Madison and Chablis go to Murder House looking for answers about Michael Langdon
Cordelia lets Michael take the Seven Wonders, and the results are devastating.
Michael Langdon begins interrogating the survivors at the outpost. A familiar face(/mask) from Season 1 returns.
The end is here. Who'll survive and what will be left of them?
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 12: “Afterbirth”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (Glee, The New Normal)
Written by Jessica Sharzer
* For a review of the previous episode, “Birth” – click here
We start off this finale, “Afterbirth”, with a flashback to a time when there seemed to be hope for Ben and Vivien Harmon (Dylan McDermott/Connie Britton). They’re trying somehow to make it work, obviously after he has pissed all over their marriage vows. Ben shows her the house – dear ole Murder House – saying they ought to give it a chance, it might be the way to find their groove again. He says he could see it like a movie, they were all there, around the fire, together once more as a true family. It’s one of those excellent scenes done in hindsight; we’re able to look back at all the horrible, terrifying events of Season 1 and say “Yeah okay Ben” when he says that it feels as if there is hope for them in the house. Tragically funny.
With the baby around now, Vivien dead, Ben Harmon is left to himself. He’s trying to take care of the baby, but clearly Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) does not want the child to go back into the wretched Murder House. While I don’t necessarily think the baby is going to turn out all right no matter where it goes – being a child of Tate (Evan Peters) after all – there’s part of Constance which does care for the child. Things went so awfully wrong with Tate, she only wants another child, another chance, in order to not raise a monster; ultimately, it’s all about how she feels her child and his actions reflect on her, not how much she cares about Tate. She is a selfish woman. Many of her intentions are spot on and righteous, however, the way she goes about putting them into action leave a lot to be desired.
At the same time, Ben now becomes aware of Tate being Constance’s son. Further and further his reality is beginning to slip away and become something of a memory. All around him are the ghosts of the house, which now include his own wife and daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga).
I love the smeared lens style look so many shots have, as the ghosts are around Ben and he’s sort of wandering through their garden, so to speak. This really makes things look surreal and the atmosphere takes on an eerie feel simply from the perspective itself. We feel disoriented watching all of this, but it’s meant in an effective way to produce a required feeling; not meant to make us turn away or feel uncomfortable, it’s disorienting in the way we’re drawn into that surreal world. This technique is a classic by now in the universe of American Horror Story, one of those staples of the series, so I think that’s something which works incredibly well. So many psychological horrors will use that style, yet it isn’t overplayed or anything. Used correctly, it puts us into that shaky emotional space where psychologically strange scenes often need to play out.
There is a ton of tragedy in “Afterbirth”. While Vivien and Violet make their own amends with Ben, and decides not to kill himself to be with his family as originally planned, Hayden (Kate Mara) has other plans. Along with Dallas (Kyle Davis) and Fiona (Azura Skye) – the serial killer enthusiasts from “Home Invasion” – she strings Ben up via noose and hangs him until dead from the chandelier.
Just as everything seemed to be going right for Ben, maybe a turning point in his life somehow, there come the ghosts to keep him stuck within the walls.
It’s funny because I’d honestly thought after “Birth”, the season could’ve ended with a bit more time; maybe add another 15 minutes to that penultimate episode and there was the season finale.
But then in “Afterbirth”, we get a really great episode. A new family comes to move in as Marcy (Christine Estabrook), the sly real estate agent she is, doesn’t disclose the ENTIRE history of Murder House; only the recent tragedy of the Harmons. This gives us an interesting chapter for the season’s close.
Super cool aspect to this finale is how we’re seeing the crowded ghosts bumping up against one another. While Violet meets the new teenage boy in the house, Gabriel Ramos (Brennan Mejia), in the background we see Tate – jealous and hateful as ever – watching her with him, no doubt probably plotting whatever his next murderous move might be in the depths of Murder House.
Then there’s a chilling moment where Miguel and Stacy Ramos (Anthony Ruivivar/Lisa Vidal) say they may want a baby, to make the place less lonely after their teenage son moves off to college. Ben and Vivien watch on, unnoticed by the living, and realize this nice couple ought not to have a child in that place. AMAZING SCENE! So visually excellent, as the Ramos couple begins to heavy pet and makeout, almost near sex, and Moira (Frances Conroy) stands over them in the kitchen to tell the Harmons they’ll need some help in getting the Ramos family out of there; other ghosts are vengeful, hateful entities.
Before, the house was trying hard to get a baby, now that the Harmons are newly ghosted on the property they’re more concerned with trying to help another family get away from Murder House.
The spirits are all trying to drive this new family out. Even Tate – he’s no longer concerned with impregnating the wife of the house, he wants to get the teenage boy out so Violet won’t stray away. Although Violet wants nothing to do with Tate, he is constantly misguided in the afterlife.
Even Beau (Sam Kinsey) gets in on the action, scaring Mrs. Ramos in the hallway, as Ben Harmon suits up in the Rubber Man outfit and tries to crawl on top of her in the bedroom. Incredibly well executed sequence, as almost every one of the Murder House ghosts appears to the Ramos family in an attempt to scare them away forever. Elizabeth Short (Mena Suvari) also materializes, Glasgow Smile and all, cut in half and bleeding all over the place. Macabre bunch of nastiness! Phil Critter (W. Earl Brown) bumps into the Ramos husband in the hallway. In the basement, Vivien tears Ben’s guts out in front of the Ramos family, before Ben shoots his deceased wife in the forehead, each exclaiming “You don‘t know how long I‘ve been waiting to do that.”
Another thing about the finale that hit me right in the excellent horror nerve is how they circled back to the Pilot, using that initial song the saucy twins were prancing around to at the beginning. I always love those circular motions in films and television shows. Especially with a series, because we’re harkening back a good ways to revisit things that sometimes we might even forget. Such is the case with the scene where the Ramos family speedily runs out of the house, not worried about their belongings, and the Harmons stand on the porch, lamenting that another family will only move on in eventually; the whole we’re listening to that strange, eerily unsettling song from the Pilot directed by Ryan Murphy, it’s called “Tonight, You Belong To Me” by Patience and Prudence. Effective moment that always gets me when I watch it.
Still, above all else in this episode, I think the best moment of “Afterbirth” is the very finish. Obviously nobody thought the baby – Michael – was going to turn out all right in the end, but what we’re able to see is how as he grows up he becomes more and more like his evil father Tate.
When Constance goes to check on Michael in the final scene, the boy is now slightly older. We’ve flashed forward three years. He is also now starting to grow into his skin, as the true son of his father. The bloody handprints on the rocking chair, Constance’s face as she sees the dead woman on the bedroom floor – it’s so creepy and shocking at once. Really nice horror movie reveal and it works incredibly for the last thing we see in Season 1.
So much of what happened in the house boils down to Constance and Tate, and so I find it’s only fitting she is the last character we see before the season closes. A great way to show how the violence and madness and depravity of Murder House will never fade, as long as there is a child or offspring of some sort related to the house still breathing and living. Bernard Herrmann’s Twisted Nerve score, previously played as Tate massacred his high school classmates, comes in eerily just as the scene comes to a close and it’s like echoes of Michael’s father are literally in our ears. Beautifully macabre piece to finish.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 11: “Birth”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “Smoldering Children” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Afterbirth” – click here
The very start of this episode shows us more of the relationship between Tate (Evan Peters) and Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe). While a young Tate, very little, runs around Murder House while his mother leaves him on his own, he comes across the old child of the Montgomerys, lost and filthy and creepy in the basement. Nora shows up and tells Tate about how all he needs to do if the ghosts scare him is close his eyes, then tell them to go away. This sets up not just their relationship, which further compounds after Tate becomes a ghost himself in the house, it also goes deeper in this episode. Later, we’ll see where this comes into play even more.
Now that Violet (Taissa Farmiga) is completely aware of her living dead situation, visually we’re seeing how it affects both her and her father Ben (Dylan McDermott). He tries taking her to go and see Vivien (Connie Britton), as well as bring her home finally, but naturally Violet cannot make it off the property. When Ben pulls out of the driveway, we pan around to Violet up in her window, talking with Tate. She’s slowly accepting the situation, however, that does not make it any better for her.
Moreover, Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears) are also planning for the babies. They’re hilarious together, painting the room and the cribs and the dresser, et cetera. Great scene as Tate confronts them saying they ought not mess with Violet’s mother; I thought the way Chad gets in his face and says “What are you gonna do – murder me?” was darkly hilarious yet also just bad ass at the same time. Well written scene. I always enjoy how American Horror Story as a series overall both includes and confronts gay issues. This scene and the whole subplot of Chad/Patrick in Murder House is one small example of how well the series uses gay characters. And why not? Too many people get hung up on the fact they’re gay, instead of simply the fact they’re a human, they’re a person, a character. As long as they’re written well and enjoyable, who cares if the character is gay, straight, transgender, or whatever? I’m glad the writers have the ability to write the characters of Chad and Patrick well enough, they’re a great addition to the whole mix of ghosts traipsing around Murder House.
Also, their addition ups the ante even more, as it seems each and every ghost in the house has their own plan in regards to Vivien Harmon’s babies. It’s almost like an old western where a bunch of outlaws all end up in the same place, each angling to their own ends. Very cool episode in this sense because we get a good look at all that, out in the open.
Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson) shows up to help Constance and Violent. I like how Billie is truly psychic, so she can tell Violet is dead. Neat little moment between them while they connect telekinetically.
My favourite part is a brief little bit where Billie tells Constance and Violet all about the supposed story behind Roanoke – the Lost Colony in the 16th century whose citizens all up and left, seemingly. Only the word ‘croatoan’ was left carved in a tree. Of course, Billie’s story is a fabrication, using the idea of spirits lingering to explain how they might purge the spirits o the house; particularly, Constance wants to get “the gays” out.
This all plays more into how the ghosts are all vying for the Harmon babies, each with their own misguided and mental plan to sort of start over and integrate the newborns into the ghostly, haunting family of Murder House.
Vivien’s doctor at the psychiatric hospital advises her and Ben she might need an emergency C-section. This is due to the fact one of the twins seems to be growing at an abnormally fast rate, while the other is growing weaker; the ‘alpha’ is draining all the nutrients, leaving the second to essentially wither away. And we all know what’s going on there, right? That little demon baby is sucking up everything useful, hoping to spring from the womb and deploy its evil.
Once Ben gets back to the house, Violet unfortunately has to make it painfully clear for her father in order for him to accept that she is dead. All the same, Ben doesn’t believe her. Everything comes down at once – right as she’s about to make him understand, Vivien’s water breaks and the birth is upon us.
I think this might be one of my favourite sequences in the entire first season of American Horror Story, maybe even in the series as a whole. Reason being is that it’s intensely chaotic, there are a hundred things happening all at once. We even get the original twins from the Pilot, who help Murder House by smashing up the Harmon vehicle, puncturing its tires and beating it to pieces. Then ole Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) shows up, the dead 1968 nurses stab holes and all at his side to assist in the birth; they’re all present. It’s one of the most surreal group of scenes out of the season, and that is saying something.
The way it’s shot, half blurry bits as Vivien screams and prepares to give birth to her new twins, it is dark and weird, as well as absolutely beautiful. There is very sombre-like chamber music playing in the background, we get flashbacks to Vivien giving birth to Violet – a much happier time for Ben and Viv – and the whole aesthetic here is out of this world! The dark, candle lit birth is so weird. Shots here remind me of Rosemary’s Baby at times, when the titular character was experiencing those extremely strange dream-like moments (but they were no dreams); this is even more fun because I find there are other moments in Season 1 with Vivien which are definitely an homage to Roman Polanski’s classic psychological horror.
What I’m thrilled so much by is how Violet tries to use the whole Roanoke spell, courtesy of psychic Billie Dean Howard, and it fails hilariously on Chad – that scene was killer. Quinto is full of charisma. The thing I enjoy about that part so much is how Quinto hammers it home that basically there’s no getting rid of the ghosts; they’re doomed for eternity. Chad is stuck with Patrick, a man who doesn’t truly love him, for the rest of time, and so on, and so on. They each have their own burden to bear eternally, there’s no end to it. The pain simply goes on endlessly and there will be no rest. With all the dark comedy on Quinto’s end during that scene, it is actually a traumatic conversation in the end. Violet faces down the fact she’ll never find any sort of peace, ever again. The afterlife is merely an abyss, there’s no closure.
Then poor Vivien – after the savage birth of one stillborn and the child of Rubber Man Tate Langdon a.k.a the offspring of a human and a ghost – bleeds out and passes on to the other side. This moment falls with such heavy impact. Everything from the way it’s shot, to the sound design and dialogue. All those elements come together to make the finale ridiculously spooky. The best shot is how when Vivien finally dies, the camera reveals Ben Harmon alone – his wife pale and dead and the bed covered in blood between her legs and everywhere else – and now all the ghosts are gone. It’s an eerie set of shots.
Furthermore, Violet has been told the truth about her love – Tate the rubber rapist. More and more, she discovers what lies behind Tate. She thought he was merely “attracted to the darkness“, but Violet tells him: “You are the darkness.”
While Tate clearly does love her, he is still an awful and terrible ghost, one who has caused havoc in the afterlife as he so horrifically acted in flesh and blood. So I find the way he and Violet end things here both sad and highly interesting. Finally, she screams at Tate to go away, which we already know is the way to dispatch the ghosts who you don’t want to bother you.
The best part is another pan around reveal – once Violet screams Tate into the mist, the camera turns and sees Vivien caressing her daughter’s head, arm around her shoulder. They’re now together, perhaps even happier in a tragic ghostly sense than ever before.
Massively impressive penultimate episode for the first season. The next episode and finale is fittingly titled “Afterbirth” and is directed by Bradley Buecker, a Ryan Murphy regular on Glee, American Horror Story, and also a producer on Nip/Tuck.
Excited to do a review for the finale, as well as to get on into the Season 2 reviews. Stay tuned for lots more horror and creepy stuff!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 10: “Smoldering Children”
Directed by Michael Lehmann (True Blood)
Written by James Wong
* For a review of the previous episode, “Spooky Little Girl” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Birth” – click here
The opening scene in this episode treats us to a view of the past. Slowly, we’re unravelling the truth about Constance (Jessica Lange), her eternally troubled son Tate (Evan Peters), and both of their relationships with Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare).
This sequence shows them all together at a dinner table, nice meat and other assorted foods presented to eat, and Addie (Jamie Brewer) is also present. Another flashback to a different time. This is when Larry’s family has already burnt up, after his wife discovered the affair with Constance, and now Larry has become the stepfather of the Langdon house.
However, we’re finally drawing back the curtain on Larry and his mysterious burns. Now we see that Tate, before going in to kill his classmates, poured gasoline over his new stepfather and set him ablaze at his office building, while Larry was trying to work a regular day behind a computer. Vicious and macabre beginning to “Smoldering Children.”At the same time, Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) has finally come to realize that his wife Vivien (Connie Britton) told the truth all along: the Rubber Man did something to her, he attacked and raped her. After coming to see the light, Ben is able to help get her out of the loony bin. Unfortunately, though, Vivien does not want to go back to that house. Obviously; who would?
Things are clearly messed up at Murder House. Ben’s also coming to see the full extent of how hard everything has been on his daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga). She has missed 16 straight days at school, so he can see how depressed she is, how weak and fragile to the harshness of the world she can be. But there’s something else worse going on in the house, all around them at every turn.
One thing I love about American Horror Story, every season, is how there are plenty of anti-heroes. Then, there are also just not likeable characters who you also simultaneously can feel sorry for at certain times.
For instance, while Larry Harvey has done terrible things in his lifetime, he is also a tragic figure. I do think he’s awful for having an affair with Constance behind his wife’s back – but in the same breath, I feel bad because he’s been manipulated by her. She only wanted back in Murder House, that’s all she ever wanted, so from the beginning the guy has been a means to an end; never an end in and of himself. So, even with all the bad stuff in his character, there’s likability at moments. In the scene during “Smoldering Children” where Constance goes to see Larry, accusing him of killing Travis (Michael Graziadei) because of jealousy, I really did feel for him. He was cowering and looked so pathetic, it was real touching, sad stuff.
An intensely satisfying scene comes when we discover how Constance dispatched of her husband’s body: ground up into dog food. I mean, that is perfect! I wondered why his bones hadn’t turned up in the hole out in the yard where Moira (Frances Conroy/Alexandra Breckenridge) was found earlier in the season. This was just too good for words.
Very quick and creepy scene with guest star W. Earl Brown playing Phil Critter – an exterminator whose expertise is called in by Ben Harmon. Murder House seems to be having an epidemic of flies and other bugs flittering about, so Phil gets into the crawlspace and tries to root out the problem. However, too bad for Phil, as he comes across Tate Langdon down there; the young man attacks him, claiming he has taken lives and deserves to repent for his sin, and shoves the bug repellent sprayer down Phil’s throat. SAVAGERY! Love a good, brutal horror kill like that. Just goes to show American Horror Story isn’t solely about that high aesthetic feel all the time. There is downright shocking and gory horror sometimes, along with brutish kills such as this one.
Even further with Larry, we see him reunite with the titular smoldering children, as well as his deceased wife. He promises her Constance will pay for what she’s done, however, his wife reaffirms it was only him who did anything to the family; he was the one who broke his vows. A tragic scene, as it seems to constantly roll in when Larry is concerned. I feel bad, yet don’t feel bad. Sort of a war within myself. Part of it has to do with the burns; I always feel bad if I see someone scarred so viciously by fire, it’s a truly horrific thing to have gone through. Still, it’s tough to give in totally and feel pity for Larry, as so much of his fate came by his own filthy hands.
What we’re seeing more now in the past couple episodes is how much Tate has to do with the influence of the house. It’s as if the walls have assimilated Tate into its structure, he’s become like a figurehead for Murder House and its vile intentions.
In “Smoldering Children”, it’s obvious how deceitful and misguided Tate is because we’re seeing him manipulate Violet. Instead of telling her the truth, he wants to commit suicide with her.
But then, she comes to discover something extremely tough to understand: “it’s too late for that.” Violet is already dead, she killed herself and became a part of Murder House herself. I’d suspected this ever since her long absences from school first became apparent, now it’s a confirmed fact. Violet has been wandering awhile in the house as a ghost, no different from Tate, the Montgomerys, or any of the other entities. While I did suspect this, I was still shocked by the revelation. That’s how good this series is, you can get lulled into a feeling by the way they present the story and plot/sub-plots, then out of the blue an episode will show things in a certain way that it comes to have a strong impact. Such an example comes in this episode with Violet’s revelation.
When she sees herself curled up and dead on the floor – reminding me very much of the dead bodies from The Ring – it is WHOA! Great, emotional moment between her and Tate. And while some may see this as Tate being more likeable, after trying to ease her into the realization, he’s still a dirty little bastard. He raped Violet’s mom, he has killed and maimed and tortured countless men and women. The afterlife love he has fell into with Violet does nothing to change his character, except it blinds us to his true intentions. This comes out in spades here.Being accused of killing Travis, Constance ends up saved from the predicament by Larry; he takes the fall for the murder, giving up details nobody else could’ve known. Of course it’s all because of his affiliation with Murder House. I love this scene because we get a trove of treasure out of O’Hare – from the way he talks to Constance, his shuffle and the arm held against his chest, tendons burned into that position by his fiery accident. A marvellous performance!
Also, I found this portion of the episode to be fitting. Larry decides it is high time he pays for everything he’s done, all the crimes and the death he has caused by his very own hand, so that’s why he decides to let Constance go free and take the wrap. But tragically, again with Larry, he’s too in love with Constance. He could’ve turned himself in for crimes, other ones, instead he decides to let her walk and take that punishment. It’s a sad scene when she goes to see him in jail, but it’s beyond perfect and eerie and sad and beautiful.
Next episode is titled “Birth” – the penultimate episode of Season 1, and it is directed by series regular Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
Stay tuned for more horror and tragedy and all around weirdness.