Technical delays having been for the moment conquered, Simon Abrams checks in with his start-up of our conversation about "Murder House," the second episode of American Horror Story's first-season run. (It's a miniseries, not a regular TV show, according to the Emmys and also according to a full-page ad in this past Sunday's Los Angeles Times trumpeting its nominations and the upcoming season, entitled American Horror Story: Asylum.) Please feel free to acquaint yourself with the progression of this conversation, if you haven't done so already, by clicking on the following links:
"HOME INVASION" POST #1
"HOME INVASION" POST #2
"HOME INVASION" POST #3
"HOME INVASION" POST #4
PILOT EPISODE POST #1
PILOT EPISODE POST #2
PILOT EPISODE POST #3
PILOT EPISODE POST #4
PILOT EPISODE POST #5
PILOT EPISODE POST #6
Apologies for the delay. My computer is still in the shop. The good news is it is supposed to be done by today. The bad news is I expect I have to pay more money for additional parts. The ugly news is I don't have the money to pay for them or anything else until my next paycheck comes in....
Anyway, the "Murder House" episode moves American Horror Story's plot forward significantly. I mostly liked this episode with some major reservations. The episode begins with Moira's death. The year is 1983 and the lecherous owner of the titular house is feeling frisky. He wants Moira, but she doesn't want him. More to the point, she doesn't want to lose her job, having already regretfully had sex with her boss once before (this tryst is alluded to only in dialogue). But it turns out that the philandering man in question is actually Constance's husband. Constance walks in, shoots out Moira's eye, makes a sullen (But dramatic!) speech decrying her unfaithful hubby, and then shoots him dead.
This opening scene doesn't set up so much as it conforms to a pattern established in "Pilot." While they do make their adult male protagonists pitiable monsters, Murphy and Falchuk also make it a little too easy to cluck your tongues at their guys. I'm thinking particularly of Ben but I think Tate and Dr. Charles Montgomery, the man that commissioned the construction of the Harmons' house, have also suffered thusfar from rickety characterizations. "Murder House" may concern and reveal new information about heroines like Moira and Constance. But ultimately, Ben is the one that has to most actively push the plot forward. Which is troubling since Ben is basically being pulled in several different directions in "Murder House," making it easy to ignore the fact that a multitudes of factors are over-anxiously pushing us, as viewers, away from him and towards the show's already sympathetic women. Which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for a really cheap and frankly rather obnoxious plot twist that explains why Vivien doesn't see the same Moira that Ben does.
In "Murder House," Ben's problems really hit home. He can't immediately raise the family's stakes and leave the house because of a number of factors. For example, Ben has to be the family's sole breadwinner since Vivien can't get a job now that she's pregnant. Ben also suffers from mysterious blackouts now. And his creepy burn victim friend is now demanding a bribe. And Ben's other woman, Hayden, the pregnant one in Boston? She's back and she wants Ben's attention. Oh, and Moira is and isn't apparently flirting with Ben, because, as Moira says, only women can see her for who she truly is.
That revelation is the one that made me most exasperated this week. Remember when I previously complained that the ironic register of Falchuk and Murphy's sense of humor was really bugging me? Well, when Moira says, "Women, however, see into the soul of a person," it's not only too earnest, it's just flat out too dumb. Let me get this straight: Moira only looks like she's a flirty hotty because...men like Ben, Constance's husband and the detective (the one that gets in a hilariously low blow at Ben when he says, " Right. It's not a crime to be an asshole?") that searches for one of Ben's patients, now missing--are all collectively deluded? I'm not saying the show's writers are not revealing enough of the logic or lack thereof behind this plot twist. I am however taken aback at how much of a cop-out this line and this understanding of Moira's effect on men is. It's biological, stupid, they can't help it! Really? How can we help but hate these guys on a certain level now?
The other key thing about this week's episode that immediately drove me nuts is that while the women seem to all have great stamp-my-feet-and-look-at-me lines (even Hayden: "I'm not a whore; I matter!"), almost none of them are able to affect change in this episode. Constance is the most pro-active when she shoots Moira and, well, look how that turned out. Violet is barely in this episode, while Vivien only manages to rattle the cage of the shifty realtor that sold the Harmons their house. Beyond that, Vivien goes on a guided tour and learns yet another reason why she should move out of the house immediately. And she also shows the house to a ghost in an ironic reference to an earlier flashback.
All of this starts to look like a very stacked deck against Ben once you see how Moira is ultimately victimized by episode's end. The blackouts that Ben has been experiencing are actually leading him to the house's backyard. And ultimately, when we see what's in the hole he's been distractedly digging throughout "Murder House," we get why Moira is also very frantic and interested in Ben's excavation. Something is compelling Ben to dig up (or maybe just discover) Moira's bones. But unfortunately for Moira, Ben had his own body to contribute to that hole. Ben is a monster because, more than any of his other character flaws, he can't see past himself. So he literally buries his problems (oh yeah, P.S., it's Hayden; duh.) in the vain hope that he can hide from his past.
I like the effect of this climactic burial but I don't like how we get there. I see Falchuk and Murphy trying to make Ben sympathetic but again, I feel that they too often drive us to Vivien and Constance, the latter of whom actively steers Ben towards sealing up Moira's improvised grave. But I feel like that can unpack further in subsequent posts. This one's been delayed long enough as is. What do you think of this episode, Dennis? How 'bout that sexy stuff (all that pumping!), and Sal Mineo (random!), and the guy with the Frankenstein complex (Make him squeal!)?