The wait is finally over: American Horror Story, the brainchild of Ryan Murphy, the TV showrunner extraordinaire responsible for the hit shows Nip/Tuck and Glee, is finally here. The series stars Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, and Taissa Farmiga (Vera's little sister) as the Harmon family, who relocate to sunny Los Angeles for a fresh start. Vivien and Ben's marital problems began when she suffered a violent miscarriage, and got ten times worse when she walked in on him "pile-driving" some hot young thing in their bed.
As if moving was ever going to fix their problems, they have the luck of choosing the absolute worst house to try to rebuild their marriage in. Murphy, in all his excessive glory, plants not one but a million different seeds for the series to branch off into as the season progresses. Did the ambition pay off? Or did the pilot crack under all of the weight? Let's get into it.
Nobody puts baby in a corner.
We open in the 1978 (each week will begin with a flashback), where two douchebag twins get exactly what's coming to them while they wreak havoc in the house, which, in that decade, is abandoned. Fast forward to the Harmon's moving in. Ben (McDermott), a psychiatrist, has decided to see patients in his home office so he can be closer to the family. Why it's a good idea to bring unhinged, possibly deranged people to your house where they can freely interact with the likes of your impressionable teenage daughter is beyond us, but whatever.
His first in-house client is Tate (Evan Peters), a twisted teen who routinely dreams of pulling a Colombine at his school. It doesn't take much game for Tate to catch the eye of the equally messed up, hipster-ish Harmon daughter Violet (Farmiga), who cuts herself in half-assed suicide attempts; soon enough, they're plotting revenge on the bitchy girl at school who's been riding Violet since literally her first ten seconds on campus. Seriously, Violet's school beef was, oddly enough, the most over-the-top plotline of the hour.
They lure her down to the basement and what follows is the second most intriguing moment of the night (more on the first later.) Tate hits the lights and then, in disorienting, strobe-light fashion, we see a ton of quick cuts of Tate and the same basement beast that murked the twins in the '70s assaulting the chick before Violet finally intervenes. Odds are she got the message and won't be acting brand new at school anymore. But how the hell do we describe the basement monster? It's like an oversized, fanged still-born baby. Is there something thematic to Viv's miscarriage? How can Tate channel it? Better yet, how does he even know about it?
"Don't make me kill you again."
That's the line that reportedly hooked two-time Oscar-winner Jessica Lange into taking the role as Constance, a meddlesome next door neighbor to end all meddlesome next-door neighbors. Constance, a brash, washed-up southern belle, definitely knows more about the house than she lets on, and she and the Harmon's maid Moira (Frances Conroy, Alex Breckenridge) appear to have some serious, Jacob/Man in Black-like (see: Lost) age-old beef. If there was anything in American Horror Story's pilot that makes sure we'll be back next week, it was that moment. Less so Constance's daughter Addy, who seems like she's going to get tiresome real quick.
Now, back to that maid, who's the center of one of the cooler gimmicks of the hour. See, to everyone else she's old, kooky-looking Frances Conroy; to the altered horn-dog eye of Ben, however, she's sexy, sultry Alex Breckenridge, and she's giving Ben's resistance to tricking on his wife again again a real run for its money. Poor guy is trying so hard to stay faithful that he starts crying right after he finishes rubbing one out to his vision of the young redhead maid playing with herself. You can tell Moira is loving this, too—her trick probably wasn't doing anything for the house's previous owners, a gay couple. It's interesting that she's got no problem slutting it up for Ben but is also fiercely loyal to her employers when she catches Constance snooping around.
From Vampire King to Two-Face.
Denis O'Hare is, for now, done hamming it up on True Blood as Russell Edgington, so he's free to deliver the perfect amount of ham as American Horror Story's introguing Larry, the burn guy. He's yet another former occupant of the house, one who burned the place down, and his whole family with it, while sleepwalking one night. Which seems to explain Ben's late night fire experiments. So is there some kind of possession loop afflicting each patriarch of the house, a la The Shining? An original crime being acted out through the decades? It looks like Larry wants to help before things play out in similar fashion, but something also tells us that he's not to be trusted.
Last but not least, the gimp suit.
Murphy has stated that AHS is a series about infidelity and fractured households. What better way to drive that message home than have the Harmons find a rubber S&M suit in the attic, then let it come to life (or be inhabited by someone) and rape an unknowing Vivien. We don't know what to make of her facial expressions in all of the close-ups on her while it went down. Did some part of her know that wasn't Ben and give her a twisted sense of evening the playing field? Whatever the case, the rubber man's stroke game is serious, because Viv reveals that she's pregnant. Yes, it's definitely the rubber man's and not Ben's. Right? Why else end the episode on that note?
Overall, American Horror Story's premiere episode can only be judged but so much until we see what comes next, and how it's all tied up and how it will all pay off. Was it a little overstuffed? Sure. We also could've done without certain over-the-top music cues as well as scaled back on the stylistic directing. We're meant to take this all seriously, but too much of those flourishes tip Murphy's hat a bit much. But, overall, it's one of the more exciting pilots we've seen in a long time. Consider us excited to see how this all comes together, and, hopefully, with all the pilot has set in motion, future episodes can be more focused and, most importantly, scarier.
-Until we see Constance and Addy somewhere that's not house property, we're going to assume they are actually entities attached to the house, which would explain: how they always get in, Addy's ability to see the place's many ghosts (hey firecracker twins!), and that cryptic exchange between Constance and a possessed Ben.
-The rubber man got it in with Larry's wife too. Notice his pointed mention that his one daughter only resembled her mother.