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American Horror Story: "Rubber Man"

Written by Tricia Long on Monday, November 28 2011 and posted in Reviews

In which we learn that showing some skin does not keep a show from getting highbrow.

Well, it seems that we are back to the breakneck pacing of previous episodes. And you were doing so well, American Horror Story. In Wednesday's episode we finally learn the identity of the man in the rubber suit, who is presumably the father of Vivian's unborn twins, and we didn't even need Maury to conduct a paternity test.

"Rubber Man" begins with a recap of the rubber man's movements about the house, most importantly his hot and silent fling with Vivian. We see him comforting Nora, who is confused by the new furniture and knickknacks in her house. Finally, the mask comes off and (no surprise to me, I guess) the man in the rubber suit is Tate! As in Violet's boyfriend, who had sex with her mother and now is the father of her half-siblings. I doubt even super-therapist Ben could handle that confusion.

It's clear to me now that Tate is possessed. There's one side that is evil and wants to further the nefarious agenda of the house, which I'm guessing is to bring about the end times (based on the trailer for next week's episode). The other half is a sweet, sensitive teen who is in love with Violet and has mommy issues. Whatever malevolent spirit/nature possesses the house has clearly worked through Tate's better nature to bend events to its will... which might ultimately be the most scary thing in this house of horrors (hyuck).

Vivian confesses to Marcie the realtor and Moira the slutty maid that she's seen Nora, the previous owner of the house. Marcie thinks the pregnancy is making Vivian paranoid, and leaves to talk to the Armenian gentleman who was gruesomely killed last week. Clearly no one has realized he is dead or missing. Moira then confesses to Vivian that she believes the dead have a way of sticking around, a move which shows solidarity. Moira is very clearly on Vivian's side, perhaps out of guilt over the cause of her own death? Or because for whatever reason they need those babies – it would explain why she's at odds with Hayden, who doesn't want Vivian around at all and who wants to steal her babies.

"Rubber Man" did a nice job of mirroring several "victim" characters' reactions through time. Vivian's paranoia (about wanting babies, changing the house and cheating spouses) syncs up with Chad's own. In the past, when he is still alive, Chad is getting coffee with his best girlfriend. He confesses that he found Pat using an S&M site, which is weird that he wouldn't know that about his life partner after they made all sorts of big life changes together. Chad's best girlfriend recommends that he get crazy and give Pat what he wants in the bedroom.

Chad goes to an S&M store and gets some great advice from the clerk there about how each relationship is a power-play; it's about the submissive and the dominant. After considering a muzzle because "Pat says I talk too much", we see the famous rubber suit which, according to the clerk, "dehumanizes the submissive". This visit introduces the most highbrow argument/rationalization tackled by American Horror Story thus far: the politics inherent in any relationship, gay or straight. The most typical roles are the man as dominant and the woman as submissive, but what's interesting is how the house (or whatever spirit is in the house) feeds on those politics to create a paranoid and horrific home life.

I have to introduce a hole here: doesn't the use of the rubber suit in a dominant fashion reverse those politics? Turn the world on its head, so to speak? I have no conclusion here, just wondering.

Philosophical musings aside, the rubber suit didn't bring passion back into Pat and Chad's love life. They have an even bigger argument about infidelity and losing the house. Poor Chad, he's clearly the pusher in the relationship and Pat doesn't appreciate it anymore. I wish we knew how they got together, or if they were ever really happy; they had to have been, in order consider getting a house together and having a baby. Pat leaves and Chad sits on the bed to cry.

Again we see the narrative mirroring itself when we cut to Nora, who is crying on the end of Vivian's bed in the now. Hayden shows up for a mean-spirited pep talk, and they discuss how Hayden and a lot of other people around the house are dead, and how they're all trapped there by something. We also get a little insight into Hayden's relationship with Moira (it isn't pleasant), and the fact that Hayden is using her ghostly abilities to sleep with strange men and then kill them.

We find out that Nora is in denial about her own death, which I was always a bit fuzzy on so I appreciated the clarification. Hayden does so in the most tactful way possible, by pointing out the bullet wound on the back of Nora's head. Nora remembers that it might be because of her baby, which we know is the reason she killed herself. The two form a sad no-baby club, and Hayden suggests they can take both of Vivian's babies "because they're going to need mothers, you can't raise a baby in a loony bin". Hayden really is out to get Vivian, to make her crazy and turn her life into a living hell – maybe the house has now chosen to act through her inherent craziness. We see a few moments of that, when Hayden poltergeists around the house to scare Vivian out of her mind.

In the next scene, we find out how Tate, in the rubber suit, killed Chad and Pat. In a bit of a TMI detail, we find out that Pat is sodomized with a poker and then pushed down the stairs. Nora declares that Pat is dead, which clearly disturbs her. She confronts Tate, he says that Pat and Chad had decided to not have a baby (so clearly, they had to die!), but he hopes that a new family will move in and give Nora the baby she wants.

Cut to Ben coming down the stairs, where Violet is asking one of the ghosts to play. He summons her to his office, where we learn that Violet hasn't been to school in two weeks. Ben really deserves parent of the year for noticing that his daughter hasn't been going to school for TWO WEEKS and for refusing to better her home life situation by addressing the problem: the house. Really, stellar work there, Sherlock. Violet sticks it to him: "How is it that a big shrink hasn't noticed his wife is totally crazy", which becomes "Mom's crazy and it's your fault." In a long form way it is his fault – if Ben hadn't slept with Hayden none of this would have happened. I really dislike him.

Vivian is crying in the kitchen, where she tells Moira that she blames her nausea pills for everything that she has seen (aka Hayden's torture). Moira tries to comfort her in the best way she can, by referencing one of my favorite American short stories, "The Yellow Wallpaper." For those of you who haven't read it, basically in the early days of the 20th century husbands thought the best way to treat post-partum depression was to shut their wives away until they stopped being crazy. This usually had the side effect of making them more crazy, to the point where the protagonist of the story (who has been locked away with nothing to do) become convinced there are women behind the wallpaper in her room that need to be let out. The reference, and Moira's little feminist speech, reiterate that this episode is seriously about gender politics, namely the dominance of men over women: how men have been locking women away forever, the definition of hysteria, the use of orgasm to control women's moods, and how today "men are still inventing ways to drive women over the edge". (When did American Horror Story get so intellectual?)

Moira tells Vivian to get out of the house while she still can, because it is an evil place. Being the sensible woman she is, Vivian wakes up Violet and they try to leave that night. Tate sees them leaving and is visibly upset (there's a very intense, Twilight-esque staring contest), but when they get in the car dead Ellen Pompeo and Pat are in the backseat. That freaks Vivian and Violet out so they run back into the house and we see Hayden, triumphant that her plan to keep Vivian in the house has worked.

Ben shows up later and he starts fighting with Vivian. Ben rationalizes everything that is wrong with Vivian, blaming everything from her pregnancy to her miscarriage to her current pregnancy for the paranoid delusions she's suffering. This scene underlines Moira's speech in indelible red ink. Upstairs, Tate and Violet just had sex for the first time (see: men controlling women through orgasm). She's worried about her mom, since she's not an awful person, and she wants to justify her mom's paranoia. Tate tells her that she can never tell anyone about the ghosts in the house, because then they'll put her away in an institution and they'll never see each other again. He tells her to lie if they ask her what happened, which is exactly what she does when they call her downstairs.

Later, Tate is chilling in the basement and plotting how to kill Violet so she can't go away forever. Hayden comes down and makes a move on him ("What is it about being dead that makes me so horny?") but he tells her to back off and goes into another part of the basement. Hayden rather esoterically suggests that he find his balls "because that bitch is tough" – which bitch is unclear, Violet or another entity in the house.

Upstairs, Ben decides to stay in the house because he's afraid Vivian is too crazy to be left alone. Vivian invites Marcie over and steals her gun. That night, before going to bed she checks every nook and cranny in her room before going to bed. She is driven to hysteria by Hayden's tricks and the rubber man, so when Ben comes into the room she shoots him. (Not fatal, unfortunately.)

After the commercial break some cops and paramedics are at the house. Luke the sexy security guard shows up because Vivian had sent out a call, and he drops the bomb that Ben shouldn't really even be there. They have a nice macho-off, but when Luke wants to talk to Vivian Ben reveals he has given Vivian a valium. In the bedroom, Vivian is doped out of her mind so Hayden tells her everything: she's dead, she wants Vivian's babies, the house is haunted, etc. Everyone downstairs hears Vivian screaming, so they come upstairs to check on her. This episode's theme of men repressing women is reinforced when two males, Ben and Luke, doubt Vivian's sanity and then two male policemen escort her out.

Violet, understandably, feels guilty. She tells Ben "This is all my fault", and he replies: "No, honey, you did the best thing you could, you told the truth." Boom, dramatic irony. This is one highbrow episode considering there was a little nudity in the middle. Tate shows up and tells Violet everything is ok – another male oppressing his woman, because we know Tate had a hand in Vivian's fall from sanity.

At the end, we see Tate stage Chad and Pat's murder-suicide in the basement; Moira suggests he use the gun they owned, and reveals the most important clue yet. She tells Tate that he needs to get over his "compulsion to please the ladies of the house," and he replies that he "has Mommy issues", turning the theme of gender politics right on its head.

So, to recap: Hayden is crazy and wants Vivian's babies, Violet is probably doomed by the end of the season, and this whole show is a plot to bring about the birth of an antichrist. Oh, and there were some nice gender politics critiques in there too. It's nice to know my English degree came in handy for something.

Written or Contributed by: Tricia Long

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