AMERICAN HORROR STORY Recap: ‘Birth’
December 15, 2011 by Ben Phelps
Well, that may have been one of the most anticlimactic TV deaths I’ve seen in a long time.
It’s not that I was expecting Vivien to die – after the reveal of Violet’s death last week, I didn’t think the writers would kill off another major character so soon – but once she went into labor, it was clear they were heading down that road. Considering what death means on AMERICAN HORROR STORY, the gutsier move would have been to keep Vivien alive, so she’d actually have a chance to get out of the house (and provide some payoff to her season-long desire to do so), but I guess when you have Connie Britton under contract, you don’t give her the easy way out.
So, instead, we got Vivien crossing over, with the encouragement of Violet, to join her daughter and the multitude of other spirits that seems to be growing every week. And the interesting thing is that Vivien’s death kind of deflated everything else that had been happening for the rest of the hour. The chess game between the various ghosts, with the unborn babies as their pawns, was put on hold for some emotional moments with the Harmons, and as awful as that sounds on paper, it wasn’t half bad in execution. Vivien got to share a sweet episode capper with Violet, and even Ben had some pretty good material during the labor scene. It gave Dylan McDermott the chance to quietly cry, but it was in context and in character, and thus wasn’t reminiscent of a certain masturbation scene from way back in the pilot (well, maybe just a little).
“Birth” wasn’t all about the Harmons, though. Before Vivien actually got home from the psych hospital (where Ben wouldn’t let her stay for another minute, even though he put her there), there was the requisite plotting by Constance and the various ghosts, which worked to varying degrees. I liked Constance’s moves to make sure she got her grandchild, as giving Jessica Lange more screentime always seems to work in the show’s favor. The flashback to Nora and Tate’s first meeting was a nice touch, too, as it reminded us of Tate’s original motivation for getting Vivien pregnant, even if he had to renege on that deal tonight for Violet’s sake (and even if that didn’t end up working, since Violet found out the truth and wished him away).
The return of Chad and Pat was less successful. They were basically there so Constance and Tate could throw out some bigoted comments, and then Chad could function as a Ryan Murphy mouthpiece, preaching about the benefits of gay parenting (and also throwing out some key one-liners: “Your lifestyle is an abomination,” Constance tells him. “So is that hairdo!” Chad retorts.) Billie Dean also added very little with her ridiculous Native American spirit banishing trick, and now I’m wondering if she’ll play an important role in next week’s finale – otherwise, she’ll really only be notable for telling us how Vivien’s baby is linked to the pope.
Overall, Tim Minear didn’t beat the quality of his first episode, but he also had the difficult task of writing the penultimate episode to a season that has been crazy, to say the least. It will be hard to make a firm judgment on “Birth” until we see the full extent of “Afterbirth” next week, and see what kind of shape everyone is in heading into the second season.
And I’m still struggling to see where the show could go next year. The events in “Birth” point to Ben possibly biting it next week to join his family in the house for eternity, which would make sense given how committed to them he keeps insisting he is (plus, Hayden will be there, in case he changes his mind). But then will a new family move in, with the focus on them as they go through the same series of events? Will a new clan fill in the background, while the ever-growing ghost pack takes the spotlight? Will the house get torched and force the show to relocate to a different haunted house?? There are lots of possibilities, and I’m eager to see what Murphy and Falchuk have in mind.
A few other thoughts:
- Hayden popped up for one quick scene to basically say, “Hey, bitches, where’s my baby?” Oh, that Hayden!
- Denis O’Hare is still in the opening credits, even though Larry was shipped off to the federal penitentiary. We’ll miss ya, Lare.
- Dr. Harmon, World’s Greatest Therapist: “You’re on drugs, I can tell,” right before Violet tells him she’s dead.
- (Unintentional) laugh of the week: See above.
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