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American Horror Story Finale: "Afterbirth"

Written by Tricia Long on Friday, December 23 2011 and posted in Reviews

This one's for all the ghosts out there livin' the dream.

Here we are folks, the season finale. FX announced a while ago that American Horror Story will be around for a second season – it is the most successful show on the network after all, with a Golden Globe nomination – but how will Murphy and Co. leave enough openings for a second season?

Before we all cry about how this season is over and the show managed to coalesce into something that made sense, I have a confession to make: I cried during this episode. Tears of that strange emotion that's halfway between sadness and laughter fell out of my eyes and down my face, and I don't know how to respond to that. What started off as a bizarre mixture of ass nudity and cheap scares turned into a heartwarming tale of a family that had to die to forgive each other. Well done, showrunners.

That said, let's get down to the nitty gritty. "Afterbirth" kicks off in Boston, where Vivian has packed her bags and is leaving their modern house for Florida. Ben is looking at houses on his not-an-iPad and trying to convince Vivian to stay. He reminds her that she always wanted to live in an old Hollywood mansion. Even though Vivian tells him that a new house won't fix everything, it's obvious Ben isn't listening to her (show's what a great therapist he is).

I like the next sequence, which shows that contrast between Ben's expectations for life in a new setting and what actually happened to the not-so harmonious Harmons over the course of this season. His image of Violet reading a depressing Russian novel by the fireplace is voiced over scenes of her cutting herself in the bathroom. Ben's desire to stoke a fire is contrasted with his naked nighttime strolls to the lit gas stove (Commenters- What movie was that referencing anyway? Or was it just weird?) Vivian rubbing her pregnant belly is spliced with her dream of the demon baby. In a few minutes we get the whole pathos and horror of the show, which is damn good storytelling.

Next door, Constance is taking care of her grandson – otherwise known as the freaking Antichrist. Ben comes over to get his hitherto unnamed son back and Constance goes wacko on him. She tells him not to take the baby back into the house because there are forces there – like Hayden – who want to take the baby from him. There's this weird moment where Ben sees a picture of Tate and Addie and has a flashback to cancelling Tate's therapy sessions. I think Ben thinks that Constance planned this whole thing (and in a way, she kind of did) so he threatens her, takes his son and goes home.

But now, in the present, we cut to Ben looking for Vivian and calling for his family in the empty house. Both Vivian and Violet are dead, and I think Ben wants to see them again. He does live in the hauntingtest house this side of the Winchester Mansion, after all. But in the kitchen, where Vivian and Moira are bonding, we learn that Ben won't see Vivian until she wants him to. She does call out to him to make sure he heats up milk for the baby properly, but that's the extent of their interactions.

It seems like Vivian is having a hard time being dead, especially with her son in the house, but she knows that if she and Violet appear to Ben he won't leave the house. They're staying invisible for the good of Ben and the baby. Moira and Vivian bond a bit, and I'm really hoping for a spinoff. It would be so heartwarming and feminist!

Ben might be a changed man, but that doesn't mean it was a good change. As responsible as he feels for that unnamed baby, it isn't enough to keep from killing himself. He lays everything out methodically in the kitchen and goes into the study (and a soft focus) to muster the courage to pull the trigger. Vivian and Violet appear to him, breaking their promise, to keep him from dying. Cue the tears, because this reconciliation is everything it should be.

Newly healed, Ben gets ready to leave with his son. But, this is American Horror Story – something has to go wrong. Just as Ben reaches the top of the stairs, Hayden materializes to fuck everything up. She gets the murder fans from episode two to attack and hang Ben from the main chandelier; on the one hand, I'm shocked because it was an incredibly violent death, but on the other I'm not. That would have been a quick episode if Ben left and everything was hunky dory.

Aside from the fact he's the Antichrist, why are all these women so obsessed with the baby? Or just with babies in general? Seriously, kids are great and everything but it's like the lives of these women are centered exclusively on bearing and raising children. I'm probably overthinking the baby motif, but even Violet showed that she was concerned with having kids some day and she's only about sixteen. Just what does Hayden think she's going to do with a living baby? Girlfriend is dead.

So Murder House is once again "unoccupied". That means it's time for a new couple to make an appointment with Marcy, the racist realtor. Meet Stacey and Miguel Ramos, a nice Hispanic family (Miguel is from Spain) with one son, Gabriel. We learn that Marcy adopted the dog, who is the last surviving member of the Harmon family (and consequently not dead! Hayden didn't microwave it! Mea culpa, I thought she was totally crazy enough to do that). Marcie's spiel sounds very familiar, even with the addition of the Harmons' pasta arm. I'm stunned by how wildly irresponsible Marcy is: she's trying to resell a house that has killed her last two sets of clients. I know it's a tough time for the real estate market, but sheesh give the listing to another realtor in your office. She can't be making that much of a commission off it.

As Marcy shows Mom and Pop Ramos the kitchen, Gabriel commits the cardinal sin of skateboarding on the wooden floors. From the second he says he doesn't believe in ghosts I knew it was going down, and of course the mischievous ginger kids show up and drop some flash bombs around him. He's visibly spooked when his dad says they're buying the house, but there's hope for this to work in his favor: Violet is watching from the steps, so perhaps this is her new beau? What would Tate think? This house is getting really crowded.

As the Ramos's move in next door, the cops from the "boy dahlia" investigation are visiting Constance. She was the one who found Ben hanging from the chandelier, and possibly the first to voice my thoughts by calling him a "stupid son of a bitch". Ben is still in shock, though, because he shows up and asks Constance "Can you believe she killed me?" Can I believe that your crazy baby-stealing Travis-murdering ex killed you for the Antichrist? Yes I can, because Constance finds her in the basement holding the baby. Travis slits her throat (it's semi-effective, but I'm not sure why) and brings the baby to Constance. It's sweet in a creepy way, because remember when they talked about having kids? Constance spins the story to make herself sound innocent in the whole mess, and tells them that Violet disappeared with the baby. No one searched the house, apparently, because Constance is keeping the baby there in the mirror closet where she tortured Beau. A fortuitous beginning.

One good thing came out of this whole horrific tale: the Harmons have reconciled their differences. With their dramas set aside, they're free to observe the Ramos's and be creepy. Violet shows up in Gabe's room, which is her old room, and kind of flirts with him in her "twisted" way. He's not into it, but Tate is disapproving and crazy from across the hall.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Stacey and Miguel get frisky while Ben and Vivian watch and reminisce about the early days of their marriage. Miguel proposes that they have another kid (What is it about this house that makes people want to have babies?), prompting Ben and Vivian to decide they have to do something to prevent them from ruining their lives. Moira comes in to the kitchen to declare her desire to help them, to take a stand along with the other innocent victims in the house who are tired of prolonging suffering... all while Stacey and Miguel fuck on the island. What should be a serious and defining moment of the show is underscored by the ridiculous tableau this scene makes. Shine on, you crazy diamond of a show. Don't take yourself too seriously.

That night, Miguel wakes up like Ben did in the first episode, leaves the room and turns on all the burners in the kitchen. Upstairs, rubber man is back! But this time it's Ben in the gimp suit trying to freak Stacey out. She runs around the room in her negligee while Ben just stands there menacingly. Tate is in Gabriel's room, being quietly creepy when Gabriel wakes up. Gabriel is understandably freaked out by all these people getting into his bedroom, and they have a weird conversation about Violet. He gets up when he hears his mom screaming and Tate attacks him – Tate wants to kill Gabe so Violet can have a normal boyfriend.

Miguel is in his underwear at the stove (somebody had a no nudity clause in their contract) when Vivian appears like an angel in white. She gently tells Miguel to see what this house does to people. Larry's charred wife asks him to feel her pain. Moira takes her young aspect and leads him to the dining room - asking what Stacey would think when they get there and becoming old again. Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, is laid out on the table in her butchered glory and tells him he isn't dreaming.

Meanwhile, Ben has chased Stacey into the basement. Miguel finally hears her screams after seeing all these ghosts and runs down there to help her. They crouch in the corner, terrified, and then Vivian unmasks Ben and they try to "kill" each other. She stabs him and he shoots her (talk about catharsis! She's making him feel the pain of birth while he symbolically penetrates her mind.) They collapse on the floor, forming a yin and yang kind of, then get back up. Make no mistake, these folks are dead, is the message. They tell the Ramos's to get out, which they promptly do.

Upstairs, Tate is trying to kill Gabriel. He can't do it, though he tries to talk himself into it. Violet appears to him and talks him down, saying that she doesn't want to be with him or Gabriel but she does want to say goodbye to Tate. As they kiss, she opens her eyes and looks at Gabriel, who takes his cue to leave.

With the Ramos's gone and not dead, Marcy is still trying to sell the damn house! I have to admire her tenacity. The Harmons are worried that someone else will just show up, but they have all of eternity to perfect their act.

Inside the house Ben is cleaning when Tate shows up. Death made him wiser, but not nicer. He tells Tate that therapy is bullshit, a nice racket where he gets paid to listen to narcissistic assholes blame their problems on everyone but themselves. He simultaneously diagnoses Tate: he's a charismatic pathological liar with psychopathic tendencies who blames his mother for his problems. Tate still wants to be friends, to talk, but Ben won't be his "priest" or "absolve" him – the god complex is heavy here, but honestly I think Tate just sees him as a father figure. Ben challenges Tate to confess his crimes, which he does, but it might just be another ploy? I never really figured Tate out; sometimes he tells the truth, especially when he's talking to Violet, but I wonder how much of it is sincere – even at the end of the season, when there's no more endgame in sight.

In the living room Vivian is rocking the cello when she hears the baby crying downstairs, where Nora is rocking Vivian and Ben's stillborn baby. Remember, the first twin from last week's episode? It's unclear whether the baby was actually alive, or if he's now one of the ghosts of Murder House. He's probably dead, since I think someone would have found him by now if he was alive. Maybe it's for the best that Nora didn't have a baby, because she's really not good at it. She's super snotty to Vivian, who manages to calm the baby down. Nora says that she might need to take a rest, because "I'm not entirely sure I have the patience to be a mother", and leaves Vivian with the baby.

Vivian takes the baby up to the kitchen and shows Moira the baby. They bond a little more (spinoff! Please!) and Moira gets to hold the baby and have a punny line: "There's nothing worse than a self-pitying old maid". Vivian asks Moira to help out: to be the godmother, not the nanny, and everything is happy and shiny! On American Horror Story! I'm patiently waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The happy ghosts (Vivian, Violet, Ben and Moira) are decorating a Christmas tree in the living room. Hayden and Tate stand in the hallway, and it looks like they are behind bars as the door to the living room is wood and glass. Hayden tells Tate to get over Violet's refusal and "grow a pair", but he says he'll wait as long as it takes for Violet to forgive him. I repeat my question from earlier: how much of this is his manipulative nature and how much is sincere? I mean, it's sweet that he loves Violet and all, but I'd hate having a stalker forever. Also, is that baby just going to be a baby forever? Or will it grow up? I know time passes differently for ghosts, but that's a burning question not answered by the show.

Right after Tate says he'll wait as long as it takes the show flashes forward three years. Constance goes to the salon to get her hair did and gossip a bit. She's been taking care of the baby, who she finally named Michael, for the last three years which must have been exhausting. Jessica Lange, giving the script one last squeeze before the Golden Globes, gets what felt like the longest monologue ever to talk about her egotistical delusions. I liked her better when she was just sad that Addie died and her son was a psychopath.

When she gets home, Constance finds a trail of blood leading to Michael's room. We find it's from the maid, who he has somehow managed to slaughter and drag up the stairs. He's eerily rocking in the chair with bloodprints everywhere. "What am I going to do with you?" she asks, and smiles a bit as she does it. Maybe his mother is the reason Tate was fucked up.

Man, shit was so real. This season had everything, even common sense! Word on the street is that next season will focus on a new house and new characters, which makes me happy. I think this show will work better as a one-shot deal, with a new location and new characters every season, just like horror franchises rarely work well after the first movie. Here's to a sincerely crazy but overall enjoyable season!

Written or Contributed by: Tricia Long

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