Some rides lurch to a halt, and others decelerate in advance for a smooth landing. “Afterbirth,” the finale for American Horror Story’s surprisingly successful first season, was more of the latter. Penned by Jessica Sharzer and directed by Bradley Buecker (whose “Murder House” episode was an early high point in the season), “Afterlife” was an epilogue to a crazily convoluted season that created its own sense of logic but ultimately left me feeling indifferent.
First of all, (and yes – SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!), once both Violet and Vivien died, it seemed likely that Ben, too, was not long for this world. We didn’t even have to wait for the entirety of the 70-minute finale to find out what happened to Ben. First Sharzer teased us with the idea that a despondent Ben would kill himself (by the way, it seems in Murder House that whether your die by your own hands or someone else’s, you end up in the same place regardless – that’s an interesting, unexplored thought). Instead, having decided to leave with his new surviving son, Ben is hanged by Hayden and two other Murder House tenants (two of the Franklin murder re-enactors, I believe). Ding dong, the dad is dead.
Now the whole Harmon family can again co-exist (save the newborn) as one in the afterlife. As the season unfolded, it became clearer and clearer that Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, and Taissa Farmiga weren’t the central cast but more like guest stars; a conduit to take us into Murder House the way Jack and Rose essentially gave audiences a tour of the Titanic. The main characters were Constance (Jessica Lange sank her teeth into every morsel of her meaty character, turning a role that could have been an insult to an actress “of a certain age” into another third-act career triumph) and the dead folk haunting Murder House.
Do I think the newly dead Harmons will stick around for further seasons? Hard to say. I’m still not sure what to make of Dead Ben and Dead Vivien mock-killing each other in order to frighten new tenants, the Ramoses out of the house. Was it cathartic or confusing to audiences? I will say that, for once, it was nice to see Britton exercise her sense of humor. But I’m still not sure that these guys (for the actors’ sake) should stick around for future chapters of what FX must hope will be an ongoing anthology. Similarly, I’m also unclear as to whether Travis really offed Hayden for good.
What did work for me this season? Stylistically, AHS was hypnotic in the same gross-gorgeous way thatSe7en and Mark Romanek’s Nine Inch Nails videos were. The visuals had a nausea-inducing beauty. And while I have paid tribute to many of the leads on this show, other performers, including Frances Conroy as Moira (I loved the tentative bond she forged with Vivien in death) and Lily Rabe as the crazily mourning Nora (Moura, perhaps?). I’m still mixed on Evan Peters, who emerged as the fulcrum on which all of AHSpivots. I don’t envy the challenge Peters faced; it’s hard to pity a depressive rapist-mass-murderer, let alone make him a protagonist, and I’m not sure AHS’s turns did him many favors, but the actor acquitted himself admirably. His final scene with McDermott didn’t totally work, but it wasn’t the fault of the actors. And speaking of, why was Eric Close given such short shrift? Maybe there’s more in store for him come 2012.
And when we do come back, will Constance and Murderous Michael still be around? Can Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy possibly out-do what they’ve done in this dirty dozen of episodes in AHS’ debut season? I’ve no doubt plenty will tune in to find out. As will I – at the very least, this show makes for a great cautionary tale about the real estate market.
What are your thoughts of “Afterlife” – and of Season 1?
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