Tonight on American Horror Story: In 1982, Constance, then living in the Murder House, walks in on her husband as he’s raping Moira, the family’s housekeeper. She responds by shooting and killing both of them. In the present day, Vivien’s insistence that the Harmons move out of the Murder House in the aftermath of their experience with Biana and her friends is stymied by the news that the family’s finances are in dire straits. Vivien then discovers that the Murder House is something of a local tourist attraction, and learns of the property’s terrible provenance; she also entertains a visit from a strange young woman she believes to be one of Ben’s patients. Meanwhile, Hayden turns up on the Harmon’s doorstep, angry at Ben’s flight from Boston and carrying the news that she no longer intends to terminate her pregnancy…

Constance: Every time I find my heart breaking just a sliver for you, I suddenly remember: you made this mess for yourself.

I’m not really sure how I feel about the revelation that Constance’s family lived in the Murder House. Sure, it fits, but it introduces an element of…I’m not sure I’d call it “discontinuity,” per se. But it doesn’t quite sit right with me, because in the 1978 cold-open in the pilot, the Murder House seemed deserted and certainly Abby didn’t give any signs that she actually lived there (although, to be fair, she was playing in the front yard). You can fig-leaf all this (maybe the house was just pretending to be deserted for the sake of the twins, or maybe Constance’s family lived in the neighborhood in ’78, moved in by ’82, and then moved to the house next door), but…I dunno. I don’t like it.

What I can do is ignore it, because I have this feeling that AHS is going to be one of those shows that prizes thematic consistency over actual continuity. And I’m fine with that; I am, after all, a staunch defender/apologist of Lost’s later seasons. Continuity aside, “Murder House” is a fantastic episode, probably my favorite of the show so far (as I’m writing this, I’m up to episode 5).

What I really like are the revelation that Moira is a ghost, and the implication that she appears differently whether she’s interacting with a man (the shameless hussy in a Sexy French Maid Halloween costume) or a woman (the older, more dignified servant). This is something that previous episodes implied, but hasn’t been near-as-damnit confirmed until now. Although I wish the camera would stop leering at Alexandra Breckinridge. Yes, she’s a redhead and she’s so hot it actually hurts. I don’t need a bunch of gratuitous upskirt shots to reinforce that.

But back to the actual subject at hand…her relationship with Constance is particularly striking, and I love the thematic implication that since Hugo and Constance saw her as a shameless hussy, she’s trapped in that perception. It’s a great metaphor for how Hollywood sees women, maybe. The chemistry between Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy crackles, and the plot culminates in a final scene that’s genuinely heartbreaking.

I also adored the scenes with the tour guide and the flashbacks to the house’s original residents, the Montgomerys. They’ve got a deliciously pulpy feel, chock-full of over-the-top performances and lovably gothic presentation. Great stuff for a Technicolor Hammer fan such as myself.

Not surprisingly, when Kate Mara shows up on the Harmons’ doorstep she brings the show’s least satisfying subplot so far with her…and it really doesn’t help that her story intersects with Larry Harvey’s. I’m assuming that when Harvey whacks Hayden with a shovel it’s supposed to come as sort of shock, but the problem is that Harvey is never convincingly sold as a guy who could kill a fly, let alone a young pregnant woman. It’s not that he seems gentle, it’s that the ruthless killer Harvey isn’t quite consistent with the quippy, eccentric Harvey. I’m not sure whether the fault lies with the writing staff or with Denis O’Hare, but Harvey is a problem AHS needs to get rid of, and quick.

So overall what we’ve got with “Murder House” is one of the show’s strongest episodes thus far. I think “Home Invasion” probably worked a little bit better out of context, but overall what we’ve got here is a damn good mythology-centric episode. Things just keep getting better and better…

MVP: Frances Conroy

My rating: 8 of 10.

Season 1 episode ranking

  1. “Murder House”
  2. “Home Invasion”
  3. “Pilot”

One thought on “Television review: American Horror Story, “Murder House”

  1. As someone who has seen all of the episodes, I can assure you that continuity is not compromised. Glad you’re enjoying the show, these are some of my favorites of all reviews of yours that I’ve read.

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