American Horror Story episode 2 review: Home Invasion

Two episodes in, and American Horror Story continues to impress. Here's Ron's take on Home Invasion...

This review contains spoilers.

1.2 Home Invasion

Things are very tense in the Harmon household. Vivien is worried about her pregnancy, as she’s not gotten sick yet. Violet is worried about her parents, her mother’s pregnancy, and finding her next target to say hateful things to. And Ben… well, Ben has the most problems of all. Tate’s boasting about making out with his daughter, he’s got a nervous wife to contend with, he’s living in a house full of spirits with neighbors trying to drive him insane, and worst of all, his mistress back in Boston turns up pregnant.

That means Ben, after a consultation with his new crispy-fried friend Larry, decides to do the manly thing. Lie to his wife, fly halfway across the country, and go pony up for an abortion for his ex-girlfriend. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t turn out to be the best idea, because it leaves a vulnerable, pregnant woman and a teenage girl alone in a notorious house that’s a stop on a handy-dandy murder tour of Los Angeles.

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Murder tours, you see, bring out the crazies (as if Constance and her ipecac cupcakes wasn’t crazy enough). The the pre-credit flashback sequence details the famous murders of one Art Franklin, a James Spader lookalike and a nurse-hating precursor to the home invasion murders of the Manson Family. Guess where Art Franklin’s most famous murders took place? If you said the Harmon house, you’d be right. Apparently there’s a long history of people dying in Ben’s home, and Viv and Vi just might be next.

The fact that Ben simply invites freaks into his home is… doubly questionable. However, the intruders seem to have bitten off more than they can chew with a certain crumbling Victorian mansion in Los Angeles. They know its history, but they have no idea what lies in the basement of the American Horror Story mansion.

As before, this is a very good episode. The overtly sexual elements were toned down a bit this week; in their stead, we get some extra gore. Sorry, Dylan McDermott fans. The scene in the elevator fantasy in which Ben’s patient discusses her fear of being cut in half is stellar. I’m actually surprised they showed that much, considering this is basic cable. Then again, the first episode was full of man-butt, so I guess a bisected, bloody corpse isn’t too far out of bounds. There was also some legitimate dread and terror this week, not just weirdness.

Jessica Lange gets some great lines this week; she knocks them out of the park as she knows exactly how she wants to play Constance. Frances Conroy’s brief scene with Lange is a stellar one, as the two actresses have what amounts to a silent duel in the middle of the Harmon family’s kitchen. There’s such a dark undercurrent in their scenes together, and it’s clear that the two have a long shared history and a long shared hatred of one another. I loved every second of that, and their little interactions, while always brief, usually end up being one of the show’s stand-out moments. Plus, the more details we get about Constance, from her mirror punishment room to her boy-toys and cursed womb, the more interesting the character gets, both for the audience and (I’d imagine) for Jessica Lange.

With the denouement at the end of the episode, I have one major unresolved question. The house seems to be haunted, that much is for sure. But for what purpose is the Harmon family necessary? The house seems like it wants people to die (the attack on Leah last episode, taking care of the invading murder club this week), but is it killing to protect the Harmons, or is it simply killing because it loves killing? Was the house offended by the desire of the LA Murder and Babysitters Club’s attempt to recreate the house’s history, or was it offended that they sucked at it?

Or, could it be, a possibility of both? There are many sets of spirits in this house (the creepy redheaded kids, the two dead nurses); is it possible that the ghosts are at war for the souls of the Harmons? After, Constance, Moira, and Tate didn’t seem… pleased by the pile of dead criminals in the basement, and Tate did explicitly blame the spirits, saying, “It was them.” Similarly, Larry Harvey (the half-burned murderer with brain cancer who used to live at the house) also seems to want to preserve the family, rather than ruin them. I assume Tate, Constance, and Moira aren’t ghosts, but if they’re not (and they’re not controlled by spirits from the house like Larry was) then why are they doing their best to drive the Harmons crazy?

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This is a show that’s really growing on me. Falchuk and Murphy keep dropping little Easter eggs into the show, from the use of the Them-style shot of the three masked killers to the use of the Psycho music this week, the whistling theme from Twisted Nerve/Kill Bill and the Vertigo music from last episode, and the way the show keeps referencing other things. The use of metaculture in AHS allows the writers to sneak in an extra layer of creepiness not otherwise attainable by being free to reference other scary things we all know. It’s like Glee, but with horror and not just horrible music.

There’s a lot of style with AHS, both visually and aurally, and I think that they’ve been able to match the style with substance: great cast, great acting, interesting scripts, and a lot of potential down the road. I just might have to take back everything bad I’ve said about Ryan Murphy before this is over.

Read our review of episode one, Pilot, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan once looked at buying a house where a man murdered his family. True story! Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.