Tue
Dec 6 2011 9:00am

American Horror Story — What the Hell is Happening, and Why Haven’t They Moved Out Yet?

By far the most fascinating new genre show this season is American Horror Story. I’m still not sure exactly what’s happening all the time, or what the rules of the world are here, but in terms of keeping me tense as hell week to week, it’s certainly doing its job. Besides, a big part of the fun of the show is slowly peeling back the layers of what’s really going on while perching on the edge of your seat because at this point literally anything could happen… or so it seems.

So what’s it about? Ben (Dylan McDermott) is a psychiatrist who cheats on his pregnant wife, Vivien (Connie Britton), after she has a miscarriage. What a dick, right? A year later, they are somehow still together and move from Boston to the creepiest house ever created in L.A. with their teen daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga). There they meet their strange neighbor Constance (Jessica Lange), and her mentally handicapped daughter Addie (Jamie Brewer), who has an uncanny knack of getting into their house whenever she wants to play with her “friends.”

They also hire a maid who appears middle-aged (Frances Conroy) to everyone but Ben, who is shocked his wife would hire such a hot young thing (Alexandra Breckenridge). And Ben starts seeing his first client, Tate (Evan Peters) a messed up teen boy with violent fantasies who befriends Violet and seems to be able to go wherever he wants in their house. Very quickly, lots of crazy stuff starts happening to them. In any rational world, our “heroes” would have moved out of that house by episode 2, but the show does at least attempt to explain their inability to do so by saying that they’ve sunk all of their money into it, and no one in their right mind will buy it from them.

Personally, I’m pretty convinced I’d say screw it and do anything I had to in order to pay for another place and get out of the house where I’ve already been attacked by a number of different people and had way too many batshit crazy things happen to me, but at least they don’t just ignore the elephant in the room. Besides, as a viewer I don’t necessarily want them to leave, both because I want to know what’s going on and because – let’s be honest – they’re not exactly nice people.

So… if you haven’t been following American Horror Story and my description so far has whet your appetite, you have two choices. The first is to stop reading now and try to find a way to catch up from the very first episode. I highly recommend this, as I imagine this show will be even more entertaining when you can just watch episodes back to back to back instead of waiting a week. Also, while the fractured layer-by-layer storytelling style is interesting, it’s far more viscerally engaging to actually watch the show. In my opinion, more than anything else, it’s the directing that makes American Horror Story a success.

However, if you don’t have time or just really love my amazing writing, the second choice is to catch up by reading my spoiler-filled season recap below. Please note that even though I say spoiler-filled, this isn’t an episode by episode recap. I’m sure I’m going to miss things. What I’m hoping to do is give the uninitiated viewer who decides to jump right in a handy-dandy little guide to understand at least most of what’s going on.

So, without further ado, here’s what’s happened and what we’ve learned so far in no particular order:

After a fight with Ben over their lack of sexual intimacy (due to his cheating – dick), a guy approaches Vivien in their bedroom in a gimp suit. Seriously. It’s a lot more freaky when you see it. Apparently charmed by this and thinking that it’s Ben, she has sex with him… or it. We’re not really sure yet. Whatever it is, it impregnates her, and at Vivien’s first ultrasound the nurse faints after seeing the baby on the monitor, then promptly quits. When Vivien tracks her down to find out what she saw, the nurse has apparently taken up residence in a church and tells Vivien she’s carrying the spawn of the devil and lots of other stuff that makes her sound like a whack job. Then Constance talks to Vivien about how “they need this baby” and convinces her to eat raw meat – because of the nutrients – for the baby’s health. Because that seems normal.

Ben, meanwhile, is trying to resist his urge to bang the Alexandra Breckenridge version of their maid while keeping Tate away from Violet, ignoring a horribly burned Denis O’Hare’s warnings that the house will make Ben go on a murderous rampage (like when it made O’Hare burn his wife and girls in their sleep when he lived there), and desperately trying to prevent Vivien from learning that the young woman he cheated on her with is pregnant with his child because he lied to Vivien and kept seeing her (dick) after she first learned of the infidelity. Still with me? Oh, and after his baby mama shows up all crazy and threatening to tell Vivien, he fights with her until the burned man kills her with a shovel (What the hell?! Wasn’t he just warning Ben?) and convinces Ben to hide the body under a gazebo (mad carpentry skills!) in the backyard. Naturally, this is the worst thing Ben could possibly do since (as you’ll learn in the “house” section) what dies there, stays there for all eternity.

And after Violet uses Tate’s help to deal with a mean girl at school (he literally makes her hair go white by attacking her with… something… in the basement), she falls for him to the point that she decides to let him be her first (don’t worry, it doesn’t happen), then slowly comes to realize that 1) she’s a Medium, 2) Tate is responsible for killing a bunch of kids in a school shooting years ago, and 3) he’s a ghost. And not just any ghost – he’s Constance’s son. Understandably skeeved out, she tries to kill herself, but Tate goes all Patrick Swayze from Ghost and saves her. After, he tells her that he can’t lose her and she lets him spoon her in bed, clearly conflicted about this weird, weird, weird (did I mention weird?) relationship.

As far as the story of the house and the ghosts “living” in it, a doctor cum mad scientist-type built it in the early 20th century. After he loses his clients for reasons I can’t recall, his wife gets him new ones – pregnant women who want their problem “fixed.” Keep in mind this is 50 years or so before Roe v. Wade, so the doc’s operation isn’t exactly on the up and up. Eventually, the future father of one of these interrupted pregnancies finds out and kidnaps their baby and eventually returns him… in pieces in several pickle jars. But the doc, being a mad scientist and all, decides he can go all Frankenstein and bring the kid back to life. We’re not shown exactly what happens, but in modern times doc and wife are still hanging around the house, so something must have killed them. It could be that they offed each other, or it could have been an outside force we’ve yet to see, but there have been several mentions about the “thing” that lives in the basement, so it’s not out of the question to assume the doc was successful in reanimating the baby and now the little monster lives – or “lives” – down there.

We’ve also seen little bits and pieces of house stories throughout the years, and have learned a few choice nuggets. If someone dies there, they are trapped in the house forever. Constance is not a ghost, but she can see at least one – the maid – and seems to know much more about the house than she’s let on so far. She knows the maid because Constance is the person who killed her when she was living in the house 20 or so years ago and found her in a compromising position with her then husband. Some ghosts – like Tate – don’t seem to know that they are ghosts. Others, like the gimp suit… thing… may or may not be a ghost. One piece of possible evidence to support him or it not being a ghost is that when Violet wants to have sex with Tate, he’s unable to perform, but we already know the gimp can do it because he/it has impregnated Vivien.

All of this adds up to a show that I wouldn’t quite call classic or brilliant, but it certainly has me watching with rapt attention, and excited to come back for more each week.

If you’ve been watching, what are your thoughts on the show so far? I’d love to hear them.


Juliana Weiss-Roessler has been writing professionally for 10 years. Currently, she’s an editor for PinkRaygun, a geek girl e-zine, and a food and organic living contributor to Savings.com. She has ghostwritten one sci-fi novel and is now ghostwriting a second one. You can learn more about her writing at WeissRoessler.com or follow her geekery and adventures onTwitter @julweiss.

13 comments
Marcus W
1. toryx
It's a deliciously weird and creepy show. I've been enjoying it enormously. I have to agree with you too; it's hard to like anyone in that family.

There are a lot of interesting possibilities. For example, how exactly does a ghost go about knocking up a living person anyway? Of course, it helps that Vivian had actually had sex with a live person shortly before. So is it her husband who actually got her pregnant and the ghost just did some sort of ectoplasmic voodoo?

I've actually seen more episodes than you've written about here so I know answers to some of your questions. Is it safe to post about that, or should we be wary of providing spoilers?
gon
2. gon
It is like a public house!
gon
3. _mike_
I think one of the things that's hooked me in to the show is that fact that the family is so miserably unlikable, that I enjoy watching them be tormented. That and the chance of gruesome violence each episode.
john mullen
4. johntheirishmongol
I couldn't even finish an episode. They were unlikeable, the premise is not that great, and there are some things better not seen on tv.
gon
5. Kadere
I think this show is brilliant. I love it. I can't get enough of it. It's the only show on the air this season that has me excited to see the next episode. It's the kind of show I would willingly skip my childs' piano recitle to watch.
gon
6. DRickard
I agree with the classic question raised by (if memory serves) Richard Pryor: why do white people stay in haunted houses?
Tudza White
7. tudzax1
Today the answer is simple, the mortgage is underwater. Oh the horror!
gon
8. greenghost
I tried to watch the first episode. After 45 minutes I decided I couldn't care less what happened to any of the characters so I changed channels.
gon
9. PJP
The charactes have nasty personalities. Everyone's always mopey and angry and yelling at each other, or doing something thoughtless and cruel.

If they all died and went straight to hell, I wouldn't care.
Risha Jorgensen
10. RishaBree
I love this show. I should hate everyone in it and therefore everything about it (as I do Glee and did Stargate: Universe-of-terrible-people), and yet I find myself liking Violet and enjoying Constance. And I'm desperately attached to Tate, despite the *spoiler*, *spoiler*, and *spoiler*.
gon
11. bryan rasmussen
I agree on liking violet, and enjoying Constance. I also find Tate likable despite the numerous spoilers attached to his character.

In fact I wish I had known this show existed some months ago as I could have skipped all the disappointments of the Walking Dead.
gon
12. shoni
ok so tates mum killed her husband for having an affair but was that tates dad and tate (evan peters ) is sooooooo fit
gon
13. Amelia Canvas
What's creepy about this show is that it is so twisted but I love it at the same time. I love violet, she's pretty trippy, but whatever. They all are.

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