Tonight on American Horror Story: In 2010, Chad and Patrick–the gay couple who lived in the Murder House prior to the Harmons–are killed by an unknown assailant wearing the gimp suit after a petty argument over Halloween decorations. In the present day, the Harmons’ real estate agent hires a pair of gay “fluffers”–revealed to be Chad and Patrick–to spruce up the property to make it more desirable to potential buyers. Meanwhile, Vivien is concerned about her fetus’s development; Violet helps Addy dress as a “pretty girl” for Halloween and goes on her long-promised date with Tate–which is interrupted by a group of gruesomely made-up teenagers who claim some unknown, terrible past with Tate; Harvey attempts to blackmail Ben over the murder of Hayden (who won’t leave the Harmons alone, despite her death); and Moira visits her dying mother in hospice.

Chad: It’s not your house. We know it, you know it, and the house knows it. Frankly, you don’t deserve it.

I’ve never seen either Nip/Tuck or Glee, but the thing I keep hearing about Ryan Murphy (who created and ran both shows in addition to AHS) is that his strength is set-piece scenes that pack an emotional wallop but he’s not so good when it comes to characters who behave consistently or episode-to-episode continuity.

So I will say that if the desired effect of Addy’s death–and I swear to God, I did not see that coming–was to leave me curled up in a weepy little ball, well then, congratulations Murph, mission accomplished. Addy was never one of the show’s strongest characters, nor was Jamie Brewer one of its breakout actors, but all of her scenes in these two episodes were top-drawer, maybe even the best scenes that the show’s had so far, as were Constance’s breakdown in the aftermath of her death and her eventual confessions to Violet. This is why it pays to have an actress of Jessica Lange’s caliber in the main cast.

As for the two-parter’s big reveal–that Tate’s Constance’s son, and a ghost as well–I’m a bit more ambiguous about that. Like episode two’s cold-open, the information we’re given fits the themes and mood of the show. Unlike that episode’s flashback, the twist introduces a plot hole big enough to drive a truck through: if Tate’s a ghost, then how the hell are his sessions with Ben being paid for? I assume ghosts don’t have health insurance, Obamacare or not. Constance can’t be paying for the treatment out-of-pocket or else it wouldn’t be a secret that Tate’s her son…plus, shrink visits are hella expensive, so you’d expect that Ben might have mentioned it at some point as being unusual? Is Ben just doing this for free and he’s not telling Vivien about it (which actually wouldn’t be out of character for him)? Yeah, I know, blah blah Lost fan blah blah blah, but I really can’t ignore this one.

The scenes with Tate’s school-shooting victims (finally we get what the flashes in the pilot were about) also don’t quite work, despite Evan Peters’s usual awesomeness and some decent performances by Ashley Rickards and Alessandra Torresani. I’m going to blame director David Semel for this one: the scenes are just staged too awkwardly, and come off too much like a third-rate Buffy clone for my tastes. And the episode’s final scene is just waaaay too tacky.

Oh, and Larry Harvey again. He’s a nuisance, he brings the show down. Get rid of him, seriously. And while we’re at it, can we just pretend the cop-out resolution to the genuinely tense cliffhanger never happened?

Okay, other than Addy’s death, what does work around here? Chad and Patrick are so stereotypically gay that my mother would call them “gay gay gay,” but Zachary Quinto (of Heroes and J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek reboot) and Teddy Sears (of Torchwood: Miracle Day) sell the characters so effectively that it’s easy to overlook. Hayden’s terrorizing of the Harmons works great although I don’t even remotely buy into Ben’s rationalization of her reappearance. Peters and Taissa Farmiga get some great scenes that develop Violet’s attraction to Tate, and Frances Conroy knocks the ball out of the park in Moira’s brief subplot.

Again, I know I’ve been really critical of these episodes in relation to the rating I actually gave the thing is that when they work the material is the very best the show has to offer. The Addy/Violet/Constance scenes and Moira/her mother scenes are worth a star apiece, honestly. Even when the scenes don’t work–and most of that material is confined to the second part–they’re usually entertaining in a trainwreck kind of way, not a this-is-so-bad-I-can’t-bear-to-watch it kind of way. I really wish the show would pick one path or the other, but I still really enjoyed these two.

MVP: Zachary Quinto (part one), Jessica Lange (part two)

My rating: 6 of 10 (part one), 5 of 10 (part two)

Season 1 episode ranking

  1. “Murder House”
  2. “Home Invasion”
  3. “Halloween, part 1”
  4. “Pilot”
  5. “Halloween, part 2”

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