I don't know, maybe it's me. Maybe I've just gotten overstimulated by American Horror Story and its never-ending whirligig of horrors, howlers, and things that make you go Huh? I mean, when I cast my mind back to my younger, more innocent days—just six short weeks ago—I can vaguely remember when my pure, virginal soul would have at least reacted to certain things in tonight's episode. A grimly realistic school massacre? A pig-headed man lurking in the shower? A cloven-hoofed fetus? What does it mean that I now accept these things with a bored shrug? To paraphrase the Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons, I guess the shock is like the shame: you only feel it once. Now I find myself jaded, desensitized, and almost totally shock-proof, able to calmly sit and eat my own dinner while watching the lovely Connie Britton chow down on a whole raw brain of unspecified origin.
I guess it was inevitable. When you start a show at the absolute border of tastelessness, believability, and cable network standards, it's hard to keep upping the ante week after week. Yeah, yeah, raw brain. What have you done for me lately, American Horror Story?
Let's talk about the brain first, since it's on my mind. (There's a pun to be made there somewhere: sort it out yourself.) For those of you keeping track on your AHS Movie Reference Score Cards,TM we have now entered the Rosemary's Baby phase of American Horror Story, with Constance (Jessice Lange) and Moira (Frances Conroy) teaming up to keep Vivien fed with a constant diet of raw meat (with, no doubt, some Tannis Root seasoning) to keep her fetal antichrist healthy. First it is pig offal—Viv gets to eat most of it sautéed, though she consumes the pancreas raw—and then the aforementioned brain, which Moira says "came from an organic farm." (Or perhaps an organic farmer? I'm reminded of the line from an episode of Buffy, where the evil Angelus presents Drusilla with a raw heart he "found in a quaint little shopgirl.") The most chilling thing about this scene is the way Vivien doesn't even question it: she has already cleaned her bowl by the time it even occurs to her to glance askew at the peculiarity of her meal. (Perhaps she just didn't want to appear ungrateful, since Moira has now agreed to work for free: as Constance says elsewhere in the episode, "It's hard to keep good help.")
These strange pregnancy cravings do inspire Vivien to track down Angela, the ultrasound technician who fainted at her first view of Vivien's womb. Meeting in a church (the only place Angela would agree to), they have this classic exchange:
Vivien: "It seemed to me you saw something that scared you."
Angela: "Yes, and I've been praying about it ever since! I saw the unclean thing that you carry in your womb! The plague of nations! The beast!"
Vivien: "OK, so you didn't see anything. The machine malfunctioned."
Angela: "I saw the little hooves!"
It would be difficult to overstate how much I love Connie Britton for her delivery of "OK, so you didn't see anything." (Britton is the calm eye at the center of American Horror Story's raging tempest of crazy.) But, if I were taking any of this seriously, her placid, serene approach to the mounting nuttiness would be hard to explain. Traditionally, in these types of stories, we'd assume the evil baby is exerting its evil influence over her, but Britton doesn't really play it that way: she doesn't have a dreamy, possessed quality or Mia Farrow's harried, frantic desperation. She just seems willfully oblivious, because she has more important things to think about (like boning Morris Chestnut's overly helpful security guard).
Meanwhile, Constance (Jessica Lange) continues to mourn her daughter, and does so this episode with the help of a new character (and perhaps another of her children?) Billie (Sarah Paulson). Billie is a snarky medium—not to be confused with a happy medium—whom Constance introduces to Violet. Billie tells Violet that they must help Tate "cross over," and also serves as a conduit to Addy—how legitimately, we don't know—to allow Constance to say what she needs to say:
Constance: "I just miss her so much, Billie. She was my reason for living."
Billie: "She says you should have told her that when she was alive. She's a feisty one. Talk to her. She's here."
Constance: "Baby, I am so sorry. I'm sorry because, most of the time that I was with you, especially when you were younger, I was just so overwhelmed. It wasn't easy being a single parent, and you were such a handful, so I guess I forgot to say the things that I was supposed to say, but that I honestly always felt in my heart. I'm so proud of you, Addy. I admire you so, for what you were able to overcome. And I think you're beautiful. Addy, I think you are the most beautiful girl I ever met."
Billie goes on to report that, where Addy is now, she's a "pretty girl" at last. She also says Addy is grateful not to have been brought back from the dead—as Constance tried to do—because Addy afraid of Tate. The implication here, obviously, is that Addy is not merely dead, but really and sincerely dead—which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I'll miss her creepy, pathetic presence on the show; on the other hand, it lends more seriousness and pathos to her death. I'll believe it when I see it—or when I don't see her return—but if that's the case I may owe Messrs. Falchuk and Murphy a partial apology for accusing them of cheap emotional manipulation. (It's still cheap manipulation, mind you, but it will have a little more resonance if Addy doesn't come back a'haunting.)
The bulk of this episode, however, is dedicated to Violet (Taissa Farmiga) and Tate (Evan Peters). "Piggy Piggy" opens with a long, unpleasant sequence showing how last week's Dead Breakfast Club first got together. The scenes are well done, but perhaps too well done: high school shootings are one of those real life horrors that should be treated with a little sensitivity and restraint—even by American Horror Story—and this one moves an uncomfortable step away from campy horror towards creepy snuff film. (We should be grateful, I suppose, that the show refrains from showing the actual gunshots and blood splatter.) Afterwards, we see the SWAT team come for Tate, and half a dozen cops stand pointing their visually arresting laser sights at him (rather than following the more logical, but less cinematic, procedure of throwing his ass to the floor). This bit of improbably staged theatrics allows Tate time to grab a gun and be shot dead.
Violet learns all of this, and thus is the first member of the Harmon family to realize the obvious truth: that she lives in the corner bedroom of Spook Central. Farmiga is excellent this episode, maintaining a touching vulnerability and humanity even as her character is called upon to freak the fuck out in about seven different ways. (She cuts herself! She takes drugs and trips balls! She sees dead people in the basement! She tries to kill herself with pills! She has to be revived in the bathtub by her dead boyfriend!) Considering the emotional wringer she goes through, Violet ends the episode taking it all remarkably in stride. ("I think I'm depressed," she tells Tate, in the very textbook definition of an understatement.) We close on a shot of her cuddling up with her ghostly, serial-killing boyfriend—after he says he will never let anything bad happen to her—and I sure hope this relationship works out because this breakup could be a real bitch.
This otherwise strong episode is, unfortunately, weighted down with the silliest and most pointless plotline the show has ever produced—and that, ladies and ghouls, is saying something. Ben (Dylan McDermott) has a new patient, Derek (the fabulous Eric Stonestreet), who is scared to death of urban legends. (Boy, did he pick the wrong shrink.) At the moment, he's obsessed with the legend of "Piggy Man," a Bloody-Mary type apparition—with a pig's head, natch—who appears when you say "here piggy pig pig" in a mirror.
Ben, who continues to lobby for the award for Worst Shrink Ever (to go on the mantle beside his trophies for Worst Husband Ever and Worst Father Ever), encourages Derek to confront his fears. First Derek does so in one of the bathrooms of Murder House—always an excellent idea—and is rewarded with a vision not of Piggy Man but of one of the dead nurses from Episode Two. Then Derek—after hilariously practicing in the reflective surface of his toaster—finally summons the courage to try it in his own bathroom. "Here piggy pig pig," he says—and is shot dead by a burglar who just happened to be hiding behind his shower curtain. ("He called me a pig," the burglar tells his partner.)
Even as dark comic relief, this storyline is the dumbest thing American Horror Story has done so far. The ridiculous coincidence of Derek stumbling upon a home robbery while facing his fears is just appallingly bad writing, even as a joke. What's worse, the entire sub-plot has nothing to do with Murder House: the legend of Piggy Man doesn't relate to the infamous address at all, nor do the robbers who kill Derek. It would almost have been more logical for the actual Piggy Man to show up in Derek's bedroom, somehow summoned into existence by Derek's presence in the Murder House. As it stands, it's just an absurd and pointless one-off, probably brought about because someone thought the pig's head was appropriately creepy. American Horror Story is ridiculous enough without betraying its own bizarre (but relatively consistent) logic for the sake of a cheap image: it doesn't need this kind of crap.
The biggest mystery of Murder House, for me, is how Ben keeps getting new clients. It sure as hell ain't through word-of-mouth.