‘American Horror Story’: Truth be told

American Horror Story
“Smoldering Children”
December 7, 2011


Following the tragic deaths of Mrs. Larry and the little Larryettes, Larry moved Constance, Tate and Addy back into Murder House because life is for the living! The makeshift family decide to consume an entire ham together one night (And forgive me if they made it clear that this was a holiday or something in the first few minutes: my DVR decided that I’d much rather watch Top Chef and Toddlers and Tiaras than American Horror Story, a mistake I was only able to disavow it of after the first few moments of American Horror Story had already begun. So if I missed something HUGELY IMPORTANT in the first few seconds, my apologies.), and someone has had the grand idea to have Tate say the blessing. Yes! The sullen teen should absolutely recite thanks to God! Good plan! Tate makes some snotty comments about Constance and Larry’s relationship and how she doesn’t really love him. AMEN, exclaims Addy. Larry tries to be understanding, and makes noises about Tate struggling to adjust to recent events before announcing that he got them all tickets to the community theater performance of Brigadoon (and he just happens to be in the chorus). Hooray! says Addy before Tate launches into a tirade about how Larry killed their brother, which is a true fact. However! Constance is NOT HAVING IT, and berates Tate for wasting his gifts. TOO BAD, MOTHER. TATE WILL NEVER BE YOUR PERFECT SON. That’s the truth!

Upstairs in his room, Tate vibrates with anger and illegal drugs as he loads his guns and prepares.

He then marches into Larry’s office, douses Larry with gasoline and flicks a match at him, before turning on his heel to go commit some mass murder. Cocaine is a helluva drug!


Officer Roc and his partner deliver the news of Ace Young’s death to Constance who is shocked to learn that her boytoy is the “Boy Dahlia” who they found cut in two in the “colored section” of town. Officer Roc doesn’t think this is cute.

Constance later goes to visit Larry, convinced that he murdered Ace Young in a fit of jealousy. After Constance threatens Larry’s nether region with a chef’s knife, Larry confesses that he merely dumped Ace Young’s bits and pieces — Ace Young must have really ticked off someone in Murder House. Maybe her mass-murdering, fire-setting, mother-raping son? However, Constance is too distracted by the news that Ace Young died inside Murder House, and announces that she’s leaving to go see her dimwitted ghost boyfriend. Larry protests that he’s here! he’s alive! And Constance does her emasculating thing, promising that even dead, Ace Young is twice the man Larry will ever be. Well he is now, zings Larry. When I am in charge, King Russell will be on all the teevee shows.

BUT. A nit I must pick: After The Murder Fetishists were killed by the ghosts, Moira, Constance and Tate were left to deal with their bodies. The cops only find the one body, which had been Black Dahliaed and left on the sidewalk — presumably, the body was cut up by Dr. Alby and the only living person available to move the pieces off the property would be … CONSTANCE. So! Why is she 1. Genuinely surprised to learn that it’s Ace Young that is the “Boy Dahlia” and 2. Why would she jump to the conclusion that Larry killed him? I mean, I get that she would accuse him of being jealous, etc., but she’s had enough experience with Murder House to know better. END NIT PICK. Never mind.

Constance returns home to find Officer Roc and Partner waiting for her with a few more questions for Constance regarding her relationship with Ace Young. And that’s when the chef’s knife drops out of her purse, and Officer Roc is all, OH LOOK AT THAT CONCEALED WEAPON, RACIST LADY. LET’S GO TO THE PRECINCT.

At the station, Constance growls that this is OUTRAGEOUS, she had NOTHING to do with Ace Young’s death, she is in GRIEVING. Officer Roc is like, Good point, Racist Lady! Let’s go over all the crazy nonsense that has happened in your life: 1. Your daughter Addy was hit by a car, 2. Your yelly son Beau died of “natural causes,” 3. Your son Tate was a mass murderer, and 4. Your husband and maid “disappeared.” Constance admits that her husband was unfaithful, but she is not one to stand in true love, and she heard that the two of them ran away to Rio together. Officer Roc, however, has a different theory, and notes that the DA was thisclose to filing murder charges against her. If only they’d had some real evidence! Which they don’t! Because Constance buried Moira in the backyard under a future gazebo! And she ground up Mr. Constance with a meat grinder and fed him to her dogs! But all of this is a moot point because her attorney arrives and shoos Officer Roc and Partner away and warns Constance that this is a sexy case and the cops are eager to pin it on her so she needs to quit gnawing on the scenery and SHUT IT.

Back at Murder House, Larry heads to the goblin basement to retrieve Ace Young’s clothes and the murder weapon — but, curiously, not Dr. Alby’s surgical tools, which are as incriminating as anything else, but whatever — which is where Ace Young finds him. What’s up, Ace Young? Oh, just chillin’ with your burnt kids, Larry. Larry assures Ace Young that he’s super famous now, and promises to bring Ace Young some clips for his scrapbook (hilarious). Mrs. Larry appears to her husband for the first time, and explains that she and the girls are showing themselves to him now because he’s on “the cusp.” Larry is very sorry for everything, and promises to make Constance pay for what she did to their family. Mrs. Larry isn’t interested in Constance, however, Constance isn’t the one who broke her vows. IN YOUR BURNT FACE, LARRY.

Constance’s lawyer shows up unannounced at her door with a cup of coffee and news that the cops want to see her; he doesn’t know what it’s about, and is concerned they are going to charge her for Ace Young’s murder. But! When they arrive at the station, Officer Roc escorts them into an observation room, where on the other side of the two-way mirror Larry is busily confessing to everything. Larry claims to know Constance, and the cops were hoping she could help them with Larry’s motive. Nope, says Constance. Couldn’t tell ya. Maybe he’s just pacifying a guilty conscience.

And, hey, Officer Roc and Partner? Figuring out how Larry and Constance know each other? SHOULDN’T BE ALL THAT HARD. IT’S CALLED PROPERTY RECORDS AND NEWSPAPERS. LOOK IT UP. COME ON.

Sometime later, Constance visits Larry in prison, where he explains that he just wanted to see her one last time before they ship him off to a prison in Illinois for some unspecified reason. Isn’t she curious why he confessed to a crime he didn’t commit? NOPE. NOT REALLY, AKSHULLY. Well, it certainly wasn’t to protect Constance, heaven knows she doesn’t need any man to protect her. (Word.) No, he did it to pay for his crimes. All of them. And he can endure whatever he has to face if she’d just say the words … Larry puts his hand up to the glass, and Constance reaches to touch the other side for a moment, but then pulls her hand away before leaving with one last sassy look.

Ben visits Vivien in the loony bin and is all, “HEY GUESS WHAT YOU WERE RAPED AND ONE OF THE TWINS ISN’T MINE OK BYE!”

Back at Murder House, Ben makes some calls about getting the Gimpsy mask fingerprinted, which, sure, whatever, when a truant officer arrives, looking for Violet. It seems Violet has missed 16 consecutive days of school, and if she misses any more, everyone will be dragged down to juvenile court, and ohbytheway, your apples are covered in blowflies and that’s gross.

Ben checks on Violet who is locked in her room, and makes a bunch of noise about how he understands that it’s been a hard year, but she has to go to school now, because seriously. Violet agrees poutily.

But the very next day, as she’s headed out to school, Tate grabs her and begs her to spend the day with him playing Scrabble, and she agrees because making out with your dead boyfriend over a game of Scrabble is way more fun than Trig. But hows about being a little less grabby, Dead Boyfriend?

An exterminator arrives, and explains to Ben that old houses have crawl spaces where animals climb in and die. He’ll take a quick looksee and get Ben an estimate — OR, he’ll take a quick looksee, find something horrific and then find himself attacked by a dead teenager who shoves his poison nozzle down his throat and kills him. That sounded way dirtier than I intended.

Ben calls a boarding school for some financial aid information, which alarms Tate who Ben catches a glimpse of in a reflection. And when he turns around? No Tate.

Tate heads up to the attic where Violet is setting up a game of chess, not Scrabble, and tattles about her father’s plans. Violet has a sad, so Tate promises he won’t let Ben send her away. GET THE GIMPSY SUIT!

Ben decides to take a mid-day shower, when all of a sudden Gimpsy is all up in his business, trying to shove a chloroform rag in his face. Fight fight tussle fight, and Gimpsy finally gets the upperhand (the latex makes him slippery!) but not before Ben pulls off the mask and sees that it’s Tate. TOO LATE, YOU’VE BEEN CHOLORFORM’D!

Tate heads back up to the attic and tries to convince Violet to swallow a bunch of pills with him so they can be dead teenagers together forever. Violet is like, Why sure! I’ll just go head downstairs and start a bath! before she goes tearing through the house screaming for HALLLLLPPPPPPPPP!! HALP! HALP HALP HALP ME! Violet runs out of the house and down the walk and to the gate, but when she opens it, she suddenly finds herself in the kitchen. What the what? Again, she tries running out the front door, only to find herself trapped in a Escheresque nightmare, and running back into the house from the back entrance again. And again. And again.  Tate watches this for a while, before he’s like, yeah, we need to talk.

While Violet cries that she feels like she’s going crazy, Tate explains that he needs to show her something, and leads her down into the goblin basement and into the crawl space. Tate makes her close her eyes and tells her to remember that everything is going to be OK and that he loves her. Now open your eyes. And Violet does and when she does, she sees her own body curled and decomposing and horrible. EEP! Tate explains that Remember that one time? When you took all the pills? And I threw you in the shower to try to save you? Yeah, that didn’t work. Sorry! Really didn’t want you to see this!

Later, Violet processes this information and is like, So, what now? And Tate’s like, This now! All the time! Forever!

Or at least until you find out your dead boyfriend raped your mom and is the father of one of your twin siblings.

So Violet is dead after all. Huh. Yes, I’d heard all the fan speculation and read all of Ryan Murphy’s coy, “Oh you’ll find out!”s and thought, Nope! Because it would be cheating if they showed Violet be saved by Tate, only to be like “SUCKERS! You believed that? Because she’s been dead the whole time, even though we told you she wasn’t!” (Well, not the whole time, but since the overdose episode. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.) This was, as far as I’m concerned, a cheap trick, and I refused to believe the writers would do that. Color me naivé.

I do get it, and will concede that after that episode, they were nothing but consistent: they never showed Violet outside of the house; she’s been missing school; she’s not eating; and it’s interesting that Tate wouldn’t have sex with her on the beach when she was still alive — but does take her virginity in the house after she is dead. This all make sense within the context of her dying on that night, and I appreciate that the writers have been consistent on these points. Furthermore, I like the idea that Violet’s dead: I didn’t expect any of the Harmons to come out of this thing alive, and I think that it will certainly up the crazy when her parents discover the truth. Also, the notion that Tate was protecting her from the fact that she was dead when she thought she was protecting him all along is a nice reversal.

But my complaint, before you start drafting your “You’re an idiot” comments, is that the writers didn’t abide by their own rules. Just last week we saw Hayden stab Ace Young to death, at which point Ghost Ace Young appeared behind her, looked at his own body and was all, “Dang.” In Violet’s death scene, she dies, then coughs and sputters and “comes back to life,” and stays in her own body. There is no disconnect between the physical and the spiritual — something that we know happened because her body is found in the crawl space. So, when did Tate remove her from the bathroom? How was she not witness to this? WHAT I AM SAYING IS: BAIT AND SWITCH. The writers deliberately lied about what happened to Violet so that they could be all “GOTCHA!” later, except they didn’t earn that “GOTCHA!” They didn’t actually slip anything past us — they showed us one version of events and then later claimed that was all a lie. And perhaps I’m thinking about this too hard or whatever, but I really feel like the viewers deserve to not be lied to by the storytellers. It’s one thing to be twisty and hide major plot points and reserve surprises (hello, Lost!), it’s another to show your audience something that didn’t happen and then expect them to not be angry after they realize that it was all a lie.


That all said. This episode, perhaps ironically, was all about honesty and lies. Ben, Vivien and Violet are all confronted with terrible truths in this episode, and Larry sacrifices himself to a terrible lie to make amends for his many crimes. Interestingly enough, this episode is filled with mirrors. (Actually, most episodes of American Horror Story have mirrors in them, but this was more than usual.) Mirrors, as we’ve discussed briefly before, are symbols of another realm, a parallel universe. Mirrors were used in ancient rituals to communicate with the spiritual world, as a window between the living and the dead. This is interesting in and of itself, but more interesting, perhaps, is the common use of mirrors in art and literature as a symbol of truth. Mirrors reflect back reality, the world as it is for better or worse. And in this episode, characters tend to look into mirrors and other reflective surfaces shortly before some truth is exposed: Violet looks at herself in the mirror before she tries to go to school; Ben sees Gimpsy in the bathroom mirror before the big physics-defying fight; Ben pulls off the Gimpsy mask and sees Tate’s face exposed in the mirror; Tate stares at his own reflection before heading off to set his mother’s boyfriend on fire and kill his classmate; and Ben sees Tate’s reflection in the picture frame, only to turn and find himself alone in the room. Mirrors expose truth. And what is truly interesting in that regard is how a mirror is used in the Larry/Constance story: when Larry is in the police station, confessing to a crime he does not commit, Constance watches from a two-way mirror. Constance is not seeing a reflection, but rather is staring into a lie, and Larry, in turn, stares not into his own image, but past it, and into Constance. It’s lovely imagery. Symbols are fun!

Timeline so far:

1922: Dr. Alby (Montgomery) builds the house for his wife, Nora.

1926: Baby Alby is kidnapped and dismembered. Dr. Alby revives him. After attempting and failing to kill Baby Alby,  Mrs. Alby shoots and kills Dr. Alby and herself.

1947: Dr. Curan kills The Black Dahlia in Murder House.

1968: The nurses are killed by Franklin.

1974: Addy is born.

1978: Twins are killed by the basement goblin.

1983: Constance kills her husband and Moira.

1994: Larry kills Constance’s son Beau in the attic.

1994: Mrs. Larry sets a fire that kills her and Larry’s daughters in Murder House.

1994: Constance, Tate and Addy move into Murder House with Larry.

1994: Tate sets Larry on fire. Tate goes on a school shooting spree. Tate is killed in Murder House by a SWAT team.

October 2010: Tate, as Rubber Man, kills Sylar and Patrick in the house.

Summer 2011: Hayden’s baby is conceived.

September 2011: The Harmons move in.

September 5thish, 2011: Vivien’s baby is conceived after Tate dons the Rubber Man suit and rapes her.

Fall 2011: The Murder Festishists are killed inside the house by Tate and the Nurses.

October 2011: Larry kills Hayden.

October 31, 2011: Addy is killed.

Late 2011/early 2012: Violet overdoses on pills and dies inside Murder House.

Presumably early 2012: Prince Farid is killed by Larry and Moira.

March, 2012: Vivien is institutionalized.

Spring 2012: Hayden kills Ace Young in Murder House.

Spring 2012: Tate kills the exterminator in Murder House.

American Horror Story airs on FX Wednesdays at 9 p.m. It is very naughty.

Therese is also watching Real Housewives of Beverly HillsFringe and Saturday Night Live.


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