Episode Title: "Birth"
Writer: Tim Minear
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Previously on "American Horror Story":
Flashback to 1984, where we find Constance (Jessica Lange) passed out on her couch while a young and still innocent Tate (Paul Butler) decides to play with his toy truck in the basement of the Murder House. In the dark, Tate encounters the fearsome Infantata (Ben Woolf); which quickly pulls Tate towards it. However, the ghost of Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe) intervenes and dismisses the misshapen apparition that was once her son, Thaddeus. Nora comforts a shaken Tate and she tells him that he can banish the ghosts of the house by simply telling them to "go away." Cut to the present, older Tate (Evan Peters) finds Nora drowning in her misery again. Tate tells her that he can't give her one of Vivien's (Connie Britton) babies as he promised.
But Nora disregards Tate and she seems intent upon stealing the child anyway. Upstairs, Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) drags his daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga) out of the house to pick up her mother from the mental institution. Not wanting to reveal that she is dead and unable to leave the house, Violet tries to feign sickness, but Ben still puts her in the backseat of their car. However, when he drives off, Violet reappears outside the house. At the mental institution, Vivien is put out that Violet never visited her there and Ben tries to cover for her. The doctor there also gives the Harmons the alarming news that one of their babies is nearly fully developed at six months… and it is starving the other twin in the womb.
Back at the Murder House, Tate and Violet find Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears) seemingly reconciled and preparing a nursery for the twins; whom they intend to steal from Vivien. Violet contacts Constance for help in getting rid of them, leading Constance to face off with Chad, who says that they only plan to keep the twins alive for a year or so before smothering them… which would leave them as infants for eternity. Constance also let's it slip that Tate fathered one of the twins. Determined to stop Chad and Patrick, Constance and Violet bring in Billie Dean (Sarah Paulson), the so-called "Craigslist Psychic." Billie Dean also proves she's not a fraud when she mentally connects with Violet and expresses sympathy for her death.
According to Billie Dean, the only way to get rid of the ghosts is to find something personal that belonged to them and burn it before saying the word "Croatoan;" which she links back to the lost colony of Roanoke. Violet enlists Tate to get the ring from Patrick and he does so by pretending to come on to him. But Patrick is having none of it and he beats the crap out of Tate while saying that he was trapped in this house with a man he doesn't love… which Chad overhears. Now that Tate has the ring, he collects Chad's discarded watch as well. Outside, Ben and Vivien arrive, but she refuses to step foot into the house again. So Ben enters to retrieve Violet and their bags.
Confronted by her dad about her disappearance from the backseat of her car, Violet tells him that she died in the house from her suicide attempt and she tries to warn Ben away. Ben simply assumes that his daughter is high and he tries to drag her to the car again. Outside, Vivien goes into labor and Constance "helps" her into the Murder House against her will. Ben tries to help his wife, but the power goes out and all of the phones go dead, including cellular. Ben even witnesses the ghosts of the twin boys destroying his car. In short, no one is going anywhere soon. And much to Ben's alarm, the ghosts of Dr. Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) and the dead nurses from the '60s, Gladys (Celia Finkelstein) and Maria (Rosa Salazar) appear to help Vivien through her difficult birth.
In the basement, Violet tosses Chad's watch and Patrick's ring into the furnace and says "Croatoan" when Chad tries to stop her. For a few moments, it seems to work… but then Chad reveals that all banishment spells are fake and that Billie Dean doesn't know what she's talking about. She finds that Chad is burning the baby crib because he finally knows that Patrick doesn't love him. However, Chad plunges a metaphorical dagger into Violet's heart by revealing that Tate raped her mother… and killed both Patrick and Chad when they were living together. Upstairs, Vivien's first twin is stillborn, but Dr. Montgomery suspiciously hands the child to his waiting wife, Nora.
The second twin emerges successfully and Constance volunteers to wash it off. However, Dr. Montgomery can't stop Vivien's internal hemorrhaging. In the kitchen, the ghost of Moira (Frances Conroy) joins Constance as they look at the baby… moments before Hayden (Kate Mara) appears and demands the child. Meanwhile, Violet appears to her mother and urges her to let go of her pain. Unaware of his daughter's presence, Ben begs Vivien to live… but when she dies, the ghosts fade away and leave Ben alone in the room. Upstairs, Violet confronts Tate about everything that he's done, including the school shooting and raping her mother.
Tate weeps and begs for forgiveness, but Violet banishes him from her presence by telling him to "go away." Moments later, the ghost of Vivien joins Violet and embraces her daughter while telling her that she was brave.
I've had my doubts about "American Horror Story," but it looks like the creators of this show are really going to be able to pull off this story. It's impressive, but a story direction for the second season is almost inconceivable short of replacing nearly the entire cast or switching to another haunted house. Regardless of what happens to Ben in the finale, the Harmon family is done.
Vivien's birth and death scenes were the most compelling her character has ever been and I applaud the fact that the producers didn't pull back from the natural end of her story… as a mortal, at least. Connie Britton was very strong in all of her scenes, particularly during her ghostly reunion with Violet. Even Ben seemed to slowly emerge from his oblivious state to the supernatural when he got a good look at the dead twin boys… and the ghosts during the delivery. Dr. Montgomery's appearance wasn't a surprise, but it was impressive that the nurses' presence was actually set up all the way back in the second episode.
Even Chad and Patrick, who first came off as stereotypes have become compelling. And Chad's pantomime while being "banished" was one of the most hilarious moments of the entire season. But what makes them interesting now is that they take all of the romanticism out of being dead together. When there's no love between them, it's like a divorce that they can never escape from. More intriguingly, Chad and Patrick know exactly who killed them, despite Tate's Rubber Man disguise. It seems that death brings a level of clarity to events in the house, which suggest that Vivien may also know what's been going on now that she's on a level playing field with Hayden.
As for the prophecy about Tate and Vivien's child being the anti-Christ, that may have proven to be bulls*** since the only source was Billie Dean. It's a nice touch that Billie Dean appears to be a genuine medium between the living and the dead, but she doesn't know what the hell she's talking about. But the flashback to Roanoke was also fun and it also suggested a unique ghost story about the residents of the lost colony terrorizing the local natives as vengeful spirits. I'd like to see more of that.
This episode also offered a partial explanation about why the mental state of the ghosts seems to wildly vary between episodes. In the past, Nora says that life is too short for sorrow, but decades later, she's changed her mind because she's trapped in her misery. Nora can't move on from her grief and it's made her just as unhinged as the rest of the spirits in the house. I also have doubts that the first Harmon baby is dead, given how eager Nora was to receive it. And if there's now a ghost baby in the house… then there's something very sad about that.
On another note, the extended glimpse of the Infantata was one of the most effective scares of the show to date. Just by letting the camera linger on the creature actually made it more frightening than before. That was an impressive makeup effect as well.
There was something genuinely haunting about the way that Vivien died after so much suffering this season. It's almost impossible not to feel for the Harmons now, even if they seem likely to haunt the Murder House together as they await the next poor suckers to move into that place. Within that house is a haven of eternal misery… and I'm dying to see what comes next.
Crave Online Rating: 9.5 out of 10.