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American Horror Story - Smoldering Children

Written by Tricia Long on Thursday, December 08 2011 and posted in Reviews

Constance gets racist. I mean, really racist.

I've always been partial to psychological thrillers. Mankind's greatest fear is the unknown – it's what lies at the roots of all our greatest fears and flaws – and movies (or shows) where mysteries remained unexplored are more interesting because they play to this fear. American Horror Story has all its cards on the table at this point. Are there any great mysteries of the house left unexplored, storylines untapped? I only ask because the amount of crazy plot thrown around seems to decrease from week to week.

Speaking of plot, let's get cracking. "Smoldering Children" opens back in 1994 with Constance bringing out a pineapple-covered ham for her new family: Addie (yay!), Tate and Larry. Larry still has a whole face, so we know his inference that he was burned in the fire that killed his family is total bullshit. Tate offers to say grace and uses his time with God to throw passive aggressive potshots at Larry and his mother alike. Larry, being the level-headed guy he is, glosses over Tate's unhappiness by announcing his participation in "Brigadoon", because that's a segue that makes sense. Keep in mind that Tate is unhappy Larry murdered Beau (their brother, whose full name we later learn was Beauregard – how much more Southern can you get?) and still upset that his father "left" all those years ago. Tate smashes a plate and storms out.

If you thought Tate's anger ended there, you would be wrong. We see him doing lines of cocaine, getting out his guns (there must be a good Wal-mart around L.A. that doesn't ask too many questions) and his trusty can of gasoline, and then walking nonchalantly into buildings where coked-out kids with weapons have no place entering. He douses Larry and sets him on fire, thus finally solving the mystery of Larry's burned face. Check.

In the present-day, Ben visits Vivian in the psych ward. He tells her that the twins have different dads (I still wish we knew what gender the babies were, at this point I'm assuming they're both boys), and that he now believes her rape story. Her time in the psych ward has clearly worn her down, because Vivian is not quick to accept Ben's belief. Neither of them knows who was in the gimp suit or how he got in the house, so they probably don't know she's carrying the Anti-Christ.

Constance gets a visit from two members of the LAPD – please note that one of them is African-American. This is important. They question her about Travis, who has been nicknamed "The Boy Dahlia" in death. I'm sorry, that's clever and all, but couldn't they have called him the Butch Dahlia or something slightly more masculine? He might have been a hippie, but he wasn't effete. Anyway, Constance brings out the big racist guns by referring to the area where Travis' torso was found as "the colored section" and the African-American cop's feathers get ruffled a bit. Hell, at home I almost choked on my own spit. I know that Constance is anachronistically Southern and has all the empathy of a shoelace, but "colored section"? Holy hell, woman, this is the 21st century!

At the Murder House, Ben gets a visit from the local truant officer. They note that there are an inordinate amount of blowflies around the fruit and my paranoia kicks in. As any pseudo-healthy college student will tell you, fruit that's left out too long will result in FRUIT flies, which are small and annoying and not nearly as loud. Blowflies are also known as "carrion flies" – holy shit! Dead body! Under Ben's study! Wonder who it could be...

The truant officer informs Ben that Violet has missed SIXTEEN days of school. Sixteen, you guys. Large public city schools must be pretty lenient, because unless she has mono there's no way she should have missed that much. My suspicion? Violet DID really die when she swallowed all those pills, as I have suspected all along. She hasn't visited her mom in the psych ward (which why wouldn't she?) or gone anywhere else for that matter.

Ben promises to talk to Violet and get her to come to school. He visits her in her garret, where she appears to still be wearing the same clothes as before. They have a heart to heart, and she promises to go to school if they transfer her somewhere else. But, when she does try to go to school Tate accosts her in the hallway and gets her to cut by promising to play Scrabble with her. This has to be code for something, because I love me some Scrabble but seriously? SIXTEEN MISSED DAYS OF SCHOOL.

Constance shows up at Larry's apartment to accuse him of murdering Travis, and also to kill him with a butcher knife. Larry denies killing Travis but admits to helping dispose of the body, saying that he was just helping someone in the house. Note that he doesn't say exactly who – Hayden, Moira, or anyone else. Constance is shocked to learn that Travis died in the house and leaves immediately to go see him. Larry tries to get her to be with him instead, but she angrily brushes him off by saying Travis "is twice the man" he is. It's funny, you see, because he was chopped in half.

When she returns to her house, the police are back with more questions. They tell her that the Korean grocer down the road says Travis and her used to fight a lot. Second racist statement of the episode: "Oh, those Koreans. They're always so suspicious. Ever since Hiroshima." Can you believe this woman? Not only is that racist, it's inaccurate. The only way that scene would have been better is if the lady cop had been Japanese, which would have been a double burn. I'm confused, because after last week's baby-obsessed episode I was feeling some sort of sympathy for Constance. But now I'm supposed to hate her again? Is she the real villain of the show? I guess when there's no mystery left in the plot the writers can always just make the characters inscrutable.

Anyway, her knife falls out of her purse and they take her down to the station to answer some questions. Constance lays on the old-Hollywood hauteur, denying any and all allegations the cops hurl at her: the death of Beau, the "disappearance" of Moira and her husband. Moira was buried in the backyard, as we know, but whatever happened to Mr. Langdon? He was ground up, Sweeney Todd-style, and fed to the dogs. At least she wasn't putting him into pies. Her lawyer shows up to put a stop to the questioning. His name is, I shit you not, Harry Goodman. Really, American Horror Story? Goodman?

Back at the Murder House, Ben has hired an exterminator to take care of the flies. He examines the floor and figures that the flies are nesting in a heretofore unmentioned crawlspace beneath Ben's office. He volunteers to go down there, where he finds something horrible that we don't see (one guess: it has to be Violet's body). Tate springs out of nowhere and kills the exterminator with his own bug spray, so now add exterminator to the list of handy professions the house can offer to its residents along with abortion doctor and maid.

Elsewhere in the basement, Larry is removing bricks from the wall to get to Travis's body. He removes some key pieces of evidence before Travis turns up to ask what the hell he's doing. Larry feeds Travis some bull about taking care of evidence before we learn just how chill Travis is: he asks if he's famous yet. Absolute zero has nothing on this guy. Travis is totally psyched, bra, to hear that he is famous. He asks about Constance, too, but Larry dodges that one.

And then, saddest moment of the episode: Travis has been playing with Larry's daughters, the ones who were burned alive. They're having a tea party and their heads are on fire! My heartstrings felt the tug, I can assure you. Larry is near tears from seeing his daughters again when his wife shows up, too. He asks why he's just seeing them now, and she says because he's ready to see them. I don't know if this means he's near death or just escaping from Constance's spell. Either way, he's guilted out of framing Constance because he's the one who broke an oath, not her.

Ben is on the phone with a boarding school and Tate overhears him. Hey, you know what we haven't seen in a while? Someone naked. Hurry up, American Horror Story, this episode is almost over. This is why we get Ben in the shower before he's attacked by Tate in the gimp suit. They struggle and break almost everything in the bedroom before Tate chloroforms Ben, who manages to pull off the mask in the final seconds before blacking out.

In the attic, Tate tries to get Violet to commit suicide with him so that Ben can't send her to boarding school. Violet, having an I.Q. "north of 150", runs downstairs and starts screaming for her dad. Unfortunately, Ben is still passed out. She runs outside (my heart was pounding this whole scene, waiting to see how the house would try to stop her), unlocks the gate, and then miraculously comes in the back door. This magic trick is repeated a few times before Violet realizes she can't leave the House. Tate takes her to the basement to see her body and she cries a lot. "What happens now?" she asks Tate. "You draw a card," he says. Seriously? That's your answer to what happens to us after we die? Nice, Tate, clearly you are a great alternative to life.

The episode ends at the police station, where Larry has confessed to killing Travis. He does this to atone for leaving his wife all those years ago, but Constance thinks he did it for her. In a way he did, because he asks her to say that she loved him just once before he goes to prison forever. Constance leaves him hanging (literally) and Larry realizes that the last fifteen years or so were wasted. Boom, credits.

I don't have a lot of complaints with this week's episode except that it just seemed... slow. It wasn't patented American Horror Story crazy. Oh well, tune in next week for an at-home birth and more Gay Spock!

Written or Contributed by: Tricia Long

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