This review contains spoilers.
3. Murder House
Just when you thought it was safe to hop back onto the LA Murder Tour bus, things just keep getting weirder and weirder at the American Horror Story mansion.
There’s a lot of stress at home. Things seemed like they were improving, but with Vivien’s pregnancy, Ben’s little problem back in Boston (Hayden, as played by Kate Mara), and the fact that the Harmons sunk their entire savings into a giant house where dozens of people have apparently been murdered, it looks like the light at the end of the tunnel was simply the oven light.
Last week, while his family was in peril, Ben was off trying to get Hayden an abortion. As it turns out, not only did Hayden not get the abortion, her hormones have been turned up to eleven, and she’s decided the best idea would be to follow Ben across the country and jeopardize his entire life in the hopes of rekindling a relationship with him, or something else similarly crazy. Meanwhile, Vivien’s pregnancy is at risk due to the stress in her life, yet she persists in trying to figure out just what happened to turn their family home into a tourist attraction.
Oh yeah, this week we also get the story behind Constance and Moira’s complicated relationship, as if there wasn’t enough for one hour of television. A lot of the intrigue introduced in the first two episodes gets resolved this week, but an entirely different set of intriguing circumstances are introduced to replace them, so the mysteries of the show continue on. It’s just new mysteries, and I wholeheartedly approve of this. Rather than dragging things along for an entire season like some shows, American Horror Story is revealing clues at a steady, refreshing pace, while consistently adding new things to puzzle over.
This week’s episode certainly had a lot going on, but I have to give major credit to the director, David Semel. The narrative this week is very awkward and disjointed. The whole episode moves like an antique steam engine in fits and starts and hisses, and given the show’s subject matter and the revelation we’re given this week regarding just why Ben keeps waking up in random places after blacking out, it makes a whole lot of sense. Rather than simply telling or showing Ben’s state, the viewer is actually put into the kind of confused, scattered mental state by the way the show is stitched together.
All the threads make sense, the scenes last just long enough to get the point across without getting the viewer too comfortable, and the recurring use of the Dutch angle as a motif this week helps contribute to the uneasiness.
Normally, a confusing sequence of events is the sign of a poor director, but in this case it all feels as deliberate as the way the stories of the Murder House‘s past seems to mirror the events currently happening to the Harmon family. All of the events of the house so far, from Dr. Charles and Nora Montgomery’s secret abortion clinic (which I have suspected since the very first episode) to the thread linking Constance and Moira together mirror the events happening to Ben and company. Some scenes were presented as a duality: Viv yelling at her Realtor Marcy (Christine Estabrook) over nondisclosure of the Murder House‘s history and Moira’s yelling at Viv after Ben fired her “without cause.”
The acting on this show continues to be outstanding. Denis O’Hare’s Larry Harvey (aka Crispy) is quietly overtaking the others on the program as my second favorite character, behind Jessica Lange’s Constance. This week, everyone seemed to hit their beats perfectly: Connie Britton is consistently excellent, Frances Conroy (who has absolutely the best scene of the entire episode this week) and Alex Breckinridge are a great tag-team as Moira, and even Dylan McDermott is growing on me. The show’s guest stars (Kate Mara, Lily Rabe) live up to the high standards set by the rest of the cast.
I’ve been able to guess a lot of the things that the show has been doing so far, and while normally I hate that, in the case of American Horror Story, I’m okay with it. While I’ve been thinking up right answers to what’s going on with the characters so far, just watching it all unfold has been incredibly fun (and when the show surprises me, it really surprises me).
It’s rare that a show rewards a second look, but American Horror Story is a program that merits repeated viewings. As one of the FX commercials I saw tonight said, “Watching has its rewards.”
Read out review of episode two, here.