Not gonna lie, I am STILL confused about what exactly happened in last week's premiere of American Horror Story. Something about stripping wallpaper and aging debutantes and a gimp ghost? Sure, tons of stuff happened, but what did it all add up to, exactly? Was there, buried deep within that pile of homages, an original, unified story to be told? Well, as it turns out, maybe? Last night's follow-up, "Home Invasion," managed to improve on three of the pilot's shortcomings in major ways. First of all, the story made sense! Second, it ratcheted up the slow-burn suspense, and the result was WAY scarier. Also, it managed to tie together some of the insanely disparate threads. That said, everything was still absolutely crazy though, don't worry about that.
Once again we began with a flashback: It turns out the Harmons' home was once a female boarding house, and in 1968 a couple of co-eds were brutally murdered while their roommates were out seeing The Doors (honestly, I would've rather been murdered). The scene was trippy and suspenseful, involving slow-motion shots of girls walking down the stairs to "Age of Aquarius," a "wounded" motorist, and some truly unpleasant acts of violence. But how about that unbearable moment of dread when the killer disappeared from the frame and his intended victim could do nothing but wait for what was coming? So terrifying! If anything, that moment was far scarier than the (unsurprising) bloodletting that followed.
Fast forward to present day, where it was business as usual/insane at the Harmon residence. There weren't any gimp ghosts or dead ginger twins this week, but everyone else had fallen back into their typical patterns. Ben was still having sessions with Tate (the world's worst teenager), who insisted on discussing what it would be like to deflower Violet. Good times! Meanwhile at a nearby empty swimming-pool-turned-skate-park, Violet was hanging out with the bully she and Tate had terrorized last week? Not sure how that works, but the former bully DID look pretty fetching in her huge floppy hat, face bandages, and white-streaked hair. Also, the world's campiest next door neighbor/murderess Constance was busily baking poisoned chocolate cupcakes. Typical crazy neighbor stuff.
Right after Vivien admitted to Ben that something wasn't right with her pregnancy (how long had they BEEN there, anyway? Four days?) he was called away by his former mistress (Kate Mara) with two words any guilty husband loves to hear: "I'm pregnant." That left Vivien and Violet alone in the house to deal with a horrifying intrusion by a trio of cult murder enthusiasts looking to re-create the 1968 incident we saw in the flashback.
THAT'S when things took a turn for the extremely awesome: The various ghosts of the house JOINED FORCES to protect Vivien and Violet from the would-be murderers! I did NOT see that coming. Tate (who'd been sneaking around the house, obviously), lured two of the murderers to the basement, where they were dispatched by the ghosts from the original incident. And then he personally murdered the third intruder with an AXE TO THE STOMACH. Dang, guy!
Anyway, then THIS happened:
Tate, Constance, and Moira all stood in the basement and conspired to clean up the bodies so as to keep the Harmons unaware of what happened. So they're all definitely in league, but to what end? Only the gimp ghost knows for sure.
Then in the final scene, Vivien announced that it was time to sell the house. Good thinking! Honestly though, credit where credit's due: I thought it would take a frustratingly long time for the Harmons to realize they need to leave this joint. This was only the second episode! Personally I would have been sleeping in my car by night two, but that's a personal preference (anti-dying). I mean, I doubt they'll have an easy time selling the place and/or moving out of it, but they are certainly easier to sympathize with now that we know they're not morons!
One thing this episode slightly cleared up was the ghost-or-not status of many of the weirder characters. We know that Moira (Frances Conroy) was at one point murdered by Constance (Jessica Lange), but it's not clear whether that means she's a zombie or maybe she just had super-awesome health insurance back in the day and got better? Also, what about Constance herself? Or Tate, for that matter? The fact that we got to see the inside of Constance's house (where she seduced a young hunk!) suggests that she's probably among the living. As for Tate, he's definitely had some tangible "interactions" with people and seems to have a mother somewhere (whom Ben called when he tried to cancel their sessions). But perhaps I'm giving these things too much credence, seeing as this show's sense of reality is firmly rooted in dream logic.
As much as this episode made a whole lot more sense than last week's, it wasn't without its WTF moments! Here are seven right off the top of my head:
1. Bianca's elevator dream.
2. Constance's young male lover.
3. Adelaide's mirror prison.
4. Burn victim dude giving Ben advice on being a good husband?
5. Constance could SMELL Vivien's pregnancy?
6. Bathtub ghosts.
7. Tate watching Violet sleep!
Also, because this is American Horror Story, there were a lot more horror references. Here are the ones I caught:
• Three masked intruders like in The Strangers.
• Axe to the stomach like in The Shining.
• Streaked-white hair like in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
• Madman at the door like in When A Stranger Calls.
• Unhealthy pregnancy suspicions like in Rosemary's Baby.
• Poisoned pastry like in Flowers in the Attic.
• A cake left in the hallway like in Alice in Wonderland.
• Exposition-heavy detectives in the final scene, like in Psycho.
• The names Bianca and Tate as in the Manson family's victims.
What else did I miss?
All in all, this episode did a lot to convince me that American Horror Story may just have legs as a weekly serial. I'm suddenly curious as to how the mythology will come together, plus I really hope we'll get to experience more tangential horror events interfering with the house's intentions, like this episode's trio of intruders. Scary stuff! However, let's be honest, we're definitely still in the honeymoon period when it comes to the entertainment value of this show. Some of the violence, particularly in the opening scene, was almost too unpleasant to watch. Also, in horror MOVIES we can accept someone being terrorized for 90 minutes. But for 12 hours? It truly remains to be seen whether we'll be able to maintain sympathy for these people for very much longer.
QUESTIONS, SO MANY QUESTIONS!
... Why do you think Constance was so insistent that Violet eat the poisoned cupcake? Did she know that one of the killers would eat it instead? Or was she trying to bump off daughter #1? Also why didn't Vivien get sick from eating half of one?
... Is Tate the "perfect" son Constance claims to have once had? Is the thing in the basement one of Constance's malformed children?
... If Moira used to work for Constance, then did Constance once live in the Harmons' house?
... Is Ben's former mistress kind of nuts? Do you think she went ahead with the abortion?
... Why was Adelaide so terrified to be reminded of her Down Syndrome? Has she not always had it?
... What did you think of the episode overall? Are you still on board with the show?