Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Simon Abrams returns with a recap and thoughts on American Horror Story's sixth episode, "Open House," as our discussion of Season One continues. (Remember, Season Two premieres Wednesday night on FX.)

Hey Dennis

I really hate being such a downer during these lil conversations of ours but once again, I find myself underwhelmed by Falchuk and Murphy's poorly developed ideas. The events of "Open House" feel largely perfunctory and sometimes even unnecessary. The episode's big take-away message is that, no matter how much we may want to destroy the past to build a new future, we can't just run from the skeletons in our closet. Why this glaringly obvious point needs to be emphasized now is unclear, but as I'm sure you'll tell me, there's probably a reason or two forthcoming. Still, right now, I gotta say, I feel like the information we get from this week's episode's more-developed subplots does nothing to expand the show's mythology, as obnoxious as that term may be.

"Open House" begins with a flashback to the Murder House in 1994. We see that a pre-burn-victim Larry lived here. Larry calmly tells his wife he'd like to divorce her, that he's having an affair, and that he would like his wife and legally recognized child to leave the Murder House and to live with his wife's parents. Some cold shit, right there, but it gets worse: not unlike Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester, Larry's got a deformed and heretofore unacknowledged charge in the attic. A red ball bounces out of an especially dark corner and surprise, out comes another Down's-afflicted kid! The shock value of this revelation yet again proves just how inhumane Murphy and Falchuk are in their treatment of their more pathetic characters. The jump scare effect of this reveal is crass and makes it impossible to see this child, Constance and Larry's illegitimate child, as something more than a sad little monster. Spooky but groan-worthily crass, that's American Horror Story for you.
I'm not even opposed to the idea of Larry and Constance having a kid together, though a preceding hint that Larry was indirectly thinking about Constance or his kid before this week's episode would have been nice. I don't think that, at this point in the narrative, that this extra convolution to either character's arc adds much. This is particularly true when you consider this subplot in light of the real estate subplot, but more on this in a moment . I'd like, with your kind indulgence, to just chart Constance and Larry's story in this week's episode.

Larry visits the titular event and freaks out Marcy and Vivien pretty bad. Vivien tells Ben that they had two serious offers on the house, one made by a creepy burn victim guy. That detail predictably leads Ben to realize that Larry is the bidder in question. So he confronts him, even going so far as to break into Larry's home, where Larry cryptically tells him why he can't just leave the Murder House (not to mention why he told his wife to get out a decade ago). "That is the place I've ever been able to be happy again--with HER," growls Larry. Which would be convincing if there was some scene showing a younger Larry and Constance bonding , talking, maybe even showing affection for each other. Apart from the monster in the attic, there's nothing in this episode to suggest that Larry and Constance ever had a connection, not even just in Larry's head.

And lo, when, for reasons that aren't really necessitated by the plot of this week's episode, an older Constance and Larry do meet, she predictably disabuses him of his romantic obsession with her. But since there's no suggestion beyond emotionally flat expository shouting that there is even an inkling of infatuation projected onto Constance by Larry, this scene has no gravity to it. I don't think this subplot is necessary, Dennis. Prior to this episode, we already know that Constance had two children. Why aren't they enough skeletons to populate Constance's closet? She loathes one child because of her birth defects and can't let go of the other in spite of his violent past. So why do we really need this third child?

Ostensibly, the real estate plot of "Open House" provides an explanation. Joe Escandarian (Amir Arison), a sleazy Armenian land developer, is the other bidder on the Harmons' home. He tells an indignant Constance what we need to know about him: if he can't buy off a woman, have sex with her or have her make him a sandwich, she is of no use to him. He naturally lusts after Moira, who presents herself to him as a young, wanton slut (I use that word because Constance does and man oh man, Jessica Lange consummately rolls that epithet around in her mouth before spitting it out at Frances Conroy). Moira even goes so far as to tell him the yuppy that she "like[s] it deep." There's contextualizing dialogue for that line, but I'd eater just let its toxic sarcasm sit for now.

In fact, Joe is so nakedly scuzzy, that he tells Ben, Moira and Constance that he plans on razing the Murder House and building apartment units on it. Which prompts Constance to deliver a dialogue-shaped speech about why Joe, the thoughtless prick, will get his in the end. Highlights from this desperate rant include, but are not limited to, when Constance hisses, "One day you'll be dead--and they'll be building on top of you, too!"

And how about that equally one-dimensional, gypsy curse-worthy line about how this care-nothing, know-nothing interloper plans on, "building on top of someone else's life?" This is unintentionally funny since one of those lives is Moira, the ghost/woman Constance has happily traded barbs with for a couple of episodes now. "Show some respect," she spits out disgustedly. I have no idea what such a high falutin pout means, Dennis, I really don't...not within the context of such a glib show, at least.

But again, this too-obvious notion of preserving the past, no matter how painful, makes sense in the abstract. It's why I like that Vivien takes another ride on the Eternal Darkness bus tour that has turned the Harmons' home into a stop on an evil Epcot-style theme park ride. Vivien should try to understand what exactly is haunting the Murder House, and how it all began. This should happen!

 I similarly appreciated that Vivien has to sit down with Violet to discuss moving out of the Murder House. But again, shoddy execution and meager follow-through made these scenes frustrating. Tate /does / need to talk to Ben and make him see that he's on the mend. Vivien /does/ need to see her daughter as a young adult with valid concerns and needs, too. But the conversations in question just feel boilerplate and unmemorable. More importantly, the build-up to these crucial scenes is pretty klutzy. Vivien's need to go back on the Eternal Darkness tour is preceded by a dopey sex daydream she has where she conflates Luke with Ben with the Rubberman. It's a silly scene and not nearly as funny as it could be. Same is true of the scene where Tate admonishes Vivien thusly: "[Violet's] not a little girl, you know. At some point, you're going to have to let her go." This is a joke, right? Having the mentally unstable, now reformed killer that we just saw (in last week's flashback) massacre his classmates give parental advice? It's a joke! So why isn't it funny?

And why does the tour, apart from the cheesy but effective flashback capper to the Montgomeries story, feel so inconsequential? I don't even get a casual cause-and-effect connection between that scene's revelations and Vivien's talk with Violet. It's as if it's not even important to reassure audiences that these characters are thinking about the consequences of their actions when they're not directly involved in the show's plot. That's my biggest issue with "American Horror Story" thus far, Dennis: these characters don't have an interior life because the show's writers just keep needlessly building outward instead of in. The real estate shark gets dispatched, Larry gets put in his place, Vivien bonds with Violet, Tate gets in good with Ben, and Constance has another fucking dead kid to deal with. So what's next?

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








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