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AMERICAN HORROR STORY 1.12 ‘Afterbirth’

The Harmon family is reunited as Constance seizes her destiny.

Episode Title: "Afterbirth"

Writer: Jessica Sharzer
 
Director: Bradley Buecker

Previously on "American Horror Story":

Episode 1.11: "Birth"

Story:

In flashback, we see Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) with her bags packed and ready to leave her husband, Ben (Dylan McDermott) for good. But before she gets out the door, Ben convinces Vivien to look at the home in Los Angeles that we came to know as the Murder House. Although Vivien is skeptical, she ultimately relents and gives Ben one more chance to work things out. In the present, Ben is destroyed. Vivien died during childbirth and Violet (Taissa Farmiga) committed suicide. And although Ben is now aware that their ghosts haunt the Murder House, neither will come when he calls.

Near the end of his rope, Ben goes next door to retrieve his wife's surviving baby from Constance (Jessica Lange); who warns him against ever returning to the Murder House. While there, Ben spots a picture of Tate (Evan Peters) and demands to know where he is. Constance simply states that Tate is in his grave and he has been for years. Regardless, Ben is enraged that his wife's rapist and the tormentor of his family came directly from Constance and he warns her to lock her doors in case he decides to come back to kill her.

Inside the Murder House, Ben gets his affairs in order with an extensive set of notes before putting a gun in his mouth and then next to his temple. Vivien finally appears to him and takes the gun away before forgiving him for his transgressions. Vivien also urges Ben to raise the child himself instead of passing him off to her sister. Violet also appears and reconciles with her father. Feeling new hope, Ben resolves to follow his dead wife's advice and leave the Murder House behind forever. But his former lover, Hayden (Kate Mara) appears with some ghostly accomplices and they murder Ben in a way that appears to be suicide.

Sometime later, Constance is questioned by Detectives Granger (Charles S. Dutton) and Barrios (Malaya Rivera Drew) about the fate of Violet and the missing baby. While Constance spins a fiction about Violet running off with her half-brother, we see the reality of Constance discovering Violet's body and the way that she reclaimed the baby from Hayden with the help of her dead lover, Travis Wanderly (Michael Graziadel). We also see the Harmon family reunited in death. Some time later, Marcy the Realtor (Christine Estabrook) sells the Murder House to the unsuspecting Ramos family, including Miguel (Anthony Ruivivar), his wife, Stacy (Lisa Vidal) and their son, Gabriel (Brennan Majia). 

The Ramos family appear to be genuinely good people and Violet even appears to Gabriel in his room, much to Tate's obvious jealousy, But when Miguel and Stacy talk about having another child, the Harmons realize that they can't allow another family to suffer the way they had. Moira (Frances Conroy) appears and volunteers to help them alongside the other benevolent spirits of the house. And so, one night, Miguel sleepwalks down to the stove just as Ben once did while the Rubber Man makes his move on Stacy.

Meanwhile, Tate confronts Gabriel about his encounter with Violet. And although Gabriel insists that nothing happened between them, Tate seems intent upon killing  Gabe so that Violet can have companionship. In her bedroom, Stacy fights off the Rubber Man, but she screams in horror as Beau (Sam Kinsey) and other ghosts scare her. Young Moira (Alex Breckenridge) seductively leads Gabriel around in a haze, until he realizes that he's not dreaming. He reunites with his wife in the basement, where Vivien appears and unmasks the Rubber Man as Ben. To the horror of Miguel and Stacy, Ben and Vivien seemingly murder each other before warning them to leave.

Upstairs, Violet appears and distracts Tate long enough for Gabriel to get away. Outside, the Ramos family regroups and flees the Murder House, presumably never to return. The Harmons watch them in satisfaction and they now know how to prevent any more deaths in the house. Meanwhile, Marcy is hampered in her efforts to sell the house again, especially since the Murder Tour Guide (David Anthony Higgins) now includes the Harmons' deaths as part of the Murder House lore. Inside the house, Vivien discovers that the spirit of her stillborn child remains in the custody of Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe), who seems to pass on the child to Vivien out of her own inability to take care of it.

Once Vivien has her lost baby back, she invites Moira to join their family as the child's godmother. At Christmas, the Harmons and Moira decorate a Christmas tree and Ben remarks about how happy he is. Outside, Hayden and Tate can only watch the family that they can never be a part of, even if Tate resolves to wait for Violet forever. Three years later, Constance returns to her beauty parlor after a long absence and she states that she finally knows what her destiny is. She claims Vivien and Tate's child, Michael was the product of dead distant relations and that she is meant to raise Michael and help him to achieve greatness.

When Constance arrives at her home, she discovers that young Michael has murdered her housekeeper. Michael may or may not be the anti-Christ, but he is definitely his father's son. Constance sighs and asks Michael what she is going to do with him.

Breakdown:

There may the lingering thread of Michael possibly being the anti-Christ, but for all intents and purposes, the season finale of "American Horror Story" played out as if it was the last episode of the series. It's certainly the end of the Harmons' story and there's no need to revisit the Murder House now that they've effectively taken it over.

After the way that Vivien and Violet died, I didn't hold out much hope for Ben to survive and go off with the baby Michael for a semi-happy ending. But the timing and manner of Ben's death caught me off guard and it was a legitimately shocking moment… especially so early within the episode. By introducing a new family in the Murder House, it's almost as if this episode was the entire second season crammed into one story. It was fun to see a new family experience the horrors of the Murder House, but it was probably a smart decision to get the obvious creative direction out of the way first. If the second season of "American Horror Story" was simply a rehash of the first season, it probably wouldn't be as successful.

The way the Harmons reconnected in death was kind of touching and it was also one of the few times on the show that they genuinely seemed like a family. Their low key reunion after Ben's death was the most effective scene, fusing the emotional aspects with Constance's hilarious reactions to Ben's demise. It was also fun to watch the Harmons pull a Beetlejuice (or is that "pull a Maitland"?) on the Ramos family. The return of almost every ghost in the Murder House was a nice touch as well.

But the reason this feels so much like an ending is that once the Harmons find true happiness in the halls of the Murder House, there really doesn't seem to be any creative direction that the producers could easily pursue without undoing the events of the finale or retreading over territory that was already covered this season.

Going forward, it seems likely that Jessica Lange will become the new star of the series as Constance moves to the forefront. Lange can probably handle the increased workload and she seems to enjoy chewing the scenery during her overlong soliloquy in the beauty parlor. The question of what Michael really is could be an intriguing direction to take the show, provided it doesn't simply copy "The Omen" step for step. Oddly enough, there's even room for Sarah Paulson's Billie Dean Howard to return as the new heroine of the show, since she's the only living person aside from Constance to have any knowledge about Michael's parentage and what that may mean for the world.

In any case, "American Horror Story" will likely be given a radical makeover for the second season, with several new characters lined up as potential victims. It was a pretty bold and risky move to kill off almost all of the lead characters in the first season, but the creators of "American Horror Story" have earned the right to keep this series going. But if the story had stopped with this episode, it would have been a satisfying ending.

Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.