American Horror Story premiered last night to the delight of horror/thriller/Ryan Murphy buffs everywhere. I went into the episode never really wondering what the show was about, because the promo art and trailers, along with the promise of a less glee-ful Ryan Murphy were enough for me. Maybe that was a mistake, as I spent the whole episode asking questions they had no intention of revealing in a pilot.
We start the evening in 1978, with two little red-haired, braced twins and a little psychic girl who informs them that going into the house will kill them. I believed her as that Hitchcockian background music played; however, the ginger snaps were less convinced and trashed the house until they were ultimately killed by either Fester Adams or a grown baby hybrid person type of thing (I was clearly confused by what attacked them). With it properly illustrated that this house is haunted, we jumped forward to the present.
Vivien (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights) returns to a presumably empty home, hears noises and immediately calls 911. The helpful dispatcher says, “Are you sure it’s not a member of your family?” I realize this was done to establish for viewers that no one was home, but c’mon, that can’t be the first thing you ask…unless you’re hoping the crazy ax murderer in the house finds her while she’s answering your pointless questions. I digress. She catches her husband, Ben (Dylan McDermott, The Practice) mid-thrust into one of his 21-year old students…and shortly after, they are relocating.
This is where all of the shows assured creepiness kicks in and we see that the Harmon family is moving into the same house where the twins were slashed-and-dashed. The couple’s daughter Violet hits the trifecta for conveying teen angst: she is a cutter, listens to moody music (Morrissey) and has a style made popular by Seattle in the 90s. Of course new school transitions are never easy, so the faux-Mean Girls crew let her know how unwelcome she was at their school. While watching these girls, I thought to myself, “Hey…isn’t Mean Girl #3 Kendra from Buffy? And didn’t she also have teen roles in Saved By the Bell: The New Class, Dawson’s Creek AND Save the Last Dance? So hasn’t she been playing a teen for over a decade now?” Fortunately all of that was only relevant to my imaginary “no more than four high-school roles per actor” rule.
Back to the story….the family has moved in, met their new housekeeper Moira (Frances Conroy and Alex Breckenridge ), as well as their strange neighbor Constance (Jessica Lange, Cape Fear) and her Addy (the psychic girl from 1978). So far, we’ve seen eerie flashes and that Ben sees a young housekeeper while, everyone else sees a slightly older version. Moira, as the younger model, attempts to seduce Ben, which ends in a sad, shameful masturbation scene complete with tears. This could have something to do with his infidelity or as we later learn, the fact that him and Vivien haven’t been physically intimate in over a year due to their miscarriage.
Intimacy doesn’t seem to be a problem for Ben’s new patient, Tate (Evan Peters, Invasion), as he instantly cozies up to Violet and even helps her with the bullying. His methods and the crazy scene in the basement let us know that he’s also a part of whatever is going on in the house. Ben may not know that, but he sees how disturbed Tate is and desperately wants to keep him away from Violet, which is EXACTLY how you push them together.
Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare, True Blood), the man with half a face and brain cancer, approaches Ben to inform him that he also once lived in the house and that he heard voices and killed his whole family. Ben, of course, doesn’t believe this…but he has to realize that he’s also hearing things. Or maybe not…what would the fun be in a character in a horror story actually listening to the clues they’re given at the beginning and moving away from their haunted home?
The night ends with a confrontation between Constance and Moira. In this brief exchange we learn that Moira is a seasoned “professional” or at least a little bit slutty, Constance steals jewelry and has killed Moira before. So essentially we learned that these two know each other, without many clues on how, as well as whether or not they’re on the same side or even what side that might be!
I kept noticing a subtle baby-theme throughout the episode, which could be nothing, but between the miscarriage, baby parts in jars and baby pictures/clothing in the intro it also could be something big. Also, Viven had sex with a man (ghost…demon….Ben…Tate…whatever/whoever that was) in a sexual leather bondage outfit and now she’s preggo, so there’s another baby!
So with all that happened, I was left wondering why/how the house is messing with them, but also who is messing with us? Are we being tricked into liking a hopeless gimmick with little/no payoff, or are we seeing the groundwork for a show that really is “none of what you expect”. The “WTF is happening?!” element is what will bring many viewers back next week…maybe then more of what we’re watching will make a sliver of sense.