This is it, folks-the moment you’ve all been waiting for! We’ve followed the Harmons from day one as they picked up their dysfunctional lives back in Boston and set their sights on familial rehabilitation in Los Angeles. What Ben (Dylan McDermott), Vivien (Connie Britton) and Violet (Taissa Farmiga) found was much, much more than they bargained for; as viewers, we can say the same. In what could have easily been a one-note series about a family living in a haunted house, American Horror Story used that device to explore social relationships, psychological trauma, and grisly moments in Hollywood history all while giving us memorable, complex characters and a helluva good time. If you’ve missed out on the fun that is Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy’s (Glee and Nip/Tuck) twisted creation, check out all of our previous recaps here. For the AHS initiated, hit the jump for my recap of season one’s final episode, “Afterbirth,” as well as my retrospective.
[The following episode recap contains spoilers.]
Viewers of last week’s episode, “Birth” will no doubt remember the trauma experienced by Vivien as she gave birth to her twin sons, which ultimately took her life. With two members of the Harmon family having crossed over to the ghostly side, that leaves Ben as the sole living person who can stand between the surviving infant and the numerous ghosts of the house who have their own plans for the baby. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Afterbirth” opens a little over nine months earlier, with Ben and Vivien in their bright, modern Boston home discussing the plan to move to Los Angeles and start over. Vivien is not having it but Ben, as usual, isn’t listening to her. He shows her a picture of their eventual new home and says, “Maybe it’s haunted or something.” Too right, Ben! He tells her that the first time he saw, it a movie played in his mind of their family reconnecting, with Violet reading a depressing novel in front of a fireplace and Vivien rocking a newborn baby. What’s great about this line is the counterpoint of horrific images that accompany Ben’s vision, images taken from their experiences throughout the season. Ben tells Vivien, “When I look at that house, for the first time, I see hope,” just before the scene cuts to Ben shouting for Vivien in a deserted house. This was a nice little recap to sum up the whole season before plunging into the wild finale.
This episode was broken fairly neatly into three acts, the foremost of which featured Ben adjusting to Vivien and Violet’s death as well as plans for taking care of the baby. Apparently, Constance (Jessica Lange) had been watching the baby while Ben took care of things, but now he is back for “his” son. Constance is none too happy, partly because the baby is in fact her grandson and partly because if Ben and the baby go back into the murder house, there’s no telling what will happen to them. She tells him as much, but Ben isn’t listening because he finally pieces together that Tate (Evan Peters) is actually Constance’s son. He threatens her saying, “When I leave, lock your door and pray I don’t come back.”
While Ben is back in his own kitchen preparing to feed the baby (who isn’t named until later in the show), Vivien and Moira (Frances Conroy) are discussing Vivien’s transition from living to dead. In a humorous moment, she tries to duck and hide when Ben enters the room, to which Moira replies, “He can’t see you unless you want him to.” Vivien confesses that she doesn’t want him to see her or Violet because then he will want to stay in the house with them; she wants him to leave and raise her baby. In a nice scene between Vivien and Moira, they appear to become friends, or at least equals in the afterlife. This comes into play a little later on.
Ben prepares the necessary items for the realtor Marcy (Christine Estabrook) before retiring to his study to have a smoke and a drink and a little round of Russian Roulette. Vivien decides it’s time to show herself to prevent Ben’s suicide, encouraging him to live, leave and take care of the baby, whether it’s his or not. She tells him it’s his opportunity to make a bright spot out of all this mess. Ben has his apparent last heart-to-heart with Vivien and Violet before deciding to take the baby and leave immediately. However, the house ghosts have other plans.
Hayden (Kate Mara) stops Ben from taking “her” baby and, with the assistance of two of the resident house ghosts (the Franklin killing re-enactors, I believe?), Ben is hung to death from the second floor chandelier. Too little, too late, Ben. Hayden remarks, “Now we have all the time in the world,” and thus ends our first act.
It had been suggested previously that the Harmon family might become a permanent fixture in the house and each season would feature a new family moving in. While this would allow previous cast members some flexibility in either continuing to be featured regularly or just making the occasional cameo, I think it’s a trick that will get old rather quickly. Regardless, the second act of tonight’s episode featured new housemates in the form of the Ramos family.
Marcy (holding the last surviving member of the Harmon family – the dog!) is giving a tour to Stacy and Miguel Ramos and their son, Gabriel. She discloses the death of Ben and Vivien, calling it “a tragic love story,” to which Miguel replies, “At least they weren’t murdered.” In another funny moment, Gabriel remarks, “I don’t believe in ghosts,” to which I followed up with saying, “Yet!” out loud. Turns out, it didn’t take long for Gabriel to have his first encounter with the previous residents of the house. While skateboarding through the rooms, Gabriel takes a spill when the twins (Bodhi and Kai Schulz) throw marbles under his wheels, appearing to him briefly in all their slashed-up glory. A maudlin Violet watches from the stairs.
After the Ramos family has moved in, the cops are over at Constance’s house to investigate the disappearance of Violet and the baby. Apparently, Constance had been the one to come across Ben’s swinging corpse but, upon her inspection of the house, could not find the baby. In actuality, Constance found the baby in the basement, being rocked in the arms of Hayden. In a surprising moment, Travis (Michael Graziadei) slits Hayden’s throat, distracting her long enough to take the baby and give him back to Constance. After the cops leave, Constance takes the baby out of a disturbing looking broom closet full of broken mirrors.
Back at the Ramos House (that sounds weird), Violet is paying Gabriel a visit in her/his room. She claims to live in the neighborhood and Gabriel doesn’t seem to mind all that much, but an eavesdropping Tate is positively twitching with jealous rage.
Downstairs, Stacy and Miguel Ramos are unpacking while discussing tonight’s “christening of the house,” ie sex and the potential of having another baby. They don’t seem able to wait as Miguel starts undressing his wife right there (odd behavior when there’s a teenager right upstairs, but what do I know. My parents only had sex once as far as I’m concerned.) Ben and Vivien watch from nearby, lamenting the passing of their younger days when they were just like the Ramoses. The Harmons agree to prevent the young couple from having a baby and Moira offers to help them. She draws the line in the sand between the angry vengeful spirits of the house and the innocent souls who don’t wish to see any more suffering in the house. It’s dialogue that could have been too over the top even for this show, but it was tempered somewhat by Moira creepily standing over a half-naked Mr. and Mrs. Ramos.
Now, for the best sequence of tonight’s episode and perhaps the best sequence all season, the “innocent” ghosts band together to scare the bejesus out of the Ramos’s. They start, as most ghosts do, at night in the Ramos’ bedroom. Miguel starts doing his sleepwalking thing, something Ben and Larry (Denis O’Hare) were known to do early on. As soon as Miguel leaves, Rubber Man hops onto Stacy and we’re left wondering if Tate is up to his old tricks. Turns out that Tate is currently tormenting Gabriel in his old room, but more on that in a minute.
Miguel is busy turning up the burners on the stove while Stacy is attempting to thwart Rubber Man’s attack. As Stacy screams and runs out into the hall, Beau (Sam Kinsey) drops down from the attic and scares her (I think he says, “Play!” but I couldn’t make it out). Meanwhile, Vivien talks to Miguel and tells him he needs to open his eyes and see the house for what it really is. Here, we get to see who’s been luring the men to fire all this time, as Larry’s wife Lorraine (Rebecca Wisocky) appears, all charred up with burning embers in her flesh. She says she needs someone to feel her pain and presses Miguel’s hand on the burners to wake him up. Moira appears to Miguel then, as her younger version (Alexandra Breckinridge) leads him upstairs before reverting to her normal version once more. He then sees the Black Dahlia (Mena Suvari) all hacked up, but still able to talk through her Glasgow smile.
Stacy is seeking solace in the bathroom, but it turns out that it’s already occupied by the slain nurse, Gladys (Celia Finkelstein) who’s been soaking in the tub, so to speak. The inevitable occurs as Stacy flees from Rubber Man and ends up being cornered in the basement, quickly joined by Miguel (after he runs into the exterminator). Here was the best scene of the entire season and one I’m sure the fans loved: Vivien yells at Ben/Rubber Man for being a pervert and she guts him like a fish right in front of the Ramos’s, saying, “You have no idea how long I’ve been wanting to do that.” Not to be outdone, Ben shoots Vivien in the forehead and repeats her last line before falling to the floor. Then, as the Ramos’s watch in horror, the Harmons rise and explain that this is what the house will do to them and that the Ramos’s should run, which of course they do. Ben and Vivien have a good laugh at their expense.
Meanwhile, Tate’s been harassing Gabriel in his room, keeping him there when he tries to help his screaming mother. Tate tells him that he doesn’t want to hurt Gabriel, but has to kill him so that Violet will be happy. The kid has a twisted sense of loyalty and love, but luckily Violet saves Gabriel from Tate’s knife as she comes in to say goodbye to Tate. Gabriel escapes, Violet disappears and Tate is left weeping alone in his old room.
As the Harmons watch the Ramos family car speed off down the street, Vivien says, “Some other poor family is going to move in here; suckers won’t know what they’re in for.” To which Ben replies, “But we’ll know exactly what to do.” This felt like a soft ending in and of itself, half-answering the question of whether or not another family would be moving in next season. But there was lots more American Horror Story yet to play!
Later on, Marcy is in the yard putting a “reduced” sticker on the “For Sale” sign while shooing away the Murder House tour. Inside, Ben is cleaning the place up when Tate comes by, seeking his advice. In short, Ben admits to being a fraud as a psychologist, a terrible person for failing his family and calls Tate the definition of a psychopath. Tate apologizes for destroying everything in Ben’s life, but Ben says that sorry is easy, taking responsibility is hard. Tate then confesses all of his sins before asking Ben if he could just hang out with him once in a while (such a weird scene).
Upstairs, Vivien is playing the cello (why?) and hears a baby crying from the basement. Good old Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe) is sitting next to a crib, clearly irritated by the fussy child. When Vivien asks about the baby who she thought had been stillborn, Nora says that he gave a tiny cry and then passed on (answering the question of whether or not the baby died within the house and would continue to “exist”). As Nora confesses to having named the baby “Little Noisy Monster,” it’s clear that she is not fit to be a mother and gives the baby over to Vivien.
In a nice scene between Vivien and Moira, Vivien asks the maid to be her baby’s Godmother; Moira accepts. What follows is a strange scene but a nice (if dark) touch for the holiday week, one that is reminiscent of Nip/Tuck. The Harmon family and Moira gather around a decorated Christmas tree while a Christmas carol plays and they share a Hallmark moment. Grinches Hayden and Tate watch from outside, with Hayden telling Tate to get over the loss of Violet. Tate promises that he will wait forever for her. Other than that odd moment, I was left wondering, if you cut down a Christmas tree on the property, does it live on forever as a Christmas tree in the house? Moving on.
Clearly the season finale to American Horror Story wouldn’t end in such a schmaltzy fashion. What exactly happened to the other baby anyway? Well, we jump three years ahead with Constance entering a beauty parlor. In a fantastic performance from Lange, Constance stares into the salon mirror and confesses her youthful wishes to be a star, dreams which were turned to nightmares by tragedy after tragedy. To paraphrase, Constance believes her losses were meant to prepare her for her future role, to guide this remarkable baby boy through his life with wisdom on his path to greatness.
With that delusional monologue in mind, we watch as Constance returns home from the salon and calls out for her nanny, Flora. Constance starts at the appearance of blood on the refrigerator. She traces the blood throughout the house, eventually finding the bloody corpse of Flora in the nursery. Sitting in the corner on a bloody rocking chair is three-year-old Michael (Asher Gian Starita), grinning away without a care in the world; a bloody knife rests on the floor below him. Constance kneels in front of Michael, who could easily be a younger version of Tate, and shakes her head at him in disapproval. With a slight smile, she asks the boy, “Now what am I going to do with you?” and the credits roll.
What do you make of the ending? Will the Harmons ever make an appearance again? Does Violet’s goodbye to Tate mean that she and her family are distancing themselves from the more violent ghosts? Will Michael’s apparent murder of Flora create a second Murder House on Constance’s property? Perhaps the ghosts will now be able to travel between the two residences as spilled blood has created a sort of conduit? It was a fantastic ending to a season and could have wrapped it up entirely without having to continue it into a second. Perhaps the title will remain, but the story will change from season to season, giving us individual seasonal arcs that don’t necessarily contribute to an overall story. Who knows. The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll be tuning in next fall when Golden Globe-nominated American Horror Story presumably returns. Leave your thoughts/predictions in the comments below!