AMERICAN HORROR STORY Recap: ‘Smoldering Children’
December 8, 2011 by Ben Phelps
Contractually, Connie Britton must be signed for all 13 episodes this season, because why else would she make a one-scene appearance in this episode? Violet, Constance, and Larry have all had weeks off, so it’s not like everyone gets used every week. Vivien’s scene just felt like it was there because Britton had to have some screen time, and to remind people that, hey, Vivien is still in the mental hospital! But it had little connection to the rest of the episode, which functioned more as an info-dump about Violet’s situation and the history between Constance and Larry.
Considering the mythology of the house and the supporting characters has been consistently more engaging and interesting than the Harmon family drama, though, the less time spent with Ben telling his wife he wanted to get back together and Vivien insisting she should leave the house, the better. (Though she still managed to get in one line about not going back in her brief scene.)
Picking up from last week (continuity!), Constance has lost yet another loved one in the form of Travis (who seems perfectly happy knowing he’s now famous as the Boy Dahlia), but the one person she can’t seem to get rid of is the one who has an unrequited love for her. Larry, we learn, became part of her family after he helped put Beau out of his misery, but Constance merely “endured” him, and Tate didn’t even do that. So on that fateful day, before he went to school armed with shotguns, he stopped by Larry’s office to douse him in gasoline and light a match.
Larry’s story really is quite tragic. Yes, he cheated on his wife with his next-door neighbor, but then she burned herself and their children alive. And then the person he lost everything to be with shunned him after her own son burned his face off. Denis O’Hare (and the make-up people) have done a nice job of keeping Larry mysterious and sufficiently creepy, but at the same time sympathetic, so that the final scene, when Constance hung up the phone without telling him she had loved him, truly stung.
The full story behind Larry’s burns was news, but the bigger reveal was that…Violet is dead! There were hints dropped throughout (the truant officer saying she’d missed 16 straight days of school is what sealed it for me), but the unveiling was nonetheless nicely handled. What impressed me most was that Violet actually acted like a rational person when Tate proposed the suicide pact to her (although, of course, at this point she was no longer a person). She got away from him, then started screaming for help, and ran off the property, only to be looped back in again and again. She was understandably freaked out, but Tate’s reasoning for handling it the way he did made sense, in an oddly sweet way. And now, they’ll be together forever. (What a way to inadvertently get married, for eternity, at age 15.)
The final three episodes will have to bring resolution to Vivien and Ben’s melodrama, but next season I’d be happy to see Ryan Murphy drop the “We’re telling an important story about marriage!” thing and just focus on the house. Another family could move in, but be kept on the periphery – Violet, Tate, Hayden, Travis, Moira, Chad, Patrick, the Montgomeries, and everyone else who has expired there are more than enough around whom to build a compelling series.
A few other thoughts:
- We didn’t go a week without Ben patronizing Vivien. In his one scene with her, he 1) asked, “Can I sit?” and then did so without waiting for a response, and 2) forced his way back into the family, telling her they’d solve their problems together.
- Nor did we miss a week of Dylan McDermott’s yelling. Although I guess he had a good reason, what with his confrontation with Rubber Man Tate.
- (Unintentional) laugh of the week: Larry’s changing the subject over dinner in the opening flashback. Tate goes on and on about hating him, and the fact that he killed Beau, but Larry steps in with, “On a lighter note… BRIGADOON!”
- Why is it that Moira has aged so much, when none of the other ghosts have?
What did you think of “Smoldering Children”? Did you guess that Violet has actually been dead for a few weeks now, or did the reveal take you by surprise? Are you excited for Vivien to return home? And what would you say if Tate introduced himself with, “Hi, I’m Tate, I’m dead. Wanna hook up?”
Filed under American Horror Story