So you thought last week's American Horror Story pilot episode was filled to the brim with insanity? Well, we hope you weren't expecting Ryan Murphy of all people to slow things down for week two. The people who weren't quick to hop on the hate-train for American Horror Story's frantic debut have a lot riding on this week. Now that the characters, stakes, and mysteries have been established, will the rest of the season be more streamlined in its craziness?
Based on last night's episode, "Home Invasion," the answer is "yes" and "no." In some ways, "Home Invasion" is a solid standalone episode with an open and shut story that also advances the greater mytholgoy. Unfortunately, it still has many of the same problems the pilot had. Let's get into what worked and what didn't.
The Murder House
We open this week in 1968, ten years before what shall for now be known as the Fang Baby took out the delinquent redheaded twins; in '68, the house is some kind of all-girls' residence. A nurse and a bookworm are unluckily the only ones home when a strange man knocks on the front door and lies his way inside. He proceeds to make the bookworm change into a nurse outfit before stabbing the hell out of her back to the score from the infamous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's horror classic Psycho.
In all seriousness, the random, because-we-can, over-the-top winks toward classic horror films have the potential to get out of hand. The pilot, for those with keen ears, lifted nearly all of the music from Insidious. Using music from established horror flicks is homage with the sublety of a hammer. It's only episode two—the show needs to start standing on its own first.
In the present, Ben (Dylan McDermott) sees a trippy blonde patient who informs him that the Harmon crib is a "murder house"—it's even part of a Hollywood bus tour. Later, while Ben's away on a trip to Boston to see his now-pregnant side chick (Kate Mara), the mental patient and two of her friends show up to the house at night wearing black masks and holding knives. That tour she was talking about? Turns out these clowns rode every stop and now they're out to reenact every infamous Hollywood slaughter. The visit was just a case job to check out the house and grab the phones. As we said last week, a psychiatrist seeing crazy people in his house is just a bad, bad idea. Between the ease the invaders display in getting in, strange handicapped neighbor Addy's regular visits, and Tate (Evan Peters), is it safe to say the Harmon's security sucks?
"Is everybody crazy?"
Good question, Ben. It would seem there's a large conspiracy afoot and it involves Jessica Lange's Constance (no surprise there), Moira the maid(Frances Conroy/Alex Breckenridge) and...Tate? Surprised! While this explains how he knows about Fang Baby, the fact that these three are all in cahoots and that his counseling with Ben is only a cover is a nice twist. Even if the rest of this episode sucked (which it didn't), the cryptic scene between this trio would've been enough to bring us back next week. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The home invaders want to reenact the 1968 murders, which means they have to force Viv (Connie Britton) and Violet (Taissa Farmiga) into nurse outfits and kill them; the nurse back in '68 was drowned in a bathtub before the bookworm was hacked up. Fortunately, one of the cupcakes that Constance baked earlier for Violet, filled with ipecach (and Addy loogie, gets in the hands of Ben's patient turned invader. She immediately starts hurling. This provides Tate, who of course is already in the house, an opportunity to tell Violet to lure her other kidnapper into the basement. Tate then drives an axe into the party-eating patient's stomach, and when Violet and her mother make a run for it the ghosts of the 1968 women take care of the other two. The cops are led to believe all three escaped but Viv's had enough: she's ready to move. Too bad she doesn't realize that we've got 11 episodes left in Season One.
The Crazy Chick In Boston
Before American Horror Story remakes The Strangers, we meet Ben's side piece, who's back in Beantown. As Ben confesses to Larry the Burn Guy (Denis O'Hare), the hottie Vivien caught Ben piledriving is now pregnant as well, and she wants Ben's physical support while she "takes care of it." How hilarious is Larry this week, from his sarcastic admission of wanting to be on the stage his whole life to this golden exchange:
Larry: "I'm trying very hard not to judge you."
Ben: "Me? You murdered your whole family!"
Larry: "Yes - but I was never unfaithful."
That's pretty much all Larry does this episode, but he'll be back, no doubt. Ben goes to Boston to assist Hayden (Mara) through the abortion, but he rushes off while she's inside and he hears about the home invasion. Did she go through with it or is Ben about to be a proud father of three soon?
Seriously, AHS producers: Chill with the "homages."
What was more obvious last night? The Psycho score or the influence of every home invasion movie ever made? Also, when we read Ryan Murphy's quote citing the Sharon Tate murders and subsequent interest in the house as a source of inspiration, we didn't expect him to take it so literally. Mr. Murphy, we implore you to steal less and innovate more. While we're complaining, just how much history is going to be stuffed into this house? We know that we meet the original owners next week, and there's still the matter of the gay couple that preceeded the Harmons, but after that the weekly flashbacks should flesh out what's already been established instead of just adding more. This week we got two new ghosts and a new killer that will probably pop up again as well.
By the way, if Viv thinks that was Ben in the rubber suit, why hasn't that come up in conversation? Does she consider that to be an experimental night of sex never to be mentioned again? Right now there's a tad too much drama relying on the contrivance that none of the Harmons are actually talking to each other. One or two candid conversations that any real members would actually have, dysfunctional or not, and the Harmons would've been ready to leave way before last night. On the other hand, American Horror Story continues to feel unlike anything else on TV, so we're still totally onboard.
-What the hell was up with Constance's late night boy toy? And the mirror room? For a show that's already exceling in randomness, that took the cake last night.
-Constance is conniving, Tate is hostile, and Moira is, at the very least, trying to get Ben to cheat. Still, between this week and Constance preventing Ben's sleepwalking-induced arson last week, it seems like they're protecting the Harmons more than harming them. Or do they just want the family to die on their terms?
-So now Violet is now friendly with her bully after their shared basement encounter with Fang Baby? Fair enough. Also, said bully's hair is turning grey and she mentions deep scratches. Prediction: the attack left her infected with something.