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RECAP: American Horror Story Episode 12


Hail, hail, the gang's all dead

The center cannot hold and the emperor is naked. American Horror Story, that glossy, ghostly family drama about Manifest Destiny, is the ultimate Ryan Murphy shell game. Is it an examination of uniquely American horrors, like the cultish group that held Vivien and Violet hostage in the second episode or the school shooting that condemned Tate to a lifetime in the house? Was it a satiric TV adaptation of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon, that lurid exploration of Tinseltown's dirty laundry, featuring Sal Mineo in a cameo and Elizabeth Short as a victim of the deadly house?

No. None of those things, ultimately, because Ryan Murphy says ya got trouble, TV viewers, trouble right there on your screens, and we bought it hook, line and sinker, tuning in week after week to what amounted to little more than an elaborate reboot of Beetlejuice.

The season finale, "Afterbirth," opened with a flashback to Boston, when Ben convinced Vivien, who was about to leave him, that they could have a fresh start in California. He saw their future in a flash, he said. He was stoking a fire (cut to flashback of Dylan McDermott standing naked in front of the house fireplace), Viv was cradling a baby (talons ripple Viv's belly) and Violet was reading a depressing Russian novel (cue Violet cutting herself). To be fair, McDermott and Britton wrung every heartbreaking nuance out of the scene, which doesn't detract from the increased reliance of late on "ironic" flashbacks to the Harmons.

I doubt if it will surprise even those who haven't seen the episode that Ben dies in the house shortly after Viv's funeral, a victim of Hayden. For some reason, as Hayden's gang of ghosts hang Ben from the second-floor balcony, neither Violet nor Viv appear. The body's hardly been cut down before realtor Marcie is showing the house to a new couple with a teenage son.

"We can't let what happened to us happen to them," Viv whispers to Ben. Faced with eternity, they've reconciled. And so Viv, Ben and The Maid(s) hatch a plan to terrify the couple into leaving, one that finds Ben as Rubber Man, trying to rape the wife and culminating in Viv disemboweling Ben and Ben shooting Viv in the head.

(Murphy claims it never occurred to him that the finale felt a little Beetlejuicish. That's like Mike Kelly stiffly saying The Count of Monte Cristo has nothing to do with Revenge.)

Oh, and remember Viv's stillborn son? He wasn't stillborn, he died in the house, which means that the Harmons now permanently have an infant--and a seemingly unlimited clothing allowance. They're all happy, Tate and Hayden are miserable... and Jessica Lange, you ask?

Jessica Lange does what Southern steel magnolias have always done: She cleaned up the mess. First she concocted a story for the police about Violet running away with her newborn baby brother, leaving Ben and Viv the only victims of the house and thus allowing Jessica Lange to keep Tate's son in her mirror closet. Then she went to the beauty parlor after three years, where she gloated about the remarkable little boy she's been raising. She's switched her stifled ambitions, you see, from her failed career as an actress to supporting the beautiful son she was always meant to raise, the one who needed a mother forged in the fires of adversity. And guess what? That remarkable little boy--a towheaded angel, of course--had killed his babysitter by the time Jessica Lange returned from her beauty appointment. "What am I going to do with you?" she asks the blood smeared toddler.

And suddenly, the new shell game starts, the one in which viewers tune in for a Beetlejuice reboot and Murphy, with his ADD-show runner tendencies, has moved on to a trendy mash up of Gypsy and The Omen.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Mark Peikert