In 'Smoldering Children,' Violet finds something rotten under the floorboards and kid-killing Larry gets burned anew by the evil queen of Murder House Lane

By Jeff Jensen
March 02, 2015 at 04:10 PM EST
Prashant Gupta/FX
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The year is 1994, and the house is home to an unstable nuclear family trying to live a lie and failing miserably at it. “Ladies and gentlemen, the ham,” announces Constance Langdon with a touch of wry, holding a steamy slab of pork festooned with cherry-nippled pineapple medallions. Her children, Adelaide and Tate, and the whipped widower who murdered a third, Larry Harvey, eyeball the platter and coo. Everyone is smiling, though the one on Constance’s airbrushed face weakens with dread when Tate — radiating an angelic countenance that she knows in her gut to be utterly fraudulent — volunteers to say grace. “Of course, son,” says Larry with a loaded choice of words. “I was hoping you would choose to become part of this family.” They clasp hands. They close their eyes. The awful adults at the table hope for the best… then get what their corrupt asses deserve as the blond boy in black spits an irreverent riff worthy of his suicide-dead alt rock hero, Kurt Cobain. The tone is sweet. The content is acidic.

“Dear God. Thank you for this salty pig meat we’re about to eat, along with the rest of the indigestible swill. And thank you for the new charade of a family. My father ran away when I was only six. If I had known any better, I would have joined him –“

Constance — at the mention of her former husband, Hugo Langdon, the car salesman and adulterous horndog that she shot and killed in 1983 after catching him raping the maid – unclasps and angrily slaps Tate’s hand. But the boy rumbles on, and in the process, reveals that after Hugo went deadbeat MIA, Constance “lost” The Victorian and wanted nothing more than to get back into it. Mission accomplished, thanks to her affair with new owner Larry. Speaking of the devil: “And Lord, a BIG ‘Thank you!’ for blinding the a–hole that’s ‘doing’ my mother, so he can’t see what everybody knows,” Tate says, cranking up the spite before delivering the brutal truth.  “She doesn’t really love him.”

“Amen!” says Addy, looking royally entertained.

Larry tries not to be offended or give Tate the satisfaction of appearing affected. He tries to pacify the lad’s suppertime rebellion with condescending shrinkage. He suggests Tate is merely having a hard time re-adjusting back to life inside the house and bunking down in the bedroom where Larry’s former family — Lorraine, his wife; Margaret and Angela, his daughters – died in a fire. Tate listens to Larry’s crap, then strips away the self-serving spin and feeds it back to him: “They burned themselves alive because you were cheating on your wife with Constance, ‘Laurence.’”

Larry doesn’t flinch. He’s learned to live with his sin — and rationalize away the guilt. “Nobody’s fault,” says Larry. “Passion drove her to it. One day, you’ll understand. There are… sacrifices… you have to make in the name of love.”

One day, Tate will understand. But not tonight.

Wrongly believing he had just survived the worst thing that Tate could ever possibly throw at him, Larry celebrates by passing the rolls and changing the subject. “On a lighter note, I have reserved tickets for everybody for Saturday at our community theater for the opening night of Briga-dooooon,” says the wannabe actor and proto-Gleek. “I am delighted to be debuting in the chorus.” (Brigadoon — the 1947 Lerner and Loewe musical about an enchanted Scottish village that manifests in reality only once a century, where the citizens are forbidden from leaving lest they break the magic and send everyone into misty oblivion.) Constance half-heartedly raises her glass to Larry. In turn, Larry cheekily toasts the woman for whom he became a murderer, hailing her for being “so supportive and encouraging” and for allowing him “to explore another facet of myself.” Constance suffers his compliment and drinks.

“Yayyy! I love the theater!” raves Addy, the only wholly sincere soul at the table.

“DON’T ADDY!” Tate thunders, thumping the china with a fist. “You’re a SMART girl! You KNOW he KILLED our brother!”

At last, Constance snaps. It’s all she can do to contain the toxic spill of truth threatening to spoil the Good Thing life she has whored herself out to regain. With a snarl and threatening glare, Constance recites the cover story she wishes to God that Tate would just buy into already. “Beau died in his slumber of natural causes,” she says. “Now you know he had a respiratory ailment. Your brother is in a better place! He suffered with every breath he took!” Yet Tate defended the memory of a sibling that suffered from severe Down syndrome and spent his last days — maybe much of his life? — hidden away in the attic, chained and howling. “He only suffered because of you!”

“You now, Tate,” Constance seethes, “unlike your siblings, you were graced with so many gifts. How is it you can’t bring yourself to use them?! Just a smile or a kind word could open the gates to heaven!”

Yet the boy who loved Cobain had no intention of giving his mother the Nirvana she wants. “No matter how much you want it,” he says, “I will never be your perfect son.”

Tate stands and leaves. Constance stays and smokes. Larry stays silent and frozen. Addy keeps her head down and tries not to cry. A denial. A denial. A denial

NEXT: Revolution

Furious Tate, hopeless. Burning Tate, gone mad from the rape of meaning. Blazing Tate, wanting to rebel against a world made worthless by authority figures willing to sell out their children so they can live as they please, willing to violate everything sacred for the most worthless kind of love — a love that cannot or will not love you back. Who wants to live in a world like that? How do you change a world that lives like that?

In the bedroom of smoldering children, Tate sits on his bed, vibrating with anger, or fear, or despair, or something. Something bad. Demon possession? What’s the difference? Whatever it is, Tate needs more to do what he wants to do next. The alarm clock hits 7 a.m. and blares death metal. He gets into his stash of crystal meth. He grinds a rock into powder, slices it into lines, snorts them up with a rolled up bill. He loads up on guns stashed under his bed. He cocks them and locks them and hides them in his trenchcoat.

There are clippings on his bulletin board. One of them says: “YOU’RE NOT LISTENING.”

They will now.

Downtown. Where the clerks clerk and the bean counters count. They are too busy making money to notice the boy with bloodshot eyes and the fire-engine red gas can walking through the door and up the aisle and right into their boss’s office.

“Tate! What are you doing here?” Larry Harvey says with the last smile that will ever cross across his old face. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”

“I’m going right after.”

“After what?”

Silence.

Larry uses the moment to ignore the boy and crunch more numbers. Tate pounces. Tate douses. Tate lights a match and flicks it at the man who killed his brother. The Man flames like a damned soul in hell.

The proud rebel angel walks away. To school. To fall.

Hello, hello, hello, how low?

Lower.

+++

There are many ways to deal with the sins of the past that foul our present. You can ignore or deny or just trudge forward without changing. Kinda like, say, hiding the dead body of your girlfriend under the floorboards of her house and allowing her spirit to remain miserably oblivious of her tragic truth for fear she’ll flip out on you and not play Scrabble with you or watch videos with you or have (dead ghost) sex with you anymore. Some of us can’t live in such tension, but still never deal with the issue directly, and so must find catharsis via expressions of misdirected rage, like shooting 15 kids at your high school with the small arsenal that you keep under your bed or incinerating your wicked stepfather at his place of work — or both — when instead what you really want to do is beat your mother to death with a tiny copper spoon. Which is also not a good idea.

There is a better way to right the wrongs of our lives, and in particular, the wrongs we ourselves have committed: You can confess, apologize, ask forgiveness, and atone. Ben Harmon — building on the redemption that began in last week’s episode — practiced this humbler, healthier, harder form of reconciliation-restoration in “Smoldering Children” by going to the wife that he locked away in a mental institution and admitting the error of this dehumanizing, marginalizing decision. Vivien — understandably — was slow to respond to his contrition. “I don’t want you to apologize. I just want you to leave,” she said, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking while I’ve been in here. I think you’re the one who’s crazy. I really think that.”

Ben knew he deserved what she was dishing out and suffered her punishment. Still, there was the matter of the injustice that been done to her. The Rubber Man raped her. He doubted her story before, but he believed her now, and he had to pursue justice on her behalf, as she, at present, could not do so by herself. At Vivien’s request, Ben shared the proof that changed his mind, even though Vivien’s doctor had advised him not to burden her with it. He told her that he was the father to only one of the babies growing supernaturally fast inside her. He admitted that he initially, spitefully assumed that Vivien had cheated on him with Luke and that the Heirloom Security stud was the father of the other child. He apologized for that, too.

Vivien reacted to all this news by clutching her abdomen and groaning “Oh God” like someone nursing a queasy stomach full of rancid pork. Ben vowed to help her find answers. He needed a few days to cut through the red tape binding her to the hospital (shooting a gun at your husband tends to produce some “legal hiccups”), but he was confident he was going to be able to bring her home soon.

“I’m not going back to that house,” Vivien said.

Ben continued his “All Apologies” tour with a stop at Violet’s bedroom. Some backstory. Truant officer Peter McCormack had stopped by the house to tell Ben that Violet had not been to school for 16 consecutive days and that the Harmons were at risk of getting hauled into juvenile court. (The edu-cop also did Ben the solid of pointing out that The Victorian was swarming with blowflies. Ben blamed it on the symbolically loaded red and green apples left out since Halloween — our first clue of the truth that lay rotting below the floorboards.)

We found Violet writing in her journal and listening to Throwing Muses’ “Hate My Way.” I can be a smack freak/And hate society/I could hate God… (At this point, Violet turned off the song, which continues: “And blame Dad…”) She reluctantly opened the door to her father, and she (and we) expected him to read her the riot act for skipping class. Instead, Ben apologized for being a lousy father, for contributing to the despair that was sapping her vitality. Violet quizzed skeptical: “Is this some headshrinker trick to make me feel sorry for you?”

NEXT: No. It wasn’t.

Ben affirmed Violet’s struggle by not pretending that he could relate or imagine it. He wanted his daughter to feel liberated from his expectations, wanted her to feel supported without reservation to pursue her bliss. A year ago, Violet had told her father that she wanted to go to Harvard. She had only told him that to make him happy. Ben knew that. “I also know that you were smart and you can go anywhere you want for college,” Ben said, the cruel irony of his words still many minutes away from revealing itself. Ben urged her to go back to school — for her sake, not his, to get what she needed to live free. He offered to send her to a new school, to help her get a new start. She tried to resist. She said all schools were the same. Here, Ben got tough. She needed to meet him halfway. He’d send her anywhere — but she had to go. “Deal?” Violet looked at him with eyes full of tears and fears, and she agreed…

But in retrospect, I wonder, if in that moment, Violet instinctively knew that she was never going anywhere, ever again.

TANGENT! Was “Peter McCormack” a winky nod to the author, essayist and filmmaker Peter McCormack, whose blog can be found here? I see thematic parallels between “Smoldering Children” and McCormack’s novel Shelby. I was also struck by McCormack’s essay entitled “Thirteen Screenwriting Rules That Can Never Be Broken (except when they’re broken really well).” Rule # 10: “The possibility of losing love or getting love builds tension even more than conflict without love.” That would seem to apply to Larry, Tate and even Ben. Rule #9: “If the best-friends and side-characters are more interesting than the lead character, the script may have internal bleeding.” Hmmm…

Which brings us, for the moment, to the always-interesting Constance Langdon, who expressed a different model of guilt management than (slowly improving) lead character Ben. She found herself falsely accused of the murder of her handyman-lover, Travis Wanderly, who last week was killed by Hayden, cut up by Dr. Montgomery, and transported to a weedy lot near a basketball court in South Central. This week, in the process of defending herself, Constance was confronted with her past sins, and we got a good feel for the warped way she lives with — and waves away —  the stink of her rot. It was not a flattering spectacle (and Jessica Lange was pretty damn marvelous bringing that mess to life), though The Evil Queen of Murder House Lane was allowed a moment of sympathy when she was notified by police that Travis was “The Boy Dahlia” that had been dominating the news of late. Constance was devastated. She also did the thing that Constance does when she loses a “loved one” that she rudely diminished or meanly neglected when they were alive — she elevated Travis to near sainthood. (Also see: Tate, Addy, even piggish Hugo, such a man’s man since his death.) Asked if Travis had any enemies, Constance replied: “No. Everybody loved Travis.”

Grossly indulging an inflated view of herself, Constance immediately jumped to the conclusion that Larry Harvey had murdered her lover out of jealousy. She screwed on the courage to travel to his hovel in a blighted quadrant of the L.A. sprawl to coerce a confession out of her Beau-suffocating former beau. First, she plied him with the affection and affirmation that she denied him episodes ago. She even stroked his disfigured face (then discretely shook her hand as if had contracted cooties). She dropped the pretense when she put a butcher knife to Larry’s throat (and then his balls) and accused Larry of butchering her boytoy — “so young, so beautiful” — because “you knew that I desired him like I could never desire you.” Larry told her she had it wrong. He said a poltergeist had killed Travis — he claimed to not know which one — and that he had only helped move the blood-drained, chopped-up corpse.

Constance believed him. She wanted to fly off to The Victorian and visit the Dead Himbo Walking. Larry begged her to stay: “He’s dead and I’m here and I’m alive and I still love you and you love me, too! I know it!” Poor Larry. He still refused to see that Constance had been prostituting herself during their time together. That fact — that mistake — filled proud Constance with self-loathing, a hatred that suffused her assault of brutal truth. “Are you CRAZY?! I NEVER loved you! I endured you! For the sake of my family!” Yep: That one left a mark. Larry cracked back at Constance, mocking the beauty culture slave for preferring the companionship of a ripped-asunder dead pretty boy. Constance said of Travis: “Even dead, even a boy, he’s twice the man you are.”

“Well, he is now,” Larry quipped, scoring, for once, the last, wounding word. But neither parted company happy.

Returning to her home, Constance was met by the detectives investigating Travis’ murder, though if you believed Constance’s public defender, the young and scruffy Harry Goodman, the detectives were less interested in solving the crime and more interested in pinning the murder on someone, ASAP, just to make the media frenzy go away. Constance had not endeared herself to the cops in their first encounter, what with her haughty air or unreconstructed racial attitudes. Told that Travis had been dumped in South Central, Constance said: “The colored section? What on Earth would he be doing there?” Detective Granger — played by the always-riveting Charles S. Dutton — responded with a withering glare. Asked about clashes with the folks that ran the bodega where Travis fetched her ciggies, Constance responded with this ingenious bit of ignorance: “You know those Koreans. They’ve always been suspicious since Hiroshima.” When the butcher knife tumbled out of her purse and landed at the detectives’ feet, the good old girl coalesced into their prime suspect.

NEXT: The fitting fate of dirty dog Hugo

The detectives hauled Constance down to the precinct and parked her Old Dominion ass in an interview room and tried to make her squirm. In getting to play the part of falsely accused innocent, Constance got to tap into the self-righteousness she uses to rationalize all the crimes that she actually has committed. “This is a disgrace,” she hissed. “You two bunglers have come to harass the one person in this city of angels who not only has nothing to do with this crime, but is singularly devastated by it. You are interrupting a grieeeeeving process that started with the death of my daughter, and now, Travis.”

The cops would not be deterred. Indeed, by bringing up Addy’s death, Constance opened herself up to questioning about all the improbable death and peculiar misfortune that filled her life. Beau. Tate. Now Travis. “I will not sit here and listen to this recitation of torments past,” said Constance, who clearly won’t do well if and when she gets tossed down to real Hell (and who at times during this tirade sounded like a cross between Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell). “I have grieved enough for two lifetimes. Most people would be broken by the deaths of their children, but my nature would not permit such weakness.”

But Detective Granger persisted. He quizzed Constance about ex-hubby Hugo and former maid Moira, both missing since ‘83. Granger revealed that the police always suspected foul play, and that the DA had been thisclose to pressing charges against Constance. Fortunately, we were allowed to see in flashbacks what Constance would not reveal: That after shooting and killing the pair, Constance buried Moira in the yard and then — unwilling to allow her unfaithful husband the pleasure of sharing a grave-bed with his mistress — took Hugo into the basement and ground his corpse body into shredded beef and fed it to her dogs. “Once I discovered he had cheated on me,” said the scorned woman’s Mrs. Lovett. “Hugo meant nothing to me than dogshit.”

Constance was dead meat in the eyes of the law until her longtime torchbearer stepped forward to play the role of scapegoat. Larry Harvey’s road to the Big House  — and apparently out of the American Horror Story saga altogether, according to exec producer Ryan Murphy — began in the Murder House basement as he tried to collect the evidence that linked him to Travis’ killing, presumably so he could destroy it. But then Polter-Travis showed up. He wanted to know two things: Had his murder made him famous? And did Constance miss him? Larry could have lied and tweaked his romantic rival out of spite. But Scorchy put aside his pride and told Travis the truth. Yep: Famous. Yep: Constance was heartbroken. “Cool,” said Travis, pleased to be missed.

From another corner of the basement, a pair of spirits called to Travis the way those dead little girls beckoned to Danny in The Shining. “Travis, come play with us,” said Larry’s dead daughters, Margaret and Angela, smoldering and grotesquely seared, who wanted their new friend to have teatime with them.

Larry was agog. He had never before been allowed to see them or his wife. Why now? Lorraine appeared at his side, sporting pulpy-oozy-flamingo pink facial burns that resembled a feathery mask or the exotic headdress of some costumed showgirl, and answered the question. “You’re ready now. You’re on the cusp.” But the cusp of what? Death? Repentance? The same kind of redemptive enlightenment Ben received last week after conquering his addictions and choosing to seek truth and justice for his wife? “I am so sorry,” Larry said. “For everything.” Lorraine pondered his apology, then issued a challenge: “Prove it.”

Larry thought he knew how. He was going to get vengeance for his family by bringing down Constance. “I’m going to make her pay,” Larry fumed. “I’m going to see that she rots in prison for what she did to our family.” His reasoning was all kinds of weird, his rage totally misdirected, and Lorraine called him on it. “Constance didn’t do anything to our family, Larry,” she said. “She didn’t break any vows. That was you.” And with that, Lorraine and the girls disappeared — enlightenment, lost. For the moment.

Spurred by his near-miss Road to Damascus moment, and possibly inspired by some faint memory of a Sunday School lesson, or a reading of Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Flies, or the ending of The Dark Knight, Larry made a radical, life-changing decision. Larry the Ironic Christ took the rap for Travis’ murder, thus drawing to him the swarm of sin and furies of justice chasing Constance. He was truly complicit in the homicide, of course. But what Larry saw in accepting total responsibility was an opportunity to do penance for all his other evils.

Or so he wanted to believe. He had another motive, too, one that revealed itself when Constance agreed to visit him in jail, as he prepared to be shipped to an out-of-state penitentiary with a cool theater department. Larry asked, “Aren’t you going to ask me ‘Why’ Constance? Why did I confess to a crime we both know I did not commit?” I think Constance knew what Larry was fishing for, but she wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction. “I have stopped asking why the mad do mad things,” said Constance, refusing to allow the prison phone — surely tainted with contagious underclass microbes — to touch her ears or lips. “But if you thought you were protecting me, then you’re a bigger fool than I took you for.”

Larry had no illusion that she needed protection from him or any man. No, Larry spelled out his self-prescribed penance scheme. He insisted he was ready to suffer the punishment of prison, even to the point of death, and that he would have the strength to endure the hellacious hard time that loomed ahead like eternity… if Constance would just say the words. “I know you loved me once, Constance,” he said. “Just say it. And I can take whatever may come.” Larry put his hand on the glass that separated them. He wanted Constance to reach out and reciprocate. She tried, but she couldn’t, and took her hand back. Just as she couldn’t say the words he wanted to hear. She didn’t feel it. She had too much integrity — or cruelty — to even fake it for him. To quote from that snarky song her awful son surely must have liked: What else should I be?/’All apologies.’

She gave him a long cold look — a kiss-off without the kiss; a harrowing by way of Jean Harlow — and walked away. Scorchy was left to fume in the NO SMOKING room, the hopeful hand on the glass shriveling like a wilting flower, just like the last of his illusions.

NEXT: You: “WHEN IS HE GOING TO TALK ABOUT VIOLET?!?!” Me: “Now!”

While Larry was flirting with self-awareness and chasing after love that would not love him back, his one-time would-be stepson was committing crimes of passion to protect Violet from a horrible truth — a secret many of you bloodhounds sniffed out weeks ago. You recognized the clues. Violet’s truancy. Violet’s refusal (inability?) to leave the house. Tate saying that she had “evolved” and could commune with the dead in a way other (living) people couldn’t. Tate’s secret stash of Murder House treasures — a metaphor for Violet’s hidden-away body. Good work, young Sherlocks. Now: Do you like this twist? I have mixed feelings. I have grown to really like Violet. I’m a big admirer of Taissa Farmiga’s performance. I worry that by making her a house-bound spirit and forever 16, Violet will lose the capacity for change and for producing compelling drama for the show. Of course, there could be twists to come, and I do wonder if the season finale will change the restrictive rules of Murder House, perhaps as a result of reforms engineered by Violet herself. (I’m not as familiar with Brigadoon as I should be, though I think at the end of story, the mystical town loses some or all of its enchantment, yes?) This is all to say that I’m feeling… exactly what the show wants me to be feeling. Uncertainty. Empathy. Fear for Violet’s fate. Regardless: I feel the execution of the reveal was — for the most part — well done. I had previously stated in the message boards that I had hoped Violet wasn’t dead, because it would be more interesting to see the idea dramatized as a choice, not presented as a twist a la The Sixth Sense. Somehow, American Horror Story found a way to do both.

Let’s summarize by tracing Tate’s ultimately doomed effort to manage the secret and its cover-up. First, he forcibly kept Violet from following through on the promise to go back to school. We saw Tate physically — scarily — restrain her from exiting The Victorian and wander beyond the property line, lest she rudely discover she couldn’t. He spooked her with his manhandling. He smoothed things over with kisses and “I love yous” and a pitch to spend the day together. “We can play Scrabble, if you want,” he said. “I’ll even let you win.” With that shaggy surfer-blonde hair and ear-to-ear closed-mouth grin, Tate reminded me of a Muppet — and who can resist a Muppet? Not Violet. Smooch. Swoon. Scrabble!

Next, Tate had to extinguish Phil, the Mr. Critter exterminator that Ben hired to exorcise the blowfly-possessed Victorian. Phil was a funny debugger. He declared himself the best killer of creepy-crawlers on the market. He dubbed himself “The Verminator” with a mock-Schwarzenegger accent. But Phil’s action-hero bravado was terminated when he stumbled upon the dead thing Tate had stashed away in the crawlspace. Mr. Critter went buggy. He tried to scurry to daylight and safety. Enter Tate. The lunatic Langdon made like Beelzebub ripping into a damned soul flushed into hell. “Phil! You’re a murderer! You need to stay and repent for the countless innocent lives you have stolen!” This was funny, since by “countless innocent lives,” I presumed that Tate meant countless insect lives. Such empathy for all creatures great and small! Or maybe Tate was after something more profound. Maybe he was indicting Phil for actively perpetuating a coarse, gross culture that glorifies violence and death and robots-are-bad! cinematic slanders by esteeming soulless action heroes and parroting their glib catchphrases. But hey: Who isn’t guilty of that?

Anyway: Devil boy Tate pitchforked Phil with the exterminator’s own fumigator and pumped him full of poison spritz. Wicked. Yay for violence!

Eventually, though, Tate realized he couldn’t continue maintaining the cover-up or charade. At the same time, he didn’t have the heart to tell Violet the same kind of brutal truth that he gave Larry at the dinner table 17 years earlier. Tate preferred a gentle lie, one that offered the illusion of choice, never mind that it was a choice she had already made for herself.

First, Tate convinced Violet that Ben was about to ship her off to boarding school. This landed a little more painfully than Tate intended. Violet despaired. He was her father’s little girl — and he wanted to junk her, just as he had junked Vivien? “I’m so stupid and naïve sometimes!” she said. Next, Tate needed Ben neutralized so he could accomplish the next stage of his plan, so he put on the rubber suit and tried to knock him out with chloroform. This proved a little more difficult than Tate anticipated, as Ben managed to mount a spirited counter-attack. He pounded the masked man with a lamp and shouted: “YOU RAPED MY WIFE! YOU RAPED MY WIFE! YOU RAPED MY WIFE!” (Somehow, Violet failed to hear that explosive eruption.) Tate subdued Ben — but not before Ben succeeded in tearing off the zipper hood and saw Tate’s face. Ben was as heartbroken as he was stunned, then passed out.

Finally, Tate went to Violet — who was keenly aware that some kind of altercation had just occurred — and tried to convince her that their only chance at beating bad dad and being together was if they committed suicide by swallowing pills. Enthused Tate: “Like Romeo and Juliet!” The intricate ironies of this scene were lost on me the first time I watched it. Tate pitched this plan knowing — rightly — that Violet was dead, but thinking — wrongly — that Violet believed that he was alive. Violet — who had been trying to protect Tate from the truth about himself, not realizing he already knew — received Tate’s pitch knowing that he couldn’t kill himself, but not knowing that she was already dead. Got that? BOTTOM LINE: Violet thought Tate was just trying to murder her and quietly panicked.

NEXT: No Exit.

Violet expressed wariness about Tate’s proposal. Tate grew belligerent. Violet got scared. Okay, she’d roll the dice on the suicide solution, she lied, but only if they could do it in the bathtub, where it would be warm and nice and there could be candles and stuff. Tate tried not to freak. Why was she pitching this? Was she remembering? No: Violet was playing him; she was trying to find a way to get some space between him and flee. He let her go — and Violet bolted. She ran out of the attic and out the door, ran to the gate. She yelled at the couple across the street walking a dog — but only the dog could hear her. She opened the gate and ran… right back into the kitchen. Huh? Tate appeared, pleaded with her to go through with their plan, begged her to stop running. She ran. Out the front door — except the run led her back into the house through the side door. She tried again. Out the front… and again, back into the house from the side door. It was interesting that Violet never again made it back out to the gate. It was as if the house was responded to her repeated attempts at escape by contracting the perimeter, limiting the range of space in which he could move. The Victorian had become an M.C. Escher madhouse, and Violet was losing her mind — which was exactly what Tate had been trying to avoid with his well-meaning let’s-go-gently-into-that-good-night ruse. Tate realized he had no choice. Brutal truth it had to be.

“I don’t want to die,” Violet cried.

“It’s too late for that,” Tate said. “I have to show you something. Afterward, you are free to go wherever you want. I promise, I won’t do anything to stop you.” I think most of that wasn’t true. Based on what we know about Murder House, Violet wouldn’t have the liberty to go wherever she wanted. But Tate probably reasoned that once she saw what he had to show her, the lie wouldn’t matter.

They went into the basement. They crawled through the bowels of the house. As they approached the place where Phil saw what he saw and turned tail, Tate asked Violet to close her eyes. “Remember,” Tate said, “everything is going to be okay. I love you.” He guided her to the threshold of revelation and then said, “Open your eyes.”

Violet looked. She saw the corpse of a teenage girl. She saw the mouth stretched open and frozen, scores of blowflies buzzing in and out. She saw herself. Dead. A despairing wail came out of her, and she remembered. The day she learned Tate was a mass murderer. The day she learned he was a ghost in a house full of ghosts. The day the rational world stopped making sense and she swallowed a whole bottle of pills so she could sleep, only sleeeeep…

“I died when I took all those pills,” Violet said.

“I tried to save you. I did,” Tate said. “I tried to make you throw them up. You threw up some. Not enough. You took so many, Violet. You died crying. I held you. You were safe. You died… loved.”

+++

Later, in the bedroom of smoldering children, Violet slowly came to some functional peace about her strange state of being, as well as a gracious regard for the boy who was only trying to protect her. “What happens now?” she asks. Tate — sitting on the floor with a deck of playing cards — quipped: “You draw a card and discard.” He grew serious. He told her that life goes on. More board games and Go Fish. More fetch with Beauregard. More videos. More sex. More of whatever they want. Except it would be for forever, and they can never leave. Sartre’s No Exit, with a slacker makeover. Never has a Nirvana sounded more… lifeless.

“You and me. Together, for always,” Tate says.

Here they are now. Entertain them…

Until at least Vivien gives birth to her twins. One with Harmon genes. One with Langdon genes. One to be the new vessel for Violet’s soul, the other to be the new vessel for Tate’s soul. My bold prediction for the “Birth” that looms: The Reincarnation of Violet and Tate. Come on! Doesn’t that theory just rock your face?!

Okay, okay, enough of me. Your turn. Did “Smoldering Children” fire your imagination or leave you cold? Do you like the Violet twist? Where do you think it goes from here? And what do you think of where Larry has landed this season? I loved Denis O’Hare’s performance, and his scenes with Jessica Lange in this episode were true acting treats. And yet, I wish more had been done with Larry, or something different had been done with Larry. Since the “Halloween” two-parter, I had gotten the sense that while the producers knew Larry’s significance to the Langdons, they were less certain about his place in the present day drama. I’m not sure he really paid off for me as he should have. And didn’t I say it was YOUR TURN to talk? Sorry. Go! And remember: This week’s exit interview with AHS exec producer Ryan Murphy can be found here. Also: An interview with Taissa Farmiga, here.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

An anthology series that centers on different characters and locations, including a haunted house, an insane asylum, a witch coven, a freak show, and a hotel.
type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 8
episodes
  • 94
Rating
  • TV-MA
Genre
Premiere
  • 10/17/12
creator
Performers
Network
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