Tonight on American Horror Story: In 1947, aspiring actress Beth Short comes to the Murder House, then the home and office of a dentist, to have a cavity filled. Days later, her dismembered and disfigured body is found–and Elizabeth Short passes into history as the Black Dahlia. In the present day: Ben discovers that his wife’s twins have different fathers, and confronts Luke, who he believes has been having an affair with Vivien; Hayden’s disappearance attracts her family’s attention; Beth Short briefly becomes Ben’s latest patient; Travis, alienated by Constance’s drinking and verbal abuse, strikes up a sexual relationship with Hayden; Constance makes plans to raise Vivien and Tate’s unborn child; Vivien and Ben both discover that Vivien was raped.
Dr. Montgomery: A writer writes. A surgeon cuts.
There’s not much in the way of overarcing plot development this episode. Several characters–particularly Hayden and Constance–start maneuvering against the Harmons for possession of the twins, and both Ben and Viv learn the truth (at different times and in different ways) about Viv’s sexual encounter with Gimp Suit and, by extension, the truth about the twins’ fathers. There’s also Billie Dean’s “antichrist” reveal, one of the season’s weaker running plots; its position as the episode’s cliffhanger makes it feel a bit more important than it actually is.
The best character moments this week come from Ben and Viv, of all places. I’ve always been about iffy about the Harmon family drama but there’s a lot of stuff this week that really hits home. Ben’s first visit to Viv, in particular, is very powerful, all the more because it’s pretty much the turnaround-point of Ben’s redemption arc; even by the end of the episode, he’s more sympathetic and less of a cockface. (As a reward, he gets to see Real Moira instead of French Maid Cosplay Moira.)
The revelation that one of the house’s spiritual inhabitants is none other than the Black Dahlia is a development that looks groan-worthy on paper but actually ends up working a lot better than I thought it would. Fame has been a consistent if not always foreground theme in the season, and having a real-world example of the dark side of celebrity helps put things like the Murder Tour and Travis’s dreams of supermodeldom in perspective. This being American Horror Story, of course the production team manages to squeeze an exploitative moment out of the Dahlia, in the form of a make-out session between guest star Mena Suvari and Alexandra Breckinridge’s French Maid Cosplay Moira. (Still harboring a crush on Suvari that goes back to the days of American Beauty/Pie? Here’s yer episode.)
What else is there? Travis gets the deep six this week, but this being American Horror Story, it’s not likely that we’ve seen the last of Michael Graziadei. He gets some great material with Jessica Lange this week…in fact there’s a terrific scene between the two characters which allows us to see Constance in a more sympathetic light. We also get some Charles Montgomery mad doctor action this week, which is always welcome.
So now we’re heading into the home stretch. Our friend Amber has promised me that episode 10, “Smoldering Children,” is so awesome I will shit my pants. (Not her exact words.) Is she right? Be back in fourteen days and we’ll find out!
MVP: I’m going to give it to Matt Ross this time. He’s not in the episode much, but I’ve liked his work on the show and he’s great in the cold open.
My rating: 6 of 10.
Season 1 episode ranking
- “Piggy Piggy” (ep. 6)
- “Murder House” (ep. 3)
- “Home Invasion” (ep. 2)
- “Rubber Man” (ep. 8)
- “Spooky Little Girl” (ep. 9)
- “Halloween, part 1” (ep. 4)
- “Pilot” (ep. 1)
- “Open House” (ep. 7)
- “Halloween, part 2” (ep. 5)