TV Review: AMERICAN HORROR STORY 1.10 “Smoldering Children”

We KNEW it! We’re so smart. (Spoilers)

Our suspicions have been confirmed as we discover that Violet is, indeed, dead. Tate attempts to break it to her gently by trying to convince her to “kill" herself, hoping that if she makes the conscious decision, it will come as less of a shock to her that she has actually already killed herself by taking all those pills in “Piggy Piggy.” While the scene between Violet and Tate is quite poignant (I loved the subtle look of dismay on Violet’s face as she realizes she’s saddled with her overly-sensitive goth high school boyfriend for the rest of eternity), I have some theories about Violet’s death. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

“Smoldering Children” was quite an emotional episode, with moving scenes between Larry and his wife, Ben and Vivien and Ben and Violet. Ben finally had a fully redemptive episode, after hints of trying to become a better person last week and then failing spectacularly when he cruelly accused Vivien after she’d been raped and falsely institutionalized. But Ben did his best to make up for that this week with earnest and touching apologies to both Vivien and Violet. This is why I’m pretty sure we are going to discover something extravagantly fucked up about Ben in the final two episodes of the season. In mystery television, a formerly reprehensible character who suddenly makes great strides toward atonement with only two episodes left in the season often means one thing: we are meant to feel warmly toward him so that it makes the revelation of his secretly monstrous behavior that much more shocking. I have a theory as to what that monstrous behavior could be, but we’ll get to that in a bit, as well.

Constance had quite a lot to do this week, learning of BoyToy Travis’ gruesome murder (he has been dubbed “The Boy Dahlia” to his ghostly famewhore delight) and then being accused of it, as well as rightfully accused of all those murders she actually committed. The excellent Charles S. Dutton guest stars as a detective who brooks Constance’s melodrama and racism not one bit. We also learn that Burn Face Larry did not burn his face in the fire caused by his ex-wife after he left her. In a flashback scene to 1994, we’re treated to a cozy display of Larry and Constance at the dinner table with her two remaining children (yay, Addie!); this is after Larry’s wife has burned down the nursery with herself and their two daughters in it, and Larry is still pre-burn face.

So what happened? Tate’s crazy ass snorted some drugs, garnered up his arsenal and made a brief detour on his way to the school massacre. He walked into Larry’s office, doused him with gasoline and lit a match. Although Larry indubitably sucks, the more we learn about Tate, the more atrociously evil he appears to be. It’s interesting, and I wonder if it’s only due to Evan Peters’ extraordinary performance that the audience ever felt such sympathy for Tate.

On the page, taking away his vulnerable, heartfelt delivery of every line, what do we know about Tate? That he’s massacred dozens of people at his school. That he’s raped his girlfriend’s mother, assaulted her father and convinced his girlfriend to be complicit in the wrongful institutionalization of her mother. That he’s disfigured his step-father, shunned his mother, murdered a couple living in the house and sexually violated one of them with a fireplace poker for no reason. And before we knew any of that, we knew that he was incredibly controlling of his girlfriend and dishonest to her. The fact remains that in spite of all of this, the depths of Tate’s cruelty continues to surprise us each week. I think Tate was written as a monster from episode one, and Evan Peters’ has worked an actual miracle by turning this character into someone for whom we feel sympathy and compassion.

Taissa Farmiga is another uncommonly talented actor on the show. She was stunning in “Smoldering Children”—the scene where she learns of her own death was truly heartrending, and these two young actors have marvelous chemistry together. The scene between Ben and Vivien was also strongly moving; this show needs more Connie Britton! She’s been largely missing the past two episodes, although her few brief scenes in the past two weeks were exceptional. I both dread and anticipate the scene where Vivien learns that, above everything else she has been forced to suffer over the past two years, her daughter is now dead. Britton is going to destroy that scene, and this silly show is going to make me cry.

Recently a friend asked me to describe American Horror Story, and I told her that sometimes it’s a quality show and sometimes it’s not, but it’s always trashy and fun. She said, “Like True Blood?” and I realized that, while True Blood is more fun and better written (relatively), the performances on American Horror Story blow True Blood out of the water. True Blood has Alexander Skarsgard, but every performance on American Horror Story is spectacular. This phenomenal cast, regulars and guest stars alike, consistently elevate the material.

“Smoldering Children” was also a delightfully gory episode. We got to watch Constance stuff the chopped parts of her cheating husband into a meat grinder and feed him to her dogs, and that was amazing. We saw the smoldering ghosts of Larry’s wife and two daughters, and that looked phenomenal. And American Horror Story took a page out of Amityville’s book with the plague of flies afflicting the home--flies that we eventually learn are due to Violet’s shriveled and hideous corpse. It was awesomely disgusting.

So next week is the penultimate episode of the season, titled “Birth,” and we all know what that means. A little cloven-hoofed infant wearing a rubber suit is going to pop out of Vivien’s tormented womb!

Questions:

How the hell did Tate leave Larry’s office and make it to the school to start shooting? Surely someone at Larry’s office should have stopped the kid that just torched an employee?

Now that Larry has falsely confessed to BoyToy’s murder in order to atone for the deaths of his family members, what’s going to happen to him? Is the fact that Constance refused to throw him a bone and tell him she loves him going to come back to haunt her? I think it will.

Theories:

Okay, so here’s my big theory. I think Ben killed Violet. I know, that doesn’t make sense with what we’ve seen, but keep in mind that the camera POV on this show has already proven itself to be intentionally unreliable. Ben is so completely casual and unperturbed about the plague of houseflies. Something about his delivery, “Oh, I shouldn’t have left that food out, silly me, la di dah!” just stayed with me in an eerie way. Something, too, about the way Vivien tells him “I think you’re the one who’s crazy” also struck a chime in my mind. The fact that he’s so kind and supportive all of a sudden is weird and utterly unlike him.

Why would Tate need to chloroform Ben to show Violet that she’s dead? During their kick-ass, super gay fight with Tate in the gimp suit and Ben in a towel, Tate is furious with Ben and tells him that the only reason he won’t kill him is for Violet. If Ben died violently in the Murder House, he’d be dead with Violet forever. Why wouldn’t Tate want that for Violet, knowing that she’s already dead? Maybe because he knows something terrible about Ben that Violet doesn’t know.

Or maybe Tate doesn’t know—maybe the story he told Violet about finding her after she’d OD’d is true, but that Ben is somehow responsible for Violet’s overdose. Ben is in that house all day, every day. Surely he’d notice by now that his daughter is dead and that her rotting corpse is stinking up the basement, causing the epidemic of flies?

Obviously, a lot of other things would need to be explained for this theory to work—why is he calling a boarding school on behalf of Violet, for instance? Maybe because he’d seen Tate’s reflection in the picture frame and he wanted Tate to believe Ben is sending Violet to boarding school for some reason? Or maybe he has a split personality, and part of him genuinely doesn't know Violet's dead. I don’t know, but that’s my big, fuzzy idea. 

What do you guys think? Two more episodes—get your theories documented here so later you can point back to your comment and say, “I KNEW IT!” like we did with Violet’s death.

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