* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Season one of American Horror Story (also known as Murder House) started off with such scary intensity, I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep going. The creepy opening credits with flashing images of body parts in jars and maddening noise effects was almost like a warning that the content might be too much for me. But despite my initial hesitation, I immediately got hooked on the story of Ben and Vivien Harmon who move to Los Angeles with their daughter, Violet, for a fresh start after the loss of a baby and Ben’s infidelity. I was so engrossed in the story I watched the first three episodes in one sitting and then another three the following night.
The Harmons unknowingly move into a house that is haunted by the ghosts of previous owners who were murdered or committed suicide. Not just the most recent owners of the house, but owners and family members going back several generations. The Harmons don’t pay much attention to some of the strange things happening, too distracted by their own emotional turmoil to notice. But the big kicker is that the ghosts can physically interact with the real world giving Ben, Vivien and Violet the false impression they are alive. However, a few live people know about the ghosts, namely Constance, the Harmon’s overly dramatic next door neighbour and Larry, a horribly burnt and disfigured stranger who tries to warn Ben about the house.
In the beginning, I viewed the Harmon’s house and its ghostly inhabitants as some kind of symbolic representation of Ben and Vivien’s inability to let go of the past because the ghosts didn’t seem to have any other purpose than popping up and being weird or scary. The exception was Moira, the age-shifting housekeeper and Tate, the teenager Ben treats for depression and who falls in love with Violet. Both ghosts are interested in becoming close to the Harmons. But once Vivien discovers that she is pregnant, the dead souls surrounding the family start to stir with unrequited longing and many plans are hatched to take Vivien’s baby. Here I started to call the show “And Ghosts Have Problems Too” because then the freaky mystery of the Murder House turned into one big ghost soap opera.
With my interest in the show beginning to lag, the only thing that kept me engaged with American Horror Story was the stellar acting by the five lead actors. You couldn’t get a better cast to wring out all of the characters’ frustration, anger, confusion and sadness, and electrify the screen. Jessica Lange certainly deserved the awards she won for playing Constance even though at times I thought she pushed the Tennessee Williams schtick a little too much. Connie Britton was dynamite as Vivien the tough, yet loving mother and bitterly betrayed wife. I was pretty indifferent to Dylan McDermott in the past, but I thought he was amazing as the loving husband and father who can’t stop making bad decisions. Last but not least, Evan Peters and Taissa Farmiga were impressive as depressed teenagers, Tate and Violet. All of the characters ride a rollercoaster of extreme emotions and the actors carry it off in the show very spectacularly.
American Horror Story is probably four or five episodes too long. I think the story would have been better if the producers had scrapped some of the ghosts who were added to the house because their deaths added nothing to the main storyline. I won’t give away details about the ending, but I was at first sad at the outcome and then baffled by the unnecessary epilogue they added at the end. Finding love again in death could have been a beautiful finale for the Harmon family, but I felt they ruined it by trying to make the final scenes cute and cuddly. The chaotic, dark atmosphere that I soaked up in the first episode now reduced to a nauseating tree trimming Kodak moment in the last episode. It was so bad I almost wanted to run away … screaming bloody murder. 😉