Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: American Horror Story "Murder House"

Non Spoiler Review:
The house is put on the market as the Harmon's attempt to rearrange their lives for another move. Unfortunately, things aren't so easy. Ben gets a lot of focus this week when all his bad behaviour with Hayden comes back to haunt him. Vivien, on the other hand, discovers her house is on the Eternal Darkness tour in Los Angeles, so sets about investigating some of the history to her home. 

Murder House was surprising in the huge amount of backstory it revealed about the house's original builder, as well as Constance and Moira. In fact, I almost wonder if it gave away too much so early. I'm used to these seasons long mysteries in line with Lost. Then again, there's a ton of ghosts in the house, so we're in no danger of running out of murder stories for this 90-year old mansion.

If all that wasn't intriguing enough, Ben's involvement with Hayden runs right off the tracks and culminates in an incredibly shocking ending. I really enjoyed Murder House, even though it was the more human foibles of the Harmons that drove the plot this week rather than the scares of the house itself.

Spoilers Now!
1983. Young Moira is cleaning when the man of the house makes a pass at her. She's given in to his advances before, but regrets it, so now he tries to rape her. Who walks in with a gun but Connie (as a coolly CGI de-aged Jessica Lange), shooting the mirror first, then Moira (in the goddamned eye!). She says he broke her heart for the last time, and shoots her husband dead. Connie sits on the bed, takes off her earrings and breaks down.

Vivien and Ben are in the midst of a fight about their financial advisor who screwed up their money. Ben's been keeping it from her that all their finances are tied up in the house. Once they sell it they can free up their funds, but they don't have money to move somewhere else in the meantime. Ben suggests a studio apartment, but his office is based out of the house now.

In another wise move, Ben suggests she's having PTSD and they just need to get her a therapist that their insurance will cover. Vivien asks him not to make her feel like she's crazy. She'll meet with the realtor and hopes they can sell the place without too much of a loss. But she warns him not to lie to her again or they're through (Are you listening, Ben? No.).

Vivien has coffee with Macie the realtor. Macie suggests she might want to adjust her expectations. She said she'd kill to live in that house given her own living accommodations are pretty tiny. Vivien's two steps ahead of her, though, and called other realtors. No one would take the listing. Vivien tells her to do whatever it takes to sell the house. In return she won't sue her for gross criminal negligence.

Moira comes upon Connie in the Harmon's house, stealing silverware. Connie calls Moira a thief of biblical proportions. Moira screams she doesn't want to be there anymore and misses her mother. Connie agrees she doesn't want to stay in this world of death and regret either, but Moira apparently can't move on. Connie adds she made this mess for herself. Moira tells her she needs to pay for what she's done, but Connie retorts she does every goddamned day.

Ben sees a new client who can't understand why her husband is divorcing her for being so boring. His mind wanders and he appears to have a vision where he's standing out on the lawn with bloody hands. He tries to wash the blood off and comes in to see Moira scrubbing the floor, cleaning up his mess, she says. She says she's discrete and saw nothing. He tells her he's done playing games and fires her.

This doesn't appear to be a vision anymore, as Vivien walks in with his hands on her, so when he tries to explain that she's been coming on to him, his wife finds it hard to believe (given she sees Moira as an old woman). Moira understands the stress they're under but is willing to forget the whole thing as she needs the job. Vivien suggests it might be better if she leaves, so Moira loses it on her and tells her she'll press charges if Ben tries to fire her with unjust cause, or lays a hand on her again.

After Moira leaves, Vivien thinks Ben's indiscretion in Boston has really screwed him up and he's acting out and being paranoid. And they have to get out of the house without a lawsuit, she warns.

Ben seems to think Moira stole his tape recorder he uses in his sessions. His next patient is already waiting in his office but he had no one on his schedule. It's Hayden. She just wants to talk. She's annoyed he left her in Boston without a word. She didn't have the abortion and has decided to keep their baby, and she's moving there, and he'll be paying. Dumbfounded, Ben protests that he doesn't have the money. She starts to freak out, but the doorbell rings and the LAPD shows up. Hayden leaves.

The cop is with missing persons. Sally Freeman (his boring patient) has gone missing and Ben is the last one who saw her. Moira walks in and out of the room and the officer can see her as a young woman, too.

Vivien is picking flowers when the Eternal Darkness tour drives by pointing out their murder house, so she goes on the tour herself, arriving at her own house—That's when the guide provides us with a flashback to Dr. Charles Montgomery, who built the house in 1920 for his wife Nora. When he fell on hard times he developed a Frankenstein complex and a drug addiction. His shrew wife berates Charles for their struggling life and bills, and he insults her for doting on their child and dressing him up like a girl. Nora tries to solve their financial woes by pimping her husband out to perform abortions and make some money to support the family. Two dozen girls went under the knife, but the guide explains their reign of terror climaxed in 1926.

Vivien sees blood between her legs and runs off the bus into her house. Later on at the doctor, she's told everything is fine, just some spotting. The bleeding stopped when she went into the house. The doctor tells her not to move to another home while she's pregnant as it's way too stressful. High levels of stress hormone could lead to a spontaneous abortion. Ben faints.

Connie spies Tate in the house as she walks the dogs. She gives him a friendly wave, but Tate doesn't wave back. The realtor notices her walk by as she puts up the For Sale sign.

Larry intercepts Ben on his run to talk about his girl in Boston. Larry also wants a thousand dollars to start his acting career.

Ben still searches for his recorder and gets increasingly paranoid. He has a vision of him on the grass with a shovel, and Connie asks what he's doing. He says he keeps waking up there. She warns him the soil is soaked with pesticides so not to dig there. Moira watches from the window.

Vivien gets a visitor but is reluctant to let anyone in. The girl says she wants to look at the house (It's Nora from the flashback—another ghost). She seems to know all the details of the house but doesn't recognize the modern conveniences of the kitchen. Vivien makes tea for her, and says she's pregnant. Nora reveals she had a child once, and we see she's got a hole in the back of her head. When Vivien turns around she's gone.

The LAPD shows up, saying they found Sally, who tried to commit suicide. And she had his recorder. The cop plays the recording and Ben hears Sally yelling at him for not paying attention to her and suggests maybe she should kill herself for someone to listen. Ben tells him he's not guilty of anything. Except being an ass, the cop says.

Vivien looks at apartments with Violet. She chides her mother for not dealing with anything, given they uprooted her to start over and now wants to do it again. She happens to love the house. They kicked ass there. It's the place where they survived the home invasion. But Vivien doesn't agree. Violet threatens to run away so they'll never find her.

Ben's medical test following his fainting shows a laudanum compound in his system—it causes retrograde memory loss. He blames Moira for drugging his coffee. Prove it, she counters. Hayden shows up at the house again, pissed he left her waiting. She starts yelling for Vivien to talk to her. Ben tries to calm her down. She wants to tell his wife together, and kisses him.

They walk outside, intent on finding somewhere quiet to eat, and Larry smashes Hayden with the shovel and keeps hitting her until Ben throws him to the ground and tries to strangle him. Larry shoves him off and Ben goes to Hayden, who's dead. Larry tries to calm him down by saying all his problems are solved, and Ben's hands are clean. Ben FREAKS out. Larry suggests he just has to clean it up before Vivien gets home. Larry finds the hole Ben had already started digging and says he could really use that thousand dollars. Ben stumbles into the kitchen and throws up. Larry does a great job digging the grave with one hand. He even finds Moira's skull down there and she watches from the window and cries.

Ben starts building a gazebo over top the grave site. Connie stands with Moira at the window, telling her now she's stuck there forever, poor girl. When it's completed, Vivien comes out to the new gazebo with lemonade and admires his handiwork.

Later, Vivien sleeps and Nora sits on the bed, reaching out to her stomach.

The Verdict:
Murder House offered another series of revelations about the mansion. The abortionist backstory with the original builder really shines a light on all the baby imagery, and one can only imagine all the experiments he conducted on his aborted fetuses given the winged pig we saw him working on. But what eventually happened with Nora and their child?

Then there was the revelation around Connie, showing she was a resident in the house, too. Connie's backstory (and very well done CGI Jessica Lange, I might add) was another great scene (but do I really have to continue going on about how great Jessica Lange is at this point?). So Connie and her husband must have moved in shortly after the 1978 prologue. Yet Adelaide was in the neighbourhood already, so did they still live next door?

Moira's character is really tragic. She's certainly paid for her infidelity with Connie's husband. But what kind of ghost is she? How is she able to interact with the world, or is the house itself allowing the spirits within to have some sort of tangibility? We haven't seen Moira or Nora beyond the confines of the property.

Then we get Nora, a new ghost, and quite a piece of work. But her dead self seems a lot tamer than the one we see in the flashback who drove her husband to perform abortions. I'm getting nervous that the house is already overflowing with ghosts, so I hope the writers have a good handle on this (I have visions of the end of Insidious, where random ghosts were spilling from the closets). 

This Ben-centric episode was one massively slow moving train wreck, up to the shocking shovel in the face. I suspected his descent might have been drug induced, but was it all a conspiracy leading up to killing Hayden (and allowing the Harmon's marriage to survive so they stay in the house?).

On another note, where is the dog? He was barking up a storm the moment the Harmon's stepped into the house in the first episode, but I'm hard-pressed to recall if it's been seen at all since, especially during the mayhem of the home invasion and especially now with all the ghosts running around.

Finally, I must commend the writers for creating so many obstacles in the way of the Harmons moving. There was really nothing unfathomable about the reasons, as they were all very real financial and personal problems that would lead someone to stay there (especially given they don't yet realize there's supernatural shenanigans going on).

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