When is a major revelation no longer a surprise? When it’s on a show as whack-out as American Horror Story; a show which I’m starting to believe has its own form of dissociative identity disorder. But more about that later.
In the meantime, BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT! I mean it. If you’re someone who likes to read about shows but hates when twists are given away, STOP HERE. Watch last night’s episode, “Smothering Children,” and then come back. Otherwise, if you didn’t do your homework, you’re about to get punished.
But in order to look out for wandering eyes, I’ll bury the lead a bit. Writer James Wong clearly heard my plea to show more of Jessica Lange and Denis O’Hare, because Constance and Larry constituted much of the episode (directed by Heathers’ Michael Lehmann, who gets mad props for, well, having been the guy who directed Heathers). “Smothering” opens again in the year 1994, which we now know enough about to make us shudder, and not just because it was the year that shoved Ace of Base down our throats.
We see Larry joining Constance, Addie and Tate for dinner. Larry’s face is still un-marred, as he escaped the fire that killed the rest of his family. But flames haunt Larry the way that helicopters went after Dr. Romano on ER (early 2000s flashback!), and the next day, Tate arrives at Larry’s office, douses him with gasoline and sets him ablaze before setting out for his coke-fueled high school massacre. Wow, AHS.
Connie Britton has precious little to do this week, but fortunately Dylan McDermott is allowed to redeem Ben a bit as the season ambles along. McDermott did really great work, making Ben seem credible as he apologizes, now that he knows Viv was raped and is on to Rubber Man. He also confronts the truant Violet about missing more than three weeks of school, apologizing for creating such a terrible year, although she says she can’t go back. But again, more about that in a bit.
I’d like to return to Constance, who didn’t have a standout line this week as much as whole standout scene. Two police officers stop Constance to inquire about Travis’ murder (he’s now known as “The Boy Dahlia,” which I hope doesn’t give anyone in the real world any ideas). She’s just come back from threatening Larry, who she believes killed Travis, with a knife. The detectives show up at Connie’s, saying that the Korean man on the corner told them that Connie and Travis used to fight a lot. Connie’s reply: “Those Koreans – they’re so suspicious, ever since Hiroshima!” Then she drops the knife out of her purse. And if that isn’t a way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I don’t know what is.
Getting back to reality, though, Lange was astonishing in the episode’s last scene, in which she visits Tate in jail. He’s turned himself in for Larry’s murder, but it’s a proxy punishment, so he can serve penance for his many other sins. The way both actors work within the crazy, not-quite-definable genre where AHSlives to act out their characters’ odd cat-and-mouse game is hypnotic. This scene merits multiple viewings.
But back to what most people will be talking about – Ben’s shower scene, McDermott’s first near-nude since AHS’ second episode, I believe. Tate, as Rubber Man, attacks a towel-clad Ben after he steps out, and puts up quite a battle (that towel must have been either sewn or stapled together) before finally learning Rubber Man’s identity and being subdued. Later, Tate suggests a suicide pact to Violet while Ben is unconscious. out We then learn that, yes, Violet actually died during her original suicide attempt in Murder House and has been acting out The Others ever since.
This is quite a punch to pull, and yet it doesn’t deliver quite the blow it should. We should be horrified, or saddened, but because so much insanity is allowed on AHS, I find there’s no room for real devastation. There is less emotional weight on a show that runs far afoul of realism. And it reminds me of another FX show, Rescue Me, which just kept killing off people. In fact, are there more dead people on the show now than living? Will Murder House eventually morph into the Six Feet Under mortuary?
With two episodes to go – and Viv giving birth next week – what do you guys think? Were you affected by the Violet reveal? How do you think Ben and Viv will respond when they realize their daughter is dead? And will you miss Larry.
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