Saturday, September 29, 2012


I'm finally checking in with my last words on the "Halloween Part 2" episode of American Horror Story! Simon Abrams and I will finally be getting to episode five on Monday, in our march toward Halloween (and surely now beyond). But for now, let us return to the Murder House...



As far as delays to our schedule of analysis and discussion go, you’ve got the Toronto Film Festival (and soon, the NYFF), and I’ve got--- Well, certainly not the Toronto Film Festival or anything like it. But I certainly appreciate your patience and that of Our Dear Readers as we gear down on “Halloween Part 2” and prep for “Piggy Piggy,” one of the episodes in the American Horror Story that I initially missed on my first pass through the Murder House.

I’m intrigued by the thoughts that you stirred re the motivations, or even the emotional state of the ghosts in this show. In most haunted scenarios ghosts are most typically seen as tethered either by revenge or some other portfolio of uncompleted business back on Earth, or perhaps even the unconscious desires of the living to maintain their connection to a past that has been somehow, and unjustly, taken from them. I hadn’t really tumbled on this before seeing this episode again, and considering Nora and the Dead Breakfast Club, it does seem, at least for the moment, that what may be going on is that it is the dead who refuse to give up their claim on the living. The notion that they are free to walk on Halloween, and therefore free to interact, that is, directly change the trajectory and circumstances of the lives of those who are not (yet) dead, is a conceit that I like a lot—it gives weight and meaning to the occasion most Americans think of as a fun, superficial chance to flirt with harmless versions of horrific imagery we don’t have much use for in real life. (Unless we’re watching horror movies and shows like American Horror Story, of course.) 

But within the context of this episode, and even, really, the rest of the episodes, the writers don’t really use it to the end of fleshing out a really novel take on the possible function of ghosts. As we will see again in regard to the character of Hayden, the house and its influences, whatever and wherever their origins might be, permit these kinds of interactions on a daily basis—they just have to occur on the grounds. (We knew this as soon as we saw what happened to Leah in the basement in the pilot episode.) But it seems odd that there would be such emphasis on this walking-among-the-living conceit, and yet the result of it, in terms of what we see as a result of their mingling with the world—Nora’s visit to her mother, Chad and Patrick’s implied relationship shift, and even the DBC’s confrontation with Tate— is that they remain primarily influencers, unable even on this day to actually do much on the physical plane beyond be far less coy about their own presence that they have to be in their less corporeal incarnations. 

As evidenced by certain events I’m thinking of that have yet to occur, their actions certainly can have consequences, but again those consequences are directly tied to the house and its existence as a kind of ghostly fish bowl, the living interlopers buffeted by the swirling currents of the whims and rages of the undead. The dead are far more interested in the living than the reverse—curiosity about what’s behind that door or causing the curtain to move is not something this show much indulges. No, the dead are attracted to what the living have to offer, or perhaps more what is dangled in front of them in that house which they can no longer really have, and that is an upsetting, motivating force. There is one element of this ghost story, yet to be revealed, which complicates this matter a bit, but it remains a story mainly about things unseen, unattainable that the dead desperately want to take with them, things that keep them clutching onto life, even with the knowledge that there really is no going back.

All of which makes me believe with greater conviction as we move through this first season that Murphy and Falchuk have perhaps not considered what compels the ghosts on Halloween, at least the ones with ties to the Murder House, as thoroughly as they might have. (Maybe they got confused, what with all the overlapping, interacting time lines; maybe they just aren’t such clear thinkers to begin with.) The concept of the show is the house’s hold over them, the permission it gives them to be clever, harsh manipulators of those inside it who still draw breath. This is why the conceit behind the Halloween walk, intriguing though it is, doesn’t seem to draw real blood—it doesn’t really amount to much in terms of what the ghosts are able to accomplish on the outside. Even on the inside, Nora seems to be given less to direct action than hushed (subconscious) suggestion, and I think you’re right to presume that her motivations are to hasten her own agenda by couching it in terms that seem to have concerns outside of her own. (The second “failure” she says she will not permit is almost certainly not that of the Harmons’ marriage.) It’s going to take Hayden to really get the ball rolling in terms of testing the waters of just how much physical activity these ghosts can indulge in, if they choose to do so. But none of this does much to quell the growing suspicion that Murphy and Falchuk’s vision of the afterlife, as it applies to the occupants of the Murder House anyway, may be less consistent than previously assumed. (And for a night when the dead can do whatever they want, on the streets or wherever, it’s a much quieter, less chaotic night than I would have guessed!) The mangled and violated DBC are motivated by what usually spurs ghosts on—unfinished business, the desire to draw some sort of revenge on, or at least admission of guilt from a curiously repressed Tate. But for the moment the others remain, as you say, more cryptic in their intent.

One last item on “Halloween Part 2,” which I asked about before and which we discussed off-line, as it were, that I wanted to mention. I raised the question in my last post about who it was that was underneath Violet’s bed that reaches out for (and misses) her foot up in the bedroom, during Larry’s attempt to collect that $1,000 blackmail bill. As I said previously, it’s not Tate-- we see him outside; it’s not the Rubber Man—we see him inside; it’s not the Infantata—he/it is a basement dweller; and it sure isn’t Addy. You pointed out something I didn’t see clearly on my computer monitor—the burned flesh that gives away the identity of the creeper as Larry, and also that the knocking wasn’t heard at the same time as the hand comes reaching out toward Violet’s ankle. You attributed this to a simple lapse of time, and clearly (now) that’s what was intended. It’s the span of time that’s too tight here for me to accept that jump. That's a hell of a scamper from outside on the front porch and up (through a window?) into her bedroom in the amount of real time that separates the last knock we hear from the appearance of that hand. I don't buy it for a second, especially the way the sequence is edited-- her moving toward the stairs after just missing seeing the Rubber Man, and then a quick cut to her opening the door to her room, then the hand coming out from under the bed-- that Larry could reasonably make his way up there that quickly. He ain't dead, after all. And if he did get there that fast, why would he hide under the bed and make one weak grab, then nothing comes of it? And why is he reaching out for her from under the bed anyway? What was he going to do with her if he caught her? Dumb.

Okay, I’m off to watch the “Piggy Piggy” episode. I’ll check in with a recap and some initial thoughts on Monday. And by the way, not to be a shill for Fox Home Video or anything, but the DVD and Blu-ray sets for American Horror Story went on sale this past Tuesday. Halloween’s coming, for real, and so is season two of the show. I have not indulged in any of the teasers or hype for the upcoming season—I’d rather it hit me as cleanly as possible. But I will say that now more than ever, after having gone through the episodes the way we have so far, that I’m happier than ever that the powers that be thought it was a good idea to keep things fresh by starting from scratch on a new idea and new cast for the new season. Flaws and all, this kind of long-form take on the anthology show promises plenty of riches (and the inevitable attendant frustrations) yet to come.


Catch up on the American Horror Story conversation between Simon and I by clicking on the following links:







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