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American Horror Story Recap: Ghost Story

It's worth noting, in an episode that including an abortion, a graphic stabbing, an evil cupcake, and Jessica Lange seducing Vincent Gallo (99 percent sure that was Vincent Gallo) that I felt most uncomfortable on behalf of the writers. Where can they possibly go from here? The pilot looked like it was setting us up for a story line punctuated by Scream Five–y nods and name-checks, but I'm pretty sure last night's episode blazed through every remaining scary movie reference up through ones that are still showing on airplanes. By the time you've knocked out dead sorority nurses and Elephant, what's left? Troll 2? Shark Night 3-D? Was the doctor in the abortion clinic scene going to suggest sewing somebody's face to the butt of a hapless Japanese man as an homage to the homage in Human Centipede 2? The pacing of this show! I mean, New Girl moves at a clip, but I think they're probably waiting until ep six to have one of the main characters ax murder somebody.

I'm mostly uncomfortable because, to put it diplomatically: Maybe they want to be a little more careful with how homage-y their homages are getting. I may have been one of only a few dozen people who saw Insidious recently, but there are some pretty striking, shot-for-shot beats. It's not like Insidious is The Exorcist and everybody can pat himself on the back when a music box plays a snippet of "Tubular Bells." Insidious came out a year ago! And nobody saw it! (Sorry, Insidious.) What I'm trying to say is that there's a thin line between a hat tip and breaking into a hat store to walk off with a bunch of the hats. Just be careful with those Insidious guys, Ryan and Brad! They are the ones who wrote Saw!

That said, if American Homager Story is going for a "let's just get this all out of the way" tack, then I'm very wrong and it's a ballsy move. But until that becomes clear, I'm going to spend most of the episodes wondering which of the characters will turn out to be a ghost. Like most of us, I am traumatized enough by the spate of TWIST ENDING! movies that I just assume everybody I meet, fictional or non, is a ghost or one person who thought they were two. It makes a convenient excuse for not tipping the pizza guy ("Sorrrrrrrry! Thought you were a projection of my id"). But it's gotten to be kind of distracting when it comes to watching or enjoying any kind of subsequent horror movies. Right now my money is on Constance, Moira, and Tate being ghosts. Also, maybe burn face Larry. Possibly all of the Harmons, though? You see where I'm going with this.

Whew. Sorry. On to the recap portion of this recap. Right away again, we start with another flashback. The "1968" title feels a little redundant as, in the first thirteen seconds of the show, we get a Nixon bumper sticker, a song from Hair, and a crack about Jim Morrison, somebody getting called a square, cat-eye glasses, a flash of what I think is the Ed Sullivan Show. Where was the paper boy running by, shouting "Extra Extra! The year is 1968! Buy your 1968 newspapers right here"? In this grisly, impressively period-specific opener, we get a creepy drifter murdering some pretty nursing students in the Harmon house. As if you needed another reason not to let a bleeding lunatic into your house, we now have this guy, who likes to dress women up like Whitney gags before he stabs them.

Back in the 2010s, I'm giving Tate pretty decent odds at being a ghost here, seeing as we never see him come or go, but he's kind of constantly in the house. Obviously something is up with the Frances Conroys, and clearly Jessica Lange and her ostentatious anachronism are also prime candidates for Dead the Whole Timeys. This is going to get exhausting, though! So I'm going to just kind of roll with it and accept that most of these people are tangible until proven otherwise.

Probably-a-ghost-Tate and Ben are have a conversation about how Tate likes to wank it to Ben's daughter. The trouble with home offices, am I right? Ben, maybe you should look into some nice commercial real estate. Maybe something above a dentists' office where your psychopath ghost clients can't wander into your cutter daughter's room. Just a thought! I really want Ben to ask Tate about his highlights, but apparently that's not in the cards. Just before the credits roll, we find out Ben's unseen ex mistress is knocked up. Oh, man! Look at Dr. Kevin Federline M.D. over here.

Ben's yellow page ad apparently says, "Specializing in treating blonde patients with creepy death fantasies and boundary issues," because now we meet his new client, Bianca. She's an actress who has a recurring nightmare in which she's chopped in half, but I think what she really needs to worry about here is FORESHADOWING. She wanders into the kitchen while Ben's trying to dump Tate as a client and wonders dreamily about the murders that happened in the house. What could she be doing? What indeed.

Meantime, Violet's out at an empty pool skateboarding party (?) with Leah, the curiously anti-smoking cokehead who now apparently dresses like Carmen Sandiego. The writing here, she is a bit clunky. ("My hair is turning white from fear. I read on the Internet that's possible." Well, thanks for saving me the trouble of Wikipedia-ing it and calling Ryan Murphy a liar.)

Wacky brain cancer murderer Larry pops up again while Ben is going for a run (intrusive burn victims: precisely the reason why I don't jog). Ben inexplicably confides his mistress troubles to Larry, who very reasonably muses that infidelity is way worse than, say, murdering your whole family ("Haw haw haw, zees Amereecanz," —The French). Ben's mistress, Hayden, wants him to come to Boston to be there when she terminates the pregnancy, so he takes Larry's advice, lies to his wife, and hops on a flight. Hope he doesn't have to go through … O'HARE (violin screechhhhhhh!)

Meanwhile, possible-ghost Constance and Addy cook up a batch of spit-filled ipecac cupcakes for Violet, who's out. So instead, Constance settles for creepy girl talk with Vivien, who is worried because she has not been morning sick at all with her ghost baby. Like everybody does on this show, crazy Southern Constance just waltzes into the house to poison children and say horrible things about disabled people without knocking, like Tennesse Williams's Karen Black Urkel. Maybe the Harmons should consider locking their doors? Seriously, chain bolt at Home Depot, $4.

There's a fun little dance with who's going to eat the poisoned cupcakes, which look suspiciously like they came from a Most Dark Crumbs bakery. Vivien's about to have some and then she brings it to Violet, who's all, "Why don't you eat it?" She's not stupid and she knows cupcakes are OVER. But then it doesn't matter, because there's a knock at the door and it's The Strangers. Whooops! I mean, it's former teen actress Azura Skye, with Bianca the crazy blonde patient and an unnamed (blond!) male friend, here to Strangers-murder them.

So while Ben is having a nice glass of wine with his girlfriend in Boston, his wife and daughter are being homage-held by homage murderists, here to re-create the '68 nurse murder from the teaser.

No worries, though! Tate's obviously in the house, there to save them with the aid of whatever lives in the basement. (Deus ex basement monster! I bet it also sorts their laundry when they're out.) Addie shows up briefly to be useless, Bianca finds and eats the cupcake (an actress? eating a cupcake? IN LOS ANGELES? Disbelief: briefly unsuspended!). Tate very helpfully ax murders cupcake-thieving Bianca, then dispatches the other two The Strangers to the basement. Moira and Constance, also probably ghosts, show up next to Tate and say something along the lines of "Ho hum, better get the bleach and shovel again."

The whole near-murder thing ends up being a bonding experience for Violet and Vivien. (Something to think about for mothers whose daughters are too old for Build-a-Bear but too young for one of those cocktails and manicure places.) Ben gets back and the police explain the whole thing and Vivien is all, "We're selling this house."

Prudent, sure, but in episode two? So, I assume that's definitely happening, and that the next episode will be all about the horrors of the housing market. This episode really went for it, even if the baby head count was limited to the doll noggin that Violet keeps on her dresser, like most disaffected youth.

I assume the next episode is going to address whether something is indeed wrong with Vivien's gimp suit monster ghost baby and hopefully address the fact that Ben was not around to make it. More and more women of a certain age are turning to alternate solutions to get pregnant, but this seems to kind of push the envelope a bit! Also, would you never reference that night with your husband? I mean, I assume since we've dispatched with the murder house, next week will go a little something like this:

Ben: [Buttering an English muffin.] I love our new condo in Santa Monica. Feel like seeing a movie today? Maybe something with Steve Zahn?
Vivien: Speaking of Steve Zahn, remember that night we conceived a child while you wore a dead gay man's gimp suit?
Ben: [English muffin spit take!]

But I could be wrong. Tune in next week!

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FX