Sunday, October 23, 2011

American Horror Story, Season One, Episode One: Pilot


Technically, an American Horror Story, falls outside of the parameters of this space, because it is actually horror and not any genre of fantasy; however, because it is so very compelling, it should be actively discussed.  American Horror Story has an all star cast: Dylan McDermott, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, whom viewers might recognize as Ruth Fisher from Six Feet Under and Denis O'Hare to name a few.  Actually, to be honest, the minute I found out that Denis O'Hare is on the show, I was compelled to watch.  True Blood fans will recognize him as the infamous Russell Edgington.

The episode begins in the seventies with two twin boys carrying baseball bats preparing to enter a decrepit old house.  Outside the house, stand a young girl, who is clearly neurologically atypical. She warns the boys that if they enter the house that they will regret it, and so of course they enter and they die.

This sets the stage for the introduction of Vivien Hunter, who is recovering from a terrible miscarriage.  Her marriage to psychiatrist Ben Harmon, played by Dylan McDermott is in trouble because she walked in on him having an affair.  In an attempt to save their family, Ben, Vivien and their daughter Violet Harmon move to LA. They buy an old house, which we are told has been restored by the two gay male former owners. Apparently, gay men are the only one's capable of house restoration.  We are told that these men die of a murder suicide. Isn't that lovely, 10 minutes into the show and we already have the dead gay trope alive and kicking. 

The house is obviously creepy, but the family moves in and attempts to build a life there.  Ben begins work by having a young man named Tate Langdon come to his come office to talk about his fantasies regarding murdering everyone in his high school.   Clearly the child is disturbed and I believe he is connected to the house in some way.  Tate walks in on Violet in the bathroom as she is cutting her wrists.  He tells her that she is doing it wrong, if she is attempting to kill herself, and that she really needs to lock the door.  This is clearly the start of an angsty teenage relationship.

Matters between Ben and Vivien continue to be rough, as every time he draws close to her she pulls  away.  Vivien keeps telling Ben that she needs more time and he accepts passively and withdraws. When they first bought the house, Vivien noticed some wallpaper covering murals, and as she is removing the paper, the same neurologically atypical girl enters the room and tells her, "you're all going to die." She is an adult version of the child we saw at the beginning of the episode. Adelaide's mother Constance enters the room and sends Adelaide off to watch Dora the Explorer.  In an interesting exchange, Constance tells Vivien that Adelaide has a "thing for the house."  Constance says that she is southern and had moved to L.A. to get into acting but having the "mongoloid brought everything to an end."  Do I even need how to say how ableist it is to refer to a disabled character as a mongoloid? Constance hands Vivien some sage to clear the spirits out of the house.

In perhaps the only scene that feels contrived on the episode, Violet is verbally accosted at the school for smoking on the school grounds.  When she apologies and drops the cigarette butt on the ground, Leah demands that she eat it.  Abby, the only person of colour in the entire episode tries to intervene saying that Leah is just upset because her grandmother died of cancer.  Uh huh.  When Leah grabs for Violet again, Violet spits in her face and walks away, while Leah screams you're dead. 

At the house, as Vivien is hanging laundry to dry, Moira walks up and informs her that she is the maid.  At first Vivien tells her that she does not need help, but as they talk about the specific care that the old house needs, Vivien warms up to her.  When Ben walks into the room, the Moira that he sees is very different than the Moira Vivien sees. His version of Moira is young and extremely sexy.  When Vivien mentions hiring Moira, he is surprised but quickly agrees. 

Sure enough, Ben walks in on Moira masturbating.  As soon as they make eye contact, he rushes out of the room. Alone in his bedroom Ben masturbates.  For those that are fans of Dylan McDermott, there are a few nice shots of his backside to appreciate.  The moment he orgasms, he begins to cry.  I thought that this was really a great example of how the lack of intimacy between Ben and Vivien is hurting him.  When he lifts his head, he notices a man on the lawn staring at him, but when Ben runs outside to check, there is no one there.


Naturally having pissed off the school bullies, Violet is attacked in the cafeteria.  She is forced to burn her attacker with a cigarette butt to get away.  I think this scene ends all wrong.  Where exactly did the cigarette come from? If there is no smoking outside of the school, there is clearly no smoking in the school. When she returns home, Vivien notices the bruise on her forehead and tells her that they can switch her to another school, but Violet rejects this idea claiming not to be afraid of anything. Later, alone with Tate, they hatch a plan to lore Leah back to the house to scare her.  At this point, I am convinced that Tate is not actually a person but a ghost that is haunting the house.  There is no way to explain the fact that he just keeps showing up unexplained.

The next day as Ben is working in his study, and who should walk in but Moira. Ben is clearly distracted by her, but she tells him that if she does not clean his office now it will have to wait until next week. Moira approaches Ben and asks him if he touched himself after catching her masturbating and then begs him to touch her.  She leans into him, almost straddling him when Violet shows up just outside of the door calling a halt to all the action.

In the study, Vivien is once again removing the wallpaper when Ben walks in. He tells her that she is beautiful in an attempt to woo her but she once gain rejects him. In his frustration he yells out that he is sorry and asks if Vivien is planning on punishing him forever.  An argument quickly ensues but when Vivien starts to hit him he grabs her arms and kisses her.  They end up making love on the floor of the study.

At school, Violet tells Leah that she is a drug dealer to lure her to her house. Once inside they go into the basement where Tate is waiting.  The lights begin to shift and Tate hops on top of Leah.  As the lights go on and off, we can hear him calling out mother, and this half rotted corpse flashes into the room.  Violet begins to scream as the corpse approaches her.  When Leah manages to get away, Violet asks Tate what the hell happened and he tells her that she was hallucinating, and that he only got on top of Leah for a moment.  Violet is creeped right the hell out and runs out of the room, telling Tate to leave and never come back.

Later that night, Vivien is alone in her room when in walks who she presumes to be Ben covered in a leather suit that they found earlier in the attic.  Vivien assumes that Ben just wants to be kinky when he doesn't answer her.  The man climbs on top of her and they begin to have sex.  While this is happening, the real Ben is downstairs turning on the gas stove. Just before he can burn himself, Constance enters through a side door and stops him saying that it is not his time yet and that he needs to enjoy the house.

The next morning, Ben goes for a jog and he notices that he is being followed.  He hides behind some bushes and jumps out to grab Larry Harvey.  Larry tells Ben that he used to live in the house, and is now out of jail for triple murder, because of an inoperable brain tumor.  Ben tells him that he set the house on fire, along with his entire family, because the voice in his head told him to.  He tells Ben that the house is evil and that he needs to leave.  When he asks Ben if he has heard voices or started to sleep walk, Ben puts a stop to the conversation and threatens to have Larry institutionalized, if he doesn't leave his family alone.  As Ben runs off, Larry is left grinning.  Though Larry said he was trying to warn Ben, I get the feeling that much more is going on here.

Back at the house, Moira walks into a room to find Constance trying on Vivien's diamond earrings.  Moira tells her to put them back, but Constance makes it clear that she can do whatever she wants and that Moira will be blamed because she is after all the new maid.  It is clear that these two have a longstanding relationship.

When Vivien walks into the kitchen she finds Ben waiting for her.  She tells him that she wants Indian food for dinner, which is her way of declaring that she is pregnant.  Apparently, she only wants Indian food when she is pregnant. Ben hugs her and is clearly happy. He believes despite everything that has happened so far, that his family is finally getting a new start.

Okay, I pretty much gave you a blow by blow, leaving out a few instances of paranormal occurrences so as not to ruin it for those who have not seen the show yet. This episode is definitely worth the watch and I am very interested to see where the story goes.