Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: American Horror Story "Smoldering Children"

Non Spoiler Review:
A great episode, resolving the fates of a couple of characters, continuing the redemption of some, giving others their due, and ending on a shocking (while not unexpected) reveal. More of Tate's fall is captured in a new flashback that gives us some Adelaide, too!

Smoldering Children keeps the series' frenetic pace going by bringing Tate and Ben to conflict, while Travis' death leads to repercussions for several others. Meanwhile, Vivien languishes in the mental hospital, but is there hope on the horizon?

The tragedy, disturbing elements and laughs continue. Jessica Lange ate up the screen, but Taissa Farmiga continues to excel in this role and I'm hoping those two actresses get to share some more screen time together in the future. So much happens each week, I'm wondering what's going to be left for the finale.

Spoilers Now!
1994 (a lot seemed to have happened that year). Larry is having a family dinner in the murder house with Connie, Tate and Adelaide (yay!). Tate volunteers to say grace, which means he eviscerates everyone at the table (except for Addie) about how he hates them, and his mother using Larry to move back into the house. Connie launches into Tate about wiling away all his opportunities.

Tate accuses Larry of causing his family to burn themselves alive because he was cheating with Constance. And of killing Beau. He refuses to be her perfect son and leaves the table. In the morning he gets up, does some coke, and heads first to Larry's work, where he pours gas on him and sets him on fire (so that's what really happened!). Then he's off to school with his guns.

Ben comes to see Vivien with profuse apologies. She just wants him to leave and suggests he's the one who's crazy. He tells her he believes she was raped and explains that the doctor told him about the twins and their different fathers. She says she has no idea how the man got the suit, and doesn't know where Ben was when he was there. Ben says he can get her out in a day or two once they work out the hiccups over the gunshot, but she's not coming back to the house.

Detective Granger shows up to see Connie, telling her they've found Travis' body. They're calling him the Boy Dahlia, given the similarity to the Black Dahlia murder from the 40s.

At home, Ben is visited by a truant officer. Ben assumes she's there for Violet who's missed 16 days of school. Any more absences and they'll take him to juvenile court. So Ben goes to see his daughter in her room and apologizes for their crazy year. She says she can't go back to school but he promises to find her one she likes. She agrees. While he's on the phone he notices blow flies on all the fruit. 

Larry gets a visit from Connie, who tells him Travis was murdered. She pulls a knife, assuming he killed him. Larry admits he just moved the body because he pissed off someone in the house. Connie is shocked to hear Travis died in the house. She viciously tells Larry she never loved him, just endured him for the sake of her family. 

The detectives come back to see Connie, and have heard about the fights she used to have with Travis. Unfortunately, her knife falls out of her purse, which prompts them to take her in for questioning. They comment on the number of people dying around her—Beau, Addie, Travis, Tate. Then there's the missing ones—Hugo and Moira, both disappeared. In 1983 no one thought they were missing and the DA was close to filing murder charges against her, but they couldn't find the bodies (in a revealing flashback we see she fed Hugo's body to the dogs). 

Connie gets a lawyer, Harry Goodman, assigned to her. He explains the Boy Dahlia is going to bring a lot of attention to the department and they want to pin it on her.

Meanwhile, the unfortunate exterminator stumbles upon Tate in the crawlspace and is killed. Tate returns to Violet in the attic, and warns her that Ben is planning to send her away to boarding school and separate them. But he won't let him.

Larry is in the basement removing some of the wall when Travis startles him. He wants to know if he made the news and asks about Constance. Larry says she took it pretty hard. Two little girls call Travis over to come join their tea party—Margaret and Angela. They're all burnt up, and Larry recognizes them, but his wife suddenly appears behind him. She's pleased they're fond of Travis, as they've been afraid and lonely until now, and this is the first time Larry has seen them since their deaths. Loraine says she's ready now. He apologizes. She tells him to prove it. So Larry vows to ensure Connie pays and rots in prison. But it wasn't Constance, she points out. It was him. 

Ben's taking a shower when he's attacked by the rubber man. After a battle through the bedroom he's chloroformed, but gets the mask off to see it's Tate. He tells Ben the only reason he's not killing him is for her.

Violet wants to know what Tate's done to her father. He says he just scared him, and he's figured out how to keep them from sending her away—how about they commit suicide so they'll stay in the house forever? He's taken a lot of Ben's drug samples. Then he freaks out on her, so Violet tries to keep things calm and says she wants to do it in the bathtub. She goes to run the bath, then she screams and runs for her father, but Tate takes off in pursuit. She runs to the end of the property and calls for help—and ends up in the kitchen.

After several attempts it's obvious that something is amiss. She doesn't want to die, but Tate tells her it's too late for that. He takes her down into the basement up into a crawlspace. There's her dead body! Yes, Violet died from her drug overdose. Tate explains he tried to save her. He thought if she chose to die with him she wouldn't be so sad. Violet remembers nothing of dying. Nor does Tate, but he knows he is dead, and has known all this time.

Harry comes to see Connie as he thinks she's going to be charged. The cops have the murder weapon for Travis, and take Connie and Harry in to see Larry being questioned. He confesses he killed Travis alone and no one else had anything to do with it. Larry provided them with details they never released to the public. Connie has no answers for them, except that Larry is trying to pacify a guilty conscience.

Larry is put in prison and gets a visit from Connie. They're sending him out of state to serve his sentence. He explains he needs to pay for his crimes and can endure it if she can just say those words he wants to hear. But she won't say I love you and just hangs up. Cold.

The Verdict:
Poor Violet. No surprise there at this point, but a very well done episode. Violet's epiphany about her death was rendered quite effectively, especially her imprisonment in the boundaries of the house. Her dead body was pretty creepy, too.

Jessica Lange got another episode to chew up and spit out. The filling in of the various flashbacks brought a lot of insight into her character and actions, and at least some consequences to her behaviour was nice to see.

Larry's tall tales have left me a bit confused about his tenure in the murder house. I guess their earlier flashback was indeed in the house, and not next door. But his arc came to a satisfying conclusion (as I imagine he's leaving the show to play Russell in next season's True Blood). 

Yay for Travis for enjoying being dead and having little tea parties with the burnt up girls. I hope he takes Violet under his wing and provides a countermeasure to Tate's influence. He's such a nice character he fills in the void left by Adelaide (who we saw way too little of in this week's flashback).

Some other lingering questions: What happened to Ben? Is the exterminator another ghost in the house? And perhaps the biggest riddle is how Ben's towel could possibly stay on through his wrestling match with Tate. Impossible, I say.

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