AMERICAN HORROR STORY Recap: ‘Halloween, Part 1’
October 27, 2011 by Ben Phelps
For a show that seems to be more a collection of ideas and concepts than an actual coherent whole, Halloween sounds like the type of occasion where AMERICAN HORROR STORY could go all-out and completely off the rails. Yet, surprisingly, “Halloween, Part 1” was the series’ most restrained, and best, episode to date; we’ll see where things go in Part 2 next week, but for now it looks like having a central focus for everything to revolve around works in the show’s favor.
That focus was, as the episode title implies, Halloween: the night when the dead rise and walk among the living. Taking some advice from their realtor, Ben and Vivien decide to hire two “fluffers” (one, Chad, played by Zachary Quinto) to liven up their house in preparation for trick-or-treaters, hoping to draw a potential buyer’s interest. Other than some way-too-personal conversations and a bathroom proposition to Ben (or maybe even with those), the couple’s presence wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary for the Harmons – except that we see in the cold open that Chad and his boyfriend Pat were the previous owners of the house, and that at least Chad was killed by the man (creature? thing?) in the gimp suit. They leave after seeing the suit yet again, but not before telling the Harmons that the house isn’t theirs, that they don’t deserve it.
After learning the truth about Moira’s death last week, and the reappearances of Chad, Hayden, and the red-headed twins this week, we know now the house clearly has some sort of power that allows those who were killed there to keep living on the property. It’s nice to see the mythology deepening and, in the process, linking what seemed to be several disparate elements and characters. In last week’s recap, I wrote that the show “really works best when it focuses on the family and the effects the house has on them,” but “Halloween, Part 1” is making me reconsider. As the house evolves into more of its own character, and the links between the non-Harmons to both the house and each other become more apparent, it seems more and more that Ben, Vivien, and, to a lesser extent, Violet, are the bigger problem.
Their same, relatively inane, problems keep getting recycled, even as everything around them is constantly shifting and vastly more urgent. Vivien still distrusts Ben, going so far as to check his phone records and confront him about the multiple calls from Hayden, and warns him yet again not to lie to her. Ben continues his emotional reeling, which includes his crying during a session with Tate, whom he agreed to keep seeing, provided they met outside their home (really, a top-notch shrink!). Vivien has more issues with her pregnancy, this time necessitating a trip to the hospital, although apparently everything is fine, even though the nurse passed out at the sight of the ultrasound. Basically, they’re living a soap opera, even though everything around them is a horror story, and last night was really the tipping point where the latter became much more engaging.
It helped, too, that “Halloween, Part 1” had sequences of true horror. We’ve gotten the body parts in glass jars and unseen basement monsters and home invaders already, but those were mostly used as stand-ins for horror – they represented the ideas of scariness and suspense, but didn’t do much to actually deliver it. This week, though, contained some truly scary and suspenseful stuff, thanks in large part to the gimp suit. The closing sequence, with Violet standing in the foyer as Larry pounded at the door, the black leather figure looming over her, actually made me tense up, and I have to applaud that the moment wasn’t immediately undercut by an eye-roll-inducing fake-out.
Of course, some of the horror still came from what I assume were unintentional sources. Addy, and the treatment of her by Constance, continues to be the most problematic. There are ways to be sensitive and empowering about Down syndrome, but having Addy spend the whole episode wishing to be a “pretty girl,” and having Constance buy her a generic girl’s mask as a costume, are not those ways. And to end the episode with Addy’s being hit by a car certainly doesn’t improve things.
Overall, though, there were many signs of improvement that give me hope going forward. I don’t think AMERICAN HORROR STORY will ever be consistently amazing (it is, after all, a Ryan Murphy show), but if it can figure out a balance that will at least deliver some great highs, I’m willing to take the requisite lows as well.
A few other thoughts:
- Is the realtor in on the house’s secret? If she knew Chad and Pat, and at least one of them was killed in the house the year before, she has to know the truth about it, right?
- Halloween provided Moira an opportunity to visit her mother and take her off her respirator. Moira expresses her desire to “move on” with her, but cannot, since she is tied to the house.
- Addy asks Violet if she is a virgin. “Yes, aren’t you?” “Hell no!” Indeed, it seems she has a history of stealing her mother’s gentlemen suitors.
What did you think of “Halloween, Part 1”? Do you think Ben and Vivien’s domestic problems are becoming too dull considering their crazy surroundings? Was it nice to see Zachary Quinto back on TV in a decidedly not-Sylar role? Looking forward to Part 2 next week?
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