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American Horror Story Recap: I Love the Eighties (Murders)!

Dylan McDermott and Denis O'Hare in American Horror Story.

You have to wonder what Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck would have done if we weren't in the midst of a historic real-estate slump. Otherwise, it might be harder to logically counter the typical horror-audience screams to Just Leave the GD House Already. Thank goodness for the real-estate bubble and Bernie Madoff and the stock market, which all get their due for keeping the Harmons in their hell home. I can only imagine if the show had taken place in 1997, in seller-friendly, bull-market halcyon times. Ryan Murphy would have been so screwed! "Viv, we can't move. We … have to stay in and watch Caroline in the City."

As it happens, episode three begins with a flashback card of 1983, so I was anticipating Addie screaming into an oversize cell phone about getting reservations at Dorsia while "Hip to be Square" plays. Instead, we get backstory on Moira, who for some reason was still dressing Like That to clean houses. In 1983. Her death, which we sort of knew about, is precipitated by Constance's husband drunkenly mounting her against her protests that she "needs this job." Drunk rich guy raping hapless help would all be very shopworn British costume drama, but thankfully he whispers something about giving her a free Camaro. You know. Because it's the eighties. (Trademark Ryan Murphy Historical Context.) Constance catches them and offs them both, giving Jessica Lange a nice opportunity to ham it up in reverse aging makeup. It's pretty convincing youth makeup, too! I like to think that Jessica Lange took advantage of this and went on a lunch date with an ex-boyfriend afterwards.

Yennyhoo! Back to the present and solving the problem of how to keep the Harmons in the house where they've been BTK'd. Since there's no gaping plot hole that Murphy can't Bondo, they're not able to move because they are broke because one of Ben's investments has gone sour. Fair enough! This is also why the Sedgwick-Bacons still live in the home where Kevin had to savagely ax-murder cultist intruders.

I love that Ben is all, "This is PTSD," and Vivien is, "Nope. This is me calling Remax, bitch." The Realtor comes over to reinforce that the housing market is too bad to sell the house and that the alternative is — STROBE LIGHT CUT &8212; the Valley. Jesus, just go live in the Oakwood Apartments, you monsters! There's a free continental breakfast and no basement monster.

Meanwhile, if you've ever been on HBO, good news! You're going to be on American Horror Story. Ben has a new client and it's Tara's mom from True Blood. Do you think she's there because she has a demon in her? Nope, she's Sally, a woman whose husband is divorcing her for being boring, and, accordingly, Ben goes into a trance listening to her talk about football. (Been there, right, ladies?) He wakes up with blood all over his hands. Sexy Young Moira is sexily cleaning up some blood, mayyyyyybe from somebody he killed. His tape recorder is missing, so we'll probably find out whom he offed later in the episode.

Young Moira gets handsy, and Vivien interrupts him trying to fire her. This leads to a somewhat uncomfortable scene in which poor Viv is subjected to her husband talking about how incorrigible sex bomb and former HBO star Frances Conroy is trying to seduce him with her sultry milk-eye. This is clearly some kind of commentary on how Hollywood treats aging actresses. Ha-ha, just kidding! Why doesn't Viv just scream, "She's old!"? Then Ben would be forced to say something like, "Well, maybe too old for a beauty pageant or law school, but not old old."

Ben really can't catch a break, because the next visitor to Murderhouse is Hayden, the pregnant mistress, flown in from Boston. Look, do not get me wrong: Kate "Sister of Lisbeth Salander" Mara is very pretty. But if you cheat on Connie Britton, who is a goddess, maybe don't do it with this lady, who is clearly craisins. And oh crap, she didn't get the abortion and she's moving to L.A. By which she means, "I probably shouldn't get too comfortable with being alive on this show."

Boring old True Blood Sally is missing, and a cop comes by to ask Ben about it. Apparently, the cop sees Moira as young and sexy, too, or he just has a thing for older women with complicated updos. Interestingggg!

At this point, we get a weird re-creation of Sal Mineo's stabbing death. What? Oh, nothing, it's just part of one of those haunted Los Angeles bus tours that Vivien's decided to take for the purpose of exposition. (I went on one of those once! It was fun. At the end, we all had vegan gelato at Scoops as a celebration of life. Or something.) The tour is led by Joe from Ellen, which is good because we were running low on allusions to other horror shows. (Kidding, I don't know why I said that. Ellen wasn't that bad.) The ghost tour turns out to be a tidy way for tortured audience proxy Viv to get some backstory on the house. Turns out it was built by a wealthy surgeon named Charles, who eventually fell on hard times, became addicted to (1) drugs and (2) sewing animals together to make two-headed frankenpigs in the scary basement (the surgeon in flashback is being played by — shit you not — is Alby from HBO's Big Love). His pretty wife was uncool with her husband being drunk and sewing pigs together and not making any money. Menfolk! She apparently decided that they'd make rent by becoming the world's most tastefully decorated back alley abortionists. Because, you know, lucrative.

Viv spontaneously bleeds on the tour, but it's a-okay. The gimp ghost baby is fine … as long as she DOESN'T MOVE FROM THE HOUSE. Additionally, Violet says she will run away if Viv moves them into to some characterless condo. Teenagers and their insistence on wainscoting, huh? Okay! Okay, Murphy! We get it. You have established some compelling, era-sensitive reasons for the Harmons to stay in Murderhouse.

Also popping by is crazy Dr. Charles's wife, showing up on Vivien's porch with complaints about the Harmons' kitchen upgrades and a sizable chunk missing from the back of her head. She disappears while Viv is making tea. Oh, boy. Poor Viv.

Ben finds his tape recorder and it turns out the blood isn't from a sleepmurder, just from Sally slicing her wrists open because he zoned out during their session. Aw, man! Every therapist's worst nightmare. He finally figures out that he's going into trances and passing out because Moira's been spiking his coffee with laudanum. You might remember laudanum from its role on HBO's Deadwood. Good to see laudanum getting work. Go, laudanum.

Also back: Hayden, just in time to get bludgeoned to death by burnt former HBO actor Larry, right when she's about to tell Ben what she wants for lunch. Now he'll never know! Ben can't go to the police because it looks pretty bad for his pregnant mistress to get murdered right after his home invasion and missing persons client.

Digging a hole to bury crazy Hayden, Larry finds Moira's body. From a window, she looks on while Ben puts in a gazebo over the dead mistresses. Nothing like a good time-lapse gazebo scene, eh?

This episode was so much setup and backstory that we didn't really get any decent scares or jaw dropping gimp-suit-sex moments, so in the ratings system I just invented five seconds ago, I'm only going to give it 2/5 potential Jarred Baby Heads. I guess now we have Tate, Moira, the Surgeon's Wife, and probably now Hayden, all just cold kicking it in the house. Not sure what we're setting up for here, but I still don't know how Tate is dead and manages to be Pacific Sunwear's most loyal customer. We'll stay tuned for that, if nothing else.

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FX