American Horror Story

American Horror Story, ep. 7: Open House [TV review by Lackey]

American Horror StoryOriginally broadcast November 16 2011
Written by Brad Falchuk
Directed by Tim Hunter
My rating: **
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A pulpier, more camp and all-around weaker episode fleshes out Larry’s character.

* * *

Marcy: No matter how gruesome or horrible the murder, you can always find someone who’ll buy the house.

Tonight on American Horror Story: In 1994, Constance Langdon learns that Beauregard–her deformed son who lives chained in the Murder House’s attic–may be taken away from her and she may be charged with child criminal neglect. She implores her lover and next-door neighbor, Larry Summers, to kill the child. In the present day: the Harmons get two offers to buy the murder house. The first comes from a sleazy real-estate developer named Joe Escandarian, whose plans for the property anger Constance. The other…is Larry Summers. Meanwhile, the ladies of the house learn a bit of its history and Vivien gets some surprising news about her pregnancy.

I’m not opposed to Murphy and Falchuk (the latter of whom penned this installment) letting their pulp and camp flags fly every so often, and indeed there’s a pleasant sort of fever-dream quality to the Charles and Nora flashback that I really enjoyed. But there’s also a tendency to overdo things when it comes to Larry Summers and Marcy, the Harmons’ comic-relief real estate agent, and “Open House” provides a textbook example of such things.

The quest to sell the Murder House is the A-plot this week and tends to dominate the episode in a way that A-plots usually don’t on this show (very little happens, other than some Tate/Violet action and the “twins” reveal, that doesn’t tie in to it somehow). The “open house” scenes are practically textbook examples of what’s wrong with Larry, Marcy and French Maid Cosplay Moira as characters–even in a narrative that’s as much about artifice as it is credibility, they come off too much as characters and not enough as people. Marcy, in particular, makes a stilted reference to the house’s “previous homos…er, homeowners” in conversation, and later hilariously reveals how attractive she’s sure minorities find her in a racist rant that makes me wonder if Falchuk’s ever met any actual bigots (doing so while pointing a gun at Summers, no less). Christine Estabrook deserves much better than this.

Meanwhile, Denis O’Hare’s line readings are still telling a different story than Larry’s dialogue does, and Alexandra Breckinridge still can’t quite rise above the fact she’s really only here as cheesecake. (In Breckinridge’s defense, there’s some faint sardonic undertones to her scenes that I really get a kick out of–her delivery of the line “something a girl can really gnaw on” is priceless.) Almost all of Moira’s depth comes from Frances Conroy–the look on her face as she flees Violet’s room, wiping her mouth after having given Escandarian a blowjob, is easily the best thing in the episode. (I also love the tone of voice in which she tells Constance that Escandarian promised to build her a swimming pool.) I’m sure this is intentional but it’s also getting a bit annoying.

O’Hare fares a bit better in the scenes with Constance–he definitely sells being in love with/being fixated on Constance–and in the flashbacks. And while “Open House” can’t be said to be “Larry-centric” in the Lost sense, the additional depth added to the character is not only welcome but long overdue. Maybe O’Hare just needs someone other than Dylan McDermott to play off of, because he and Jessica Lange really bring out the best in each other (the way she tells him “I want to see your shame” is particularly delicious). Lange really shines in her scene with Escandarian, even if she and guest star Amir Arison spend too much time talking about the episode’s thematic elements. In fact, Arison is fun to watch throughout, even if the character is underwritten. It’s a shame we’ll not be seeing him again.

Other than that, not much new under the sun here…there’s a Ben/Larry argument which is exactly the same as all the others, and some Tate/Violet material which made me wish they had a larger role this week. There’s also Beauregard, who’s more of a plot device than a character this time around; maybe that’ll change in future weeks.

MVP: Frances Conroy

Season 1 episode ranking

  1. “Piggy Piggy” (ep. 6)
  2. “Murder House” (ep. 3)
  3. “Home Invasion” (ep. 2)
  4. “Halloween, part 1″ (ep. 4)
  5. “Pilot” (ep. 1)
  6. “Open House” (ep. 7)
  7. “Halloween, part 2″ (ep. 5)
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About Lackey

Daniel Lackey blames this whole thing on Richard Matheson and Tobe Hooper, whose works ("Nightmare At 20,000 Feet" and Poltergeist, respectively) sparked his interest in getting the crap scared out of him when he was eight years old. He can be found on Twitter at @Lackey_D.

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