Wednesday, April 2, 2014

American Horror Story- Murder House- Episode 1- Pilot

**This review contains spoilers**

Yeah, I know. I've been talking about TV reviews for a while, but they're here now! This is my first go around with TV reviews, and I'm still tinkering with the style I want to use, so I won't do minor spoiler reviews for this season. There's a chance I'll do minor spoiler reviews in the future for other TV series, and I hope you enjoy this review series for one of my favorite shows on television. Let's get to it.  

Synopsis: In 1978, a young Adelaide warns two rambunctious twins about the dangers of trespassing in an old abandoned house. The twins are looking for some fun with their baseball bats, so they ignore Adelaide’s warnings, and together they enter the house for a day of vandalism and mischief.

In the basement, the twins find an assortment of fetuses and preserved human body parts in jars. Suddenly, one of the twins (Troy) disappears, and the twins suffer a gruesome death at the hands of a mysterious and evil force.

In the modern world, Dr. Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), a psychiatrist, is looking for a second chance from his wife, Vivien (Connie Britton). One day, Vivien caught Ben in the act during an affair with one of his students. Vivien mistook Ben and his lover, Hayden McClaine (Kate Mara) for a pair of intruders, and a distraught Vivien stabs Ben with a kitchen knife. And Vivien is stuck in a gut wrenching emotional slump, because she’s trying to recover from a miscarriage.

Reluctantly, Vivien accepts Ben’s apologies, and she accepts Ben’s plans to start over. To erase all the bad memories, Ben, Vivien, and their daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga) move from Boston to Los Angeles. The old abandoned house is their now home, and the Harmon’s receive an awkward welcome from their next door neighbor Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange), and her daughter, Adelaide (Jamie Brewer).

Ben treats his patients at the house, but a series of strange disturbances and intrusions disrupt Ben’s plans for a fresh start. Apparently, Marcy’s (Christine Estabrook), the realtor, story about a murder-suicide was just the tip of the iceberg. Adelaide (or “Addie”) issues a foreboding warning to Vivien about the dangers of the house, and Ben learns more about the house’s dark history after a one on one chat with Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare), a burn victim, who’s suffering from a severe case of brain cancer.

Violet tries to balance her issues with depression, her troubles at school, and a relationship with one of Ben’s patients. Tate (Evan Peters) and Violet develop a bond, but Ben doesn’t like the idea of his daughter dating one of his patients.  To add to Violet’s list of problems, she’s stuck in an unwanted feud at school with a bully named Leah (Shelby Young), the ring leader for a clique of pretentious snobs.

Moira O’Hara (Frances Conroy) is a local maid, who worked in the house for years, and she offers her services as a housekeeper. Vivien accepts Moira’s offer, but Moira brings more trouble into the Harmon’s complex situation. Unbeknownst to Vivien, Ben is trying to avoid and ignore Moira’s alter ego as a persistent seductress. To make matters worse, the Harmon’s shot at a second chance takes another bizarre turn during an impromptu investigation in the attic……

Review: Vivien and Ben are normal…..when you compare them to the rest of  the cast. Yes, Vivien is trying to move on and put her life together again after Ben’s infidelity, and Ben is trying to fight his urges for Moira (more on that later). Violet? She’s a foul-mouthed rebel. Tate is a disturbed child, who fantasies about murdering the good people in his life, and Moira is the kooky maid, who won’t stop until Ben succumbs to her requests for sexual pleasure.

Constance and Addie are the nosy neighbors. Constance is the failed actress (because she refused to show nudity on the screen), who offers perky (and unwanted) advice, and Addie constantly warns Vivien about her impending demise.

First impressions are crucial, and there’s no way around it. American Horror Story: Murder House? The pilot takes the no holds barred approach to shocking the audience. Language (“s*** and p****), violence, gore, partial nudity, a sex scene, a scene where Ben feels the need to “relieve” himself after an encounter with Moira, everything. American Horror Story: Murder House’s toes touch the boundary line, and you’ll see a few jaw-dropping moments in the pilot.

Need an example? Well, after a fight with Leah, Tate comes up with a solution to help Violet. Tate convinces Violet to lure Leah into the basement of her house for a free sample of crack cocaine. In the basement, Leah is attacked by Tate and a ghoulish woman with fangs. Leah runs away with a scarred face, and a petrified Violet scolds Tate for taking things too far.

Some will use a “too tacky” or “too hokey” tag to describe Tate’s attack. Me? I’ll remember it as a highlight moment in the pilot episode. The flickering lights, Tate’s demented cackling, the grotesque ghoulish woman. It’s a freaky series of events, and during this scene, you‘ll see another (the twin’s demise at the beginning) example for the house’s evil powers.

And there’s a nice cliffhanger to end the episode. Vivien takes a step on the path to forgiveness with Ben, and Vivien announces her pregnancy with a taste for Indian food (Vivien has a thing for Indian food, when she’s pregnant). Ben is overjoyed, because the baby provides a chance for a fresh start…but Ben and Violet are missing the answer to one crucial question: Is Ben the father?

Remember the attic? Well, during the investigation, The Harmon’s discovered a latex bondage suit on a mannequin. One night, Ben (in a sleeping walking phase) wanders into the kitchen. Oddly enough, Constance pops up a few seconds after Ben’s arrival. Meanwhile, a stranger in the latex suit and Vivien have sex upstairs without any questions, because Vivien believes the stranger (the suit comes with a mask) is Ben. The stranger disappears, Ben returns to the bedroom, and the married couple with newfound hope to end the night with an “I love you.”

So many questions. What’s wrong with Ben? Who is the stranger? Why is he targeting Vivien? Is Ben the father of the new baby? After the ending, I had to see the next episode, because the cliffhanger is just perfect.

American Horror Story: Murder House packs a powerful punch in the pilot, with enough tantalizing unanswered questions to pique your interest for a follow up episode. Will Violet trust Tate again? Will Ben rethink his new plan to treat patients at his house? Is Larry Harvey an ally or is he a deranged and delusional man? Long story short, Larry Harvey lived in the house years ago, and Larry burned his entire family to death under the influence of a mysterious evil force in the house. Now, Larry urges Ben to leave the house, so she can save his family from a horrible, gruesome death.

To add to that, you KNOW Constance and Addie are hiding something, and there’s a chance they’re working with the supernatural and evil forces in the house. Also, it’s clear Moira will do anything to break and lure Ben into another affair. And Ben has to overcome a tough hurdle, because Moira’s appearance changes for Ben. In front of women, Moira is an old, withered woman (Frances Conroy), but Ben sees a young and attractive version  (Alexandra Breckenridge) of Moira.

They never come out and say it in the pilot, but you have to believe Moira possesses the power to seduce and control men with her young appearance. On the flip side, the trick doesn’t work on women. That’s why Vivien’s decision to hire Moira shocked Ben (i.e. trusting Ben after the affair), because Vivien can’t see what Ben sees.

American Horror Story: Murder House’s pilot gives die hard horror fans hope for a bold show that’s not afraid to push the limits. Others will see a show that tries too hard to be extreme, or something that’s too hokey, and you’ll hear some “I can’t take this show seriously” complaints. It’ll take some time to adjust to the schizophrenic style of pacing and storytelling, but Murder House’s pilot is a wicked treat, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

Rating: 8/10

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