by Alex Greenberger
Let’s dissect the opening scene of this week’s “American Horror Story.” The episode opens in 1994, the year in which Tate shot several kids at his high school. Constance, Larry, Adelaide, and Tate are all saying grace over what looks to be a pretty bland dinner. These opening minutes were amazing for the speed at which they delivered their information. We now know that both of Larry’s explanations for his burns are false—his wife lit herself and her children on fire because she was so mad at Larry for cheating with Constance. Then we learn that Tate burned Larry just before he went on a rampage at school. It also appears that Tate did a little cocaine before committing murder. Of course, nobody cares that Tate did drugs. That’s a little excessive. But then again, isn’t the whole point of “American Horror Story” to be embellished fun?
And fun this episode was, surprisingly. “Smoldering Children” was a glorious return to form for “American Horror Story,” and a much-needed one, considering last weeks’ bland episode. Written by James Wong, of “The X-Files,” fame, it’s not surprising that everything clicked so well.
Like the first few episodes, “Smoldering Children” was so densely packed with necessary scenes that it’s hard to discuss them all. The episode’s central reveal was one that many of you may have expected: Violet’s dead! I can’t quite say, “I told you so” yet, but I did predict that all the Harmons were dead. So right now, I’m correct on at least one of them.
However, it was the lead-up to that reveal that proved most thrilling. Wong clearly took a lot of cues from the first episode to retain the same sort of spooky eroticism for Ben’s fight with Tate in Rubber Man garb. The scene begins with Ben washing himself in the shower (without anymore naked or masturbating Dylan McDermott, luckily). As he gets out of the shower, he wipes the water vapor away from a mirror and sees the Rubber Man standing behind him. Tate then attacks him and gets into a pretty extended fight before successfully putting Ben out with an ether-covered towel. One mistake: Ben sees his face. He now knows that Tate raped Vivien and his having children with her.
Next, Tate pressures Violet to kill herself. Sobbing, she finally pretends to agree, but she instead runs downstairs to get away from Tate. Then something weird happens: she opens the front door and suddenly she’s at the back door again, which she tries three times more, only to find the same result. Ultimately, Tate takes her to a crawlspace, where she finds her own dead body.
Also, the past two paragraphs happened in about ten minutes. And what a great ten minutes they were! The twists were undeniably spooky, and the story moved very quickly.
While all that was happening, the police almost imprisoned Constance for killing her boyfriend. But Larry saved her by confessing to the murder, thinking she would love him again if he did that. He was wrong. “Smoldering Children” exposed an evil side of Constance that we really haven’t seen before. There’s always been something off-putting about her (What normal person shoots a woman in the eye?) but now it seems that she’s basically inhuman. Well, figuratively speaking (at least).
It’s nice to see things the way they were in the beginning. There weren’t lesbian sexual fantasies. Constance was featured prominently. The plot moved quickly. Nothing felt extraneous. “Smoldering Children” made things normal again…or as “normal” as “American Horror Story” is willing to get.
Alex Greenberger is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com