AMERICAN HORROR STORY 1.12: “Afterbirth”

AMERICAN HORROR STORY wrapped up its inaugural creepy season with a neat bow for the holidays — one that tied off all the plot threads and nearly ended the story of the Harmons in the Los Angeles “Murder House,” capping it with a warm Christmas scene out of a Hallmark movie, with the undead clan trimming their tree.

The final episode served as an epilogue for the season-long story of the Harmons, who moved into the house with “personality” in the premiere, and ended up making sure a new family moved out in the finale. Overall, I have to declare AHS a success. It suffered from “pilotitis” in the beginning a took a couple of episodes to find its feet. But once it stopped paying tribute to horror greats of the past and started charting its own path, AHS worked as a family drama and as horror TV. The tale of the Harmons had a beginning a middle and an end. AHS pushed boundaries with imagination and flair, and generated some genuinely unsettling scenes.

This week, following the death of Vivien (Connie Britton) in childbirth last week, a distraught Ben (Dylan McDermott) rattled around the Murder House in despair until deciding to take his own life. He put his affairs in order and made arrangements for the surviving baby, but chickened out of shooting himself — with the help of Vivien’s ghost, who impressed on Ben the need to carry on and raise the child no matter who the father was. No sooner had Ben resolved to forge ahead with life than he was jumped by Hayden (Kate Mara) and the Slashed-face Ghost, who looped a noose around Ben’s neck and hanged him from the chandelier.

With Ben dead and the baby and Violet “mysteriously” disappeared — Constance (Jessica Lange) spirited the baby to her house — Marcy (Christine Estabrook) sold the house to Miguel and Stacy Ramos (Anthony Ruivivar and Stacy Vidal), who moved in with their skateboarding son Gabriel. However, the Harmons realized the house would do the newbies harm, so they teamed up with some of the more benevolent ghosts to frighten the Ramoses out. In a funny scene, they jumped in the car and drove away in the middle of the night! Ben and Viv resolved to make sure no more families ever move in, and ended the episode trimming a Christmas tree with no-longer-estranged daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) and former housekeeper Moira (Frances Conroy). In a “three years later” coda, we discover that Constance’s grandson has murdered his nanny, proving that he inherited his father’s bloodlust.

I was skeptical of the Harmon’s reuniting as one big happy family in death, but I suppose crossing over changes you; with the prospects of eternity together stretching out before you, you must become more forgiving. Plus, being dead gave Ben and Viv license to act on their repressed rage toward each other. And Violet always loved her parents anyway, and never really meant to kill herself. For my money, the episode “Smoldering Children,” which revealed Vi’s unhappy fate, was one the best of the entire season, because Farmiga really brought a palpable sense of sadness and revulsion and sorrow to the discovery of her own twisted, fly-infested corpse.

While watching the brief saga of the Ramos family’s bid to occupy the house after the demise of the Harmons, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were watching an abbreviated version of a story that might have been planned for next season. Or was it always the plan to have the Harmons scare away the next family (a la Beetle Juice) in one episode?

So where does AHS go from here for its already-approved second season? Co-creator Ryan Murphy had said the original long-term framework for the series was to do a different haunting each season, but when the Harmon clan’s story caught fire the-powers-that-be reportedly rethought that philosophy. But it appears TPTB are back to the original plan. I think it’s clear from this finale that the new season will focus on a different family in a different house; AHS cannot simply keep showing the Harmons chasing newcomers away. So maybe that’s why the Ramoses were dispatched so quickly; to burn off that concept. I’m looking forward to a new setting and new characters.

Adding to the feeling of finality, AHS evidently tried to squeeze in as many fan-service cameos as possible, like Rubberman, Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), Travis (Michael Graziadei), Nora (Lily Rabe), young Moira (Alexandra Breckenridge) and even the Black Dahlia (Mena Suvari) and Stan (David Anthony Higgins) the tour-bus operator. But there was no room for Zachary Quinto’s Chad or little Thaddeus the Infantata (Ben Woolf) or scarred jailbird Larry (Denis O’Hare).

Still, I must confess to a slight degree of frustration over not learning the “secret” of the Murder House. Why is anyone who dies on the premises resurrected? Then again, what good is an explanation that isn’t tied to the characters we’ve already seen? If Dr. Montgomery had communed with Dark Forces and made some sort of pact, that would be one thing. But if the mechanism is some random ancient curse or artifact, who would really care? I’m (mostly) content that stuff just happens there.

And next year, new stuff will have to happen elsewhere.

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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