AMERICAN HORROR STORY Recap: ‘Home Invasion’
October 13, 2011 by Ben Phelps
After a completely off-the-walls premiere which established that anything and everything could happen in the Harmons’ new mansion, AMERICAN HORROR STORY settled down a bit in episode two – which is to say, it contained ipecac syrup cupcakes, 1960s murder reenactors, and a mirror-filled punishment closet for Addy, but, you know, no gimp suits or Dylan McDermott masturbation. So that’s something.
Once again, the episode opens with a flashback to one of the previous murders that took place in the house. This time it’s 1968, when a man faked a plea for help, made the two women inside wear nurses’ outfits, and then stabbed one to death while drowning the other.
In “Home Invasion,” though, the flashback serves a dual purpose: while it functions on the one hand to give another example of just how grisly this house’s past is, it also connects to the current-day plot involving the Harmons. While Ben goes back to Boston to deal with a secret personal crisis, Vivien and Violet are left at home to be terrorized by three crazies who want to recreate that 1968 murder, nurses’ outfits and all.
As far as self-contained episode plots go, this one works quite well. The “home invader” story is not typical episode-two fare, as most shows would save something this dramatic for later down the road (at least sweeps period). But AHS is far from typical, and both Connie Britton and Taissa Farmiga do a good job selling the horror and the fight-back reactions to their situation. It is bookended with some too on-the-nose comments from Violet to Vivien (“I think you’re weak.” / “You were really brave, Mom”), but, similarly, the actresses deliver it well and keep an outlandish plot from falling completely into eye-roll territory.
Of course, their version ends differently than the original – the show isn’t going to kill off two of its main characters in the second episode – but the suspense comes not from the question of whether they’d die, but rather what is going to happen to the intruders. It turns out Tate (who Ben is still seeing, for some reason), with some help from the unseen basement monster, is the hero this time, giving one attacker an axe in the stomach and having Violet lure the other two into the basement for the creature to take care of. But while the house appears to be working on the Harmons’ side for now (albeit still in incredible creepy and gruesome ways), it doesn’t seem like the kind of place that will serve as protector forever. The question, then, is how long will it take for something just as gruesome to happen to a member of the family?
The seeds for that may have already been planted, literally, in Vivien’s belly. We are reminded of her pregnancy several times: she worries to Ben that something is wrong since she hasn’t been throwing up at all; Violet tells her she’s gaining weight and warns her of the statistics about having a baby after age 40; Constance can simply “smell” the unborn child. I’m guessing this will be the slow-burn mystery for the season, with the prospect of a demon baby hanging over Vivien’s and our heads, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the pregnancy is accelerated and the baby causes problems sooner rather than later. One thing is for sure, though: Constance, Moira, and Tate are all in on it, and have a vested interest in using the Harmons for their own purpose.
The one thing they might not be anticipating, however, is the thing that takes Ben back to Boston for a few days and the trouble that could bring. His ex-mistress (played by Kate Mara) is having an abortion and wants Ben to be with her during the process. At first, he seems hesitant to go, but another encounter with Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare, whose role in the show is still largely a mystery) convinces him. Because the “You murdered your whole family!” – “Yes, but I was never unfaithful” line of defense would certainly sway anybody unsure about whether to return to the woman who almost destroyed his marriage.
These soapier elements, especially as played by McDermott, are definitely the least effective so far, even if Murphy and Falchuk are trying to establish the Harmon marriage as the core of the show. The tonal shift from cultist murderers to abortion and missed-call-fueled drama almost gives you whiplash; it might work if the two were equally as strong, but in this case one is far superior to the other, and it does the weaker half no favors.
I’m still not quite sure if I like AMERICAN HORROR STORY, but it has me hooked (for now, at least). Although the characters are still largely undefined and the story events occur haphazardly, the show is certainly never boring, and that’s more than I can say for most of this season’s new offerings.
A few other thoughts:
- The bully who was terrorized in the basement in the pilot is now hanging out with Violet, and is so disturbed that her hair is turning white and she started smoking. Will she be Ben’s next patient?
- Dylan McDermott had to settle for just being shirtless this week, after going fully disrobed in the premiere.
- It’s ironic, because Ben is a psychiatrist, but he has his own emotional problems that he can’t figure out!
- Jessica Lange toned down the hamminess a bit this week, and it made Constance work much better. She’s still campy and very troubling (locking Addy in the closet full of mirrors was the most cringe-worthy moment of the episode), but at least she now feels like she’s part of the same show as the rest of the characters.
What did you think of the second episode? Are you sold on Ryan Murphy’s newest creation, or was this it for you? And are you glad that Connie Britton is there holding down the show, or do you think she needs to get off a sinking ship?
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