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TV Review: American Horror Story – “Afterbirth”

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Tonight is American Horror Story night on FX! Well, it would be, if the series hadn’t brought its first season to a close last week. So this review focuses on that final episode, “Afterbirth.”

In “Afterbirth,” Ben (Dylan McDermott) considers ending his own life while grieving for dead wife, Vivien (Connie Britton), and daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga). Vivien the Ghost steps in and convinces him not to go through with it, but soon Ben’s jilted lover, Hayden (Kate Mara), kills him anyway. That turns out OK, as the Harmon family is once more reunited, and with their new baby and Moira (Frances Conroy), celebrate a happy Christmas together. Think Ben sees Moria in her true form now? Oh, and they also scare away new residents before anything truly bad can happen to them. However, Constance (Jessica Lange), who stole away her grandson, Tate’s (Evan Peters) son through rape, Vivien’s other baby, soon gets to deal with yet another monster child, who murders his babysitter.

Coming off of the spectacular climax of “Birth,” featuring many huge developments and the end of most of the supporting characters’ stories, “Afterbirth” is a little bit of a let down. But then again, perhaps it is designed that way, tying up loose ends, and providing an epilogue of what is to be for the central family. It can be argued that the capper is longer than need be, and perhaps the nearly half of the episode that deals with Murder House’s next owners could be shortened. However, it also demonstrates what the house can do to a person, and excuses some prior bad behavior by comparatively friendly ghosts. In addition, it gives a semi-happy ending for some, and a heck of a cliffhanger.

The cliffhanger with Constance and the three year old killer (cough, Dexter, cough) will likely not be explored. When American Horror Story was first announced by FX, it was said that the show would feature an all new cast every season, leading many to believe that each batch of episodes would be self-contained. As its popularity rose, that came into question. Now, the network says that there will be a new locale and themes for season two, but some of the cast may return, albeit playing different characters! Which means no firm ending for Constance, but then again, her life of misery just continues as it has, and it is fitting that she will still deal with such things long after viewers stop paying attention to her story.

Plenty of praise has been, and will be, heaped upon American Horror Story, a truly original show. But it would be remiss to conclude a review of this first season without granting due kudos to the fine performers this year. In fact, many such articles could be written, owing to the more than a dozen fine players who got to shine in this creepy world. First prize should go to Lange for her crazy mother, and all of the lengths that she went to, as well as the sometimes murky motivations that led her there. It’s a complex picture of a rich character, and thank goodness such a talented, veteran actress inhabits the role. In runner up status is Britton, who made fans forget all about Tami Taylor (until the inevitable rewatchings of Friday Night Lights) with her own brand of psychotic and loving, both at the same time.

As far as complaints about “Afterbirth” go, there is one more big one: the lack of Denis O’Hare’s Larry. Did the character need to appear for story’s sake? Well, no. And that’s yet another example of how American Horror Story stands apart from other shows, which might squeeze in actors where they aren’t needed just because they happen to be a series regular. Which turns this complaint into something admirable. Though O’Hare’s excellence is always leaving fans wanting more, and in “Afterbirth,” that more did not come.

Overall, American Horror Story delivers a heck of a freshman year, with some really interesting stories, all weaving together into a larger narrative. It takes the horror genre and proves it can be done for television. Not only that, it throws traditional television genres out of the window, building its own thing from the ground up. For that and more, not least of which is the intelligent acting and fabulous cast, it will be honored as one of the best new series of the year, a title it richly deserves.

American Horror Story will return with an all new scary tale next year on FX.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • jp

    Good article. Love the show. Can’t wait for season 2!

  • Mary

    This show has been engrossing. Beyond the roller coaster ride of horror story conventions, there is a more horrifying story lurking beneath–that found at the core of the ugliness of American culture. It explores themes of family, marriage, faithlessness, cultural roles for men and women, and the manner in which we socialize our children as well as the wreckage we leave the wake as we seek convention. Well acted and well written.