Horror Story is at the top of the anthology heap, as far as I’m concerned.
Lots of fun characters introduced here in the Pilot. Soon, we see the family move into a new home – the creepy house from the episode’s opening scene. Vivien and Ben, along with their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga), move on in and then we get to meet more of the cast.
The always amazing Jessica Lange plays Constance Langdon – a Southern belle living in Los Angeles. Not only that, she is the mother of Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), who just so happens to barge on into the kitchen and frighten an unsuspecting Vivian with more prophetic creepiness: “You’re going to die in here.” From these two, expect tons of craziness throughout Season 1.
Evan Peters is Tate, a troubled kid sent by his mother to see the new therapist in the city, Ben Harmon. They talk about death, dreams and visions of death and blood and murder. Sick things Tate has inside him. Meanwhile, Tate sees pictures of himself with blood running down his face – other shots show him walking down the hallway, just as the dream he has described, with a macabrely painted face, skull art, and a black trench coat. Very cool and disturbing stuff already! Tate, from the get-go, was always one of my favourites in Season 1.
I love the imagery right off the bat, all the visions going on every which way. Also, the scene where Ben all of a sudden goes downstairs, lighting the fire, only to have Vivien interrupt him wondering what he’s up to. It’s such a weird, dreamy scene, and even Ben doesn’t realize if he’s awake or dreaming. This begins more weirdness to follow.
Furthermore, there’s the fact Moira O’Hara (Frances Conroy) shows up – she was the maid of the house. It seems she pretty much comes along with the house. But there’s something else about Moira, she’s a shapeshifter.. of sorts. While Vivien Harmon sees an older Frances Conroy, Ben Harmon sees Moira as Alexandra Breckenridge – a young, taut, sexified girl in a French maid’s outfit, legs up to her throat in fishnets. So I love the duality here and the dynamic this introduces into the Harmons’ lives.
It’s as if the house is pushing them all, further and further. With every single turn.
Certainly, the tension between husband-wife duo Vivien and Ben Harmon sets up so much of what we’ll see going on throughout Season 1. What I enjoy about this whole angle is that, similar to a movie like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, not only is the family inside the house contending with the house’s evil, they’re battling their own demons.
While I love Dylan McDermott, his character Ben is the type you hate to love. He’s obviously flawed, as he cheated on his wife in her weakest moment. Then he tries to blame her saying that it was him in his weakest moment, that “you got a dog” when she ought to have been cuddling up with him at night.
So the intensity of their family situation, the anger Vivien has towards Ben and the perceived hostility he has in his head towards his own wife, it all adds to the already supernatural forces so obviously at work in the house.
The creepiest, of course, is when Vivien has sex with who she believes to be Ben, dressed up in the latex-looking suit they’d found hanging earlier in the attic; a weird S&M, tight black getup. All the while, thought she sees visions of Ben, her husband is downstairs holding his hand over the oven’s burner. Immediately we know that American Horror Story means to get up to some awfully strange, intense business.
As well, we get views of the evil looking person/thing from earlier in the episode’s opening sequence. Tate has Violet bring a girl over – the one who slighted her hardcore during her first day of school – and in the basement he intends to scare her. However, Violent sees it all, too. Something horrible, ugly, fierce. It’s balding, stringy hair, and the teeth in its mouth look yellow, jagged. I LOVE THIS! So terrifying.
Denis O’Hare plays Larry Harvey, a man who has obviously been in a terrible fire – half of his face is burned, better yet it’s melted. He warns Ben about the house, after lurking around, skulking at the edges of Harmon’s peripheral vision. Larry claims he killed his family and burned down the house, all due to the house, the voices of the house inside his head – he said he was like “an obedient child.”
We’ll watch how his character plays further into the plot of Season 1 as it moves along. Nice introduction to this character.
Two fantastic actresses – Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy – have the chance to go head to head. However, it’s brief. Yet within those few moments they share a great scene, as Constance (Lange) tells Moira (Conroy): “Don‘t make me kill you again.” This is another relationship we’ll see more of once the episodes roll on. Intriguing to say the least.
One other thing I love in this first episode is the use of the music from James Wan’s Insidious. A neat little touch. This technique is employed time and time again in Season 1, which I find is a nice nod to the genre fans out there. It says that Murphy not only understands the horror genre, he is also a fan.
Great episode. We’ve seen so much setup in less than an hour, it’s almost overwhelming. But not quite!
Stay tuned for the next episode, “Home Invasion”.