AMERICAN HORROR STORY Recap: ‘Rubber Man’
November 24, 2011 by Ben Phelps
AMERICAN HORROR STORY isn’t like every other show on television. How do we know that? Not because a key plot point is that a ghost in a rubber gimp suit had sex with a main character, and is now in love/sleeping with that character’s daughter. Not because, on an even simpler level, a key plot point is a rubber gimp suit. No – AHS is unlike every other TV show because it aired a new episode the night before Thanksgiving that had nothing to do with the holiday!
I guess there’s enough family drama for the Harmons without roping in some wacky relatives for a turkey dinner, though. Vivien finally admits to herself (and Moira and Marcy) that she feels like she’s going crazy. Marcy doesn’t help much, which isn’t surprising, but Moira actually reassures her. She explains that, over history, men have always found excuses to label women “crazy” and lock them away. Vivien is not insane, Moira tells her, because the house is, in fact, possessed.
Leave it to Ben to embody Moira’s criticism, though. After trying to shrink Violet’s head earlier in the episode when confronting her about missing school, he proceeds to do the same to Vivien. At first, he starts off with his usual condescending psychiatrist talk, but then just resorts to, “You’re being stupid.” When Vivien accidentally shoots Ben, though, there’s not much else she can do to defend herself. She is taken to a mental hospital, leaving Ben and Violet in the house, just as they wanted.
I’m glad Vivien finally found out the truth about the house and actually made an effort to leave (even if it makes no sense that she would just run back inside after the car incident). The show couldn’t have gone on much longer with her conveniently ignoring all the signs of it being haunted, and explaining it away as a supposed side effect of her medication would have been too lazy.
There is still a decided lack of agency from the main characters, though. Vivien, as explained, can’t do anything on her own anymore because she’s already been labeled “crazy,” and any resistance will hurt more than it will help. Ben just wants to “protect his family,” as always, and continues to be horrible at it. Violet wants to stay in the house because she’s in love with Tate, but her only action is lying about what she actually knows. Everything that is happening to them is, apparently, because Tate wants to help Nora Montgomery get a baby.
Tate’s killing the old residents who gave up on the idea of adoption, and then donning a rubber suit to impregnate the new female resident – all to help ease the suffering of a woman who died decades ago, yet doesn’t know she is dead – isn’t the best of motivation for our main characters’ actions. If the Harmons were puppets in some elaborate scheme that had a more meaningful purpose, maybe the plot would have more weight to it. But as it stands, they’re just being manipulated by a psychotic ghost to help out another ghost who we barely know and have little reason to care about.
This is one of the fundamental problems of AMERICAN HORROR STORY. The Harmons are virtually complete ciphers, even eight episodes into the season. They have barely been fleshed out beyond their archetypal identities from the pilot, and exist almost purely for the needs of the plot…
…Yet, “Rubber Man,” where those problems were perhaps more apparent than they have ever been, was a pretty good episode. There are still major questions about the mechanics of the house and its dead occupants (How could Tate actually impregnate Vivien? How does Hayden know she is dead, but Nora still doesn’t? How was Tate able to throw Patrick across the kitchen?), but the episode actually managed to keep me in genuine suspense for long stretches, and revealed some important information, building on last week’s info-dump.
Now, a good episode of AHS isn’t necessarily a good episode of television, but “Rubber Man” still got the job done. And if the show is going to continue to defy the rules of good storytelling, it at least helps to give Connie Britton a lot of screentime (she can elevate pretty much anything), and to shoot Dylan McDermott (even if it was only a through-and-through).
A few other thoughts:
- In case it wasn’t clear enough above: Tate is Rubber Man! Which makes his relationship with Violet all the more terrifying.
- Hayden continues to torment Vivien, but I don’t quite understand her motives. She wants to take Vivien’s babies, to keep one for herself and to give one to Nora, but she figures the best way to do that is to scare Vivien away or possibly cause another miscarriage?
- Now we know why Marcy had to have her completely racist reason for carrying a gun last week: it needed to be there so Vivien could steal it this week! Yet another plot > character moment (although one with some slight foresight), courtesy of Ryan Murphy, who got the writing credit on this episode.
- What is the purpose of Morris Chestnut’s security guard? He got to undermine and insult Ben at the end of this episode, but he’s had very little to do since he was introduced.
- No Constance or Larry this week, after being showcased so prominently last week.
What did you think of “Rubber Man”? Are you annoyed that the characters so often take a backseat to the plot? Or are you just along for the ride, entertained by how ridiculous everything is?
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