American Horror Story episode 10 review: Smoldering Children

With just a handful of episodes left this season, Ron finds that American Horror Story is still capable of getting under your skin...

This review contains spoilers.

10. Smoldering Children

When you live next door to a house full of ghosts, it makes it difficult to escape your past. For Constance Lange, whose past includes numerous nefarious deeds, it may be the thing she didn’t do that gets her into trouble for all the things she’s done.

In case you missed last week, Constance’s boyfriend Travis has become The Boy Dahlia, and he’s a major story. Looks like Travis got the fame he’s always wanted: it’s just a shame that he has to be in pieces in a ditch in South Central to accomplish it. Still, the LAPD needs a patsy, and they turn to the most likely suspect: Constance.

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This basically allows American Horror Story to start to do a little story wrap-up with Constance and her various exploits. Thanks to guest star Charles S Dutton as a detective, we get a laundry list of all the dead people who Constance has been associated with. The story starts with Beau, then hits Tate, and finally ends up on Moira and Hugo.

The DA apparently nearly charged Constance with their murders, as Constance’s story about the two running off together didn’t quite add up. As Constance’s lawyer warns her, they want her for something, and if they can pin Travis on her, so much the better. Any excuse to get into Constance’s past is a good one, since that woman is a mess, and Jessica Lange is an incredible actress.

Of the many flashbacks this week, the show’s opening 1994 segment with Tate, Constance, and Larry seems to be the most effective and interesting (if only because we finally get the truth about Larry’s french-fried face).

Tate, like Violet, is a teenager from the school of “let’s be as cruel as possible to our parents/parental figures as a way of getting back at them for things beyond our control.” Meanwhile, Larry and Constance, in both happy times and currently, are always a great pair. Granted, Constance’s humoring of Larry in 1994 is pretty obvious, but Larry was and is a man in love, and men in love can do stupid things. After Larry’s borderline cameo last week, we get a lot of the L man this week, and it’s always good to see his slimy, pathetic, burned face, even if it looks like he won’t be around much longer.

This week was heavy on people not Ben or Vivien, which makes up for last week’s Ben-centric episode.

Ben’s few moments are effective enough – particularly his half-naked brawl – but this week’s Harmon is Violet, and that poor girl goes through the ringer. As Violet tries to flee the house again and again and again, director Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Hudson Hawk, Airheads) pulls out all the classic horror tricks (jump cuts, Dutch angles, shakycam) to really amp up the tension.

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I’m not terribly crazy about Tate and Violet’s Romeo and Juliet storyline, but it’s well written thanks to writer James Wong’s experienced hand (The X-Files, Final Destination), and both young actors are really growing on me, Taissa Farmiga especially. (He also handles the police procedural aspect of Constance’s storyline very well, which isn’t a surprise to anyone familiar with his work in the past.)

Despite knowing what’s going to happen, sometimes for weeks, the show is still very tense, and that’s a big credit to the production crew. They know what tricks to use, when to use them, and how often to use them to keep them effective. This is a well-made show from a visual standpoint, if nothing else. The special effects this week were especially top notch. I particularly enjoyed the return of the asynchronous editing and the return of the Dutch angle.

There are only two more episodes left of the first season of American Horror Story. After that, if you believe creator Ryan Murphy, we’ll be moving locations and finding a new haunted house (or some kind of thing) with a new family of unlucky folks.

While that’s really unusual in American television, I’ve watched enough imported British shows and mini-series for it not to bother me. In fact, it might be nice to have a new show next year. It might be nice to get a fresh start and not have to worry about holdovers, even if that does mean we won’t get any Larry or Constance anymore.

Maybe next year we can follow Marcy the realtor around! That’s a show I’d love to see. Even if you change houses, Marcy can continue to be the unluckiest real estate agent ever. I hear there’s a nice house in Amityville, New York, that could use a family…

Read our review of the last episode, here.

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US Correspondent Ron Hogan is sad that American Horror Story is drawing to a close, but he is excited to see where we go in the future (and to see how this season wraps up). Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.