Television Review: AMERICAN HORROR STORY 1.07 “Open House”

AMERICAN HORROR STORY pulled out all the trashy stops this week with pregnant masturbatory nightmares, a toothsome blowy, sex swing fantasies and all the Jessica Lange we can handle! Which, you should know, is a lot.

I really liked American Horror Story this week! It was a definite middle-season episode with plenty of plot resolution and very little forward motion, but that’s exactly what the show needed at this juncture. Up until now, every episode has thrown more mysteries on the pile without making any headway on any of them, and last week I feared that the writers had no exit strategy. After “Open House,” I feel more convinced that there is a plan. It’s a dumb plan, to be sure; this is still a Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk production, and I have no misconceptions about what that means. The creators have said that they want future seasons to feature new families moving into the Murder House, some of whom will die by the end of the season and stay on to haunt the next seasons’ families, all crowded in with the dozens of other ghosts that already haunt the home. That is a totally crazy plan! But a dumb plan is better than no plan, and if American Horror Story continues to elevate the trashiness to delicious levels while promoting truly strong performances from its principals, I can definitely swing this show.

I probably liked “Open House” so much because it was such a Constance-heavy episode. There can never be too much Jessica Lange, and she killed it this week! In every line she amps up the vamp without ever giving away too much. I mean, the woman’s a vet, so she obviously knows what she’s doing, but more than anyone else on this show, this is her material. For example, this line is ridiculous: “I bet the kiddies scatter like little buggies when you walk down the street.” But dammit if I didn’t rewind that line three times to admire Jessica Lange’s exquisitely drawling hiss.

The episode opens with the flashback revelation that Burn-Face Larry and Constance were involved after Constance moved across the street from Murder House, and that Larry smothered Constance’s deformed son Beau at her request.  It’s a great, chilling sequence, and it immediately opens up all sorts of questions that are answered, shockingly, within the same episode!

We find out later that Larry was still married and told his wife that he wanted her to take the children and move out of the house so he could move Constance in. She burns the nursery with herself and their daughters inside, and we get another clear cut piece of information! We get far more after Vivien and her realtor Marcy decide to attend the Murder House tour to discover just what happened to the previous families. We get lots of complete, fleshed out stories about the former inhabitants. Compared to the rest of the season, it’s an embarrassment of riches!

But if the episode were only about exposition overload, I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it. No, “Open House” brought the major trash and high camp this week, and I loved it. A handsome Armenian dickhead named Mr. Eskandarian shows a lot of interest in the house, and Moira—who appears to him as her sexy young id that looks exactly like Evan Rachel Wood and yet is not—flirts outrageously with him, managing to turn small talk about pool depths into a double entendre so blatant it’s gone back around to single entendre territory. She has him fantasizing sex swings and gives him a blowj within five minutes of meeting him, and at the end when she learns that he intends to bulldoze the lot and build condos—thereby leaving her bones buried and her spirit trapped forever—she offers him some more head that ends the way you kind of feared it would the first time. With teeth. Constance and Larry pitch in and they all conspire to kill Mr. Eskandarian but not allow him to die on the Murder House property, so we won’t be seeing his handsome Armenian dickhead ghost haunting future seasons.

But before he died, he said this, another line that required my rewinding it multiple times just to make sure I got it right: “There are three reasons I deal with women: sex, money and making me sandwiches. And unless you’re planning on going into the kitchen and slapping some ham between two slices of bread, this conversation is over.” That line cracks me up so hard. This show is absurd! Mr. Eskandarian made the intense mistake of saying that line to Constance, which means we were treated to a “Well, I never!” response of legendary proportions, and he was treated to a gruesome, penis-chomping death.

But Jessica Lange isn’t the only one bringing out the big guns here. Connie Britton is simply wonderful as Vivien. Her delivery is always so understated and interesting, and even though the writing leaves her swapping back and forth on every opinion she has on this show (she wants to sell the house, she wants to keep the house, etc), I find myself believing every line. I’m very interested to see what will happen next week now that Vivien is aware of at least one of the ghosts.  Britton, Lange and Taissa Farmiga as Violet have all elevated the material in such different ways: Lange with overwrought Southern gothic style, Britton with elegant understatement and Farmiga with crushing vulnerability. But even the material wasn’t too bad this week. Farmiga’s best line reads just as strong on paper, as she coldly yet sadly tells her parents, “You can go back to your policy of benign neglect.” Ouch!

I do have one big gripe with this week’s episode, however. The flashback with Dr. Montgomery and his wife Nora was such a crap scene. Not the part where she comforts him and then mercy-kills him before killing herself; that was pretty great. But I’m irritated that the episode has her describing, at length, the violent and horrific scene upstairs with the monster-baby trying to suck the blood from her breasts, rather than SHOWING that scene. Sure, they could be saving the big, scary tableau for a later episode, but then the character shouldn’t have described to us exactly what we will see later. That’s worse writing than usual for this show.

I still don’t ever think American Horror Story will be an authentically good show, but if it continues to be fun and trashy with great performances and some adherence to its own story logic—with actual occasional scares thrown in!—I’ll dig it. What did you guys think of “Open House”?