Tonight on American Horror Story: In 1968, the Murder House is occupied by a group of sorority sisters, two of whom are butchered by a serial killer. In the present day, Ben’s latest patient Fiona exhibits an unsettling interest in the Murder House…but his misgivings fall by the wayside when his ex-mistress Hayden calls him back to Boston with the news that she’s pregnant with his child and wants to have an abortion. In his absence, Vivien and Violet fall prey to a harrowing home invasion by a trio of disturbed individuals who intend to recreate the 1968 killings with the Harmons as the victims…

Constance: Is there anything more wonderful than the promise of a new child… or more heartbreaking when that promise is broken?

The second episode of AHS doesn’t do a lot of mythology advancement, other than establishing some of the house’s history, dropping a hint about its reputation, and introducing Hayden. For the most part, it’s standalone, and it works just fine. While the characterization of the invaders is a bit thin on the ground, the A-plot is generally well-written, tensely directed and overall highly effective, culminating in some scenes with Tate that reinforce my impression of him as being grade-A wicked on a biblical scale.

The subplots don’t work as well, unfortunately. I’m perfectly willing to accept AHS’s pulpiness, but Constance’s attempt to give Violet the pukes by baking her a batch of ipecac-laced cupcakes (note to Erin and Victoria: please post a recipe for ipecac-laced cupcakes on Two Girls Enter, One Cake Leaves) is just fucking silly. Her professed ability to sniff out developing zygotes is similarly ridiculous, but even more ridiculous is the fact that Vivien apparently buys into the claim.

The scenes with Ben and Hayden fell flat for me. One common problem with modern genre dramas is that the lead characters often aren’t as compelling or interesting as the supporting roles: by the time of Lost’s final season, I was irritated that the showrunners were still pushing the Jack-Kate-Sawyer-Juliet quadrangle long after its sell-by date, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a single Buffy fan who prefers the title character to Giles, Zander, Spike or Angel or even, God help us, Willow. Similarly, while I liked the Harmon dysfunction in the pilot, here I just found it annoying and not particularly convincing. I don’t know who exactly is at fault here: the scenes seem like the sort of thing that might work in a script, and Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton and Kate Mara (as Hayden; not to be confused with Doctor Who’s Rani, Kate O’Mara) seem game. It could just be that McDermott and Mara just don’t quite have enough range to pull it off; if so, expect another round of Whedon comparisons to show up in upcoming reviews.

This leaves, not surprisingly, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Evan Peters and Taissa Farmiga as the ep’s standouts. In fact, Peters and Farmiga have been the show’s MVPs thus far, and sometimes I think I’d rather watch a show in which Tate and Violet, not Ben and Vivien, were the main characters. Meanwhile, Denis O’Hare’s Larry Harvey continues to be a detriment, and I’m still on the fence in re Jamie Brewer.

I’m being pretty fussy here, but don’t get me wrong: “Home Invasion” is an entertaining episode that I enjoyed the hell out of, and it’s largely on the strength of the ep that I can now officially consider myself hooked on AHS. But the future is still a bit hazy; it still has the potential to be a great show, and it still has the potential to be a massive trainwreck. Maybe even both.

MVP: Evan Peters

My rating: 7 of 10.

Season 1 episode ranking

  1. “Home Invasion”
  2. “Pilot”

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