You know, when FX's nonsensical hour-long fever-dream nightmare montage called American Horror Story first premiered, I had no idea there would come a day when I would genuinely like it, or, more shockingly, be moved by it. But Wednesday's episode, "Halloween, Pt. 2," was just about as solid an hour TV as I can hope to experience every week. Now, nobody's saying American Horror Story is on par with something as unimpeachably great as Breaking Bad, but fortunately it's aiming to be something completely different. Growing less and less ludicrous by the week, this show has instead become an addictive exercise in dream logic and is in many ways just as upsetting, stressful, and fascinating as AMC's highfalutin' crown jewels. Believe me, I am just as shocked to be putting these opinions into writing as anyone else. Don't make me regret this, Ryan Murphy!
This week's harrowing, moving, and even cohesive episode picked up after last week's cliffhanger, when Ben and Vivien returned from a bizarre sonogram session to find Violet missing and an undead Hayden pounding on the door. Well, it turned out Violet hadn't been taken by the lurking gimp ghost and was instead whisked away to the beach for a romantic Halloween makeout session with Creepy Man Tate. Like a true goth heartthrob, he'd spray-painted a rose black for her and everything!
Back at the house, Hayden quickly disappeared, leaving Ben jittery and an unaware Vivien focused on (1) taking a bath and (2) divorcing Ben, in that order. This left Ben with some time to confront Burnt-Face Larry in the back yard, and by "confront" I mean "hit in the face with a shovel." For some reason Ben assumed that Hayden's reappearance was all part of some kind of scheme Larry was using to con Ben? Not sure. It involved several preposterous leaps of logic that American Horror Story would prefer we didn't dwell on. (Ben certainly didn't.) To Larry's credit, he DID laugh in Ben's face over Ben's refusal to face the supernatural reality of things... right before he begged Ben to kill him then and there "so I can come back and haunt you too." Ben apparently just thought that was a metaphor or something.
Then, in the episode's most amazing subplot, Tate and Violet were confronted by a handful of angry teens sporting highly realistic-looking gunshot wounds (not to mention some recognizable faces: Dexter's Brando Eaton, Awkward.'s Ashley Rickards, and Caprica's Alessandra Torresani). Now, we were already fully aware of Tate's school-shooting "fantasies," and it was also safe to say by this point we knew that Tate was definitely a ghost. So the creeping dread that these angry teens were in fact Tate's victims wasn't as surprising as it was just generally upsetting. Because it was Halloween, these spirits were free to roam and they literally chased Tate down in order to shout at him about what he'd done to them. These kids were angry, hurt, and confused about their fates and merely wanted to know WHY he'd done what he'd done? These scenes just skirted the edge of tastelessness (the subject of school shootings probably isn't the classiest thing to turn into a horror device), but they were surprisingly well-handled and easily as sad as they were terrifying. Also enlightening: One girl mentioned she'd be 34 today if it weren't for him, so now we have a better understanding of how long Tate's been dead (17 years or so).
The one bum note in this otherwise enthralling subplot was that Tate seemed to not remember the shooting and denied knowing who the kids were. It was understandable that he'd pretend to not know who they were when Violet was around, but then he continued to deny it when the dead kids had him all alone? They certainly seemed to remember the incident vividly (which included the infamous Columbine final question, "Do you believe in God?"), so at best Tate committed his crimes in a fugue state, but at worst he's lying. What is there to lie about? They're all ghosts! Anyway, this seemed like an emotional letdown from the intense scenes that led up to this point. Also, since all the important confrontations happened after Violet took off, she STILL doesn't seem to suspect Tate's dead (although his reluctance to let her feel under his shirt may have given her a clue that something's up).
The meat of the episode involved Hayden getting her revenge on Ben by attempting to inform Vivien that Ben had knocked her up too. At first this entailed creepy phone calls and messages written on foggy mirrors, but then Hayden enlisted Burnt-Face Larry to help her knock Ben out and tie him up in the basement so that Hayden could have her run of the place, which included setting bath towels on fire and also this delightful dog-related incident:
Don't worry, it ended up being tomatoes, but guess what wasn't fake? Hayden confronting Vivien with a shard of broken glass and offering to "cut the baby out" of her. Because the Murder House can't have that, it dispatched the original abortionist-homeowner's wife to untie Ben and let him intervene. However Ben is awful at intervening, so it was fortunate for everyone that the handsome new Security Company rep (Morris Chestnut) responded to Vivien's silent alarm and "arrested" Hayden just in time. (Fun fact: Ghosts can be arrested!) So then the immediate threat was over, but by that time all of the cats were out of all of the bags and it looked like Vivien and Ben were officially dunzo.
Meanwhile next door, a distraught Constance guilted Violet into joining her at the kitchen table for a cigarette and some reminiscing over the recently departed Adelaide. Call me a soft touch, but I started tearing up during her admiring descriptions of her daughter. It was a rare moment of decency for Constance. But then WHOOPS, that was nothing compared to the devastating montage of Constance crying while applying makeup to Adelaide's placid face in the morgue. If that wasn't one of the most insane and emotional images I've ever seen, I don't even know what to tell you. Give Jessica Lange all of the awards, Emmys, Golden Globes, Oscars, soccer trophies, ALL OF THE AWARDS. This was such good stuff, and then it was punctuated by the casual revelation that Tate IS HER SON.
Now, again, we more or less guessed this already, but the moment still packed a punch, particularly in that it finally explained Constance's bizarre connection to the Murder House and why she'd continue to live next door after having moved out so long ago (aside from her double homicide, that is). Also: I'm guessing that the reason Tate won't speak to Constance has to do with the manner in which he died in the house, post-shooting?
Then the sun rose, thus ending the Halloween-enabled big day out for the various housebound ghostfolk. In a chilling but poetic moment, they all trudged through the neighborhood, returning to their spectral prison, including the dead twin gingers (twingers?) and the perpetually bitter gay ghosts Patrick and Chad, plus Moira, the abortionist's wife, and even the teenage murder victims from the home invasion episode. Additionally, Hayden, riding in the backseat of the security guard's patrol car, mysteriously vanished just as he prepared to turn her over to real cops. Get back under that gazebo, young lady!
So all in all, what proved to be a particularly terrible Halloween for the Harmon family ended up being a fairly awesome episode for us. I don't know about you, but I'm already looking forward to NEXT Halloween. Hopefully by then Vivien will have remarried and adopted a better teen? Fingers-crossed!
... How will the Murder House conspire to get Ben to stay?
... What DID the nurse see on that sonogram?
... Was Tate lying about remembering the shooting, or is there more to the story?
... Getting hit in the head with a shovel: Are you pro or con?