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American Horror Story: “Open House”

Illustration for article titled iAmerican Horror Story/i: “Open House”
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So I dunno, you guys. I was kind of bored by that episode of American Horror Story! I know that seems impossible when you’ve got an episode with Constance’s horrifying attic child, the secret history of Larry the Burn-Faced Man, Violet’s “evolution,” Tate’s suicide prevention hotline, the Infantata chewing off his mom’s boob, and Moira biting off an Armenian guy’s penis, but the whole thing just made a little too much sense in how little sense it was making. I think after Connie Britton eats a brain, everybody involved is just going to have to up their game that much more to keep surprising us. And I’m not sure this episode was the one to do that. Maybe we’ll get that episode next week, when we learn what’s inside of Rubber Man, and it turns out to be Kyle Chandler.

If this episode has a plot—oh, who am I kidding? It doesn’t—it revolves around the Harmons trying to unload their house. Now, granted, they’ve been trying to do this for a while, or, to be more specific, Vivien’s been trying to do this for a while, and when she kicked her husband out, she said, “Oh, I’m the one who wants to leave the house, so I’ll go find some small, non-haunted studio somewhere.” Of course she didn’t! She’s still living there, so she can have dreams about having sex with Morris Chestnut, Dylan McDermott, and Rubber Man and totally get in the way of her daughter’s awesome love life. (Have you ever noticed—for being the ostensible lead character of the show—just how little Connie Britton has to do in any given episode? Of all of the characters, she’s the only one who doesn’t seem to have a goal or motive or driving force. She’s basically a womb with legs, and if I were applying standard critical analyses to this show, that would drive me up the wall. But I’m not. Bring on the devil baby and Danny DeVito as the devil baby’s twin!) But now she has a chance to sell it to some Armenian guy who sees Young Moira and decides he’ll take the house, too.


That’s pretty much it. Oh, sure. Some other stuff happens. But this is an episode that mainly seems to be setting us up for stuff to come. The “big new twist” every episode has to have involves that misshapen kid up in the attic, Bo, who’s one of Constance’s and can now be seen by Violet, again, because she’s “evolved,” whatever that means. Larry smothers the kid to death with a pillow in the episode’s opening moments, because he was once in love with Constance, who was just using him to get back into the House. I get that part of this show is pushing buttons, but I’m made fairly uncomfortable by Bo, who’s clearly played as just another goofy monster for the show to have pop out of the darkness but is also, y’know, a kid with feelings and stuff. Then again, I had similar feelings about Addie in the beginning, and the show figured out a way to make her an actual character, so I won’t worry about this too much for now.

The more important thing is that this is another info-dump episode. Actually, does AHS have another mode? Isn’t every scene just characters delivering long info-dumps to each other? Isn’t that part of what makes it so bizarre? We learn—in a scene that really seems like one of those old Calvin And Hobbes comics where Calvin had to play with Susie and she made him play “house” or something and it was all illustrated like an old-time soap opera strip—that Larry and his long-dead wife were about to split when she—not he—killed herself and their girls. (Presumably, he got the burns when he tried to save them.) This isn’t enough to make me say, “Aw, poor Larry,” but it’s an interesting twist I wouldn’t have predicted. Also, in Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s ongoing attempts to exorcise America’s psychic scars about abortion or something, we learned that the evil, awful baby Charles constructed for Nora (which I’m all but certain is the Infantata) was a real go-getter from his very first day and apparently gnawed off his “mom’s” breast. I will give this show credit for one thing: It’s very good at playing around with pregnancy/baby paranoia.

And by “very good,” of course, I mean “kind of over-obvious,” because now Viven is having twins, and could it be any more obvious that one will be a bad twin and the other one will be Hugo, doomed to be locked up in the attic when he’s mistaken for the bad twin? And while we’re at it, isn’t it sort of weird that even as all of the crazy stuff is going on around the two Harmons, the show is doggedly sticking to keeping them in a horror movie that moves very slowly? Vivien reached the point around the end of act two in the movie, where she realizes that, wait a second, maybe the house is haunted, because she sees someone she’s been hanging out with in an old photo. It’s a classic trope, and it’s executed pretty well here, but c’mon. The rest of the show is doing whatever the fuck it can to entertain us, and it’s so bizarre that the central couple continues to move forward like they think they’re in a storyline that obeys the conventional rules of narrative.

So that’s really all I have to say about this one, outside of some stray observations. I’ll be perfectly honest: I’m anxious to see what you guys have to say about it, because you never fail to make these episodes more entertaining for me, and this one… this one was kind of drab. Or maybe I just have incipient RUBBER MAN excitement. I hope the screener for that one comes on time.


Grade as an actual piece of television: C+/B-

Grade as an entertaining piece of claptrap no discerning person could enjoy: C-

Official grade: B for “Boring”

Stray observations:

  • As implied above, I got a super late start on this one. I normally try to squeeze it into my Tuesdays, but the screener didn’t get here until today. I assure you that next week, when the Rubber Man screener arrives, I will drop everything and watch the shit out of it. I will be with you all in spirit as I do. In rubbery, rubbery spirit.
  • I suspect that Moira biting off the penis was supposed to be the big shocker in this episode, but, c’mon. Did anybody think we were getting out of this series without someone’s penis getting bitten off? It’s like after you saw the pilot for Breaking Bad and said, “Oh, I’ll bet Walt’s going to eventually get in way over his head with some bad, bad people.” As soon as you saw that scary monster baby thing, you should have known no penis would be safe in Murder House.
  • All things considered, this was a pretty good episode for Moira. Her plan to get released from her House purgatory was a pretty sound one, and her vengeance was swift and brutal. I also enjoyed seeing older Moira wiping off her lips after younger Moira gave our Armenian friend his special gift.
  • Tate, apparently, has been getting much better, in therapy sessions we don’t get to see, I guess. Or maybe it’s just because he’s so in love. So in love that he tries to keep Violet from cutting herself because he’s just such a good dead mass-murderer.
  • Oh, also, we learned that Constance and Larry, at least, fear that the House can be stopped via awfully prosaic means: tearing it down. The House has been responsible for all of society’s ills since at least the 1920s, you fools! You can’t stop it with a bulldozer and some crowbars! You’re going to need seven priests and at least one witch doctor.
  • Did Mrs. Coach get plowed by a black version of the Greendale Human Being? alert: I never thought I would type something other than “no” here ever again, but, surprisingly, “Yes!”
  • Line of the night: Larry offers Ben a drink. “Nescafe?” (Something about Denis O’Hare’s delivery of this made me laugh. Too much.)

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