Tonight on American Horror Story: In 1994, Tate Langdon goes on a shooting spree at Westfield High School, killing or wounding at least six. In the present day: Violet discovers the truth about Tate and the five who accosted them on Halloween; Constance introduces her to a medium, but she resists and turns to pills to numb the shock of what she’s learned. Ben and Vivien argue about Ben seeing patients at the Murder House. Vivien also strikes up a friendship with Luke, takes some strange dietary advice from Constance and Moira, and visits the technician who fainted during her ultrasound. And Ben’s latest patient, Derek, has an unshakable fear of urban legends–specifically the Bloody Mary-esque “Piggy Piggy.”

Leah: The Devil is real. And he’s not a little red man with horns and a tail. He can be beautiful. Because he’s a fallen angel, and he used to be God’s favorite.

After the “Halloween” two-parter, which was entertaining despite consistently threatening to run off the rails, American Horror Story reasserts its potential from the very first shot of the cold open. The sequence–which depicts Tate’s murders of the five students we met as ghosts in the second part of “Halloween”–is easily the tensest and most harrowing series of images that AHS has offered thus far. It certainly helps that Alessandra Torresani, Ashley Rickards et al put in much performances here than they did in the previous episodes.

The episode certainly does not go downhill from there. All of the main cast (save for Denis O’Hare, who doesn’t appear–and honestly, Larry isn’t much missed) gets to do at least a little of what they do best. As usual (and this will shock exactly nobody), my favorite subplot and performances came from Violet’s attempts to come to terms with the fact that this hot guy she’s got a crush on not only killed a bunch of people, he’s also been a ghost since about the time she was born. Every scene that either Taissa Farmiga or Evan Peters is in crackles with excitement. Farmiga’s skill and craft serve two potentially ridiculous scenes–the first being the one where Constance introduces her to Billie the medium (memorably played by Sarah Paulson of American Gothic and Serenity), the second involving a discussion with reformed Mean Girl Leah at the skate park–extremely well, helping stoke a feeling of unease and dread for what’s to come in future episodes. (Unfortunately, the answer to one of my biggest questions–that Constance is paying for Tate’s sessions with Ben, hoping that the shrink will convince her son to “move on”–falls a bit flat. But it could have been worse.)

While Ben’s role in the episode starts off with the requisite fight with Vivien, he soon settles down into a more subdued role in the episode’s other major plot, involving Derek (excellently portrayed by Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet) and his fear of the mythical Piggy Piggy. Stonestreet’s performance and Michael Uppendahl’s fantastic direction combine to create a series that are almost as nerve-wracking as the 1994 flashbacks.

Vivien, Constance and Moria get the weak plots in this episode. There’s clearly romance a-brewin’ between Viv and Luke, in spite of the fact that Luke is a bit too bland and Connie Britton doesn’t have much chemistry with Morris Chestnutt. The “diet” scenes–Constance and Moira convince Viv to eat raw pig brains because they’re “good for the baby”–don’t really work as dark humor, and Missy Doty’s performance as the ultrasound tech is a bit overdone.

So definitely not a perfect outing, but one with a couple of extremely strong points that elevate the entire episode.

MVPs: Taissa Farmiga & Evan Peters

My rating: 8 of 10.

Season 1 episode ranking

  1. “Piggy  Piggy” (ep. 6)
  2. “Murder House” (ep. 3)
  3. “Home Invasion” (ep. 2)
  4. “Halloween, part 1” (ep. 4)
  5. “Pilot” (ep. 1)
  6. “Halloween, part 2” (ep. 5)

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