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TV: ‘American Horror Story’ Episode 01.10 Review

American Horror Story

After 10 episodes, I still don’t now what I am looking for in “American Horror Story”, and that isn’t something I am used to while watching TV.

Starting out, I was expecting some cheap, gory thrills – a nice little break from my weekly line up of sitcoms and dramas. As the show progressed, I started getting more and more invested in this cast of morally grey monsters, and it became about them. I wanted to see all of these characters moving on or being happy or getting punished for their wrong doings. There was an exceptional amount of emotional investment on my part that came completely unexpectedly to me.

Recently, the cracks in the show have begun to surface in quite obvious ways…. Plot holes have become even more evident. Characters are shifting personality traits and there was a certain lack of consistency and continuity in the world that had been built around the old haunted house. The more I read interviews with the cast (particularly show-runner Ryan Murphy), the more I lose faith in the narrative. It feels as though the characters and the universe of which they resided are becoming nothing more than a caricature of what the show once was.

Normally I do a review and recap, but I feel like I have enough to say that adding the lengthy recap is probably redundant. I am going to assume that you’ve all seen the episode.

So there are really two things going on now, and both are extremely evident in “Smoldering Children”. The first is that these inconsistencies are not going to go away. A plot hole drinking game might be grossly appropriate for the future of the show. The characters are going to make fundamental personality shifts and have lofty motivations for everything they do. On the other side of things, “American Horror Story” will probably never get boring. It is constantly engaging, and even if its biggest attempts at shock value aren’t always quite as shocking as the writers were hoping for (come on, we all knew Violet was dead and Tate was the Rubberman) there is something about this ride. You can’t seem to get off. The soul of the show screams to be concluded, and even though watching it can be frustrating, you can’t help it. Even if the content is less than impressive at times, the style and presentation is gorgeous. As obvious as many of the twists can be, they still feel shocking.

This week’s big reveal was a classic tv gimmick, in which we find out that Violet was dead all along. The pills that she swallowed actually did kill her. Back when it first happened there was a ton of speculation, and within the last 3 episodes, pretty much everyone had caught on to the theory. Message boards and blogs were booming with suspicion. So much in fact, that Murphy was actually approached about the issue in an interview and tried to throw fans off track. Still, finally seeing the body was horrifying. Watching Violet slowly figure it out was horrifying. It was chaotic, and you could feel that immersive chaos as Violet scrapped around the house looking for the validation in her own descent to madness. Even if you were sitting in your chair screaming, “I knew it all along”, it was still powerful, and that is the strong point of the show.

The raw emotions coupled with these feelings of helplessness and a loss of control really shine above all else. Sometimes while watching “American Horror Story”, you get the sense that they are trying too hard to shock you, as if the crew hasn’t yet realized that these organic scenes of dread like Tate’s school shooting and Violet’s death are truly their goldmines. Scrap the bits about pregnant women eating raw brains and mad scientists somehow reanimating dead babies. It’s so over the top that it really lacks any chilling bite. These characters and the insanity that pulses through their universe are fine on their own without all of that.

Violet’s death revelation also explained a lot of Tate’s abnormal behavior, including his obsessive need to keep Violet from being taken away. It was all a huge ploy to hide the fact that she didn’t survive her suicide. It can be fairly concluded at this point that Tate really does care a lot about Violet’s happiness. Too bad he only came to that conclusion after raping her mom. Eternity together is a lot less enticing when your boyfriend is the father of the Anti-Christ AND a sex offender.

The other half of “Smoldering Children” followed Constance and Larry in the wake of Travis’s death. It’s taken years, but it seems as though Constance might actually start to be held responsible for her crimes. As much as I love Constance, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by what happened with her in this episode. It seems like she may have gotten herself into a bit of trouble, and then she was bailed out by the end. Besides seeing Larry get locked away, this whole Travis plot line has really served absolutely no purpose at all. It is so far removed from the house and the other characters that it feels like a plot-filler sprinkled with enough little bits of relevant flashbacks that it doesn’t seem completely out of place. One thing that did catch me by surprise was how likable ghost-Travis has become. He is this sort of out of place, scrappy ball of positivity among so much misery. If anything, there is now an added benefit of some form of comic relief among a group of people

So I guess the bottom line is: “Smoldering Children” has its flaws, but that doesn’t need to prevent you from liking it. With a RM show, you really need to include a certain suspension of belief in what you are watching or it all falls apart. Go along for the ride long enough and you might end up pleasantly surprised. There is no shame in it. I took a lot of time here to address the show in general, because we truly are coming to and end. AHS isn’t joining most shows for winter hiatus, and with only two episodes left; it’s a fair time to start looking at the journey as a whole. When I first started reviewing “American Horror Story”, I questioned whether or not it was possible for a completely horror centered TV show to last on a cable TV program after the Halloween buzz and maintain its original personality. There have been a lot of liberties taken since the pilot, but I think it’s safe to say that it has a long and healthy life ahead of it despite its flaws.

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