Sunday, October 21, 2012


The discussion of the "Open House" episode of American Horror Story has inspired me to take real, serious issue with Simon Abrams for perhaps the first time. Let me begin the process of ripping and tearing without further delay...



We have often disagreed about individual moments or overall effects or even thematic strands as they have come about in American Horror Story, but that’s what should happen as we look over this show closely together. We have never gotten angry when those disagreements come about, and when someone gets their toes stepped on there’s a modicum of mutual respect that shifts into gear which I have been very grateful for which has kept things civil and productive.

Until now, that is.

You’re not from California, are you, Simon? Used to be no one was from here. Writers and film critics came here to escape their past, their dead-end prospects, dreaming of glory and love and money in the movie capital of the world, looking for that one great idea that not even the grossest hack screenwriter had come up with to ride wet all the way into the sunset. But now there are no more virgin ideas-- we live on top of each other, cannibalizing plots good and bad from every nook and cranny and dusty basement of film history, or jostling the ghosts of critics far more powerful and renowned than we’ll ever be, just to find a little patch of the conversation we can call our own. This is California now, and New York too. There are no more new ideas, and yet it’s human nature to want to stitch something together that’ll pass for new and make great claims for one’s originality, or one’s ability to disguise one’s “inspirations.” So write away we do. And every time you write up one of these dismissive, monstrous temples to Manny Farber that you call episode recaps, YOU’RE BUILDING ON TOP OF SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE!!!!!! A LITTLE RESPECT, PLEASE!!!!

Okay, I can’t sustain this any longer. I thought about making this my entire post, but I just can’t go through with it. But I got ya, just for a second, didn’t I? Come on. Tell me I got ya for just a second. It’ll make me sleep better.

In case it’s now clear to everyone here, I was not poking fun at my pal Simon, whose ability to crystallize his reaction to even a lackluster episode like “Open House” is to be admired and celebrated, not shunned and denigrated in the manner of Constance’s high and mighty smack down of “greasy” Persian—whoops, Armenian—real estate developer Joe Escandarian, which takes places in the breakfast nook of his garish faux European manse, all the better to facilitate maximum sneerage. (In case it's still unclear, it was that smack down speech I was parodying in my "attack" on Simon above.) It does strike me as the slightest bit odd, Constance waxing on about having respect for the past, when it’s the past that so tightly has her, and all those living and dead who are still swirling about the Murder House, in its grasp. A question that has arisen for me as I watched this episode and the previous entry, ”Piggy, Piggy,” both episodes that I had never seen until these past two weeks (I’d seen the rest of the show before you and I started this endeavor), is just what Constance’s role was conceived to be and how it is playing out. Because frankly, in this episode particularly, the way Constance is integrated into the action of the various subplots, her presence strikes me as a far more passive figure than I had ever before recognized. She seemed a much more interesting character to me when we weren’t entirely clear on what she meant to everything that was going on around her.

Of course she’s directly responsible for Moira being trapped in the house, and her sparring with the maid has made for some very entertaining opportunities for Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy as actresses. And of course I bought the Constance/Addy relationship to a far greater degree than you did, though I appreciate greatly your pointing out that its ultimate resolution, through Billie Dean, the medium who arranges for the spectral mother/daughter resolution that (apparently) seals the subplot involving the two of them, is on the pat side.  But other than these incidents, I’m a little disappointed that we don’t see Constance in there getting her hands dirty of late, and it makes me wonder if her role as conceived is really primarily that of a facilitator, or more accurately an enabler of evil, as opposed to someone who has fully bought into the house’s agenda. She manipulates Moira into the sexual maiming of Escandarian who, like all the men in this show who indulge their sleazy horndog fantasies, apparently deserves his fate, but when it comes down to the actual killing and disposal of the body, it’s good old Larry who does the deed.

And speaking of Larry, your complaint about the lack of groundwork being laid in his “relationship” with Constance, which is similar to the one you raised about Constance and Addy, is spot on regarding this situation. I suspect that time constraints may have had something to do with the fact that their subplot seems severely truncated, with all the actual respect (there’s that word again) and attraction that must have been between them at some point getting the ax, which only points up that the whole notion of Larry and Constance having a connection is on the level of plot development only and has no real greater meaning. Falchuk (who wrote this spinning wheel of an episode) and Murphy might term the dismissal of the real meat of the relationship, whether rooted in practicality or not, as falling under their “policy of benign neglect,” the typically overarticulated gripe that Violet lays at her parents’ feet when they express concern over her weak appetite and generally depressed behavior. I’m beginning to believe it’s also one that the two of them operate on more often than not.

There really isn’t a whole lot left to discuss about this episode, in my view, before moving on to the “Rubber Man” episode (which may be occasion for further complaining, as it was my least favorite episode of the ones I originally saw several months ago—but I’ll wait and watch it again before I get too comfortable in the land of moaning and groaning). However, you used the word “crass” in your last post to describe American Horror Story, and though I don’t think I’d agree across the board, there are elements within this episode in particular that I think definitely qualify. I’m thinking of a minor violation like Larry describing to Ben his desire to buy the house, his need of the house—“That is the only place I have any hope to ever be happy again…” Cut to Ben looking suspiciously intrigued, strings building to a crescendo on the soundtrack, cut back to Larry as he leans in toward Ben and the camera. “…with her.” (I blame the over-the-top antics of the writer and the director-- Tim Hunter-- for making me actively dislike Denis O’Hare here for the first and perhaps only time in this series.)

But I’m even more put off by the continued reappearances of Marcy, the real estate hag who shows up with the increasing regularity of an unwelcome pop-up mole, for the express purpose of delivering id-inspired epithets and various other clueless observations that are meant to peg her for some all-too-easy comic relief. Murphy has gone on in interviews (some of which can been seen on the Season One American Horror Story Blu-ray release) about how he and Falchuk “fell in love with Marcy” and began looking for ways to get her into episodes, ostensibly because they found the actress who plays her, Christine Estabrooke, to be so hilarious as to warrant extra attention. But, gentlemen, we’re a long way from discovering what Jessica Lange brings to the table and writing Constance into a major presence on the show because of that. No, Marcy, who we’re told in a previous episode lives in a studio apartment in the Valley (all the derision Westsiders like Murphy and Falchuk need muster, I’m afraid), is simply a vehicle for, yes, M& F’s crass, camp-laced putdowns of the sort of fearful flyover sensibility that Marcy supposedly represents. I’ve grown weary of the sort of knowing shocker like the one that Marcy lets slip when she’s showing the house to Escandarian for the first time—“Everything was meticulously restored by a couple of the previous homos—owners—home owners.” (Cue wide-eyed vaudevillian look of horror on Marcy’s face, followed by a scramble for dignified regrouping.)

Truthfully, Estabrooke isn’t quite the top-flight comedienne Murphy and Falchuk seem to think she is—every lame line so far has been visible coming a mile and a half down Van Nuys Boulevard, and each one lands with an overemphatic thud punctuated by a none-too-subtle smirk. However much that flyover sensibility may deserve those putdowns, a cheap joke, cheaply delivered, is still a cheap joke. And they don’t come any cheaper than a hilarious tag line that Marcy delivers to Vivien, with whom she’s taking the Murder House tour--“Let’s not put that on the listing”—which completely deflates the horror of having just seen Nora kill Charles and then blow her own brains out in black-and-white flashback. So even when M&F don’t look away from ghastly circumstances (a decision I respected and you didn’t in “Piggy, Piggy”) the result can still be an unpleasant, tone-deaf aftertaste.

I’m through with the Eternal Darkness tour plot contrivance too. Not only does it contribute far too willingly to the smirking tone the show tends to indulge in these episodes toward gruesome carnage, but it is also only functional, and annoyingly so. Yes, Vivien should be interested in finding out everything that has happened in the house before she palms it off on the next buyer, who if she has her way will be considerably less unsuspecting than she and Ben were. But her mode of investigation, instead of scrupulous research in a library or, perhaps, the Internet, is instead this sleazy tour? A tour which, God knows, probably delivers only factual information approved by local historians and news information outlets and not just grue-amplified anecdotes meant to shock the vanloads of unwashed-- among whom Marcy fits in just perfectly, thank you-- that have plunked down their dollars to get a frisson of fright off the misfortune of others? And speaking of the misfortune of others, maybe it’s only because I’m currently knee-deep in Vincent Bugliosi’s Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away with Murder, but I call foul on the inclusion of a stop at Bundy Drive on the murder tour seen here. I’m just not ready to see this particular real-life outrage, around which there swirls no mystery or particularly grotesque fascination, turned into lip-smacking fodder for a (very entertaining) fictional freak show. The Eternal Darkness Tour was a good way to initially pique Vivien’s awareness, but going to this well more than once is a bad idea.

I’ll return with a recap of episode seven, “Rubber Man,” next! I can’t blame the crippling headache I’m enduring this weekend on “Open House,” but it sure hasn’t helped. I’ll take extra Advil before I check in again, because I think I might need ‘em. By the way, I miss Hayden. I sure hope she comes back soon…


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









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