A true crime legend haunts the Harmon home while Ben begins to unravel the mystery of his allegedly mad wife in 'Spooky Little Girl'

By Jeff Jensen
March 02, 2015 at 04:12 PM EST
Michael Becker/FX

The year is 1947, and The Victorian, now 25 years old, is once again home to a corrupt doctor and a beacon of false hope for starry-eyed women. At least the current physician in residence is a little more respectable than the surgeon-turned-abortionist-turned-Infantata cobbling madman. He is Dr. David Curan — dentist, bachelor, and one more good-for-nothin’-joe in a town lousy with them. He works out of the house, in a room that will one day become a different kind of office for a different kind of doctor. He caters to local families, as well as aspiring movie queens that lack the cash for caps or crowns. For them, Dr. Curan offers what you might call a layaway plan.

On this January day, a 22-year-old woman with a rotten tooth is about to pay a steeper price than most. She is an American Beauty burning to be famous… but willing to settle for just American Tabloid infamous. (A harbinger of the culture to come.) She wears a blue velvet dress and pearl gloves. Her crimson lipstick smile is firework sexy, yet red flag scary, too, and it’s hard to know if the brace-faced boy that passes her on the walkway is staring at her with ARRROOOGAH! lust or EEEEEEK! terror. (And in this way, another typical male is born.) Her name is Elizabeth Short. Soon, though, she will be The Black Dahlia, and everything true about her will be chewed up by the fictions and conspiracy theories inspired by her unsolved murder.

The dentist opens the door with the devil glass window. His togs are white and sterile and his hair his short and square and his glasses are thick and dorky and his demeanor is benignly detached and seemingly professional. It’s a cunning disguise for a sexual predator. More comfortable (if less stylish) than a black rubber suit. “Dr. Curan, I presume,” says Elizabeth, cutely borrowing from the salutation made famous by H. M. Stanley. The dentist, guilty as charged, allows the ingenue to step into his parlor and asks her how she came to hear of him. “My girlfriend, Nabby Pierce,” says Elizabeth, who then explains her oral emergency with a Tijuana Bible double entendre. “You filled her cavity. She said you were very good.” The dentist knows the name, and gets the implication, yet pretends like he doesn’t. “Nabby. Yes. Nice gal.” ASIDE: While I’m sure the name was “Nabby Piece,” it could have been “Abby Pierce,” a name that might be familiar to those of you who have seen Catfish, the acclaimed 2010 documentary from the directors of the horror smash Paranormal Activity 3. American Horror Story – full of trapped women, damaged souls, exploitive puppet masters, suffering artists and wannabe stars – has more than a couple things in common in the film. SPOILER ALERT! At the center of film is the mystery of a Michigan woman with frayed self-esteem, who yearns to escape her difficult, unfulfilling circumstances by spinning an elaborate fantasy about herself (and snaring a man within its wide, elaborate web). It’s a real-life (allegedly) psychodrama/thriller, a poignant if bizarre parable about deception and self-deception in the age of social media and DIY fame. END SPOILER. From Time magazine: “Catfish may or may not be a documentary, but it is certainly a portrait of something true: the need that real people have to create fictional versions of themselves.” END ASIDE.

Elizabeth tells Dr. Curan she hasn’t much money. She’s new to Los Angeles and still trying to get established. She also tells the dentist that Nabby told her that he’s been known to make “special arrangements” with “girls who are a little short,” and this version of Elizabeth Short is not above prostituting herself to get what she wants. She tells him she’s an actress, and she’s going to make it big. “Everyone says so,” she insists. “You can expect to see me on the silver screen one day.” She dials up the Betty Boop. “It hurts, doctor,” she says, massaging her jaw. “I really need you to fill it.”

Desire takes hold of Dr. Curan. He swallows hard, then reaches for the gas. “I don’t want to crush your carnation,” the dentist says of the flower in her hair. “It’s not a carnation, silly,” Elizabeth says as she removes it. “It’s a dahlia.”

Dr. Curan puts the mask on her face. “Just breathe,” he says. And she does. But not for much longer.

NEXT: An omen of future violations to come.

It isn’t until the exploiter is done having his way with the self-exploiter in his little Hollywood shop of horrible whoredom that Dr. Curan realizes that the latest victim of his cavity couch is not just unconscious — she’s stone cold dead. The monster panics. Clearly, this has never happened before. He drags the body into the basement, without any thought or plan as what to do next. Fortunately, there’s a spirit that resides within the underworld of The Victorian with considerable experience in the business of discarding unwanted dead bodies. Dr. Charles Montgomery emerges from shadow, exuding a composure that eluded him during his last days of conventional, corporal existence. His secret for discretely removing a corpse from the home? Portability.

Jan. 15, 1947.

A woman who might be named Betty Bersinger is strolling with her daughter Ava past an empty lot in Leimert Park. The little girl sees something in the weeds. Betty looks and declares it to be a department store mannequin before realizing that it’s not. Mother and daughter behold the physical remains of Elizabeth Short. She is naked. Sawed in half. Blemished with rope burns. Drained of blood. The sides of her mouth cut into a jagged Glasgow smile. “She seemed so sad,” Dr. Montgomery had explained. “I decided to give her a smile that would last. Forever.”

+++

Years later, another spooky little girl raised on the legend of The Black Dahlia will tell Elizabeth Short that in death, she had gained what she wanted most when she was alive. Told of the facts of her murder, Elizabeth was initially dismayed. “That’s how they found me. Naked, on display, for the whole world to see.” But when she learned that she had been on the front page of every newspaper for two months, Elizabeth brightened. “I really did become somebody,” she marveled.

And in this way, The Black Dahlia has been entertaining us ever since. Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you.

+++

Ben Harmon, Adulterer. Since the start of American Horror Story, Dr. Shrinker has been defined by his unfaithfulness and tarred as an incurable horndog, a sex addict incapable of just saying no to any piece of ass put in front of him. He has resented the charge, and in “Spooky Little Girl,” he was given a chance to prove his naysayers wrong. Like Christ in the wilderness, Ben’s character was put to the test three times, by three different devilish (and dead) divas that tried to make him deny his wife by making his cock crow. (Okay, maybe only slightly like Christ.) His struggle illuminated one key difference between the living and the dead that reside within Murder House: The living can change.

First up: Moira. Lonely and bored without Vivien around to ply with pig brains and bitter screeds about our misogynistic “Yellow Wallpaper” culture, she tried yet again to snare Ben in a sex trap, because the girl can’t help it (that’s just the way her damnation is wired), and because she wanted to rub his face in her low opinion of him. “You have a diseased mind, Dr. Harmon,” Moira purred as she crawled on all fours across the bed toward the master of the house. “That must be why you became a therapist.” Ben cruelly diagnosed her: “I think you must have pretty low self-esteem to keep throwing yourself at a married man who doesn’t want you.” Moira forced the issue by throwing herself at him. He licked his lips, then shoved her way. No more games, he said. No more bulls—-, he demanded. “I just want a normal…. boring… family!” Moira wagged her fanny at him as she walked away to make locked-in-her-room Violet a sandwich. Her parting shot: “You know it’s just a matter of time, Ben. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

BEN: 1 SPOOKY LITTLE GIRLS: 0

Next came Elizabeth Short. The poltergeist – unenlightened to her eternal condition à la Norah Montgomery  – presented herself as a new patient seeking help. “It’s a strange feeling – an endless foreboding, a dream I can’t wake out of.” She was locked in a cycle of behavior she couldn’t break – an insatiable need for affirmation and validation that made her easy prey for predatory men and assorted Hollywood slimeballs. “I do things with men, that I shouldn’t,” she said. “But I am a great actress. And it’s frustrating. I just need a break. You just need that one person who believes in you and every time I go into an audition I think maybe he’s the one, and I get carried away. Do you know what I mean?” Ben said, “I do.” He saw in damaged, downtrodden Elizabeth a kindred spirit – a fellow “diseased mind.” He told her he could help her move past her degrading dependency. But he made the mistake that she had SAG insurance to pay for treatment. After all, the girl said she was an actress, and she was, in his words, “a beautiful young woman … I thought you would be working steadily.” All Elizabeth needed to hear was that she was “beautiful” and suddenly the pathology to which she was enslaved took over. She stood and unbuttoned her dress. She had found “the one.” Again. And besides, Elizabeth was “short,” as always (and forever), and had no other way to pay him. “You never need to do that with me. I’m the one you should feel safe with,” Ben said gently… and then removed her dress and kissed her and groped her thigh, and NO. That was just his imagination, leading him into temptation. He waved it away, and excused himself from the spirit’s presence and influence. It happened again later, when he found Moira and Elizabeth making out on his couch. The maid beckoned Ben to join. “Come play.” Ben went woozy. Images of a ménage à trois flooded his mind. Were these visions self-generated? Or were they generated by external, supernatural forces keenly invested in reducing Ben into some soulless manimal? DEBATE! The House is metaphor for the influencing machine of culture that hinders, not helps, our aspirations to a better, higher self. REGARDLESS: Ben said: Get behind me, satanic hussies! He severed his therapeutic relationship with Elizabeth, then fired Moira’s barely-covered ass. The task of educating Elizabeth about the facts of un-life would fall to Hayden.

BEN: 2 SPOOKY LITTLE GIRLS: 0

NEXT: “Heteropaternal superfecundation.”

Prior to the last temptation of Ben Harmon, the beleaguered doctor received some pride piercing news. According to the OBGYN, Vivien’s twins were something of a medical miracle-anomaly… because each of them had different fathers. One of them was Ben. The other? TBD. Ben – not yet up to speed on last week’s Rubber Man revelation – assumed it was Luke. Baffled and betrayed, Ben visited Vivien at the mental hospital. He found her asleep (or so he thought) and bound to her bed in her gloomy-austere rubber-less room/cell, and he took advantage of her vulnerable condition to vent his spleen on her. It was the Ben Harmon version of Christ descending into the Inferno and harrowing the damned souls trapped there, and if that analogy is wildly inappropriate and totally wrong, well, so was his speech:

“I know what you’re thinking. Thank God he’s here. Thank God he can see what they’re doing to me and how wrong it is. Thank God he’s a shrink so he can get me out of here. You’re right. You’re in hell here. This is no place for my wife. And I would move heaven and earth for the Vivien I thought I was married to. But you aren’t her. You’re a stranger to me. You actually pretended — maybe even believed like a sociopath — that you were some holy saint without sin while you s—- all over me. Our life. And our family. With your betrayal and lies. The way I feel right now, I wouldn’t lift to finger to get you out of here.”

Ben walked away. Vivien – eyes wide open – tried not to cry. I think the clinical term here is “pot calling the kettle black” — except Vivien is bone china white innocent. I can’t wait for Ben to find out how wrong he is.

Later, Ben got drunk and summoned Luke to the house by tripping the panic button. He charged the renta-cop with conspiracy. Luke and Vivien had been diddling since the Harmons moved into The Victorian and plotting Ben’s ouster for months, hadn’t they? Luke laughed at his crazy talk. He also said he couldn’t be the father to one of Vivien’s babies. The dude shoots blanks. He and his ex-wife had tried for five years to get pregnant but couldn’t. Luke blasted Ben for his accusations, as well as Ben’s alleged love for Vivien. “You called her a whore and a liar. That was just in the last five minutes.” He wondered if Vivien was better off in the hospital. “She’s safer there.” At least, when Ben is not visiting…

With Ben now embittered toward the wife he was trying to win back, Hayden made her move. Earlier in the episode, the pretender to Vivien’s lady of the house throne tried to ingratiate herself to Ben by helping him out of a jam. Detective Jack Colquitt from the LAPD’s missing persons unit returned — accompanied by Hayden’s sister, Marla. Colquitt knew that Hayden had been last seen at the Harmon house, and Marla – no fan of the predator professor that knocked up her sibling – seemed to think him perfectly capable of pulling a Martin Landau in Crimes and Misdemeanors and making an inconveniently obsessed mistress disappear. Like, say, in the hole where the gazebo now stands? But before the detective could dig any further, Hayden entered the room. Clearly not missing. She shooed away both the cop and her sister, then looked to Ben for affirmation. Nope. He didn’t bother to ask the questions you and I would have asked: Are you or are you not dead? (Then again, the fact that Hayden presented herself as alive and well to the authorities probably cinched it for him: She and Larry Harvey had been scamming him with that shovel-to-the-head thing.) Hayden told Ben that he had every right to be upset, and that yes, she’s been a “crazy bitch” lately, and sure, she did try to kill him and his wife, and wow, things really have gotten ugly with me lately, haven’t they? Basically, Hayden tried a strategy that never, ever works when it comes to winning back a lover: the If I Tell Him What He Wants To Hear And Sound Reasonable About It He’ll Totally Want To Keep Me move. “I don’t know if we have a future together, but I have always been there for you. I just want you to remember that,” she said. “Oh, by the way: I had the abortion. You don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Later, Hayden gave it one more try in the gazebo. Ben was more graceful yet clear. Vivien was the love of his life. Hayden was a mistake, one that he made during a rocky patch in his marriage. He said he had abused his authority. “But here’s the thing,” he said. “We weren’t written in the stars. We weren’t meant to be together. Not then, not now, not six months from now. I was lonely and heartbroken and I used you. It was unforgivable and I’m sorry. But no matter what happens with my wife I can’t be with you. I don’t love you, Hayden. I’m sorry. I never did.”

Now that was a good speech.

And it almost broke Hayden. Almost. “You don’t love me. Okay,” she said. “Can I have a hug?” Ah. The Goodbye Hug. It’s one of the oldest moves in the seducer’s handbook, often employed as a measure of last resort. It’s begin with a warm embrace that lingers a little longer than it should, and then, during the pull away, suddenly detours into a kiss that morphs into full-on macking and then morphs into full-on humping and culminates with a triumphant “See! I knew you couldn’t quit me!” Alas, Hayden couldn’t push Ben beyond the kiss. Defeated, Hayden tried to get one last lick by poisoning his mind with a nasty little lie – that Luke had been playing gentleman caller with Vivien while Ben had been away – but that ultimately failed to do any damage. It only goosed Ben closer to the illumination that has been long in coming.

BEN: 3 SPOOKY LITTLE GIRLS: 0

Having defeated his wilderness temptations, Ben received validation and vindication from his chief persecutor. As Moira Jr. made her way out of the house, Ben asked her about the Rubber Man mask. “Why do you care? You’re a man. Isn’t this what all men want — the freedom to satiate their needs guilt free?” But Ben was past being tempted. “Just tell me the truth. I made a horrible mistake putting Vivien in the hospital. She was attacked by someone.” He was looking for confirmation. He got it, and more. “Congratulations, Dr. Harmon. You’re finally starting to see things as they really are,” she said. And in that moment, Ben saw Moira not as Moira Junior, but as Moira Senior. Which is to say, as Vivien sees her. It was all warm and fuzzy — yayyy for easy-peasy, cut-and-dry redemption arcs! —  but dammit if it didn’t kill me that Ben wasn’t allowed the follow-up question. Who? Who was in the mask? Who raped my wife?! Must you really make me wait for the season finale to find out?!

NEXT: Adam and Eve, re-imagined by Constance Langdon

As Ben Harmon vanquished the tragic vixens that sought to vex him with sex, Travis the himbo handyman and wannabe model tried to use sex to seize control of his imbalanced, exploitive relationship with Constance and improve his lot in life. He wound up in a different kind of lot, sporting a Black Dahlia makeover courtesy of Murder House’s spectral plastic surgeon.

The road to Joker-faced ruin began in Constance’s kitchen, where Travis returned from walking and pooping the tenets of her canine boarding house and found his patroness drowning her Dead Addy blues with booze — and painting. The image: A subversive gloss on the Fall of Man, with Eve (or is that Lilith?) draped in a snake and looking defiant and unrepentant and a partially flayed Adam holding a bitten apple above his head. (It is my sincere hope that you will fill our message boards with your interpretations.) Are we to assume that Constance is responsible for the murals in The Victorian’s library? I think so.

Travis tsked-tsked Constance for her unhealthy approach to grieving and bogarting the last cancer stick. “My daughter just died and you’re on my back about a goddamn cigarette?! Here! Smoke this one, a–hole!” She flicked the burning stub at Travis’ chest. He protested. He was tired of being exploited by her. He worked like a dog. He didn’t want to come home and be treated like one, then walk some. Constance mocked his “job” (working as a telemarketer, it seems, for a mere two hours a day), as well as his modeling/showbiz ambitions. “How did those headshots that I paid for work out for you?” Travis tried to quietly broker a truce by rubbing her shoulders. She responded by reaching around and massaging his thigh. Then he had to go and ruin it by opening his mouth. “I’m sorry about Addy. She was a cool chick.” Constance literally said “Ick” and pushed him away. When she accused him of “diddling” her girl, Travis tried to storm off in a self-righteous huff. Constance called him back, just to order him out. Go to the “Koreans” and get us some “ciggies,” she said. Take a dog with you, too, she barked. “And don’t come back until he does his business!”

Travis grumbledgrumbled to the street, tail between his legs, pooch on a leash. From the gate of the Harmon property, raccoon-eyed Hayden whistled in his direction like a doorway-lurking harlot hailing a trick. “Is that for me?” Travis asked. “It’s for the dog, actually,” Hayden said. (So… yes?) She could plainly see the emasculation that he dragged behind him and seemed eager-beaver to help him get his balls back, and then some. “She seems like a real bitch,” said Hayden, who likes saying “bitch” a lot. (“Bitch” is to Hayden what “Dude” was to Hurley.) I got the sense from this episode that Hayden’s master plan involves messing with/destabilizing Constance, the evil queen of Murder House Lane. Travis liked what Hayden was selling. On this night, at least. “Maybe you and I should run away, little girl,” said the good-for-nothin’ joe. As “Spooky Little Girl” played on the soundtrack, CUT TO: Hot and heavy hustler humping. Travis growled and guffawed goofily toward release, then rolled over and basked in the afterglow of his “sweet revenge” (Hayden’s term) against Constance. But when Travis said he had no intention of telling Constance about his rebellious dog-walking detour, Hayden offered him a dubious lesson in the art of relational war. “Sex is the only weapon you have against her. She is treating you like s—- because she’s afraid of losing you. Prove to her she’s right, and she’ll be blowing rainbows up your a– again.”

Travis appreciated Hayden’s free counsel, but wanted to know her story. Did she live in The Victorian? “I don’t live here yet. But I’m moving in soon, though,” she said. “Dr. Harmon and I are in love.” Ooookay. So why did she “rock out” with Travis? “I wanted to see if I could do it with a guy who was still alive.” Spooo-kay! Travis – dumber than a box of hair –had no idea what the hell what Hayden was talking about, but we sure did. American Horror Story seemed to be making a definitive declaration with this episode that when the dead have sex with the living, it’s real sex. Which is why I’m not quite sure Hayden was correct when she told Travis she couldn’t get pregnant from their unprotected encounter. After all, if the dead can knock up the living (see: Tate and Viv), why can’t the living knock up the dead?

Travis took Hayden’s advice and told Constance that he had stepped out on her. Constance assumed that it was Violet who was “catting around with my dog-walker” and stormed over to The Victorian for a confrontation. It was Moira Senior that had the pleasure of not only telling her that she was dead wrong for a change, but cutting her to the quick with a news flash: Tate, Constance’s house-bound mass murdering son, had added rape to his list of sins, and more, was about to make her a grandmother. When Constance got Tate to confirm, she raged at him for squandering his slim (impossible?) chance at remedying his evil urges by “crawling on top” of the wife of the man trying to help him. “Tell me that it isn’t true!” she thundered. Tate melted into a puddle of tears and pleaded with her to not tell Violet. Constance – on behalf of all of us, I think – beat him up and asked the big question: “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! DON’T YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU’VE DONE?!” Tate had no answer. Not this week.

Looking to lay claim to the freaky fruit of Tate’s awful labor, Constance visited Vivien at the mental hospital and pitched the allegedly addled lady of the house on a “It take a village” approach to parenting her twins. “The secret is community,” she said. Vivien was too tired to deal with Constance’s transparently self-serving proposal and politely asked her to leave. But she was strong enough to make a declaration about her state of mind. “Constance,” she said, “I was raped. I didn’t hallucinate that.” She asked Constance to keep that to herself; she wanted the hospital to think she was “coming to her senses” so she could get out. Constance looked Vivien in the eye. “Of course,” she said. It was surely a lie.

NEXT: Another member of The Dope Show meets a Black Dahlia end.

Constance wanted to prepare for the possibility – even likelihood – that she’d be able to get custody of Tate’s demon seed. To enhance her chances, Constance reasoned she needed a husband, and so she turned to the closest thing to a man she knew. She apologized to Travis for her earlier, “unnecessarily cruel manner.” She affirmed his hurt, and assured him that his love and support had not gone “unnoticed” or “unappreciated.” She kissed. Breathed in his ear. Called him “a fine man.” Travis went weak in the knees…

But when Constance sat him down and proposed to him, and asked him to be a father to the child she wanted to bring into the home, Travis’ feet instantly turned cold. Was he also stung anew by the implication that her desire for him was phony, and that the exploitive nature of their relationship remained unchanged? Perhaps. Regardless: “I’m not ready to be a father.” Constance: “Oh, but you are! I’ve seen how you were with Addy. And the dogs!” (LOL.) Travis was unmoved. And when the deluded dreamer sweated the impact of parenthood on his modeling aspirations – shades of the starlets that sought to be liberated/liquidated of their little bundles of responsibility by Charles and Norah Montgomery —  Constance went apoplectic and firebombed his dreams. “What ‘career’?! This ‘dream’ you have of appearing half-naked in your skivvies 60 feet high above Times Squaaaare!?” Constance said, full of sarcastic drama. “I know that dream. I. HAD. That. Dream. I was going to be a big star, and baby, if it didn’t happen for me, it is not going to happen for you.” Ouch. He accused her of being mean. She said she was being honest. She said she was offering him something real. Fatherhood. A child. “Community property.” (Or, as Ben might say: “A normal, boring family.”) Otherwise, she said, Travis was nothing. Travis disagreed. There was more mean invective from Constance – and then a physical push from Travis. Constance glared. She disavowed his manhood, then warned him never to strike her again. The last man that hit her was her husband. And she killed him. And unlike Travis, she said, he was a real man.

His pride wounded, his self-esteem shredded, Travis exorcised his interpersonal aggression by crawling on top of Hayden. As he rutted, he ranted. “She said that I wasn’t a man! She said that I would never be famous! Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!” With that last woman-hating sputter, Travis climaxed. Totally disturbing, yet kinda genius.

“Feel better?” Hayden asked.

“Yeah!” Travis said.

But Hayden wasn’t. The Ben-shaped hole in her heart still ached to be filled. She wanted to go again. Travis was already on his feet and getting dressed. By emptying his rage into Hayden, he had reached an epiphany about Constance: He loved that crazy old lady, gosh darn it, and if she wanted him to be her husband and a father to her cloven footed horn headed grandkid, well, by golly, it was time for him to man up and be all she wanted him to be. Hayden couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She had been used yet again by another man who only wanted her for a f— buddy. Not that she wanted anything more from Travis. But it’s one thing to be rejected by a man like Ben. It’s downright humiliating to be rejected by a half-man like Travis.

“Can I at least get a hug?” she asked.

Travis gamely offered her a goodbye embrace. She never gave him the chance to let her go. Her Basic Instinct pathology took over and she shivved him with her ice pick, then over and over until he was dead. As Hayden stood over his dead body, she was joined by… Travis’ ghost. I loved how instead of railing at Hayden for murdering him, Travis stood easily in her presence, and vice versa, as both were in the same damn boat and knew it. From adversaries to comrades in moments. Death: The great equalizer. Still, there was a dream for Travis to grieve. “Constance was right,” he said. “Now I’m never going to be famous.” Elizabeth Short showed up to console him, then Charles Montgomery emerged from his shadows to help her deal with an old Murder House dilemma — discrete corpse disposal —  made slightly more complicated by the fact that they couldn’t stray beyond the property line per the Murder House Rules.

Fortunately, Hayden knew someone who owed her a favor.

Travis was chopped in half and drained of blood and given a Glasgow smile by don’t-worry-be-happy Dr. Montgomery and left in an empty lot by another wannabe star, Larry Harvey, to be found by guys playing basketball. Hayden’s headshot seeking assassin ogled the blacktop ballers as they beheld the ironic second coming of The Black Dahlia…

And an omen, perhaps, for a new era of evil about to be born.

In the final moments of “Spooky Little Girl,” Constance asked Craig’s List medium Billie Dean Howard (soon to be a Lifetime Television superstar!) a question spurred by the imminent, unnatural arrival of another Langdon into the world. “What happens when a human copulates with someone from the spirit world?” Constance asked. “What if there is, in fact, a conception?”

Billie Dean responded with a story – a murky mix of Wikipedia factoids, dubious Biblical eschatology, Catholic superstition, and pop Satanism culled from so many  ‘70s horror movies. She explained that every new Pope is taken to the Room of Tears next to The Sistine Chapel and shown the contents of a box. Said box contains a slip of paper revealing ” the ultimate secret — the secret of the end of the world.” Specifically, it describes the precise nature of the antichrist — “a child born of human and spirit that will usher in the end of times. It is the essence of evil. A perversion of the immaculate conception.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Constance, apparently forgetting for a moment the Bible that inspires her paintings.

“Oh, come on, honey,” Billie Dean said. “The Holy Ghost merely whispered in The Virgin Mary’s ear and she begat the Son of God. If The Devil is going to use a human womb for his spawn … he’s going to want a little more bang for his buck.”

It was a chilling campfire story, for sure.  But did Constance believe it? After all, the spooky little medium was implying that either Tate is/was possessed by Satan… or that he is Satan himself. It’s my perspective that American Horror Story is more interested in deconstructing if not disavowing traditional religious notions of good and evil, sin and damnation, heaven and hell, so I’m thinking the Billie Dean/Pope sequence was a bit of misdirection — a set-up for some provocative irreverent philosophical statement that will be made in the episodes to come. (I also think Billie Dean won’t live long enough to set foot on her Lifetime set.) As much as I enjoyed “Spooky Little Girl” (I have written over 5000 words about it), I did think the storytelling was a bit clunky. The Black Dahlia stuff could have been stronger, Ben’s turn felt forced. I’m not wild about the emphasis on Hayden. She lacks the mythic heft needed to be a truly compelling force of antagonism. (But I do like the actress and think she’s doing well by the material.) I also wonder if she’s been elevated to this role as a consequence of the show’s success; I think if AHS knew it was a single-season proposition, Constance would be getting more of the time that Hayden has been getting lately. We’re headed toward the endgame of the season, but it feels like this messy, sprawling story is being wrangled toward its destination, not flowing easily toward it.

And yet, I happen to love “messy” and “sprawling,” and I can roll with the crazy storytelling turns, because they keep nourishing the show with rich themes and outrageous fun. And I can live with Hayden — especially if it can keep Jessica Lange’s Constance on the show for longer.

Your turn. I’ll try my best to interact with you in the message boards in the days to come. Make sure you check out Tim Stack’s interview with American Horror Story exec producer Ryan Murphy this week. And apologies for the delay today. Threw my back out on Thanksgiving lifting the turkey out of the oven (I wish I was kidding) and I’m something of a hurting unit. Grateful for your patience. See you next week.

@EWDocJensen

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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.
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