American Horror Story, Ep. 1.09, “Spooky Little Girl”: Keeps the ball rolling

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American Horror Story Review, Season 1, Episode 9, “Spooky Little Girl”
Written by Jennifer Salt
Directed by John Scott
Airs Wednesdays at 10:00 pm ET on FX

“Spooky Little Girl” covers a lot of ground. It introduces a possible recurring character and spends equal time with several plotlines. This week, Hayden discovers more about her potential as a spirit, having more fun in the house while Vivien is stuck in the mental institution. Ben struggles with the temptations of Moira and his new alluring patient, Elizabeth. The show also spends more time with Constance’s relationship to her boy toy Travis. The episode finds a good rhythm in the exposition of these multiple stories and keeps the ball rolling for next week.

The opening flashback, set in 1947, incorporates the famous, real life Black Dahlia murder into the show’s mythology. Considering the murder was never solved, the writers take liberty in weaving the mystery into the show’s universe. It is a clever move that introduces the new character Elizabeth Short, played by guest star Mena Suvari.

This show often takes a heavy-handed approach in its portrayal of the past. Everything seen and heard screams the respective decade to the point that it feels like parody. Unfortunately, the actors suffer for the show’s lazy attempt at capturing the essence of any era pre-1983.

For example, Suvari, a competent actress, comes off as a ridiculous in her scenes. A little more research would have benefitted the period piece aspect of the show. Rather, the show settles for a cliché, having Suvari repeat that she’s going to be a Hollywood star. It’s the same mistake made with Dr. Montgomery and his wife Nora in the 1920s. They’re not people. They’re cartoons in the animated landscape of nostalgia.

Like last week’s Rubber Man, the show uses the metaphor of the past to extract the same emotional beats in the present. This time, the parallels are between Elizabeth and Travis, Constance’s boyfriend. As trite as the “Hollywood Star” theme is with Elizabeth, it actually works very well with Travis, who’s already a sympathetic character. This results in several tense scenes between him and Constance that become the highlights of the episode.

Though rife with horror scenes and sexual impulses, the show’s most unexpected moments come from the character developments. Many times, guest stars feel wasted on one-note characters. Kate Mara as Hayden especially felt doomed to replay just another fatal attraction.

Instead, Mara has a fresh take on the archetype. She has a strong sense of irony, allowing her to avoid the melodramatic pitfalls that accompany such a role. In other words, she’s crazy, but not too crazy.

That’s why Mara’s scenes lately have been more fun to watch than the main cast. Even though she’s a ghost, she’s the most realistic character in the show. Her self-awareness affords her the opportunity to easily be threatening and comedic. Someone like Jessica Lange, as amazing as she is to this show, can only really play her character dark and forlorn. Any humor from her comes unintentionally. Alternatively, Mara can view her situation objectively, comment on how absurd it is, then jump in and cause the absurdity.

Hayden is an interesting storytelling technique disguised as a character. Through her, the writers do an amazing job of explaining the rules of the mythology. Just like the audience, Hayden is new to the spirit realm in the house, and as she explores the supernatural environment, so does the audience. Her storyline follows the same beats as that of a superhero’s origin story. Fortunately, she’s not the focus of the show, so her origin story doesn’t slow down the action.

The dynamic between Vivien and Ben has set Dylan McDermott as an unintentional villain. McDermott is likable in his role as Ben, but the character still feels unsympathetic. It’s hard to feel sorry for him because he’s caused most of the couple’s misery. So, even though Ben makes great strides this week, the emotional payoff isn’t there.

This show is fun. It’s not always graceful or the most respectable, but it’s usually entertaining. That’s why it’s easy to forgive American Horror Story for a less-than-perfect episode when the plot developments are so intriguing. How do you weigh in on the episode? Please leave your comments below.

Ryan Clagg

 

3 Comments
  1. Ryan in Bosty says

    First off, awesome job on predicting the baby situation, Mario in Philly. I should have known better.

    Now, as for the confusing ghost situation, I think Kristina is right. We haven’t seen any ghost disappear, but they can “go away.” The best example of this is when Violet saw the 1960s ghost, told her to go away and she did. I think Moira just goes away within the house.

    Also, I think the house is more of a tether to the outside world than a prison. Hayden was able to go on a drive with the officer, but she eventually went away too. On Halloween, the tether is loosened, but they all eventually have to go back (like at the end of Halloween, Part 2 when we see Moira walking with Chad and company). Most of the ghosts don’t seem to realize they’re dead, so that’s why most of them don’t ever leave the house. To them, it’s just another day in the house.

    I think the house gives the ghosts their power more than the fact that they’re ghosts. Constance said the house was powerful. I think it’s an “island” like in Lost… but an evil one.

    And yes, I think Violet died. I wanted to see whether she would be able to escape with Vivian when they got in the car last episode. Her leaving the house would have convinced me that she was still alive, but that obviously didn’t happen.

    Kristina is also right about the Ben/Hayden situation. In my opinion, Ben’s a little stupid.

  2. Kristina says

    It was said that ghost can leave the house on Halloween so that’s how Tate was able to go to the beach with Violet. As for Moira, she probably hides in the basement or the attic when her shifts ends.
    Ben didn’t kill Hayden – Larry did, but after Ben saw her again he thought she was alive and Larry somehow deceived him.Ben did bury Hayden but he must thinks that Larry disinterred her.

  3. Mario in Philly says

    I’m going into spoiler territory only because I’m assuming anyone reading this already knows or wants to know the happenings in this episode.

    I guess I’m not clear on the rules of the ghost world and how they intersect with the real world. If I have this right, if you died in the house you are confined to “live” at the house. (It was mentioned in an earlier episode if the house was demolished they spirits would have to go away.)
    We always see Moira coming and going at the beginning and end of her shift. So if Moira died at the house, where does she go when she leaves? To the gazebo? But Tate did go to the beach with Violet, right?
    With the sex scenes I could see where a spirit could perhaps give a person the feeling of actually having sex. But both Tate and Hayden have made actual connections to the real world: Tate impregnating Vivian and, more obvious in this episode, Hayden stabbing and killing Travis. That killing sort of ups the ante on what the spirits can and can’t do. I’m still holding onto the idea that Violet died several episodes back and Tate didn’t save her. But with these interactions, it could be proved that he actually could have saved her. The fact that she hasn’t been to school in two weeks (mentioned in the last episode – she wasn’t seen in this episode) makes that more solid.
    Now, what confuses me is the scene with Ben yelling at Hayden to get out of the house. He says to her that if she doesn’t leave he’ll call the detective to get her. Does he not remember he killed and buried her? Who does he think he’s talking to?

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