Ben digs himself into a hole and Vivien excavates secrets about her bloody home in 'Murder House'
When it comes to stories about relationships ruined by horndog infidelity, the blonde bombshell wrapped in red is usually the other woman, not the woman destroyed. But American Horror Story is not a show to indulge conventional thinking. The year is 1983, five years after the Infantata shredded the redheaded twins in the basement of chopped up baby parts. The house was derelict then. Now it is restored, home to a car salesman and his wife. Moira the housekeeper is not yet a female Janus with a dead right eye. She’s Moira Jr. young, though Moira Sr. weary. She’s smoothing the sheets when the man of the house bumbles in drunk. He’s a handsome rake with a Schwarzeneggerian regard for The Help, and since the episode doesn’t give him a name, let’s call him The Man. The Man suggests they make a mess of the newly made bed. Moira refuses The Man. She says the one time they fooled around was a mistake. “I was just lonely,” she says. The Man, a smidge hurt, sweetens the offer. “You want a new Camaro? We got a new shipment in yesterday.” Moira doesn’t want the wheels, and she probably doesn’t like being treated like a whore, either. She just wants to do her job, and more immediately, she wants out of the room. That’s a no-go for The Man. He pushes her down and forces himself on her. The Man is writhing on her in his tighty-whiteys when the woman in red enters. The lady of the house. The Man’s wife. Constance. Looking 30 years younger than we know her via Benjamin Button Botox. And she has a gun.
Constance sprays the back of Moira’s head against the wall with a bullet to the eyeball. Two mystery birds fall with one stone: Now we know how the maid’s right socket went ghostly gray and the meaning of Constance’s pilot episode quip: “Don’t make me kill you again.” Do you think Moira had to clean up the mess after she — what’s the terminology for this? — “came back”? More seriously: Was this the first time Moira died in the house? Or was she cursed long before ’83 to live and die on a loop, the pain and injuries of one life rolling into to the next with each expiration, over and over, maybe forever?
Of course, murders come in pairs inside the house. Maybe it’s The Murder House Rules. And so Constance turns her furious attention to her husband. Last week, Constance told us that the husband who fathered her four children was “the spitting image of Van Johnson.” Van Johnson had red hair; The Man — played by Eric Close — does not. But for now, let’s assume The Man is the man Constance was talking about. “I have loved you since I was 16!” says the born and bred Virginia gal, who came west in a failed bid to become a star. “You broke my heart for the last time.” There were other times? Did they all end like this? The Man pleads for a conversation. She gives him three bullets instead.
Constance plops, looking stunned. The bombshell, shell-shocked. She takes off one earring, then the next. She begins to tremble. For a second, I thought she was going to give herself a headshot. Did you? But no: She weeps instead, overwhelmed by the horror, the horror of what she had done, and what she may have become in the process. What Nietzsche said about a confrontation with evil: Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.
Constance grabs The Man’s hand and slumps against his corpse and grieves the end of her marital union. But we know that inside the house, “death” is an ambiguously dynamic state of being. Moira herself is proof of that…
Which is why, my fellow American Horrors, I present to you my new prime suspect for the man behind The Rubber Man’s mask. It’s The Man. That’s his baby growing inside Vivien’s womb. And that’s his soul inside the child’s gestating body. Reincarnation via Rubber Man — an abominable artificial insemination. Now if you’ll excuse, my theory brain needs to throw up and take a shower.
DIVORCE, AMERICAN HORROR STYLE. Van Johnson. 1983. “I have loved you since I was 16.” Subtract 16 years from ‘83, you get to ’67 — the “Summer of Love” year. Van Johnson co-starred in a film that was released on June 21, i.e. the first day of the summer solstice: Divorce American Style. Van Johnson played… a car dealer. Like The Man. The last name of the film’s splitting husband and wife? Harmon.
And so we jump forward in time to another woman who caught her husband defiling the marital bed with a younger woman: Vivien Harmon. And as we found her she was threatening her husband with divorce. At first, “Murder House” wanted us to think that Ben had confessed to lying about his trip to Boston last week to support pregnant ex-mistress Hayden through her abortion. (He told Vivien he was going east to see a former patient who had attempted suicide.) Ben sat on the edge of the bed a la The Man in ’83 and looking just as pathetic as Vivien fumed about Ben’s lies and betrayal. But their fight was about financial infidelity, not the never-ending long tail of Ben’s adulterous trail chasing. Ben had been trying to hide the fact that their broker – one of Ben’s longtime friends — had fleeced them. Hence, the Harmons lacked the available cash to do what Vivien wanted most immediately: Buy a new house, ASAP. Last week’s home invasion had ruined the L.A. Victorian for her. She wanted out.
Defeated, Vivien took a seat. Conspicuous on the table next to her: A book titled Decorative Arts. Mental note: Pay attention to the home’s interior decoration as the episode progresses. (Example: The stained glass windows in the dining room all sport blooming violets, i.e. daughter Violet. Coincidence?) Psychiatrist Ben tried to “shrink” his wife by insisting she was suffering from PTSD – Post Traumatic Stranger-danger-home-invasion Disorder. He suggested they find her a therapist – not a bad idea, but also illustrative of how Ben just can’t/won’t deal with his family’s mess, especially if he’s the cause of it. (And this guy wonders why his psychiatry business is struggling!) “Don’t make me feel like I’m crazy,” Vivien snapped. They resolved to start looking for apartments and do whatever it took to quickly sell the house – even make improvements to make the property seem more attractive. By episode’s end, Ben would find a horrible way to contribute to this cause. In an episode full of women threatening ultimatums, Vivien issued the first: “Don’t lie to me again. If you lie to me again, we’re through.” Which only set Ben up for more lying. Who the hell wants to tempt that whirlwind?
The women of “Murder House” were an assortment of desperate housewives and distressed maidens. Some were kept women who aspired only to be kept, to their diminishment and peril, while others pursued solutions that further debased themselves and degraded others – most notably, other women. The episode reminded us of the necessary conditions for liberated living: Self-love, biological self-determination, financial self-sufficiency, and a crystal ball that can show you that the man who wants to marry you and make children with you and even build you a beautiful home will one day become the kind of guy who spends all his time in his man-cave huffing gas and sewing bat wings onto dead pigs while wearing a monocle.
CAT FIGHT CLUB. Motivated to sell her infernal plot of California (un)real estate, Vivien summoned Marcy, the real estate agent who sold them the house in the pilot. In the dining room of violet glass, Vivien poured the broker tea, then wasted her with bitters. Figuratively speaking. Viv was pissed that ratty-mousey Marcy hadn’t been forthcoming about the home’s bloody history. Marcy – who presented herself as a struggling miss lonely hearts hustling to eek out a living – felt attacked. “Nobody’s buying me cooking classes, Mrs. Hormon. Nobody’s looking out for me,” said Marcy in a nice callback to the pilot episode, when Ben bragged on Vivien’s culinary skills. (Marcy mangled the Harmon name, producing a word that sounded like “whore-mon” or “hormone” – which reminded me how in the pilot, Vivien’s Boston OBGYN prescribed that experimental hormone treatment for her. Should we be wondering if there’s something fishy about the meds?) Vivien had no sympathy for the slippery agent. “Here’s the plan,” she said. “You are going to bake cookies. You are going to go buy beautiful, expensive fresh-cut flowers. Or maybe make up some nice stories about all the people who’ve lived here over the years. You’re going to do whatever it takes, and you are going to sell this house. And then my family and I are going to live someplace safe. And in return I’m not going to prosecute you for gross criminal negligence. Are we on the same page? Good. “ Connie Britton rocked the rant and capped it off with ice-cold nasty. “See? Someone is looking out for you.” It was exhilarating to see Vivien get so ruthlessly Machiavellian. Kinda scary and sad, too. Later in the episode, she’d meet a kindred spirit – a woman forced to take life by the horns, however cruelly; a woman with similar penchant for wearing oversized rings on the index finger. (Details, people! They’re devilishly important.)
Meanwhile, in another corner of the house, the spirit of sisterhood was taking another kick to the nuts. Moira caught Constance once again pilfering silver from the Harmons’ dining room. She said she intended to sell it on eBay — perhaps after the Harmons became infamous for being the latest victims of Murder House, making their stuff more valuable. “Do me a favor and polish this up before I take it,” Constance said. “It’s cruddy with corrosion, and do you know why? Because you are a shitty maid.” Interesting: Moira took it. Not just the insult – the silver. She took it and cleaned it. Like a maid following orders. Has she become so pathologically conditioned to be a submissive, subordinate servant that she obeyed out of reflex? Or does Constance have power over her as a consequence of killing her inside the Murder House?
NEXT: The Most Boring Woman In Los Angeles
The shared plight – and shared mystery — of both women became even more intriguing the more they bitched at each other. Moira despaired: “I don’t want to be here anymore! I’m frightened! I miss my mother!” By “here” Moira might have meant the house. But I think she could have meant the land of the living in general, which has certainly become a scary place of late. I base my interpretation on how Constance responded to the maid’s existential terror: “You think I want to stay? In this world of death and rot and regret?” Drawing attention to her always glamorous, always put-together visage, she added: “Try to find some dignity in the situation! Move on, missy!” And so let the debate begin: Is Constance “dead,” too?
Even more richly cryptic rancor followed. Constance reminded Moira that she brought “this mess” upon herself. Did Moira do something before her death to bring about her peculiar supernatural predicament? The conversation was so full of knowing about all the secrets of the show. The coyness captured the imagination… and maybe frustrated it a tiny bit, too. So many questions. We know Constance’s daughter Addy was in the neighborhood in ’78 when the house was empty and the redheads were killed. We now know Constance lived in the house in ’83. So when did she move in? Why did she move in? Hypothesis: Maybe she realized the house offered the owner the means to cheat death and wished to possess it, then learned the hard way the cost. Until the day of revelation comes, we get zingers. “Every time I find my heart breaking just a sliver for you I suddenly remember you made this mess for yourself. I also remember that every time I see that ghostly eye, I was, and continue to be, a hell of a shot.” By episode’s end, one might argue that the idea she planted in Ben’s mind was yet one more shot at Moira. Also: Jessica Lange’s Constance is the most entertaining (and quotable) devil on television since Michael Emerson’s Benjamin Linus.
THE SLEEPWALKERS. In yet another corner of the house, another woman agonized over her lousy lot in life. Meet Sally Freeman, a woman hopelessly shackled to a man who no longer loved her. She was Ben’s newest patient, and considered by those who knew her to be the embodiment of boring. She certainly lacked any kind of strong, authentic, unique self. For 23 years, Sally had worked diligently to be pleasing to her husband. For example, to become conversant about his passion for football, she had memorized facts and figures about every single NFL team. She rattled off the data with a dead, droning voice (snooooze), and with that same dead drone, she explained the most ironic crisis that had brought her to Ben: Mr. Freeman wanted a divorce. In becoming something Sally thought her hubby wanted, Sally had turned him off – and in the process, turned herself off, too. In her defense, Mr. Freeman is probably a dick. In the world of American Horror Story, most men are.
As Sally prattled on with her hypnotic drone, Ben found himself getting very, very sleeeeeepy. Dude couldn’t even hide it! His droopy eyes and hanging jaw accentuated the point being made about Zombie Wife Sally – and the show’s dim opinion of Ben’s worth as a psychiatrist. However, Ben would later come to suspect that Moira Jr. had drugged his coffee with laudanum – an opiate whose side effects include hallucinations. There was a conspicuously framed image in the Sally scene that contained a clue to Ben’s drugging, and also foreshadowed the hallucination – or prophetic vision? – that followed. At the exactly the moment that Sally said “I am very upset” the camera gave us a deep focus shot that put Ben’s spiked coffee cup and tape recorder in the foreground, seated Sally in the middle ground, and a stained glass window in the background depicting a pastoral scene. In the upper left corner of this decorative glass: A structure with white columns. A backyard grotto. A gazebo. Or … an ancient Greek temple home to oracles and site of ritualistic sacrifice?
And then Ben woke up in his backyard. Bewildered. Bothered. And just maybe bewitched. He had just been listening to Sally; now he taking a dirty nap on a patchy spot of grass. Worse: There was blood on his hands. WTH? He walked back inside his house. There was Moira Jr. clad in the sexy maid uniform, down on her hands and knees, flashing her fanny while sponging up a puddle of blood. WTH?! He went back to his office. Sally was gone. So was his tape recorder. Moira Jr. followed and started with the dirty talk and groping. Ben grabbed her violently and yelled: “I am done playing this game! You’re god damn fired!” And at the very moment, Vivien walked in and saw Ben throttling a terrified looking Moira Sr. – not femme fatale Moira Jr. – by the shoulders. She wanted to know: WTFH?!?!
MOIRA WILL NOT BE IGNORED. In the kitchen, Ben spun a conspiracy theory for Moira’s lasciviousness: Entrapment. She wanted to set Ben up for a sexual harassment lawsuit. Ben: “Is that why you walk around in that little maid’s costume like you’re headed to a fetish ball?” Vivien tried to square Ben’s characterization of Moira with the conservatively dressed middle-aged woman standing in front of her. “I am familiar with the ways of men,” Moira Sr. told Vivien. “They need to objectify and conquer. They see what they want to see. Women, however, see into the soul of a person.” Yet Moira was willing to forgive and forget. Ben was stressed. He blew a nut, that’s all. Yet Vivien wondered if it would be best if Moira moved on, the maid blew a gasket of her own. “Just leave?! Just toss me out like a piece of trash?! No you won’t! Not this time! I deserve respect!” Moira reminded me a little of Sally Freeman in that moment — a woman willing to be anything you want her to be, willing to anything you want her to do, as long as you keep her around, as long as you don’t abandon her. The phrase “not this time” jumped out at me — as if getting tossed out like a piece of trash has happened to Moira before. QUESTIONS: Do you think Moira Jr. and Moira Sr. are on the same page or have different, even competing agendas? Also: When Moira worked for the gay guys, which Moira do you think they saw?
Whether or not Moira can stray beyond the property per the Murder House Rules, this much was clear: If she’s going to be stuck in this world, she’d prefer to stay in the house. Taking a cue from Ben’s conspiracy theory, Moira decided: Fine! Works for me! Fire me, and I’ll press charges against your frequently bare ass! Checkmate. The Harmons had no choice but to keep her. Vivien blamed Ben. “I think your little indiscretion in Boston has you really screwed up and I think you’re acting out, and being paranoid and crazy and guilty and you have to get it together. And we have to get out of this house. I would like to do that without a lawsuit.”
NEXT: A reference to the Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files. For real!
HOME INVASION REDUX. Ben’s female trouble went from bad to bedeviling. Moira Jr. continued to taunt and tempt him with herDivynlsroutine. She tried to force a cup of coffee on him, but he refused. An important detail, because it meant that Ben was most likely not hallucinating when he found Hayden in his office – his home invasion nightmare come true. Even though Ben called his ex-mistress dozens of times and left dozens of messages explaining why he bailed on her at the abortion clinic in Boston, Hayden still felt burned and abandoned. Also? She didn’t go through with the abortion. Hayden inched closer to full bloom Fatal Attraction when she announced that she was keeping the baby – “our baby” – and moving to Southern California to be closer to him. “I am not a whore! I matter! I matter!” Throughout the entire conversation: Shots of the stained glass window, often blurred and out focus in the background behind Ben’s head as he spoke, like a hazy thought in the back of his mind. The gazebo future loomed…
Ben wanted to get Hayden out of the house before Vivien discovered her presence. Fortunately, Hayden volunteered to leave and wait for Ben at a nearby Norm’s while he dealt with another unexpected visitor: Detective Jack Colquitt from the LAPD’s missing person’s unit. The news: Sally Freeman was missing. And Ben was the last person to see her alive. NOTE: When Colquitt got a gander at Moira, he clearly saw her as Moira Jr., not Moira Sr.
FUN FACT! In The X-Files, the villainous Cigarette Smoking Man, architect of that world’s conspiracy mythology, had a poignant secret: He was a failed fiction writer. In the episode “Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man,” in which the sci-fi drama had twisted fun attributing tragic moments in American history to CSM’s evil, the cancer-wracked fiend wrote a novel: Take A Chance: A Jack Colquitt Mystery. I’m guessing that we owe the Colquitt name-check to American Horror Story producer James Wong, who directed that episode of The X-Files. (There was also a Jack Colquitt character in the short-lived Fox series Space: Above And Beyond, created by Wong and his X-Files writing partner, Glenn Morgan.) And to make this clever homage even cleverer, in the next very next scene, “Murder House” gave us a sequence that continued American Horror Story’s own twisted re-imagining of American history as an epic horror story…
SURVEYING THE ABYSS. Vivien was stunned to learn that her home was a stop on the Infinite Darkness Tour, which offers paying customers a guided trip through the Los Angeles underworld and visits to the city’s most notorious crime scenes. Natch, Vivien decided to board the hearse-black bus and get educated. First stop: They alley where actor Sal Mineo – a two-time Oscar nominee (Rebel Without A Cause; Exodus) and openly gay — was gutted with a knife on February 12, 1976. As Stan the Infinite Darkness tour guide explained, a petty criminal named Lionel Ray Williams, an African American, was convicted of the murder, which was deemed a robbery gone wrong. Stan also said: “You’ll have a hard time finding anyone who believes that in this town. Most people believe Sal Mineo died of a hate crime.” Given the episode dramatized the killing with a psychotically homophobic white guy doing the deed, I’m guessing the creators of American Horror Story are among the Hollywood townies who believe the conspiracy theory. Now, of all the notorious murders in L.A.’s bloody history, why pick Sal Mineo’s? Recall that earlier in the episode, the story reminded us about another pair of gay men — the home’s previous owners, who died in a murder suicide — by having the real estate agent trash them as “nasty little perverts.” The Mineo murder may have been a way to suggest that there might be another side to that story, which I hear we’re going to get over the next two episodes. Regardless of the truth: I’m not sure I really want to see what happened with that poker.
Tapping the Mineo murder also nourished an emerging theme: That for anyone that isn’t a straight white male, the drama of American history has been something of a bloody horror show, one that occasionally offers no better part to play than that of a monster. The latter idea was showcased in the next stop on the Infinite Darkness Tour – Vivien’s home, aka “The Murder House,” built the house in 1922 by Charles Montgomery for his socialite wife from Philly, Nora. (If you add “Burns” to the man’s name, you get the whole name of Mr. Burns, the cheeky-greedy rogue in The Simpsons.) They did not have a happy marriage. Charles – an “acclaimed” physician to the stars — didn’t like how Nora dressed their child in ambiguous attire; he couldn’t tell if the kid was a boy or girl. (At one point, Nora did refer to the child as a “him.) And Nora didn’t like only having two servants. Two! “And I’m expected to do everything else?!” (We only saw one of the servants: “Daphne.” Do you think the other one might have been Moira? Actually, I wonder if one of those two servants was… Moira’s mother.)
NEXT: The jars of pickled animal parts get explained.
Nora also wasn’t keen on her husband’s drug addiction, or his all-consuming new hobby: Chopping up animals and using the parts to conduct experiments in Xenotransplantation – like, say, sewing severed bat wings to dead pigs. With his monocle and white lab uniform, the amateur hour Dr. Moreau looked like a mad scientist – or German film director Fritz Lang, whose 1922 horror film Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler is worthy of your investigation. What exactly was Montgomery trying to accomplish? Unclear. But he believed he was chasing greatness. His wife’s reaction? When pig’s fly. With bills mounting and creditors knocking on the door, Nora felt compelled to take charge of her crumbling life. She told Charles they could make the money they desperately needed by … performing abortions for young wannabe actresses for whom a baby was “an obligation” that could ruin a career. We saw Nora bring one such girl into the foyer of the home, where a statue of an idealized male figure grabbing a ram by the horns was prominent on the screen. The reference eluded me. The Golden Fleece — a myth involving marital betrayal, awful schemes, and murdered kids? The Binding of Isaac — a Biblical tale of (averted) child sacrifice? Nora took Dorothy Hudson’s money, then gave her laudanum. The drug came with a welcome side effect: Forgetfulness. “Extreme retrograde memory loss“ to borrow words from another doctor in the episode. Nora shoved the girl into Chuck’s basement, then shut the door and popped a pill with teary eyes. And so it went.
Back on the Infinite Darkness tour bus, Stan said: “An estimated two dozen women went under Dr. Montgomery’s knife thanks to his wife Nora. But the souls of the little ones must have weighed heavy upon them as their reign of terror climaxed in the shocking finale in 1926.” Don’t’ leave us hanging, Stan! What happened next? Did the Charles and Nora murder each other? Did Daphne and servant TBD turn on their masters? Did their gender-ambiguous toddler go Chucky on their asses? And about that basement: Did freaky Dr. Montgomery start experimenting with (ugh) the tissue and material collected from 24 unwanted infants? Or did his “son” become the basement Infantata by becoming a vessel for 24 unwanted souls whose lives had come to violent end before they ever really began? Alas, the answers will be the stuff for another episode, as Vivien couldn’t stick around to hear Stan finish yarn. Just as the tour guide started talking about abortions, Mrs. Harmon started bleeding through her white pants.
AND NOW WE KNOW WHY THE HARMONS CAN’T MOVE. The doctor had good news. Just spotting – no miscarriage. The baby was fine. Weird: According to Vivien, the bleeding stopped right when she got back inside the house. Maybe the house is looking out for the Harmons; maybe the house is trying to protect its unholy investment growing within Vivien’s womb. Or maybe it was just a coincidence. When Dr. Hall heard about all the stress in Vivien’s life, and all the stress she was inviting upon herself by selling the house, the physician decreed: “No moving while you’re pregnant.” There was talk of hormones that could induce “spontaneous abortion” or “wreak havoc,” and it was all too much for Ben to hear, especially with a head full of guilt and woozy from laudanum. He fainted. Dr. Hall ordered tests.
Still, doctor’s orders weren’t enough to keep Vivien from showing the house to a peculiar visitor that showed up hoping for a look-see. Vivien didn’t recognize a former lady of the house – a woman somewhat like herself, who had also been brought to Los Angeles by a husband who promised her a new life, who had to act ruthlessly to save her family when the shit and the crazy hit the fan. It was Nora Montgomery, clad in modern dress yet looking no older than she was in 1922 marketing abortions to naïve starlets. But she still sported that clock-face ring on her finger. Vivien let her in. Nora – edgy with emotion – marveled at the restoration of a home that had been built to her specifications. Noting the stained glass, Nora said the color had been inspired by the iridescence of butterfly wings. “Matches my eyes,” she said with a smile. When she was alive, Nora resented the house. Now, undead, with a gaping hole in the back of her head that Vivien never saw, Nora yearned for it.
Yet the kitchen terrified her. The newfangled pasta arm by the stove? Scary as an Infantata. The microwave repulsed her, too. Technology that didn’t exist in her time was terrifying alien or corruptions of the house. Vivien said of her family’s microwave use: “We are just addicted to our conveniences.” Nora winced at the irony only she could know – and a revelation. “We?” Vivien explained she was married, with a child, and another on the way. Nora noted she once had a child, too, but before we could learn anything more – and dammit did I want Vivien to bring Nora down to the basement! – the lady vanished.
Vivien’s dream of escaping Murder House may have been finally dashed by Violet, who issued an ultimatum of her own. “I love our house. It’s got soul. It’s where you and I kicked some ass, mom,” Violet said, referring to their triumph over the Psycho-Fans of Franklin last week. “You say we were victims of something bad there. I say it’s the place where we survived. … If you go ahead with this whacked-out plan, then I’m out of here. I will run away and believe me, I know how to run away, so you’ll never find me.” As she stormed away, we got a shot of shell-shocked Vivien that showcased her hands. Was that Nora’s clock-face ring on her index finger? It looked like it, but it was hard to tell.
NEXT: Ben’s stained glass apocalypse comes to pass.
HOW TO BUILD A GRIM GROTTO. Ben went for a run. He always runs when his guilt and damnation flares anew. Catching up to him, as always, was Larry Harvey, the scorched face man who burned his family to death because the devil house made him do it. An odd couple, Ben and Larry, and so it was funny when Larry – apparently pursuing his dream of being on the stage — asked Ben to rehearse a scene from Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. “You can be Oscar,” offered Larry, looking funny and freaky as he tried to keep pace with speed-walking Ben. On his shoulder like a fluttering devil, Larry filled Ben’s ear with anxiety. He knew he hadn’t neutralized Hayden last week. He knew that Hayden was threatening his second chance life anew. He told Ben: You have to take care of business. Oh, and Larry also asked him for 1000 bucks for “headshots.” He meant photographs, but soon it would mean something different. Ben tried to blow him off. “Come near me again and there’s going to be a problem. Do you understand?!” Larry smiled a screwtape smile. “Oh, I understand.” FUN FACT! “Larry Harvey” must owe his name to the same Larry Harvey who co-created Burning Man, the annual counter-culture confab in the California desert that concludes with a burning of a giant wooden effigy, an image that always reminds me of The Wicker Man, a horror movie about a man who gets tricked into participating in a religious ritual involving human sacrifice. What exactly is Larry’s master plan for Ben?
Back at Murder House, Ben searched for his missing tape recorder while drinking Moira-brewed coffee. Ben got woozy again… and suddenly he was in his backyard. Digging. And there was Constance. Black sunglasses. Smoking. She told him the previous owners had soaked the soil with pesticides, tainting the Earth. Best not to dig too deep, she said. Better to leave it alone and cover it up with… something. “You know,” she said, “I see a brick patio with a gazebo under the shade of this pepper tree, with a Long Island ice tea in your hand while reclining on chaise lounge, with the sound of cicadas in your ears.” She looked up to the window and saw Moira Sr. looking down, eyes full of worry. “Sheer heaven,” Constance said. Did Constance – who, like Larry, is constantly gardening her own mysterious plot – plant the seed of what was to come in the soggy oil of Ben’s druggy brain? Did she get the idea from the house’s windows?
Exit Constance. Re-enter Detective John Colquitt. Sally Freeman was no longer missing. She was also in a coma. Drug overdose. Found on her person: Ben’s tape recorder. Ben listened to his session with Selfless Sally during the “missing time” of his first hallucination. The Most Boring Woman In Los Angeles railed at The Worst Psychiatrist In Los Angeles for falling asleep on her. “You are worse than my husband!” she cried, her lifeless drone finally broken with sharp emotion. “I am paying you to help me through this crisis! The least you can do is pretend to be interested! I’m in pain! I’m in pain! What do I have to do to get your attention! Kill myself?!” Sally grabbed a letter opener and slit her arms. That shocked the shrink awake. “I got a rise! Now I know what I have to do!” Colquitt clicked off the tape recorder. Ben was dismayed. He also didn’t remember any of it. But how was that possible? The answer came when he got the call from Dr. Hall. She said his blood was gunky with old school laudanum. Just like the stuff the Montgomerys used during their basement abortions. Dr. Hall said that doctors stopped using it as a general anesthesia in 1934 because of a side effect: “Extreme retrograde memory loss.”
Ben became convinced that Moira had been poisoning him. “Prove it,” she dared. (What do you think? Guilty or innocent?) Then Hayden McClane invaded anew. She was furious with Ben for standing her up at Norm’s. She wanted to speak with Vivien. She wanted to tell her everything. She made it clear that Ben was going to take care of her and the little life growing inside her. She used a word for her baby that Nora the Abortionist used: “You have obligations!” Ben managed to calm her down by saying/lying that he was willing to play it her way… just as long as they talked about it first. Away from the house. At a restaurant. As they were leaving, Hayden smacked her lips at the prospect of eating something very big and juicy… and that’s when Larry Harvey whacked Hayden upside the noggin with a shovel. “Still moving,” Larry noted. He finished the job with two more swings. Nice headshots, Larry.
NEXT: What Lies Beneath
Ben throttled Larry. Called him a murderer. “Yeah, but you’re not,” Larry replied. “And now all your problems are solved.” (Unless, of course, Larry is a figment of Ben’s fragmenting mind. Anyone think that?) Larry spied Ben’s half-dug hole in the backyard. He offered to turn into a hideaway for Hayden’s corpse. Ben let Larry do it. Deeper in the pit, Larry found more bodies. But whose? Nora’s? Moira’s? The only clue: A fragile piece of old lace. We now wonder: What was the real purpose behind Ben’s hallucinations? And was that purpose realized? Because what something (the house) or someone (Moira) really wanted was for Ben to dig up those bodies, then the mission failed. Unless, again, Larry is Ben’s imaginary friend — his Horror Show Harvey. Is that the meaning behind Larry’s fixation with acting? That Ben is like a thespian and Larry is a part he plays? (Larry’s damaged arm could be another clue. Remember: Vivien gashed Ben’s own wing with a knife the day she caught him cheating with Hayden.)
Gravedigger Larry doffed his hat in respect, then dragged Hayden’s body into the hole and filled it up. From assassination to cover-up, Larry had executed an old-fashioned hit on Ben’s behalf. Larry even asked for payment. “Hey, Ben,” he said. “I can really use that thousand bucks.” Looking down from an upstairs window, always-intruding Constance said to weeping Moira: “Now she’ll be here forever.” Sorry, Ben: Methinks Hayden’s reign of terror has only just begun. [UPDATE AT 7:58 AM: I may have heard the line wrong. Readers are pointing out that Constance said to Moira: “Now you’ll be here forever.” Implication: Spirits stay bound to the house as long as their bodies remain on the premises. By building the gazebo on top of Moira’s grave, Ben keeps Moira trapped. And that probably explains Moira Jr.’s actions in the episode: She was trying to get Ben to discover, exhume her body.]
Ben barfed. Then he cried. Ben reacted to his horror the way Constance reacted to her horror when she killed her husband and Moira. What Nietzsche said about confronting darkness: Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you. Ben knew what he had to do. And as usual, it definitely wasn’t the right thing. In a matter of hours, Ben had the gazebo built on top of Murder House’s mass (and massing) grave of dead women. With its white slats for columns, Ben’s gazebo resembled the one in the stained glass in his office. Will he ever notice? Vivien brought him a Long Island ice tea. She looked impressed. That’s one way to enhance home’s curb appeal in advance of a sale. Ben looked almost relieved. Whew. I just got away with murder! That night, as he and Vivien slept, the cicadas chirped… and the original woman of the house watched over them, a hole in the back of her head.
With that, I turn the discussion of “Murder House” over to you. Your opinions and theories are wanted. So are your questions for American Horror Story co-creator Ryan Murphy. Every week, EW’s Tim Stack — who has a special treat for fans of the show in the new issue of EW coming later this week — has the chance to get some answers from the exec producer. I could load up Tim with all of my nutty questions… but I’d rather he ask yours. So ask, either here or there. I’ll see you next week, as American Horror Story brings us an episode entitled… “Halloween.” Already spooked.
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