This is the episode American Horror Story fans have been waiting and yearning for since Freak Show: The return of Jessica Lange. Directed by mainstay Sarah Paulson this feature-length episode definitely didn’t disappoint but at the same time also had a few negatives for me. The episode was billed as ‘going back to where it all began’ as we were to discover the origin story of Michael Langdon (Cody Fern) but figuratively speaking, Murder House is where the show itself began so this is a pretty huge event.
It’s almost like Ryan Murphy knows how desperate the fans were to return to the Murder House as no time is wasted in setting up the story of this episode, Madison (Emma Roberts) and Behold (Billy Porter) have immediately purchased the house and are already arriving with Madison asking, “What the fuck happened in this house?”. We of course know a lot of the answers to that question as we were given the entire history of the house in Season One, the history of the spirits that dwell there and of course we discovered The Countess (Lady Gaga) once visited there during Hotel. What we don’t know is what’s happened there since the Season One finale when Constance (Jessica Lange) stole Michael to raise him as her own.
We’re treated to a lot of cast returns with Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton and Taissa Farmiga reprising their roles as the doomed Harmon family. Evan Peters, Frances Conroy and Sam Kinsey all returned as Tate Langdon, Moira O’ Hara and Beau Langdon. As well as directing, Sarah Paulson also brought back the character of Billie Dean Howard who we last saw during Season 5. I think one of the biggest surprises was Mena Suvari reprising her role as Elizabeth Short, a.k.a. The Black Dahlia.
The episode is very heavy on the fan service and they crammed so much in I’m just hoping this isn’t the only time we’re going to see the house and characters. I know some fans of the show pick and choose what Seasons they watch and to be totally honest it doesn’t really matter whether you saw Murder House originally or not, the opening scenes of the episode provide a somewhat forced recap of some key events from the first Season. Ben reminds Tate of his crimes, does he or do we need reminding of every bad thing he did especially when they were one of the main plot points? Did we also really need Ben to tell us “I’ve got to look out of the window and cry while I masturbate, it’s my daily thing”? We have to witness him perform the act later anyway so the reminder felt…meh. It feels, in a way, that they were just making fun of their own past storylines at this point which is why a lot of the lines in the first scenes do feel forced and out place. It happens again when Moira reminds Constance that she’s been satisfying her husband in the basement, it’s almost like they really wanted to remind people of the feud between the two characters just in case you forgot. What they didn’t mention again was that originally Constance killed Moira.
Jessica Lange’s entrance is grandiose and nothing short of perfect with her announcing, “I’m Constance Langdon and this is my fucking house”. She agrees to tell Madison and Behold her side of the story as long as they do something for her first—get rid of Moira’s spirit from the house (more of that later). She tells us how baby Michael liked to kill things like small rodents and gave them to Constance as ‘presents’. She decided to bury each and every one of the gifts with a little piece of her soul and plant a rose on top in an effort to try to cleanse the evil act I guess. Eventually she ends up planting so many roses the smell of them makes her wretch and decides that her role on earth was to “raise the monsters”. Even though she isn’t the most compassionate of characters it is heart breaking to see her think this way. Her son Tate was a serial killer shot down by the police, her disfigured son Beau she ordered to be smothered so he wouldn’t be institutionalised, her daughter who had Downs Syndrome, Adelaide, was run over and killed and then she has a mystery fourth child who we so far know nothing about. It’s like she saw Michael as her last chance to raise a child that wouldn’t result in death but sadly it did, however this time it wasn’t a child’s death, it was hers.
I speculated earlier in the season that perhaps Michael had killed Constance, which I definitely didn’t want to be the case, but instead the death we got was even more soul-destroying. She suspected that one day Michael would kill her so—wanting to die on her own terms—she takes herself, a bottle of scotch and some sleeping pills over to the Murder House to commit suicide. The entire scene of her dancing round the room during her final moments are definitely an homage to the binges of Fiona Goode in Coven.
Knowing that her spirit would remain trapped with the spirits of three of her children she decided that she was “born to be a mother, so why not die to be one too”. As her children greet her in the afterlife we finally meet her fourth child, a little girl, Rose, without eyes that she calls her “Little Beauty Queen”. It’s a powerful scene and a beautiful ending to Constance’s story which Jessica Lange gives her all to. While the show has definitely survived during her absence it’s struggled greatly to find someone to replace her in a main role. As exceptionally amazing as Lady Gaga was as The Countess in Hotel, she was no Jessica Lange. One can only hope that this brief stint may wet her appetite to come back for another Season, considering she’s been seen on set again already I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of Constance…
We knew from Vivien’s accelerated pregnancy that Michael would possibly age quicker than most—this obviously had to be true to fit in with the timeline—but we learnt that he actually aged a decade over night during Constance’s care. We see an adult looking Michael still acting like a child, so at some point during these moments and being taken to the male witches school he’s developed mentally as well as the version we see in present day behaves much more maturely.
An emerging theme in this season is the war of the genders and it’s something that’s used in this episode too. Firstly we had Constance; a mother figure, and her side of the story of raising Michael and now secondly we are taken to Ben; a father figure, and his side of the story. It’s almost as if they want to us to see how each gender can have different impacts on the task of raising a child. Ultimately both sides give up on him after witnessing his evil deeds. What’s important is that despite having an adult body, Michael still has the mental capacity of a child so it does make you think what kind of effect being abandoned by both parental figures would do to you. Is this one of the reasons he brought about the apocalypse? His anger at the people who are meant to love him leaving him? By no means am I trying to gather sympathy for Michael here, he’s pure evil after all, but I think it is vital we perhaps understand his reasons for what he’s done.
Ben knows he isn’t Michael’s father but he wants to help him at first, he wants to raise him and try to fix him. What he doesn’t bargain on is the houses other spirits interfering and telling Michael that his father is Tate which leads to the discovery of the famous rubber suit. Not only does he don the rubber suit he also dresses as Doctor Charles Montgomery and butchers the face of Elizabeth Shaw’s spirit. It’s actually whilst dressed in the rubber suit he kills a lesbian couple who have just bought the house which, if you remember, is exactly what Tate did to the gay couple in Season One. Wanting to outdo his father he goes one step further and destroys the souls of the couple with fire, this is where we see that Michael does actually have a hold over the afterlife even before he could control his powers fully. This is the final straw for Ben. With that Vivien appears to conclude the story of Michael’s life and the cult arrive for him.
The cult is led by none other than the Black Pope himself, Anton LaVey. For those who aren’t familiar, Anton was a self-proclaimed Black Pope and leader of the Church of Satanists, he died in 1997 but in the American Horror Story universe we learn that he faked his death so that he could carry on leading the church in secret. Surprisingly one of the cult members is played by Naomi Grossman, most famous for her role as fan favourite Pepper in Asylum and Freak Show, who hasn’t appeared in the show since Season 4. The third cult member is Miriam (Kathy Bates) which answers the question of how Michael came into her care. During a ritual full of The Omen references as well as revealing the 666 behind the ear, Michael announces he’s the son of Satan which means he’s finally realised he’s the anti-Christ. Vivien attempts to kill him and when he retaliates she is saved by Tate, another surprising move as all we ever know of Tate is evil. The episode ends with Madison and Behold announcing that they have to stop Michael.
A huge theme in this episode was redemption and closure which I personally wasn’t expecting. Moira was finally freed from the house after Madison and Behold moved her bones to her mother’s grave, something we knew she wanted as every Halloween she used to go to the hospital to visit her when she was free to leave the house. It’s a nice and touching ending to the characters story as out of all the spirits trapped in the Murder House she was one of the one’s who’d probably suffered the most. Again Constance got an ending to her story when she was allowed to be a mother to her children again, except this time she was a mother who knew her mistakes and wanted to fix them.
My main gripe with the episode and it’s path of redemption was the news that Tate wasn’t actually evil, he was manipulated by the evil that dwells within the house and proceeded to get a happy ending with Violet thanks to Madison. Does Tate really deserve a happy ending after everything he did in Season One? Manipulated or not, he still killed people, tormented them and ultimately raped Vivien but none of that matters now as we learnt that Tate isn’t Michael’s father after all. All I can gather is that Satan himself is using the house and used Tate to get Vivien pregnant, I’m not convinced though. This feels like a huge turnaround and if I watch Season One again it certainly won’t have the same impact on me knowing that Tate isn’t the person we think he is. The least obvious path of redemption is actually Madison who seems to be using her third, yes third, chance at life to do some good. She’s actually helping these spirits find peace in the afterlife which is probably due to her experiencing her own personal hell for all those years. It’s nice to see her change and develop as a character but I certainly don’t want her to stop being a bitch!!
In Season One we found out that Constance had a fourth child but we knew absolutely nothing about it. In this episode we were shown the small girl with no eyes but we were still told nothing about her or what happened to her. I would have loved less wasted time on masturbation and recap conversations and a few more minutes giving us a brief back story to Rose and Constance. It feels like a wasted opportunity and I don’t think we’ll ever get an answer to it now. That being said the episode was just fantastic and having Jessica Lange back was just amazing, it genuinely felt like she didn’t leave the show at all as she walked back into the role effortlessly. Did somebody say Emmy or Golden Globe nomination….