This week on American Horror Story: In 1984, young Tate Langdon, exploring the Murder House’s basement, encounters Thaddeus Montgomery and his mother, Nora. He forms a bond with Mrs. Montgomery and later tells her he wishes she were his mother. In the present day: Ben and Vivien plan to move the family to Florida; Constance and Violet work to keep Chad and Patrick from stealing the twins; Vivien goes into sudden labor, which has doubly tragic consequences.

The Murder House gains a couple more spiritual tenants by the end of “Birth.” I guess I’m not too surprised that Vivien’s older twin (the one that was actually fathered by Ben) was stillborn. That’s probably not going to matter to any of the ghosts who have designs on the  babies–this is, after all, the Murder House, a place where (much like a certain fabled hotel) one can check out any time one likes, but one can never leave.

But Vivien’s death–the result of internal hemorrhaging caused by the strain of delivering her baby with Tate–genuinely shocked me. Not as much as Violet’s death did, but still a genuine jaw-dropper for me. I guess I’m just too used to the Mom Who Kicks Ass and Final Girl tropes and I just assume they’re going to pop up everywhere. I guess it kinda fits that the apparent Demon Baby’s first victim is his mom, though. (Oh, you thought I forgot about Billie Dean’s papal hokum from a few episodes back?) Or maybe it’s just malpractice on the part of the good Dr. Montgomery, the attending physician. Do modern doctors even use ether anymore?

Other than that…oh God, I think I’m about to use the dreaded phrase “mixed bag” here but I think it fits. Other than Viv’s death and Violet’s confrontation with Tate (in the wake of finding out about one of her sibs’ parentage), almost every scene has an awesome thing that really works at its core but has to fight against at least other thing that tries to drag it down. The idea of a “banishment ritual” isn’t innately terrible, but the whole Roanoke jive is just painful, especially to those of us who actually know what “Croatoan” actually means. (Mind you, it’s not hard to believe that someone like Billie Dean–who might genuinely be gifted, but is too wrapped up in the trappings to see what’s bullshit and what’s not–would completely buy into the story.) The first half of the labor scene employs too many visual gimmicks, undercutting the (apparent) intended intensity of the scene. Evan Peters’s performance is a bit too cuddly, which is a bit ironic because the episode spends a lot of time reminding us what a scary dude he’s supposed to be. (Although his attempt to fake-seduce Chad is hilarious.)

Still, despite numerous rough patches, it’s a highly enjoyable episode with a number of neat touches (nice to finally get a glimpse of Thaddeus, the Montgomery Frankenbaby!) that sets the stage for what will hopefully be an awesome finale.

My rating: 7 of 10.

Season 1 episode ranking

  1. “Smoldering Children” (ep. 10)
  2. “Piggy Piggy” (ep. 6)
  3. “Murder House” (ep. 3)
  4. “Home Invasion” (ep. 2)
  5. “Rubber Man” (ep. 8)
  6. “Birth” (ep. 11)
  7. “Spooky Little Girl” (ep. 9)
  8. “Halloween, part 1” (ep. 4)
  9. “Pilot” (ep. 1)
  10. “Open House” (ep. 7)
  11. “Halloween, part 2” (ep. 5)

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