American Horror Story recap: What Child is THIS?
The satanic advent of a miraculous yet unholy pregnancy comes to a bizarre and unblessed head when tormented Vivien Harmon gives "Birth" to...
The year is 1984. It is morning again in America, or so the President claims. Born in the U.S.A. “Like A Virgin.” Purple Rain. The Mac revolution begins with a hammer blow to Big Brother. A panic of Satanism and child abuse shocks the nation. The year’s top grossing movie teaches the world to sing a question: When there’s something strange in your neighborhood… Whoyougonnacall?
Constance Langdon — one year after shooting her cheating husband, Hugo, and grinding his corpse into dog food — is passed out drunk on the couch. Bills she can’t pay are piled on the table, next to the solitaire game she hasn’t finished. Soon she will lose this house built by abortionist and monster maker Dr. Charles Montgomery. Before then, she will lose her son’s heart to that dead man’s dead wife. Oh, well. Gotta cut that cord sooner or later, right, Constance?
Tate Langdon, age 7, lonely and neglected, pushes a yellow toy dump truck through the living room where years earlier two God-fearing nurses making a night of watching Peyton Place and Laugh-In were stabbed to death by a stranger they dared to help. On this night in ’84, with his pickled mother making like Sleeping Beauty and his big sister Addy MIA, Tate has Bob Newhart playing television babysitter. In this particular episode of the actor-comedian’s second hit sitcom, Dick Loudon — the “mild-mannered everyman” who “exists in an illogical world” filled with “oddballs” and “run by rules that elude him” (Wikipedia; sound like someone we know?) — is rambling on about redemption. “You always give a guy a second chance,” Dick tells his wife, Joanna. “That’s, like, the golden rule of guys…” The TV fades away as we hear Joanna say “It’s hell being a guy, isn’t it Dick?” and Dick responds: “It’s no picnic…”
Tate plays. The future mass murderer, psychotic homophobe, and rapist pushes the toy truck through the house. Out of the living room. Down the hallway. To the stairwell that descends into the basement. The door opens on its own. Tate should walk away. He doesn’t.
Tate peeks into the darkness. A mischievous thought takes hold. He sets his dump truck at the top of the stairs, sits down next to it, pushes. The truck pinwheels down the steps, lands on its wheels, forward rolls into the gloom of the Murder House underworld. Tate follows. He pushes the truck again. It wheels through a corridor of stuff. How much of it belongs to the Langdons and how much of it belonged to previous owners, we don’t know. Lots of dolls. Addy’s? A story for another season?
Tate has lost track of his truck. He’s about to give up when he spots it under a table. Tate gets on his hands and knees. Tate crawls. Tate is heading straight toward a close encounter of the Infantata kind. The boy reaches for his toy. The overgrown mash-up of sewn-together human parts reaches for him. Tate screams. The Infantata pulls him close. Charles Montgomery’s patchwork progeny — now a rodent-gobbling senior citizen — is about to mess his rumpled funereal gown with Tate’s guts with those claws for hands and that bloodstained mouth filled with jagged rotting teeth…
When Norah Montgomery snatches Tate away and raises a halting finger to her hideous child’s face. “No! Thaddeus! Go away!” she commands as she pulls Tate away. Like a well-trained dog, the Infantata heels, obeys, and retreats into shadow.
Norah comforts shaken Tate. She gives him some advice — the proper protocol for shooing away the monsters of the house. “If Thaddeus comes back to scare you again,” she says, “shut your eyes and say ‘Go away.’ Do you understand, Tate? He’ll mind you. Because I’m going to protect you.”
Norah strokes his hair. Tate feels something he rarely feels, if never. “I wish you were my mommy,” Tate says. Norah, warmed, hugs him back. “Now dry your tears, child,” she says. “Life is too short for so much sorrow.”
It is 27 years later. Tate, now Forever 17, is in the basement and discovering anew the yellow dump truck that brought him to the first woman he ever loved. He picks it up. Smiles. Remembers. Then he gets to business. He finds Norah Montgomery as anyone finds her these days — distraught and scatter-brained. “Who are you?” asks the weepy, holey-headed ghost, clutching her silk kerchief.
“It’s me. Tate.” He tries to cheer her up with a lie she once told him. “Life’s too short for sorrow.” Norah snaps. “You’re wrong. It’s an eternity. Endless days night of longing. Where’s my baby?!”
Tate says, “That’s what I want to talk to you about.” He tells his spectral surrogate mom that he can no longer keep his promise to give her what she wants. He can’t sacrifice the child that he made by raping the mother of his girlfriend. “Everything’s changed,” Tate says. “I’m in love with Violet. I just can’t take her brother away.”
It’s a breakup. A son pulling a leave-and-cleave with his parent (minus the leaving part). But Norah will not be ignored. Norah’s regains some of that old steel and tells Tate how it’s going to be. She can take Vivien’s boy. And she will. “That baby,” she says, “is mine.”
Lady, take a number.
NEXT: What Bob Newhart and Ben Harmon Have In Common
And with that, American Horror Story launched into the endgame of its first season with one of its strongest, most harrowing episodes, highlighted by a devastating low: The death of Vivien Harmon. So much blood. So much ouch. And somehow, so much laughter, thanks to an abundance of killer lines. Just a small thing by way of example: I loved the scene where Violet vividly evokes the scary-sobering prospect of eternity via metaphors supplied by our tech moment. “One of these days this computer will be obsolete,” she told Tate as he searched YouTube (not “u-tube,” you ’90s-era high school dropout). “People will have microchips implanted in their brains or something. We [the spirits of Murder House] won’t be able to watch YouTube. We’ll be like all the others here, prisoners in a windowless cell.”
“Birth” also set up what promises to be one hell of a capper next week. First big question: Will Ben Harmon join his family in death? Second: Does a big twist loom? One of the most haunting images of this episode was the surreal non sequiter of Ben in a corner, going mad, screaming “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?” It worked as a way to illustrate the unraveling of Dr. Shrinker’s rational, scientific orientation during Vivien’s spirit-filled birthing/dying sequence. (Pity the “mild-mannered everyman” who “exists in an illogical world” filled with “oddballs” and “run by rules that elude him.” It’s hell. And no picnic, either.) What if that beat was a setup for some kind of Lost Highway-meets-Shutter Island-meets-the-last-episode-of–Newhart twist. If you don’t know the latter reference: Newhart ended its eight-year run with the revelation that whole series had been an epic nightmare dreamed by the character Bob Newhart played in his first sitcom, a psychiatrist named Robert Hartley. If American Horror Story was only going to be a one-season wonder, I might theorize that we might learn that all of season 1 was the desperate dream of a man trying to elude the pain (or guilt?) of losing (or murdering?) his wife (and whole family?). Of course, next week’s episode won’t be the last episode of American Horror Story, so surely my theory won’t (and shouldn’t) come to pass. Still, I think we’re going to be dealt with a devil-faced joker card next week. Can’t wait to see it.
“Your body is like a house. You can fix the tiles in the bathroom and kitchen, but if the foundation is decaying you’ll be wasting your time.”
With the season finale of American Horror Story one week away, I’d like to revisit something I wrote 10 weeks ago about the Harmons’ marriage: “Anger runs deep on both sides; forgiveness remains elusive, unknowable. Both want healing, but neither wants the pain and mess that comes with it. … Their gloomy, neglected teenage daughter Violet wonders: Why don’t you just get a divorce? And in the long run, American Horror Story may prove to be the tale of two people slowly coming to recognize the necessity of splitting up.”
In light of the events of “Birth,” an episode that was actually lousy with death, can we not agree that all things considered, the Harmons would have been better off if they had just split up after Vivien caught Ben laying Hayden in their bed? We never really saw them dig into the “decaying foundation” of their marriage and do the work that needed to be done to repair their broken love. (That assumes their love was even fixable.) Instead, Ben and Vivien — however well-intentioned and admirably idealistic — conned themselves into believing that all they needed was a clean slate, a fresh start, a purging wash of “new.” New city. New home. New child. “This is our salvation,” Ben told Vivien in the second episode. Instead, the pregnancy became Vivien’s damnation. When it comes to mending a troubled relationship, babies rarely if never make anything better.
Just ask Chad and Pat. When we last saw the embattled, battling boyfriends (in the present), Chad was bemoaning his fate: “I feel like I’m doomed for all eternity to be trapped in an unhappy, adulterous relationship and working on this goddamn house that’s never going to be just the way I want it.” Yet since “Halloween,” the dead duo had become convinced that endless house arrest (and arrested development) could be made tolerable if not downright pleasant if they could be parents to Vivien’s twins. The babies would change everything. Give their relationship new purpose. Bring them closer together. Chad and Pat were the ostensible villains of the episode. Still it was sometimes easy to sympathize with them when the forces that aligned to stop them reeked of crazy and bigotry and hate. And so it went that American Horror Story once again suffused its horror show hoo-ha with sociopolitical subtext, spiking the crazy-pulpy fun with thorny ideas and ugly history, producing meaningful mess/messy meanings in process.
We found Chad and Pat happily prepping the nursery, Chad making decorative animal prints using stamps made from yams and hard-bodied Pat painting the furniture Chinese red and the walls Granny Smith green. (Red and green — the hues of AHS taint, filth and corruption.) Violet and Tate heard them working, confronted them, and learned some of their insidious intentions. Terrible Tate made sure to express his protest in unnecessary derisive fashion: “You’re going to steal the twins?! You pathetic homos couldn’t steal the s–t out of your own ass!” (Even Chad and Pat had to laugh at that one.) Chad got in the face of the boy who killed him from behind a black fetish mask. “I am quaking in my loafers. What are you going to do? Murder me?”
Then came Constance, and all of her good old gal unreconstructed biases and attitudes about men like “frick and frack.” Her contretemps allowed AHS to air an argument about homosexuality and parenting, expressed through gleefully nasty dialogue. Constance played the part of dangerously closed-minded nut. Chad got to say all the things anyone would want to say to such a hater… but might not have the composure and wit to do so in the moment. And he got to sip from a goblet of wine while doing it. Fancy-nasty!
CONSTANCE: What you’re planning to do is unnatural.
CHAD: Deodorant’s unnatural. But it’s a public good. We’ll make excellent parents.
CONSTANCE: ‘Man shall not lie with man. It is an abomination.’ [Leviticus 18:22]
CHAD: So is that hairdo. But I figure that’s your business.
CONSTANCE: Why can’t ‘you people’ be content with having pets? Why must you subject an innocent child to your perversions?
CHAD: There’s nothing in the studies that says being raised by same sex parents has any ill effects on children. I assume that applies to the formerly living.
CONSTANCE: The only study I know is the study of blood and pain. My children came out of my body and THAT is something that you’ll never be able to understand.
CHAD: Lady, just because you happen to be the hole that they crawled out of doesn’t mean a goddamn thing!
NEXT: On Paramagnetism
Constance bottom-lined it. “I will not have you put your filthy hands on my grandchild,” she said. Chad did some mental math and came to an enlightening sum that left him tickled. “Are you telling me that Norman Bates Jr. is the baby-daddy?” said Chad. “You gotta love this house.” Constance offered Chad a trade. He could have the Harmon-sired child. She wanted the Langdon twin. Chad nixed it. He wanted the blonde-and-brunette matching set. “God, you are vile,” said Constance. “You are not suited to raise children.”
“Raise them? Oh, honey, no no no,” Chad said, ratcheting up his inner Sylar to Maximum Diabolique. “We’re going to wait until they reach that adorable age — about a year or year and a half — and then we are going to smother them with hypoallergenic pillows. That way they’ll be cute forever.”
Like I said: SOMETIMES easy to sympathize with them.
Chad and Pat had to be ghostbusted from the Victorian. Whoyougonnacall? Billie Dean Howard! The reality show-ready medium accepted the challenge of helping Constance and Violet “ferret out the fairies” and sweep the freaky fluffers out of the house. Back in “Rubber Man” two weeks back, we questioned Billie Dean’s bona fides, what with her hysterical eschatology and muddled understanding of theological ideas like the immaculate conception. (True confession: I was equally confused about the latter concept, as those who haunt our message boards know.) But “Birth” breathed some legitimacy into the kook. She knew Violet was dead. Even communicated with her telepathically. And she had a sixth sense for Tate’s unholy presence in the library of paper-over painted myth without seeing him or hearing him. “He can’t be here,” Billie Dean said, shaking from fear by being in such close proximity of a spirit she believed to be the father of the Antichrist. Tate: “I want to help.” Billie Dean: “You’ve helped enough.”
And so, with her credibility bolstered, we kinda-sorta believed Billie Dean when she offered one of the more expansive explanations yet for the Victorian’s sinister power, or as she characterized it, “paramagnetic grip.”
“The what?” Violet asked.
“The evil,” Billie Dean replied, nervously eyeballing the door to the basement, as if the Victorian’s Infantata-haunted underneath happened to be the seat or source of said “evil.” She continued, sounding like Obi-Wan by way of Zelda Rubinstein: “It’s a force just like any other pure physics. Real and powerful. Created by events, events that unleash psychic energy into the environment where it’s absorbed, like the way a battery stores energy. You see it all the time in places like prisons and asylums. Negative energy feeds on trauma and pain. It draws those things to it. The force in this house is larger than its many individual traumas. And it has a need. It wants to move in our world. It’s using those trapped between this world and the next as conduits.”
Constance’s slightly exasperated, can-you-just-get-the-matter-at-hand-already? response was LOL funny as it was all kinds of wrong: “That’s all very interesting, but what do we do about the gays? I mean, how do we get rid of them?”
Billie Dean tackled the question by offering her version of Roanoke, a.k.a. the Lost Colony, one of the great unsolved mysteries in American history. (I couldn’t corroborate Billie Dean’s claim that Roanoke also came to be known as the Ghost Colony, which sounds like the name of a great comic book if you ask me.) “In 1590,” Billie Dean said, screwing on her campfire storytelling voice, “on the coast of what we now know as North Carolina, the entire colony of Roanoke, all 117 men, women and children died inexplicably.” [Actually, according to most accounts, colony leader John White returned to Roanoke after three years away to discover that the settlement had been abandoned. Those 117 people? Never found.] “It became known as the Ghost Colony because the spirits remained. They haunted the native tribes that lived in the surrounding areas, killing indiscriminately. The elder knew he had to act. He cast a banishment curse. First he gathered the personal belongings of all the colonists and burned them. The ghosts appeared, summoned by their talismans, but before the ghosts could do any more harm, the elder completed the curse that would banish the ghosts forever by uttering a single world, the same word found carved on a post in the colony: ‘Croatoan.’”
Billie Dean’s creepy chronicle played like a mythic retelling of the true life horror story that helped found this country, albeit with the happy ending of indigenous peoples successfully casting out blue-eyed devils. “Croatoan” is not some black magic curse word. It’s the (alternate spelling) name of an Indian tribe native to the North Carolina area, as well as an island not far from the Roanoke colony. Or so Wikipedia tells me. (“Croatoa” is also the name of a famed short story by Harlan Ellison that deals with sex, abortion, and personal responsibility. It sounds like the kind of horror yarn that might mean something to Ben Harmon…)
[One last tangent: Billie Dean told Violet that the Murder House dead “don’t follow our physical laws” and are not “affected by time.” I’m calling it now: Season 2 of American Horror Story is going to be season 5 of Lost, a.k.a. “the time travel season,” with Vivien and Violet visiting different periods of the Victorian’s history. Ben could take the trip, too – provided he punches his ticket by dying in next week’s season finale.]
Allegedly enlightened, Violet shared her Croatoan learning with Tate, who gave comic voice to our incredulity: “That sounds like bulls–t.” Still, Tate played along to make Violet happy. Violet went off to swipe Chad’s watch. Tate took the task of stealing from Pat an equally loaded talisman — a wedding ring, the tie that bonded him to Chad, for better and worse, ’til death did them part… or not. Tate’s strategy: Seduce the sex addict and snag the band during the sexing… or snag the ring while Pat beat the crap out of him. Pat opted for door number two. So to speak. Pat pummeled the devil boy that pokered him and then took his life. He lost control of his temper and fists, then lost control of his tongue and secrets, too. Turned out prior to his death, Pat wasn’t just cheating on Chad — he was planning to leave him. “It was not supposed to be like this! I’m not supposed to be here! I was going to get out! I fell in love! God help me, I was going to get out and I was going to be with him and then you killed me and now I’m stuck here. WITH HIM!” By that second ‘him,’ Pat meant Chad… who just happened to be standing in the door, watching and listening as his eternal domestic partner unleashed his whopper. Pat was stopped cold. Chad turned hot and stomped off. Tate smirked a bloody and smirk and quietly scooted away, ring in hand.
NEXT: FlufferJuice! FlufferJUICE!! FLUFFERJUICE!!!
And so it went that no colonial-era spells were ultimately needed to derail Chad-Pat’s Raising Arizona kidnap-and-kill conspiracy. Violet tried. She tossed Pat’s ring and Chad’s watch into the basement furnace, and when Chad showed up, she spat three “Croatoans” at him like a loser Buffy tossing holy water at a vamp. Chad faked a convulsion — then mocked her superstitious malarkey. The Roanoke spell was “bulls—t,” just like any number of other charms and chants designed to make people “feel like they’re in control. Well guess what? They’re not,” Chad seethed. “They never have been.” Chad told Violet that she and her mother and the whole Harmon clan needn’t fear him or Pat anymore, anyway. “I am doomed to spend eternity with a man who doesn’t love me,” he said, tossing chopped-up Chinese red baby furniture into the fire. “Of course, it could be worse. Your man loves you.” That was worse, Chad explained, because Tate was a monster. When Violet protested and insisted that Tate had changed since that regrettable business at Westfield High School, Chad laughed and dropped the bomb on her: There was more bad to Tate than just mass murder. “When did he change?” Chad said. “When he murdered me? When he murdered my boyfriend? Or did he change when he raped your mother?”
“That’s a lie,” she said, wanting the statement to be true.
“Is it?” said Chad, his tone as arch as his eyebrows. “I think we’re about to find out.”
If Vivien Harmon had her way, she never would have returned to Murder House after her long-awaited release from the mental hospital. She wanted to get on a plane with Violet, get to her sister’s house in Florida, have her babies far away from Los Angeles. But the horror show inside her had other plans. Vivien had been warned that one of her babies was growing unnaturally fast, and worse, leaching all the available nutrients and slowly starving its twin sibling to death. Vivien had been advised to stay local and get an emergency C-section now, while they were both still alive. Vivien wanted to take her chances on her plan. She had lost control of her life. No: It had been taken from her. Raped. I don’t blame her for wanting to do things her way, for feeling that the only person she could trust about herself was herself. She left the mental hospital with Ben and agreed to go back to the Victorian only so they could pick up Violet. But she was not going to leave the car.
What caused Vivien to go into labor? Did the home’s “paramagnetic” negative energy detect the presence of a life seeded by “trauma” and “pain” and “perversion” and tease at it, latch onto to it, pull at it like a tractor beam? Or were those contractions going to happen, anyway? Did the house want and seize that child, so it can begin using the kid as a corporal “conduit” to “move in the world” and fulfill its terrible “needs,” whatever those may be? Or is the Victorian not nearly as nefarious as all that?
Pain rocked Vivien’s body. She clambered out of the car to scream for help. Constance emerged to answer the call. Vivien wanted to go to the hospital. Constance wanted her to get into the house. Vivien protested. Constance pulled. Constance won. So much for regaining control. The second Vivien crossed the devil door threshold, her water broke. The babies wanted out. Now.
As Vivien’s body was being ripped apart from the inside, Ben’s mind was coming undone. Violet had resisted his demand to pack up by telling him the truth. She was dead. She couldn’t leave. And of course, Ben didn’t believe her. He was certain she was on drugs. But when Vivien’s water broke, Ben forgot all about his daughter’s demented claims and tried to call the doctor. The phones wouldn’t work. Then the power went out. Then the mischief twins, bloodied and gouged, bashed the getaway car and punctured the tires. No communication. No escape. No Exit. Then Constance arrived. We remember that when Ben went sleepwalking while the Rubber Man raped his wife back in the pilot, Constance stopped him from burning himself to death. “Now is not your time,” she told him then. Now, with Ben blazing with fury, Constance showed up to direct him to where he needed to be. “Mr. Harmon,” she said. “It’s time.
NEXT: The Bloody Show
Constance brought Ben into the library. Lit by candles, the room glowed hot, blood red. Vivien lay on a bed, writhing and screaming. The whole tableau vibed “satanic ritual.” Ben balked. “This is wrong,” he said. Constance: “This house is trying to help, and you are in no position to refuse.” (Ah, but why is the house trying to help? Altruism or agenda?) Ben saw Dr. Charles Montgomery, attending, and nursing students Gladys and Maria, ready to assist. Who were they?! His perception went fuzzy. His brain spun. His “clinical worldview” simply couldn’t handle and process the shock of crazy before him. He detached. He saw himself huddled in a corner, covering his ears and wailing…
But Constance psychically yanked at him, forcing him to man-up and be present for his wife. Ben took position near Vivien’s head. He held her hand. He tried to guide her breathing. But Vivien was beyond anyone’s help. Dr. Montgomery pried and pulled with ghastly tools. She pushed. She tried not to push. She didn’t know what the hell to do. The pain: Excruciating. The nurse gave her ether. The sounds of the room were smothered by the strains of a mournful cello. Vivien played the cello once, and she was remarkably exceptional at it. But then she gave it up, for a reason never spelled out, but we can now probably guess: She stopped because of motherhood; because of Violet. Regret? I doubt it. I wonder, though, if she missed it. Making music. Being an artist. The good news is that she now has all the time in the world to take it up again…
The first twin extracted from Vivien’s stormy womb — presumably the one sired by Ben; presumably the malnourished beta to the supernatural alpha, and so only six months developed – was stillborn. Or so Ben and Vivien and all of us in the viewing audience were told. We didn’t see it. Did you believe Dr. Montgomery? The experimental taxidermist/basement abortionist/wackadoodle Infantatatist hustled little lord Harmon — quiet as the baby Jesus — over to his wife, Norah, who wrapped him up in swaddling cloth and floated away looking as pleased as a beauty pageant winner cradling her prize of roses. The first lady of Murder House finally got her baby. Are we really supposed to believe she’ll be content to cuddle a shriveled preemie fetus for eternity?
The second twin — presumably the fully-developed miracle-grow boy seeded by Tate’s spirit spunk — was born alive and wailing after an extraordinarily violent exit that had Vivien screaming “IT’S RIPPING ME APART!” yet also recalling the glorious memory of bringing beautiful Violet into the world with the man she loved at her side. Constance, greedy for her grandchild, ordered Dr. Montgomery to snip the infant from its placenta. “Cut the cord,” she said. “It’s time to separate mother and son.” Constance promised to return the lad to Vivien just as soon as he was all cleaned up. Moira joined Constance in the kitchen, and for one brief moment, the enemies were able to share the same space without wanting to scoop out the three eyeballs remaining between them. “He’s the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen,” Moira said. Constance: “From blood and pain comes perfection.” It was an interesting line in an episode in which the black hole sun of suffering and misery that is the house was all but likened to hell. And yet, out of this metaphysical miasma, life emerged, perfect and beautiful. Yeah, so was Lucifer, and sure, the kid could be the End of The World made flesh. But what if he’s not? What if he’s… just a kid? It got me wondering if this supernatural hotspot isn’t radiant with electromagnetic evil but constructed from the essence of existential existence, and we just mistake it for something godawful thanks to the faulty perceptions and skewed interpretations of the no-different-than-you-and-me godforsaken souls stuck there and the so-called “experts” that orbit it. Murder House is a lot like life — just so densely packed with it that it warps time and space, and GREAT GOOGILY MOOGILY! What the hell am I even saying right now?!?!? Is this wang chung that I’m typing even English?
End pretentiousness. Enter loony-tunes chaos bringer. “Hey bitches. Got that slime off my baby yet?” Constance and Moira turned away from Sweet Baby Anti-Jesus to see shoveled-brained Hayden glaring at them with raccoon eyes. To be continued next week.
Back in the library, Vivien, now emptied of her beastly burdens, was bleeding out and fading fast. Dr. Montgomery sat helplessly and uselessly at the foot of the bed, unable to rectify his patient’s wrecked insides, looking like the conductor of a runaway train resigned to catastrophe. Ben beseeched his wife to fight for life. “We can be happy, honey,” Ben said, “just like we were before my mistakes and this house.” Violet appeared to her mother — but remained invisible to her father — and encouraged her to let go if she wanted to, if she felt the pain was too much. With a weak voice, Vivien answered both of them: “I don’t think I have a choice.”
Ladies and gentleman, the profoundly sad last words of Vivien Harmon, who in the last 18 months of her life suffered a miscarriage late in pregnancy, suffered the spectacle of her cheating husband, suffered a rape and a home invasion and attempted murder and betrayal by her daughter and unjust incarceration, and now, death. None of this suffering was her fault. Most of this suffering was uniquely female. I don’t think I have a choice. Nope. And she never really did. The world tilted. The light faded from her eyes. Vivien passed. The Yellow Wallpaper claims another woman. She died knowing she was loved. At least the second chance she gave Ben yielded that one reward.
Still: How bleak.
A whoosh of wind blew away the attending spirits, and Ben was left to grieve alone.
Gotta love this house.
NEXT: The Break-Up
An episode full of breakups of various kinds and sorts, “Birth” ended with one of the most powerful moments American Horror Story has given us, set inside the room of smoldering children, with fuming Violet screwing on the courage to do the right thing, even though it was going to cost her the boy she loved. For now, at least. Eternity is a long time, you know.
She found Tate sleeping, then woke him up, in more ways than one. She confronted him on his crimes. The Westfield High Massacre. Murdering and sadistically brutalizing Chad and Pat. Raping Vivien and catalyzing her destruction. Tate Langdon: misanthrope, homophobe, misogynist. A bundle of bad ideas that should have been made obsolete long ago, that needs to be removed — exorcised — from the house. Our culture. Now.
“I used to think you were like me, that you were attracted to the darkness,” Violet said. “Tate, you are the darkness.”
Tate couldn’t disagree. But he also insisted that he had changed because of Violet, for Violet, “the only light I’ve ever known.” He pulled a Bob Newhart. He appealed to the guy code, the one with “the golden rule” that says that you always give a guy “a second chance.” But redemption is meaningless without justice, and Tate has never submitted to it. Violet acknowledged that Tate had changed (do we agree?), and she told him that she loved him. “But I can’t forgive you,” she said. “You have to pay for what you’ve done.”
And with that, Violet enacted the proper protocol for shooing away the monsters in the house — the same protocol that Norah taught Tate when he was a boy, the same protocol that Tate taught Violet shortly after her death. Three times: “Go away.” Through tears and heartbreak. Tate wailed. Tate protested. Finally, Tate vanished. We’ll see for how long.
Violet was alone. But she wasn’t. The hand came first, then an arm, and then a full embrace as Vivien wrapped up her daughter and comforted her. “That was very brave,” she said. “I am very proud of you.” But there was something to the expression that Connie Britton put on Vivien’s face, something that kinda suggested: You know what, girl? You shouldn’t have been messing around with that boy in the first place. And by the way? When I get my hands on that little f—k? I’m going to ream the unliving s–t out of him with a fireplace poker. (Okay, I might be projecting a little bit there.)
Violet said: “I am sorry, Mom. Sorry you had to die. Sorry you lost your baby.” And Vivien, with full sincerity, looked Violet in her eyes and said: “But I didn’t lose my baby.” Vivien held her daughter a little tighter, and Violet’s cries echoed into the darkness as “Birth” cut to black.
Next week: The season finale. If you haven’t: Check out Tim Stack’s interviews with Ryan Murphy and Connie Britton. Now: Comment! Opinions, criticisms, theories, questions. As usual, I’ll haunt the boards in the days to come.