The most consistent aspect of American Horror Story’s first season has been how so many episodes move the plot along at a pretty good clip, while ultimately feeling as lifeless as high school shooter Tate (and Evan Peters’ performance). With only two episodes left, “Smoldering Children” dispensed with a few characters (bye, Larry!) and answered some not-particularly burning questions.
The biggest non-surprise of the episode was Violet’s death. Yes, that suicide attempt of hers a few episodes back was ultimately successful, despite her vomiting in the tub. She just didn’t puke enough, Tate tells her after taking her into the crawlspace beneath the house to reveal her rotting corpse in what was surely homage to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Earlier, an exterminator had found the body first, but Tate jammed his hose down the exterminator’s throat and dispatched him. Do you think he’ll be popping up, too?
After some hysterical crying, Violet calms down remarkably quickly for a game of cards with Tate, who is excited about being dead together. Remember just a few episodes ago, when Jessica Lange wanted Violet’s help in getting Tate to move on? Guess he knew he was dead all along.
In what turned out to be a Tate-centric episode, we also discovered how Larry was burned. No, it had nothing to do with his pyromaniac wife and burning children; after one unpleasant family dinner, Tate showed up at Larry’s office with a can of gasoline, on his way to blow away his classmates, and set him on fire. Remember how the pilot made it seem as if the house had a personality outside of the spirits within it? That is no longer applicable, I guess.
Viv made a brief appearance, still locked up, but forming an uneasy alliance with Ben, who tells her he believes she was raped and unhelpfully asks if she remembers anything about her attacker other than his rubber suit. Nope, she deadpans. After two weeks with nothing to do but think about, she’s coming up blank.
Ben’s turn in this episode also turns out to be an extended cameo. First, he talks to Viv, then he confronts Violet about her truancy. While toweling off after a shower, he’s attacked by Tate, who has slithered into the rubber sit again for no discernible reason and chloroforms him—but not before Ben sees the face under the mask. At least Dylan McDermott had plenty of chances to flex while struggling, though his towel remained suspiciously tied around his waist the whole time.
What little time was spared from Tate was given over to Jessica Lange, first confronting Larry about his role in Travis’ death with a kitchen knife she carried over in her purse, and then trying to convince the cops that she had nothing to do with that murder. Jessica Lange, as usual, took her role to the limits of camp, giving a master class that the rest of the cast is choosing to ignore. And just when we think that the lovesick Larry will have his vengeance by framing Jessica Lange, he confesses to the crime himself, and the episode ends with Jessica Lange visiting him in prison, coolly refusing to admit that she ever loved him with a coquettish toss of her up-do.
Next week, the ghosts fight over Viv’s baby and Violet begs Jessica Lange for help in getting rid of ghosts. I assume she’s referring to that boring exterminator.