American Horror Story episode 9 review: Spooky Little Girl

An infamous unsolved murder provides the inspiration for this week’s episode of American Horror Story. Here’s Ron’s review of the excellent Spooky Little Girl…

This review contains spoilers.

9. Spooky Little Girl

You can’t have a show about people being killed in Los Angeles without mentioning one of the most famous murders in LA. That would be Elizabeth Short, a wannabe actress who, in 1947, was found nude and dismembered in a field. You’d know her best as The Black Dahlia, one of the most famous unsolved murders in history. It’s not surprising they work her into American Horror Story given the horrific way she died, is it?

As it turns out, American Horror Story‘s theory regarding the death of the Black Dahlia is an interesting one. She’s visiting a dentist, Dr David Curran (Joshua Malina) but doesn’t have any money to pay. What she does have is her body, and while the dentist is having his way with his sleeping gassed patient, she dies from accidental asphyxiation, and Dr Curran is left with a dead body in his chair and a tough explanation. Fortunately, a renowned surgeon named Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) is there to help, and by help we mean cut the body up into chunks, remove its blood and entrails, and give it a nice permanent smile (no doubt inspired by and inspiring Heath Ledger’s Joker makeup).

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I’m going to have to come to a dead stop and praise Ryan Murphy and company for this episode, and the fact that it seems like they have planned to have the Black Dahlia appear from the very beginning. How do I know this? One of the most likely suspects of the murder, Walter Bayley, was a top surgeon who lived in a large house a block from the place where the body was discovered with his estranged wife before leaving in 1946. Bayley suffered from a degenerative brain condition, kind of like what alcoholism does to the brain. He’s rumored, though it is not proven, to be a provider of abortions well before it was legal. Dr Bayley has an awful lot of parallels with Charles Montgomery, doesn’t he? Maybe James Ellroy was a script consultant on the show?

Moving on.

Of course, Ms Short is quite psychologically damaged even before she gets killed and bisected, so she’s the latest patient to turn to Dr Ben Harmon for help. She’s also the latest pawn in the house’s efforts to ensnare Ben, who somehow refuses Moira’s seduction, Hayden’s renewed seduction, and a Moira/Black Dahlia sandwich. Of course, Hayden and Moira butt heads again this week, with Hayden interfering in Mo’s efforts to use Short to get to Ben. She’s still protective of Ben, even after everything.

Director John Scott doesn’t have a lot of horror elements to play with this week, but he does have a whole lot of sex scenes, mostly between ghosts or ghosts and humans. I like the repeated use of smash cuts in this episode, particularly when they smash from Hayden’s introducing herself to Travis (Michael Graziadei) to Hayden receiving the affections of Constance’s boy-toy. These are used throughout the episodes in various places, and they all really work well. It’s a nice transition from, say, Vivien in the quiet of the mental hospital to Ben at the house with alarms blaring.

Mena Suvari makes a pretty good Black Dahlia, though her hair is a bit off. As guest stars go, she’s not bad, though she doesn’t have as much to work with as more familiar faces and more frequent visitors, like the consistently creepy and fun Kate Mara (who is very creepy and very fun this week, particularly when she comes to Ben’s rescue). You also get a nice dose of Constance this week, and she’s definitely at her pointed, cruel best in her scenes with Boy Toy and at her fake-sweet best when visiting Vivien. The limited appearances of Frances Conroy and Denis O’Hare are both played for maximum effect in minimum screen time, and while I expected one of these things to happen, the other was a bit of a fun shock.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this week’s episode was the reveal of just why the house is so baby-crazy. Throughout the season, the babies in Vivien’s womb have been the focus of all the house’s attention and care. This reveal was interesting and, while not shocking to those who watch the previews at the end of the episode, it was a lot of fun and it really makes sense when you consider it in the context of just how miserable the ghosts within Murder House can be. Don’t worry, I won’t blatantly spoil it, as much as I’d love to blabber on with it.

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The last show I remember anticipating as much as I anticipate AHS every week was the first mini-season of The Walking Dead. Unlike The Walking Dead’s second season, American Horror Story never really seems to have an off episode. There are some subplots and story lines that work better than others, but Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are doing a great job of meshing everything together as the show progresses, shuttling ghosts in and out of the plots and keeping things moving with a steady dose of gratuitous sex, gore, and gloriously campy soliloquies. I guess the “ghost of the week” format is pretty freeing, and the inexpensive filming locations make for greater ease of storytelling on a budget.

American Horror Story is one of the weirdest, most wonderful shows on television. It’s not going to make you smarter, but you’ll have a great time being dumb right alongside the Harmons.

Read our review of the last episode, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan really wants to stop watching the sneak preview spoilers at the end of AHS, but he can’t help himself. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.