Spoilers for the season finale of American Horror Story below:
If there is one thing I would not have predicted of American Horror Story when it began, it was that it would end up the season so straightforward and sensible. Rather than a complicated mythology with a million loose ends, there were some simple rules: you died in the house, you had to stay there, where some of the ghosts were bad and some were not so bad, and they had issues much like they did when they were alive. (The whole house being powered, essentially, by metaphysical baby-hunger.)
The season ended neatly (maybe too neatly) with a wrap-up—for now, anyway—to the Harmons’ story, and a very, very crowded Murder House. Sometimes, it turns out, dying is just the thing you need to turn your life around! The bigger mystery is what kind of series FX’s high-rated new drama will become in a second season, in which it seems poised to become a very different kind of horror show.
Emotionally, the penultimate episode last week felt more like a finale than this one: there, we had the climactic birth, Vivien’s death, and the very affecting Viv and Violet afterlife reunion (when, come to think of it, the two characters had not had a lot of scenes in which to really connect while living). It was melodramatic and weepy and screamy and horrific, and, oh, by the way, a baby that apparently is the Antichrist was born. And there was a really tender, weary grace in the way that mother and daughter turned to each other for comfort after all they had been through.
“Afterbirth,” on the other hand, felt mostly like a full-length epilogue, with several scenes that felt like they could have been ending moments: the reunion of the Harmons after Ben’s death, the re-posting of the For Sale sign, the escape of the new tenants and—the actual ending—the reveal of the handiwork of Constance’s charming three-year-old grandson. Vivien, having been unable, with good reason, to forgive Ben in life, manages quickly to let go of her anger in death. (You could argue that passing on to eternal life has given her new perspective, but that’s hardly been the case for the rest of the house’s permanent tenants.) From there, the finale shifts into a kind of caper mode, as the Harmons—having shared a tender moment watching the new residents get it on—decided to get them out of the house for their own good with a good old-fashioned haunting.
The whole haunting subplot was like a wry meta-response to one reaction the series got from some detractors: why don’t they just get the hell out of the house already? So we got to see Miguel and Stacey clear the hell out of the house toot-sweet after a top-to-bottom haunting that checked every ghost-story box, right down to the scrawled threats on the wall, and it played like the Scary Movie version of American Horror Story. But the haunting also served a character role, showing Vivien and Ben reconciled and reunited in purpose—in a way, I have to say, that didn’t feel entirely earned. Perhaps knowing that you are damned to spend eternity with another person is a better motivation to reconcile than therapy—and being able to disembowel your cheating spouse without consequence must be cathartic!—but the episode didn’t make me feel their change of heart; it just presented it as fact.
You would think that Ben and Vivien would adjust a little less happily to their new surroundings, too, given that they are essentially, well, in Hell: trapped in a haunted house surrounded by spirits that have been tormenting them, that wish them ill and that covet their baby. (Speaking of which, Ghost Vivien and Ghost Ben seemed to take the disappearance of Antichrist Baby awfully well.) But “Afterbirth” moved to quickly resolve the conflicts in the house too—or at least some of them for now. Once the ghost of the not-quite stillborn baby turned up, Nora quickly finds that she’s not so into mothering after all. Tate manifests a desire to own up to his actions and decides to be a little less clingy to Violet. And the Harmons, never able to take control of their situation in life, work out a nice little alliance with their less malevolent fellow souls.
It wasn’t as emotionally effective as the last few episodes, but it was, surprisingly, neat. (Though I hope we haven’t seen the last plot from Hayden, who I love simply because she seems to enjoy the hell out of being dead.) In fact, it felt like this could have simply been the ending to a single, long-run miniseries; but the show, whose ratings have grown healthily over the fall, has already been picked up for a second season. What kind of a second season? It looks as if Ryan Murphy and Brad Flachuk have laid the ground to shift horror genres, from ghost story to an Omen-style Antichrist chiller, TV-style. (Anyone remember NBC’s Revelations?)
But how, exactly will it work? This direction for the story would suggest an even bigger role for Constance, and while I get a kick out of her Southern-gothic flights of melodrama, they’re better in smaller doses. Meanwhile, a great deal of the story’s narrative investment has been sunk in the house, whose characters apparently cannot leave, so can AHS spend more time beyond the walls of the Murder House? And if it doesn’t, how does it not become—as Vivien suggested—just one damn family fleeing the house after another?
All questions for which I have no answer, but for now, I will give credit to AHS for producing a garishly entertaining first season, which it capped off, fittingly, with an oddly heartwarming holiday tableau of a dead family and their damned roommates around a Christmas tree. The holidays, as well all know, really can be Hell sometimes.
Now for a quick hail of bullets:
* “I was never getting into Harvard. But I saved you a shitload of money.” Love Violet. Love her.
* “This house is so big. Do you think we’ll be lonely?” Uh, what? Who are all these TV people who have their first kids at like age 20, then turn around and have their next babies 17 years later?
* I understand that the Murder House is represented by the most sad-sack racist real estate agent in the greater Los Angeles area, but why does she seem so distraught at having to repeatedly sell it? Price haircut or no, the thing seems to move pretty quickly, and that’s a lot of repeat commissions on a house whose ownership turns over so frequently.
* Wait, it’s three years later? Who won the election? What’s going on in the world? And most important, how’s the housing market?